“Single Vision” and the Fanatic

While we are on the subject of William Blake once more, it might be worth a moment to explore what Blake means by “single vision” as an accursed and horrifying state — a state, as he might describe it, of being far from God, and why he implores “may God us keep, from Single vision & Newtons sleep”.

In effect, “Single Vision” in the context of our time corresponds to the lowest point of what the Hindus call “the Kali Yuga“, or the demon age, which is the lowest state of consciousness or spiritual degradation (which we refer to as ‘materialism’ or ‘quantification’). And it is worth noting also that the four world ages or Yugas of the Hindu world cycle probably correspond to Blake’s “fourfold vision” considered as a whole. That is to say, another term for “fourfold vision” would be “cosmic consciousness”, and the four Yugas correspond to the fourfold Self of the Upanishads

“All this is the Brahman; this Self is the Brahman and the Self is fourfold. Beyond relation, featureless, unthinkable, in which all is still” — Mandukya Upanishad

In that case, each of Blake’s four “Zoas” of the fourfold human (Albion) also represent a world age, in terms of the Yugas, in which one or the other is dominant. In the present world age, the Zoa he calls “Urizen” — the mad god — is dominant.  Blake almost certainly wasn’t aware of the Hindu Yugas, nor of the “four nafs” or animal souls of Sufism and of Rumi’s poetry.  Blake certainly associated his “Zoas” (the name refers to “beast”) with the “four beasts” that surround the throne of God in the Book of Revelation and in the Book of Ezekiel — and with the four evangelists of the New Testament — Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John — in their zoomorphic aspects as lion, as human, as ox, and as eagle respectively, and as illustrated in the great Book of Kells of Celtic Christianity, and in the illuminated manuscript known as “Agnus Dei”,

The Four Evangelists in The Book of Kells

The Four Evangelists in The Book of Kells

Agnus Dei: Christian Mandala of the Fourfold Self

Agnus Dei: Christian Mandala of the Fourfold Self

It may be added to this that the four world ages of Greek antiquity — the Golden, the Silver, the Bronze, and the Iron — likewise correspond to the Hindu world ages or Yugas. So, when Blake (or Swedenborg) speak of “the Grand Man of the Heavens”, it means the cosmos has a human shape, and that shape is the shape of the fourfold Self. Cosmos and psyche mirror one another. It is in that regard that the cosmos can be interpreted as living symbolic form.

These same four beasts are The Guardians of the Four Directions in Buddhist lore which, legend relates, gifted their own “begging bowls” to the Buddha upon his enlightenment, but which he, “for the sake of his dharma” united with his own.

Our concern here, though, is with “Single Vision” and what that means as the spirit of this world age as represented by Blake in his symbol of “Urizen” become estranged and separated from the other Zoas of the fourfold human. Blake’s Urizen, as we have explored before, represents what Gebser would call the “mental-rational consciousness structure” functioning in “deficient” mode — ie, as “single vision” — “deficient” being a deficit or dis-integrate. “Single vision” pertains to the attitude we call “the fanatic”, and reductionism and fundamentalism all belong to single vision.

In recent decades there has been a spate of books written expressing great alarm at the spiritual state of the human and of human consciousness. Underlying all these critiques is the problem of “single vision” as Blake understood it. Some of these authors might even be surprised to learn that they share that with Blake, since they haven’t yet fully grasped the meaning of “single vision”, or realised that the social problem they are critiquing is the problem of the “fanatical”, for the fanatical and single vision are the same. When Jacques Ellul, for example, critiques technicism and the technological system as the insistence on “the one best way of doing anything”, he is critiquing single vision. When Herbert Marcuse denounces One-Dimensional Man, he is speaking to this same single vision. When political observers write of The Reactionary Mind (Robin) or The Righteous Mind (Haidt) as the fanatical mind, they might be very surprised if I tell them they are responding to the problem of “Single vision”, or that Morris Berman’s Dark Ages America and Jane Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead all can be traced to its root in this same problem of “single vision”. Scientism, economism, consumerism, technicism — these are all only particular aspects of that which Blake called “Single Vision” and the fanatical. So too, in speaking of those ideologies called “neo-liberalism”, “neo-conservatism” or “neo-socialism”. When Thomas Frank denounces neo-liberalism in One Market Under God, he is denouncing single vision and the same fanaticism of “the one best way”.

Single Vision is the hyper-partisan, and the hyper-partisan is the fanatical. It is equivalent to what I have been calling the “point-of-view-line-of-thought” consciousness. When Blake upbraids the “angel” in his “memorable fancy” reproduced in that last post, it is Blake’s critique of the angel’s same single vision, and where the angel’s “metaphysics” and “analytics” must lead finally — to the human as a caricature of a grinning ape. That scenario, which Blake shows the angel as being the necessary consequence of his single vision, is not only remarkably prescient, it is an accurate representation of the state of affairs at the nadir of the Kali Yuga. Single Vision must end in complete nihilism. The scene with the apes that Blake shows the angel is, in spiritual terms, exactly what has come to pass.

Blake’s fourfold vision is thus a corrective to single vision and the problem of the fanatical. Even his twofold and threefold is a corrective. This corrective is also what we find in the works of Jean Gebser, Carl Jung, and Rosenstock-Huessy amongst others — the acceptance of “the multiformity of man” (in Rosenstock’s terms) or the multi-dimensionality of consciousness, and a rejection of the fanatical, of single vision, and of the ideology of “the one best way”.

“Single Vision” is, equally, the warning that Seth gave about the narrowing of the ego consciousness and the  corrective to that, (as quoted at length earlier),

I am saying that the individual self must become consciously aware of far more reality; that it must allow its recognition of identity to expand so that it includes previously unconscious knowledge. To do this you must understand, again, that man must move beyond the concepts of one god, one self, one body, one world, as these ideas are currently understood.

“Fourfold vision” is no idle luxury. It is the cure for what ails us. It must be cultivated, because the consequences of single vision are as Seth foretold: if the multi-dimensionality of consciousness is not realised; if the “multiformity of man” is not recognised, then the human race will perish.



8 responses to ““Single Vision” and the Fanatic”

  1. Dominic says :

    A very important theme indeed!
    My only critique, as such, is that Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” is a reactionary book; and one well reviewed and critiqued by Chris Hedges. Haidt gets into the problem that you blogged about in the Pious Fraud article, among others. Its actually a good book in what to look out for in the reactionary mindset.
    Keep up the thought provoking essays!
    I especially appreciate the reference to Jacques Ellul; the man was a genius, but a bit too pessimistic for me.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I only just started reading Haidt’s book, and haven’t gotten very far into it at all. Have to agree, from reading just the flyleaf, that Haidt may be soft-pedalling the issue. I’ll have to look up Chris Hedges review. Thanks for the mention. Corey Robin’s book was just OK, but I reject his continuous insinuation that all conservatives are necessarily reactionary or even that the visionary type (like Blake, for example) is necessarily reactionary. We got into a nasty spat about that, as well as a nasty spat about his interpretation of Nietzsche.

      I’ld agree that Ellul was quite pessimistic. But then again, pessimists don’t write books. One writes a book or speaks one’s mind in the expectation that somebody will listen and perhaps do something about it all. A real pessimist would shrug, throw up his or her hands, and walk away from it all. So, there must be some sense in which Ellul thought a change of direction was possible. I just don’t think he knew, really, what that would be.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    It is said that some time we take the wisdom from the mouth of the insane. We should not discard the talk of the other by their label, sometime we find some precious thing said by these labeled persons. Human is everyday a new.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    You know how deep I am interested in what you say and you also know how I am after the open multi-vision stand, the concept of god can not be cornered, nor a one single way to him can be identified on the expense of discarding all other ways, To fall in the trap of the single vision whether philosophical or religious is to fall in what you have rightly called an accursed state. Sometime I feel Blake himself falls in what he is fighting, when he insist on the singularity of the christian way, or for that matter all those who consider their way is the best way. We live in an open world and it is pathetic to confine it in a single vision, like what the Jew is doing in the holy land, disrespecting by that stand, the holiness of the land.How at fault the western world in supporting the ugliness of Israel.As Blake said, the human who never alters his opinion is like standing water, that breeds reptile of the mind. It is sad that the human very often withheld the limitless vastness of the divine by the chains of his mind. Finally I would like to see more insight in what Seth said, that man (woman) must move beyond the concepts of one god, one self,one body, one world, (one way) as these ideas are currently understood. Our world needs new interpretation to the old vision,and to note that the essence of the divine will remain beyond the grasp of the human mind and that is the beauty of the various narrations. No wonder Ibn Arabi said where ever I turn I see him in all shapes and forms, in the rose, in the river, in the birds, in the fish and goes and goes. Different Sufis capture the idea differently, some say I have not seen things but seen god in them, I see god prior to things and other say seeing god after things and all are right, after all he is the first and the last and the seen and the unseen, nothing evades his attention,because we all his intention.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I don’t think Blake was a single-minded about Christianity as one might think — certainly not in light of his manifesto “All Religions are One”. For Blake, the Bible was a great story that organised certain spiritual insights in an intelligible but symbolic way. Otherwise, he rejected the “God” of the Bible completely and never went to Church. He hated the Church. His poetry was his religion. His art was his spiritual practice.

      Finally I would like to see more insight in what Seth said, that man (woman) must move beyond the concepts of one god, one self,one body, one world, (one way) as these ideas are currently understood.

      Yes, it seems quite contradictory given that Seth refers to what we call “God” as “All That Is” — a singularity, yet which manifests as a plurality. I think Seth is saying here no more than what William Blake states in “All Religions are One”. Nonetheless, diversity, plurality must be preserved against the danger of totalitarianism or any belief in “the one best way”. This is the ancient paradox of the One and the Many. And we must guard against falling into one camp or the other by a strict “either/or” logic or dichotomising way of thinking.

      This is not far removed from Rosenstock-Huessy’s own concerns for preserving “the multiformity of man” — plurality — but without human beings losing the power to identify with each other or with life itself, an attitude which he insists is inherent in the Cartesian formula “cogito ergo sum” and which he attacked, on this basis, in his brilliant essay “Farewell to Descartes” ( http://www.argobooks.org/rosenstock/pdf/I-am-an-Impure-Thinker.pdf ) as well as in his short book The Multiformity of Man (http://www.argobooks.org/rosenstock/pdf/The-Multiformity-of-Man.pdf ).

      This is key. This is what distinguishes the value of “integrality” from mere “universality”. The integrity of the whole depends on the diversity of its parts, as the meaning “tree” depends as much on its branches as on its roots. Otherwise we have merely uniformity. Unfortunately, nations forget they are branches and come to think of themselves as the whole tree.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “Unfortunately, nations forget they are branches and come to think of themselves as the whole tree.”

        A very insightful remark; as is the quote from the Mandukya Upanishad. “This Self is the Brahman” as an expression parallel to “God made man in his own image,” and “all is still,” as the principle of enantiodromia.

        The single vision is indeed a beast waiting to ambush at all times. But I also think that once the fourfold vision finds a crack in the ego, the likelihood of an ambush by the single vision will diminish very significantly, if not entirely. In other words, Blake may have been at the end of his reincarnational existence on this plane of existence as he left us with so many gifts.

        Jonathan Haidt’s ideas, judging by Saletan’s review of “The Righteous Mind,” seem rudimentary. I agree with your assessment that “Haidt may be soft-pedalling the issue.” His ideas about this “group or cosmic order,” quite literally fall in the “single vision” category, since there’s no one cosmic order and there’s definitely not one group or one group order either. Haidt’s metropolis upbringing in New York city, and his proximity to the crap that comes out of Washington D.C. (both epitomes of Machine City) seem to color so much of his thinking, and this does not do justice to the title of his book. Again, I think Haidt “soft-pedaling the issue” is very well put. I don’t think he quite understands the magnitude of the issue that the title of his book represents, and the infinitely many angles out of which the righteous mind can emerge.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I still haven’t gotten very far into Haidt’s book. It doesn’t hold my attention long enough. But I’ll force myself through it (until I’ve had enough).

          • LittleBigMan says :

            LOL 🙂 God speed! 🙂

            To be perfectly honest, given the review, the level of the book is far below the standard you have set for The Chrysalis. I’d be surprised if his book doesn’t bore you.

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