“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”,
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.