British Poetry Seminar I(2019)

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

William Blake


March 19, 2015


1. Swedenborgism

-Swedenborg was an eighteenth-century Swedish dignitary of considerable learning who believed that he had the power to communicate with spirits and angels and that these beings would help him fulfil the task allotted to him by God, namely to reveal the hidden meaning of Scripture and to usher in the new Church.

-He believed that the Church had lost sight of a fundamental truth, namely that God is one and operates through all of creation.

-Swedenborg himself believed that everything in material nature flows out of the thoughts of angels and spirits and that the power of thought in angels and spirits flows ultimately from God. This is the basis of his ‘correspondence’ theory. Accordingly, every material thing ‘corresponds’ to the spiritual thing of which it is an effect. Thus cows correspond to angels thinking about the affections of nature-bound minds; sheep correspond to angels thinking about spiritually uplifted minds, and so on. The correspondence theory is in turn the basis of Swedenborg’s biblical exegesis. Swedenborg believed that every word in Scripture expresses a correspondence.

2. Menippean Satire

A form of intellectually humorous work characterized by miscellaneous contents, displays of curious erudition, and comical discussions on philosophical topics. The name comes from the Greek Cynic philosopher Menippus (3rd century bce), whose works are lost, but who was imitated by the Roman writer Varro (1st century bce) among others. The Canadian critic Northrop Frye revived the term in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) while also introducing the overlapping term anatomy after a famous example of Menippean satire, Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). The best-known example of the form is Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865); other examples include the novels of Thomas Love Peacock, and John Barth's campus novel Giles Goat-Boy (1966). The humour in these works is more cheerfully intellectual and less aggressive than in those works which we would usually call satires, although it holds up contemporary intellectual life to gentle ridicule.

3. from David Erdman's Blake: Prophet against the Empire(1969)

- Blake's "Reason" as "the restrainer": Blake is half in jest when he speaks of the “"marriage”" of Heaven and Hell, for Hell does not exist except as the negative way of looking at Energy, while the Heaven of things-as-they-are is really a delusion like the senile “innocence” of Har and Heva which springs from a denial of the true Heaven of progression. Blake’s theory admits of a true or necessary Reason as “the bound or outward circumference of Energy” but leaves it no role in “life” except to be pushed about. Reason is the horizon kept constantly on the move by man’s infinite desire. The moment it exerts a will of its own and attempts to restrain desire, it turns into that negative and unnecessary Reason which enforces obedience with dungeons, armies, and priestcraft and which Blake refers to, as “the restrainer” which usurps the place of desire and “governs the unwilling.”

-The politics of Blake's contraries: Blake’s more immediate focus is upon the politics of moral restraint, and he is condemning the conservatism which seeks to confine the oppressed to a passive acceptance of tyranny. “Religion is an endeavour to reconcile the “two classes of men” who “should be enemies,” i.e. to unite the lion and its prey. But “Jesus Christ did not wish to unite but to separate them, as in the Parable of sheep and goats! & he says I came not to send Peace but a Sword.” The illusion that energy can be quietly repressed by celestial “wisdom” is exploded by the very fact of revolution.

-Blake's critique on Tory's point of view: Blake then “imposes upon” the Tory in his turn, showing this Guildenstern a vision of his future lot, assuming the Swedenborgian Hell to be true. The Tory’s clinging to the status quo means that he accepts a phantasmal eternity of cannibalistic relations between Producers and Devourers. A person who assumes that people belong in chains and who scorns the multitude as swinish has nothing to look forward to but a loathly conflict of “monkeys, baboons, & all of that species chain’d by the middle.” The Devourers, politician like, grin and kiss “with seeming fondness” the body of a victim they are devouring limb by limb. The implication seems to be that only those who cannot imagine progressive social change must view the Negations as eternal and assume that human relations will be forever those of joyless slavery.

4. Harold Bloom's The Ring in the Tower: Studies in Romantic Tradition(1971)

-Blake's negation of Christian dualism: Christian dualism is therefore a negation, hindrance, not action, and is cast out beyond the balance of contraries. Blake does not build truth by dialectic, being neither a rational mystic like Plato nor a mystic rationalist like Hegel. Nothing eternal abides behind forms for Blake; he seeks reality in appearances, though he rejects appearance as it is perceived by the lowest-common-denominator kind of observer. Between the cloven fiction of St. Paul’'s mind-body split and the emotionalism of the celebrator of a state of nature exists the complex apocalyptic humanism of the Marriage, denying metaphysics, accepting the hard given of this world, but only insofar as this appearance is altogether human.


From Bloom’s introduction


The literary form: Menippean satire: concern with intellectual error, extraordinary diversity of subject-matter, a mixed verse-and-prose form, and a certain reliance on a symposium setting.


Blake's doctrine of image of contraries is his own: For Heraclitus, Good and Evil were one: for Blake they were not the inseparable halves of the same thing, but merely born together. For Hegel, opposites were raised to a higher power when they were transcended by synthesis; for Blake, opposites remained creative only so long as each remained immanent. Good and Evil could not refute one another, for each was only what the religious called Good and Evil, passive and active, restrained and unrestrained.


Blake is denying the orthodox categories altogether, and opposing himself both to moral "good" and moral "evil"


The idea of raising our intensity of perception and so triumphing over nature through nature is the central idea of the Proverbs of Hell.


5. Peter Schock's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Blake's Myth of Satan and it's Cultural Matrix"


-Three Dimensions of Blake's Diabolism: Blake's myth of Satan emerges at this time, because like other Romantic-age revisions of the myth, it arises out of a matrix of specific cultural forces and influences, converging in this case in the early 1790s. One dimension of this matrix is religious: the decline of belief in the existence of the Devil and the rise of syncretic or comparative mythography established Satan as a mythic figure, freeing him for artistic and ideological purposes. The second involves the widespread ideological appropriation of the myth by both conservatives and radicals in England during the early years of the French Revolution, which charged the myth with political meaning. The third dimension of the cultural matrix is the interpretation of Milton's Satan in the criticism and illustration of Paradise Lost during the age, which increasingly idealized the fallen archangel, representing him as a sublime, human, and heroic figure. These three dimensions together brought about this result: the religious myth of the adversary lost authority, and the figure of Satan was reconstituted by ideology and by the idealized conception of Milton's Satan. In Romanticism Milton's charismatic fallen angel survives as an ideological vehicle, a mythic standard-bearer of moral, political, and religious values.







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