On the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Blake – Tate Britain has an ongoing exhibition of his work and there’s more at the Blake online archive – Terry Eagleton [previously noted on Beckett] has some fun contrasting Blake’s “vision thing” with current writers and politicians.. although not as much fun as Ian Sinclair and Michael Horowitz had on Radio 4’s Today programme – listen to the last 6 mins or so here.. and then the reaction to the birthday greetings at the beginning of the next segment [RealPlayer files]. From Eagleton’s Guardian article. Adds More on Blake’s vision here
In his own mighty epic – Milton – Blake turned back to his great Protestant forebear from a Britain now scarred by industrial capitalism. He raided Milton’s work to foster his own visions of liberation, passing on the revolutionary torch to WB Yeats. This self-appointed mythmaker to the Irish war of independence was inspired by Blake’s notion of the poet as prophet and public activist.
Politics today is largely a question of management and administration. Blake, by contrast, viewed the political as inseparable from art, ethics, sexuality and the imagination. It was about the emancipation of desire, not its manipulation. Desire for him was an infinite delight, and his whole project was to rescue it from the repressive regime of priests and kings. His sense of how sexuality can turn pathological through repression is strikingly close to Freud’s. To see the body as it really is, free from illusion and ideology, is to see that its roots run down to eternity. “If the doors of perception were cleansed,” he claims, “everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Political states keep power by convincing us of our limitations.
They do so, too, by persuading us to be “moderate”; Blake, however, was not enamoured of the third way. The New Testament that Gordon Brown reads in his Presbyterian fashion as a model of prudence, conscience and sobriety, Blake read as a hymn to creative recklessness. He sees that Jesus’s ethics are extravagant, hostile to the calculative spirit of the utilitarians. If they ask for your coat, give them your cloak; if they ask you to walk one mile, walk two. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, and those who restrain their desires do so because their desires are feeble enough to be restrained.
Update From the added link
“Would to God that all the Lord’s people were prophets”, he wrote, thereby including everyone in the task of speaking out about what they saw. Prophecy for Blake, however, was not a prediction of the end of the world, but telling the truth as best a person can about what he or she sees, fortified by insight and an “honest persuasion” that with personal struggle, things could be improved. A human being observes, is indignant and speaks out: it’s a basic political maxim which is necessary for any age. Blake wanted to stir people from their intellectual slumbers, and the daily grind of their toil, to see that they were captivated in the grip of a culture which kept them thinking in ways which served the interests of the powerful.