Monday, January 14, 2008

the sleep of reason produces monsters…..or, au contraire!

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour

Thus begins William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. Wonderful. But from this beginning Blake goes on to 120-odd lines that speak of good and evil, innocence and experience, corruption and clarity. All at once and then some. Contrasting one with the other. Talking of things to the contrary. Ah! William Blake.

A friend of mine liked the first four lines so much she went and read out the rest of the poem (“…after the elation that the first four lines gave me…” in her words). From elation she went to saying, “[I] didn’t expect the poem to leave me feeling disturbed….made me shift in my seat…”. But that was the genius of Blake. To show experience in the light of innocence and look at innocence through the eyes of experience.

For Blake, Innocence and Experience were two states that had to be each given its own due and acknowledged. Putting things forth as they were however disturbing they were. Innocence is not a vacuum, it exists in the world of experience. In Experience there is the vestige and hope of innocence. But while others would tell us one part of the story, hold out only hope, Blake would tell it as it is hoping his readers would go through his larger body of work to get to what he wanted to get at.

So in Blake’s worlds, and in his words, for every Clod which sang….
“Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives it ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair.”

…there was a Pebble that sang back,
“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite.”
In fact the sub-title to Blake’s most-beloved work is “Showing the Two Contrary States of The Human Soul”. But this relationship of Innocence and Experience, this inter-play of these contrary states, is not one of direct, static contrasts, but with ever-shifting perspectives and thoughts and tensions. But what about the Soul? If these be the Contrary States, what about the Soul itself?

The difficulty in trying to get the whole import (if one can ever get to it, or to the best of one’s ability) of Songs of Innocence and Experience is that the States are so intertwined that it is difficult to see the Hope in experience and the fear in Innocence. Later on in his illustrious career, Blake would be more clear….showing the separation of the States from the Individual. The Individual being real and eternal, with the illusory States being temporary conditions through which the Individual would pass. The Body and the States just a ‘clothing for the soul divine’ (see below). That’s what it says in the immortal Gita. With broad strokes, reminds one of the eternal philosophy of Advaita, from which we know that once you that ‘Thou art That’ and cast away the subjective reality of Maya, and uncloak yourself from avidya and agjana, will you realise that ‘Thou art Bhraman’. It’s a long way to go, seemingly impossible. But there’s still the hope. The knowledge. But coming back to Blake, why wait to read the later works, when this same message is there in ‘Auguries of Innocence.’

"Man was made for joy & woe,
And when this we rightly know
Thro' the world we safely go.
Joy & woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the Soul divine…"

But why not then make it apparent from the beginning? There’s a reason. It’s called progression. In Blake’s own words (selectively selected from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

“…As a new heaven is begun…the Eternal Hell revives……
…..Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.”

Without Contraries, there is no progression. And another interesting point to note is that Blake refers to ‘a new heaven’ while hell is eternal. Hmmm….is it because Joy is rare and ephemeral, but misery and sorrow is ever present. Is it because Joy and Happiness come in small portions but Misery and Sorrow do not? Like Shakespeare wrote, “When sorrow comes, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”. Or is it because each Joy is Joy, but not every sorrow the same? Leo Tolstoy I think got it right when he started Anna Karenina with this of-quoted line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Well. Too much thought. One can think and think and write and write. Sigh.
Well, one can but barely scratch the surface, knowing that the answer and the explanation may never be within reach. But one can try. And spew it out from his onto his blog, for no particular reason except that one cannot help but think. Keep thinking. Sharks need to keep moving. If they stop, they sink. Similarly I guess if I need to stay afloat, I must keep moving, thinking. Even if it be to no end, to serve no purpose, and for no one but myself. But thinking has its own evils.

But some thoughts get to you. Some thoughts are like monsters. Restless. Eating into you, till you show them the light of day. Let them escape, and set them free from the caverns of your mind. You need to get them out somewhere. You need to grapple with thine demons. And thinking helps it not. Like that other great man in my pantheon realised, ‘the sleep of reason produces monsters…”. At face value, works just fine for me. And thus i guess I am left with some reason to put an end to this post with this image from Goya, called The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters...

“La fantasia abandonada de la razon, produce monstruos imposibles: unida con ella, es madre de las artes y origen de sus marabillas.”

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