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Friday, March 5, 2010


In William Blake's Recreation of Gnostic Myth: Resolving the Apparent Incongruities, Sorensen devotes a chapter to gnostic redemption - fitting Blake's spiritual biography in the pattern of Redemption as a gnostic process which involves 'letting go of worldly conceit' and 'the exalting reunion with the divine.'

Quotes from Sorensen:

"There is little doubt that Blake had intuited as early as 1788 the essential nature of gnostic redemption, in which mankind, through gnosis becomes one with God. There Is No Natural Religion [b] declares," He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God....Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may become as he is."...Blake for many years diligently searched outside himself for this revelation. His wide, if eclectic, reading, his attraction to Swedenborg's works, and his hopes for political revolution all point toward the hope of pure revelation even in the chaos of a fallen material world. Blake's disappointment with the systems of the world around him is abundantly clear in the 1790's, but he never stopped hoping for some solution.

"Blake's letter of 23 October 1804 to William Haley specifies exactly what had troubled Blake and what caused Blake's own gnostic 'redemption.' There are two important aspects to this redemption; first, Blake lets go of his former enmity with Haley, under whose patronage Blake had felt so oppressed toward the end of his stay at Felpham. Blake expresses 'pleasure' and 'longing' in the letter to associate with Haley, who was not even remotely on the same spiritual plane as Blake (which fact caused enmity in the first instance). This self-annihilation on Blake's part constitutes the gnostic's final 'letting go' of worldly conceit.

"The second part of the redemption is the exalting reunification with the divine. After visiting an art gallery, Blake becomes 'enlightened', and he refers to the experience as his 'restoration to the light of Art'.

Blake's experience is reported in this Letter To William Hayley, 23 October 1804, (E 756):
..."Suddenly, on the day after visiting the Truchsessian Gallery of pictures, I was again enlightened with the light I enjoyed in my youth, and which has for exactly twenty years been closed from me as by a door and by window-shutters. Consequently I can, with confidence, promise you ocular demonstration of my altered state on the plates I am now engraving after Romney, whose spiritual aid has not a little conduced to my restoration to the light of Art. O the distress I have undergone, and my poor wife with me. Incessantly labouring and incessantly spoiling what I had done well. Every one of my friends was astonished at my faults, and could not assign a reason; they knew my industry and abstinence from every pleasure for the sake of study, and yet--and yet--and yet there wanted the proofs of industry in my works. I thank God with entire confidence that it shall be so no longer--he is become my servant who domineered over me, he is even as a brother who was my enemy. Dear Sir, excuse my enthusiasm or rather madness, for I am really drunk with intellectual vision whenever I take a pencil or graver into my hand, even as I used to be in my youth, and as I have not been for twenty dark, but very profitable years. I thank God that I courageously pursued my course through darkness."

Returning to Sorenson:
"This instance of highly personalized , individual revelation is a hallmark of Christian gnosticism, in which each gnostic adept must personally encounter divine vision; the contemplation or rational study of canonized scripture and submission to ecclesiastical authority are insufficient, according to gnostic scribes, to reveal the true divine cosmology.
"This assurance, that poetic genius indeed creates reality, and that gnosis is the recognition of a reality more real than material existence, came to Blake full by 1804, and he could confidently reveal in his poetry and later in his painting the gnostic redemption of mankind, knowing that his word as poet was the harbinger of that redemption. The artist's poetic works and paintings became his spiritual offspring, and Blake (a man) became a member of the divine family, even as his earliest tractates declared."

The book attempts to open one's eyes to the many ways in which Blake exhibits gnostic thought forms in his life and work. It is a short book in scholarly form. It is an individual way of studying Blake, just as the the methods used by Frey, Erdman, Raine, Damon and each author are their individual ways. Although Sorensen has taken an unusual approach for scholarship by not looking for direct influence but for synchronistic, acausal congruence, it is the type of thinking Blake himself did.

An Angel Striding among the Stars

1 comment:

  1. Sorenson is certainly "on my track", but here's one reservation about his treatment:
    Is what he calls Blake's gnosis uniquely gnostic? The word is much broader and more generic than to use it exclusively for the Gnostic movements of Bible times.

    Gnosis applies to anyone who knows something: For example Jung, "I don't believe God exists; I know it."

    Or Job: "I know that my Redeemer lives..."

    Are these both Gnostics?

    The point is a wide variety of religious and philosophic types know the sacred knowledge.

    In particular the "heretics of the past 2000 years all had the knowledge that Sorenson ascribes to Gnostics.

    The knowledge, if anyone doubts, is the direct encounter with the Beyond, Eternity, God (whatever) without the seal of 'authorities' or 'appproved sacred writings'.