Regarded as a kind of holy fool who could stretch time and space while spitting on Isaac Newton’s cape and could scare off Voltaire with flashing visions of nihilistic revelry,a positive nihilism, a kind of messianic negation of the mundane into a cosmic splash of ecstasy. It was a revolutionary ethos, the infernal method that channeled a revolutionary bent into language with or against its will. He was the originator of the society of dissent, and in turn canonized as the rebel salesman of commodity culture in our post-modern era
I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou should’st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou not go mad? How can’st thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou can’st not go mad? ( William Blake )
There is no reason why Blake’s poetry or art his poetry or his art, should be of any use. He never attempted to be useful. Terrifying and delightful, but never practical. But what to make of such a marginalized figure in his time, elevated to posthumous celebrity status by the very elites who detested him? Obviously, there is a marked contradiction between the production and consumption of self-image and Blake has become an identity archetype for a style of hip, cool, counter-cultural archetype, in part an angry young man posing to be dedicated to individual vision that would help establish a connection to a self increasingly undermined in our society of commodified dissemination, the fiction of images.
To some extent, rebellion and revolution are capably integrated into global capitalism and progressive politics are sapped in exchange for a trademarked identity. We have Blake, who was a radical’s radical, totally impoverished in his day now making numerous appearances in films, comics, novels, and music attest to pop culture’s interest in this type of wayward icon. After all if William Burrough can pitch Apple and Dylan Cadillac’s then why not play on Blake’s marginality. Blake is alienation itself, the lone gunman theory, a collision between the transcendent and earthly reality who has acquired demi-god status, appealing to high brow and lowbrowsers who like the snarl and snap of Syd Vicious. but Blake has the imagination.
…William Blake’s poetry frustrates modern, disciplinary forms of proper identity, yet his appropriation by the market shows its ability to signify and commodify the rebellion occurring in his illuminated poetry. Consequently, he often acts as an artistic mentor to avante garde artists, but his poetry also finds itself inhabiting spaces far from his home in the printshop of an antinomian, proto-Marxist poet-prophet. Mike Goode, in his recent essay “Blakespotting” recalls a 2003 article of the New Yorker which describes a penthouse owned by Donald Trump decorated with proverbs from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. While a majority of Blake critics would argue against the ahistorical invocation of Blake’s proverb by such a staunch capitalist, “it is difficult to defend the position that the proverb, once dislocated from Blake’s copperplate and relocated onto the gilded walls of a luxury penthouse, cannot mean what Trump seems to want it to mean here” ….
…Blake’s poetry, and its meaning, disseminates throughout the global network of contemporary capitalism, mutating its character almost beyond recognition. This poetry appears on indie t-shirts sporting lines from “The Fly;” in a 2006 movie short on “The Tyger” by Brazillian director Guilherme Marcondes combining puppetry, CGI and photography; and electronic pop music featuring the melodic vocals of British music stars Billy Bragg and Jah Wobble. There is a Blake Tarot deck, a sect of Sufism dedicated to Blake called the Blaketashi Derwishes, and a church headed by Aethelred Eldrige who engages in daily readings of Milton. Blake’s influence is everywhere – from a …romance novel by Tracy Chevalier imagining the sex life of William and Catherine to a run in Todd McFarlaine’s Spawn featuring Urizen as a supervillain. Blake’s cult status has transformed to signify dark and daring innovation. In Red Dragon (2002), Blake signifies an occultic “other” knowledge that drives the serial killer Francis Dolarhyde to acts of murder and degradation. Jim Jarmusch’s film Dead Man (1995) envisions William Blake reincarnated as a Cleveland banker who, guided by a pseudo-parody of Native American religiosity, kills white frontiersmen in California….
…In some depictions, William Blake acts a cultural aura that posseses the modern capitalist subject, perverting its very being with dark rituals, mayhem and madness. But it is Blake’s very pliability that makes his poetry so receptive to readers. Detached from any originary site of production, Blake’s proverbs and phrases float in networks of consumption resisting what Goode calls “the idealist abstractions of the categories of reader, text, and corpus altogether, in the service of producing reading formations that cannot be identified or mapped accordinhttp://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v3_2/whitson/
The danger now is that posthumously Blake is made that most contemptible of things; a national institution. He is, friends, being embalmed and elevated by the very establishment that metaphorically defecated from a great height on him and his kind, now that his betters can shill a small fortune from exhibitions and auctions. Once William Blake’s legacy was in danger of perishing through disregard, now it dies on the dissecting table of English Literature courses….
…More chilling still is his adoption by the denizens of Middle England due to the wholesale theft of the hymn Jerusalem (adapted from the preface of his poem Milton; “And did those feet in ancient time…”) as a kind of unofficial English National Anthem. No harm in that you might reasonably think, that is until you see the warbling stiffs on Songs of Praise or the butcher’s apron-waving hordes at the Last Night at the Proms belting out his verses through slots in their puckered ruined faces and your stomach starts to churn. It’s the most bitter of ironies. Alas the fine tradition of English libertarianism from Freeborn John onwards has been woefully hijacked by the the shat-minded Right. However, brothers and sisters, when the ghost of William Blake is wheeled out by some kind of jingoist windbag, remember that this was a man who was anti-authority to the marrow of his bones, remember that his soul belonged to the half-demented inner streets of London rather than the chancels of Canterbury or York and that if Jerusalem is an alternative anthem it is one, not for a nation of Thatcherite shopkeepers or the psychotic traitors lodged in the citadel of the Square Mile but rather a mystic Internationale, for the unsilent minority, those bellowing down the centuries for social justice and the freedom to be whatever they choose, the culture-bearers and fuck-ups, not the disgusted of Tunbridge Wells but the disgusting of Soho. In other words, he is yours. Read More:http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/van-goghs-ear-vi-william-blake-and-the-holy-fool/a
…there are many Blakes on offer. It’s a mark of Blake’s genius, his universality, that he unites such diverse enthusiasts. Science writers such as Bronowski and Dawkins, Marxists such as EP Thompson, Jungians such as Kathleen Raine, poets such as WB Yeats and Allen Ginsberg (who as a young man heard Blake sing to him), Avalonians such as John Michell, jazzers such as Mike Westbrook and filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch have all summoned Blake’s utopian spirit to their causes. Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2000/oct/22/classics.williamblake
G.K. Chesterton:Some have found in his [ie William Blake's] Irish origin an explanation of his imaginative energy; the idea may be admitted, but under strong reservations. It is probably true that Ireland, if she were free from oppression, would produce more pure mystics than England. And for the same reason she would still produce fewer poets. A poet may be vague, and a mystic hates vagueness. A poet is a man who mixes up heaven and earth unconsciously. A mystic is a man who separates heaven and earth even if he enjoys them both. Broadly the English type is he who sees the elves entangled in the forests of Arcady, like Shakespeare and Keats: the Irish type is he who sees the fairies quite distinct from the forest, like Blake and Mr W B Yeats. Read More:http://www.thecultureclub.net/2006/11/06/gk-chesterton-on-william-blake/