“O pitiable foolish young man! O horrible! O dreadful state! consider the hot burning dungeon thou art preparing for thyself to all eternity, to which thou art going in such career.” Can I confront, challenge and provoke my friend in such a manner? How could he be responsive to this at all? Maybe in the form of a bet? “Perhaps you will shew me my eternal lot & we will contemplate together upon it and see whether your lot or mine is most desirable.”
And this bet – as being reported in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – make William Blake and an angel, being respectfully called “My friend the Angel” by him. Nevertheless he is down-to-earth about their friendship: “We impose on one another, & it is but lost time to converse with you whose works are only Analytics.” Wow, first talking like an analyzer, yet he puts the boot in!? Wow! How much of this can a friendship bear? Blake thinks: A lot. “Opposition is true Friendship,” because “without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.” Wherein lie the contraries between Blake and the angel? And are they therefore or still friends?
Blake’s appraisal has something to do with what he sees to be true perception and acting. Still discomposed about the angel’s attitude he says: “I have always found that Angels have the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning.” Blake turns up his nose at this kind of thinking. Even more when it bands together with the certain kind of religious attitude the angel promotes: “Thou Idolater, is not God One? & is not he visible in Jesus Christ? and has not Jesus Christ given his sanction to the law of ten commandments, and are not all other men fools, sinners, & nothings?” However, for Blake behind this stands the nuisance of knowledge being communicated over generations: “In the fifth chamber (of a Printing house) were Unnam’d forms, which cast the metals into the expanse. There they were reciev’d by Men who occupied the sixth chamber, and took the forms of books & were arranged in libraries.“ From books read off knowledge and rule-behaving. As Ralph Waldo Emerson would say: The Self as a bare quote.
For Blake an absolute offence to which he responds: “If others had not been foolish, we should be so.” For he is convinced that “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.“ Or speaking in a picture: „The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.“ But as the title of his The Marriage of Heaven and Hell suggests he tries to think heaven and hell making friendship, even getting married. Which is to say, that hell alone would indeed be unacceptable hell on earth! However, for Blake the marriage of heaven and hell already took place: “It indeed appear’d to Reason as if Desire was cast out, but the Devils account is that the Messiah fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss. This is shewn in the Gospel, where he prays to the Father to send the comforter or Desire that Reason may have Ideas to build on.” That’s why for Blake the holiness and divinity of Jesus lies entirely elsewhere as for the angel: “If Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; now hear how he has given his sanction to the law of ten commandments: did he not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the sabbaths God? murder those who were murder’d because of him? turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery? steal the labor of others to support him? bear false witness when he omitted making a defence before Pilate? covet when he pray’d for his disciples, and when he bid them shake off the dust of their feet against such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments; Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules.”
Only that way we are able to overcome the finite organic, say technical and purpose-driven, perception of nature and its creatures. Now we are free to discover infinity through aesthetic and believing perceptions: “I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in every thing, and as I was then perswaded, & remain confirm’d; that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God.” The ambition must be to improve sensual enjoyment. Only, this could be accomplished under one condition: “But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to be expunged: this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid. If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.“ It is all about overcoming the body/soul-dualism:
“All Bibles or sacred codes, have been the causes of the following Errors. 1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul. 2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul. 3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies. But the following Contraries to these are True. 1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age. 2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy. 3. Energy is Eternal Delight.”
The sensual perception of reality and creature was contaminated by this body/soul-dualism. Contaminated because enjoyment is taken only as a matter of satisfying physical needs. Or as Johann Georg Hamann writes: “If the belly is your god, then even the hairs on your head are under its guardianship. Every creature will alternately become your sacrifice and your idol.” The infinity of nature and creature lies in this: each individual being fathomless, each person being an individuality, each man changing―aspects of aesthetic and religious life forms.
As it is for Hamann so it is for Blake: A believing view has to complement and cap technical approaches (as is the case with science, book reading, rule-following etc.). To experience and live believing means for Blake to designate oneself as a subject, to become an individual that experiences and lives non-conformist―and recognises and acknowledges others as such. Unsurprisingly, Blake could say: “Opposition is true Friendship.” Since no system allows contraries, say everything should run smoothly, there could be no progress. However, neither does a system represent reality or living beings, nor does it embrace them in an appropriate manner. The arrogance of a human being against me, to be treated by me that way or another or to impose her or his “we” upon me, perhaps means opposition to me and my beliefs. Anyway, as soon as I want to act for the sake of the other, if I want to do justice to her or him and check whether I am part of her or his “we” I have to engage with his or her arrogances, but without renouncing mine. This is to be negotiated every time anew. There are no rules for treating mutual confrontation. And this will make us humans wiser. To act from an impulse being examined by reason―to act like this means to accept responsibility and to be responsive.