Today we explored Blake’s letters and his deep sense of how his method of engraving provided him with not only a livelihood but with a literal and symbolic means of embodying his life’s purpose. Let’s take each of these focuses separately.
Firstly, in his letters we get such a detailed account of the forces that shaped his imagination, that gave birth to his eccentric, radical ideas: Paracelsus, Boehme, Milton, Shakespeare, The American and French Revolutions… from these he carved his own idiosyncratic world view. But most importantly he expresses in his letters his deep experience of a reality that is beyond the material. There is that wonderful poem in his letter to Thomas Butts (October 2, 1800) in which he describes his experience on the beach at Felpham. Read it in the link. What is amazing is that Blake has this unquestioned experience of the Sacred dimension of reality, one in which every part of matter is alive, animated. His experience is close, I believe, to what indigenous people had, before Western culture robbed them of this. Blake needs to be listened to and heard, because he is such a powerful witness to this experience of the “other” dimension of reality, what some people might call the “noumenous” which means something like illuminated, a sort of spiritual space, a luminous perception.
Blake’s method of engraving, he called “the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.” This is an extraordinarily accurate description of what Blake actually did in his engraving studio, with every single word and image that he produced: he would sketch the word or image (in mirror reverse), paint this word or image with a wax and then pour acid onto the metal plate that surrounded the text or image that he had sketched. What was left after the acid had done its job was the words and images that Blake had covered with wax. They were standing proud, now -as it were- freed from the metal which had enclosed them:
In this way, Blake saw himself as pouring acid onto everything that stood in the way of his text or images. In this way his art was a means of “medicinally, melting” away all that impeded the truths that he was expressing. So the practice of his art was a powerful physical metaphor for what he was actually trying to do through the engraved words and images themselves.
So what Blog questions arise from these powerful ideas:
1/ Imagine your are William Blake. Express -in a letter to a friend- in your own words why you think the printing method you have chosen expresses perfectly what your whole life’s work is about.
2/ “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite”. This is the next line in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell after his description of his printing method. Describe to a friend what you think Blake means by this. If possible include some reference to the rock group The Doors who were deeply inspired by Blake’s ideas.
3/ Using Lino (or some other material) make your own Blakean engraving and showcase it here in your blog.
4/ Imagine you are Thomas Butts and write a letter back to Blake explaining how much you appreciate his poem about the Felpham beach.