Monday, 9 March 2015

William Blake and the Universities

When addressing the "Dark satanic mills" of Jerusalem Blake almost certainly had the Universities in his sights. Voicing similar thoughts about the excesses of rationalism to those of Horkheimer (my post yesterday), Blake remarks:
I turn my eyes to the schools and universities of Europe
And there behold the Loom of Locke, whose woof rages dire,
Wash'd by the Water-wheels of Newton: black the cloth
In heavy wreaths folds over every nation: cruel works
Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
Moving by compulsion each other, not as those in Eden, which,
Wheel within wheel, in freedom revolve in harmony and peace.
The previous verse leaves little doubt who the villains are in Blake's mind:
For Bacon and Newton, sheathed in dismal steel, their terrors hang
Like iron scourges over Albion: Reasonings like vast Serpents
Infold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations.
Newton's cold reasoning was seen as the mantra of the rationalism which was drummed into the minds of the students of the Universities. It lacked subtlety: it 'bruised minute articulations'.

Now where are we? What do our computers do? Is it not the same thing? Are our "minute articulations" equally battered?

Blake's mystical cosmology was recursive. He championed this over the sequentialist thinking of Newton (Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic). His vision was of "Wheels within wheels" - an ecological, recursive, organic system. 

1 comment:

Richard Farr said...

That's one view of Newton, but there are others. John Maynard Keynes on 'Newton the Man' (1946):

"Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago. Isaac Newton, a posthumous child bom with no father on Christmas Day, 1642, was the last wonderchild to whom the Magi could do sincere and appropriate homage."