Gods Are Dead and I Feel Fine

I think it was in Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell I read a quote from someone who said that he would not want to live in a universe where a god called the shots. Basically, a world with God was to him a horrible idea. Personally, I think there is a place for old obscure stories with which we can create a community and a common language to explain things, these stories included, even if they just do not make any sense to me. My own explanation for them is that death, for instance, is something so final that it is difficult for us to comprehend. We are so enmeshed with our daily lives and its contingencies that it is very difficult to grasp the end of it all, the end of all contingency. Hence, we make shit up.

The Tate has a room with a bunch of works by William Blake, a guy whose Christian zeal has probably made more people examine their own metaphysical view of the world than the Pope and Inquisition combined. For instance, take a look at his picture from the Shakespearian masterpiece A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Source: Wikipedia

If I had to pick a favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, the Dream would be the one. Yes, Lear is the better, deeper play, but unfortunately my unrefined tastes make the Dream and even Timon of Athens much better for me. Timon is delightful in its misanthropy, but substantially weaker than the incredible orgy of language and vision the Dream gives out, and Blake seems to capture the dream-like quality of the subtext perfectly in his image.

The straight up Christian images tell of a world where all the men have an incredible white, flowing beard and locks to match. That’s actually the best thing about the strange world Blake conjured up from his fevered dreams. The rest is a horrible place where a vengeful God makes mortal life an absolute misery. When I first saw pictures of Blake’s carvings and prints, I thought the horror in them would be diluted by their small stature, but seeing the originals I was struck by the sheer size and power of these things. They are a scream against the neo-pagan worldview of Shakespeare’s plays. Something funny was going on in Elizabethan England and Blake seemed to react against this, making the Greeks shine in his negative light. He also made his point against Newtonian science in a similar manner.

Source: Wikipedia

Newton, a naked Greekish figure, hunches down to look at his equations. Everything that goes on above is irrelevant. It can be read as an arrogant exercise, a masturbatory event that caters only to the single intellect engaged in it. On the other hand, it can be seen as an exercise in humility, leaving godlike knowledge to the gods and concentrating on what mortals can know. The thing with Blake is that you never know. And that’s his point, I guess. Blake’s gods are ours, white beards and all, but it’s much more difficult to figure out what his man is in the light of our gods.

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