Tag Archives: event

“want a violent girl / who’s not scared of anything”

True love is modest, like that of a couple in a Marguerite Duras novel: while the two lovers hold hands, they do not look into each other’s eyes; they look together outwards, to some third point, their common Cause. Perhaps there is no greater love than that of a revolutionary couple, where each of the two lovers is ready to abandon the other at any moment should the revolution demand it. They do not love each other less than the amorous couple bent on suspending all their terrestrial links and obligations in order to burn out in a night of unconditional passion—if anything, they love each other more … From what we know about love among the Bolshevik revolutionaries, something unique took place there, a new form of amorous couple emerged: a couple living in a permanent state of emergency, totally dedicated to the revolutionary Cause, ready to sacrifice all personal sexual fulfillment to it, even ready to abandon and betray each other if the Revolution demanded it, but simultaneously totally dedicated to each other, enjoying rare moments of extreme intensity together. The lovers’ passion was tolerated, even silently respected, but ignored in the public discourse as something of no concern to others … the radical disjunction between sexual passion and social-revolutionary activity is fully recognized.
— Žižek, L it ET, 109, 114

The above quotes are precisely how to turn a particular fondness for an individual into an event in the field of love. Not necessarily in terms of “revolution,” but in terms of “cause.” A dear friend of mine says: “Revolutions aside, perhaps there always has to be a common Cause for there to be love” (LN).

This is especially true today because, let’s face it, there is no revolution—there will be no revolution. An ecological disaster may force us to change, but hoping for a political revolution is vain. However, if it is possible for The Two to unite, not only in fidelity to one another, but also in a common cause both hold dear, there is hope for a revolution in the field of love. The time is coming when possible future events in this field will be foreclosed by the ever encroaching non-evental necessity of economics; “love” proper will be atomized into commodities such as “gender,” “passion,” “sexuality,” etc.

The questions inevitably arise: what is a cause in terms of love? How does one, or, more precisely, how do The Two identify their common cause? When and how to decide to betray the lover for the sake of the cause?

In the most basic terms, a “cause” is an interest. It could be an interest in nearly anything—what turns it into a cause, and hence into love, is commonality between “The Two.” This interest should NOT be a passion because passion is the desire for total unity with the object, for totalizing the truth, for forcing the truth to appear, which are all sure paths to disaster. It is possible to be passionate but a relationship based on passion alone is doomed.

In order for an event to take place on the horizon of “interest,” the notion of totality must be absent. The field of love must be open and open itself to the possibility of developing into an Event in the order of (mere) Being.

But in what sense are we to understand the term “interest?” One unexpected meaning we may give to the term can be borrowed from the jargon of finance. “Interest” in the sense that The Two invest themselves, their being, in a cause and this investment leads to an “accrual” of commitment and fidelity to the Cause.

Another way to understand the term “interest” is through the syntagm “self-interest.” Because, we know, according to Rimbaud, “Je est un autre,” the interest in “self” is, properly, an interest in the other. This is not meant to give advantage or primacy to the other insofar as s/he is other, but is to recognize that, in love, the other is the self that is loved by the loving subject; this is to be considered the dialectical nature of a truly loving subjectivity and the subjectivity of being loved.

The notion of “conflict” must also be considered along with the term “interest”—that is, “conflict of interest.” Even when an interest is shared between The Two, conflict should be ineluctable. We might call this the “amorous parallax”—when The Two, viewing the same object-interest, see it from mutually exclusive (theoretical) positions, from radically different subjective vantages. This is the point: the possibility for either betrayal or an event is at its most potentially explosive. Only by maintaining fidelity to the Cause above all else will The Two discover where love will lead them. The “lost cause” emerges when The Two choose each other, or one chooses the Cause above the lover.

Identifying a worthy cause is the task of a lifetime. To find another who shares the same interest is a matter of great fortune or determined investigation: both equally difficult. There is no knowing whether the Cause that aligns The Two is worthy of them, no guarantee that truth will emerge from their fidelity to each other or their Cause. All they can do is love and wager and hope that with effort and thought the conflict between their subjectivity will lead to an event, to deeper understanding. If it doesn’t, they will need the strength to realize that their Cause was a simulacrum of truth, and, as such, could only lead to disaster and betrayal. They will not see this as tragic. Instead they will find joy in being proven wrong, getting a chance to start anew, striving to find another Cause. The alternative to this would be to betray the Cause, leave it behind, and find another interest to devote themselves to.

How does one decide to betray the lover in favour of the Cause, or the Cause in favour of the lover? Betraying the closest thing to you is difficult—but betraying what is “in you more than you,” is near impossible. This is how it is: it is difficult to betray the one you love, but it is even more difficult to betray the cause you believe in. There is no easy way to decide which is “correct” because there is no guarantee that the decision to break will produce the effect one desires. All that is possible is to decide, to break from what is believed to be an obstacle to either the fidelity to the Cause or fidelity to the lover, and stick to that decision. This decision should not be easy to make, but it should be effortless to act upon and this is how one can identify the time for betrayal.

I do not speak of “true love,” but of the Truth of love as a field for possible meaning(s), of the site of love as a potential venue for an Event in Being.

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PERFIDIA : the particular »» the universal

this song is to be considered an event in music. composed by Alberto Dominguez, perfidia is a perfect example of how a local, particular, singular work attains evental status and allows THE TRUTH to be approached.

i first heard Xavier Cugat’s version of the song in the Wong Kar Wai film days of being wild. instantly, the sound of Cugat’s orchestral arrangement of Dominguez’s song put me in a state of ecstasy.

the particular song gave rise to universal truth. how? its transferability from one language to another, from one genre to another, from one medium to another. not only can it be translated — it also retains the original presence which marked it in the first place, the presence which elevated it from “just another song” to a specific form of meaning.

that the song is meaningful is evident from the number of talented individuals who have been inspired enough by it to perform it and record it. what is it about the song that gives it a universal meaning? the actual instrumental arrangement of the song is known as bolero, but it is the content of the lyrics that move this style into the space of universality via the song’s content: betrayal, desire, jealousy, and love set against baroque and lush instrumentation.

few songs have had the kind of influence perfidia has had. one example i can think of is Beethoven’s ninth symphony, the (in)famous Ode to Joy. however, i would say that the effects of perfidia have been absolutely positive whereas the Ode, although universal in its appeal, also opened up what may be called “the bad infinity.” not in the strict Hegelian sense, but in the way that all kinds of groups, from fascists to the beijing olympics, have used the song as a kind of ideological tool for manipulation.

all perfidia ever did was break a man’s heart.

militant science

i found out about this mathematician, grigori perelman, a couple of years back and then forgot his name and forgot about him. what i didn’t forget about, however, is the story behind his achievements and its relationship to the procedure to truth in the field of science.

i won’t pretend to understand the significance of perelman’s discovery or its larger implications for mathematicians. the significance of perelman is that he rejected all attempts that were made to compromise him, including a $1 000 000 “prize.” not only did he arrive at truth by solving poincaré’s conjecture but he displayed militant fidelity to the event of his discovery by refusing to be awarded for his achievement.

if pure truth can be attained in the manner of perelman in science, there is hope in the other evental sites for the procedure to truth (art, love, politics).

Rage and Politics (fragments not unrelated to jealousy)

The successful politician is one who can successfully conceal the stain of the Real, that irreducible seed of desire that animates sociality in general and ambition in particular. Take note: to recover from a sex scandal is a privilege not usually granted to politicians; professional athletes are more likely to receive a pardon for this so-called offence. However, if infidelity is indeed an “offence” – what or whom could it possibly offend? Even outside of political marriages, infidelity is rather par for the course. If love is a site for truth, it is only arrived at by practicing militant commitment to the object of one’s love. Betrayal is as necessary to the political as divorce law is to marriage: both are and will become ever more common and profitable. A successful politician is free to have extra-marital affairs, so long as they are concealed; a very successful politician may fuck an entire nation, and conceal it behind an empire of screens (Ahmadinejad, Berlusconi, Bush, Putin … our future politics?).

However, what I term “the political” is to be opposed to what I term Politics. The term “political” is to be conceived as a public forum for private interests; a space in which a public order of office is used not for the benefit of the public but for a private individual’s personal gain. This “gain” may be directly sexual, as in the case of Steve Ellis, or it may take the form of a more subtle erotic – in either case, the dynamic is the same, if it is merely the political at stake: an asymmetrical and brutish exchange of power, whether it is a Korean woman who is essentially raped or the entire public of a community put at a disadvantage. Let us not kid ourselves about what we are exactly.

It is the political today that prevents the establishment of Politics proper. Politics proper would establish the names of what constitute “the private individual” and subtract those from the names that register as “public interest.” Such an operation would clearly identify the excess elements (i.e. names) which, although a part of the social situation (the social situation becoming politics in the process of subtraction), are not included within it. Anything less than this is merely political. I do not wish to rehearse the brilliance of Zizek on this point, so please just read his books or believe me.

The problem with the political is that it skips the process of determining which names are to be subtracted from the social situation and simply attempts to form policy out of excessive remainders. This is what is meant by Ideological State Apparatus: the generation of New Names, without first establishing the minimal order of those names. “Names,” of course signifying the different, infinite, myriad forms of human negativity and social antagonism. Today, there are relatively few names to choose among in the realm of Politics (e.g. Right / Left, NDP, Liberal, PC, Labour, Tory). For the loss of Politics, we are compensated with an abundance, a genuine excess of names in the consumer cultural field. This is our anti-oedipal complex (Deleuze, Guittari).

All is not lost and the tide will swing the other way because history is undead and it remembers: even without meaning or at its end history is still dialectical. The rage that keeps the vampire’s heart beating beyond the grave is fueled by blood. Politics now will be the Politics of Rage; the first thing to be subtracted from future sociality will be rage: it will be the paper upon which are listed the conditions for the existence of truth in Politics. True, the state may hold a legal monopoly on violence. But it uses this power sparingly, to intimidate rather than eradicate its enemies (for now). Despite its tactics of bullying, the state is not terrific. It may be horrible, but even it is afraid of being terrorized: like a paranoid miser, it jealously guards what no longer brings it joy (can the hoarder of gold really be said to be enjoying his gold?).

Politics is to be considered the practice of militant fidelity to rage, not necessarily violence but violent indignation at the trivial pursuits of politicians doing the political (more or less playing the jealousy game of lies and secrets, howling when they scent a whiff of Truth). Not terror but its simulacrum: to frighten the state into believing the paranoid threats it dreams have become terminally real and watch as it kisses the phantom.

Blake Beyond Context, Blake Contra Romanticism: Giving the Gift of Death by Affirming the Negativity of Fusion in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

[click here to read the poem and see blake’s illustrations.]

We are in a new, and without a doubt insoluble, position in relation to prior forms of nihilism: Romanticism is its first great manifestation: it, along with Enlightenment’s Revolution, corresponds to the destruction of the order of appearances.”

– Baudrillard

With this ring, I thee own.

– Joyce

The Romantic era is marked by the advent of ideas and innovations – unprecedented – such as the American and French Revolutions, the discourse on liberty and feminism, and new industrial modes of production. The zeitgeist of revolution greatly influenced the discourse on liberty and feminism. The advent of industrial culture reshaped the (architectural and conceptual) space in which society dwelt, and the ways in which people thought of themselves and their relationships to other individuals and to nature in general.

The event of Romanticism, like the event of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, is a retrospective construction, inscribed onto the period from 1789-1832 that attempts to introduce a rupture in the epistemology and ontology of Enlightenment Rationality. I will try to illustrate the relation between the anti-enlightenment attitude and the trajectory of thought that I see manifest in Blake’s religious materialism. Both of which will come to be understood as a kind of iconoplasticity: a restructuring of humanity’s being via the event. Blake’s representation of moral and sexual being in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, provides examples of how the events of his time impacted his own writing.

Indeed, The Marriage goes even further in its radicalism in that it is not only contrary to Enlightenment ideals – it is also against three discourses normally associated with Romanticism: Rousseau’s noble-savage; Burke’s discourse on the Sublime; and the fluctuating politico-theological discourse of Swedenborgianism, Deism, and a challenge to the Divine Right of Kings. Blake applies the surfaces, by using

the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite that was hid,[1] (MHH 39)

of various discourses to the surface that his own epoch appears as: he de-names, sometimes by naming directly the system he is familiar with (Bible, Milton, Shakespeare, Swedenborg, etc.), and re-images those names as figures that appear in his work. There is not a total rejection of anything in The Marriage: only the depths from the works of the past are retained, then compressed into a new surface.

Blake’s works, especially The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, constitute a pure event insofar as their significance – like that of the French Revolution – can only be comprehended in retrospect (and, it may even be said that, the significance of the French Revolution is still being determined despite the French Revolution having vanished more than two centuries ago); it is radically different from other poetry / prose contemporary with it (for example, Coleridge or Wordsworth’s; but not, for example, Sade’s), in both content and form, if not (subversive) spirit. Blake achieves, if not unity, a semblance of unity between poetry and prose, the image and the word, and perhaps, if the title is any indication, between Heaven and Hell.

To establish The Marriage of Heaven and Hell as a pure event, Blake’s own words suffice: “I have also The Bible of Hell, which the world shall have whether they will or no” (MHH 44); the world, obviously, was not willing at the time. What is interesting about this passage, and what qualifies it is as a statement proclaiming The Marriage as a pure event, is “the world shall have [it] whether they will or no.”

The French Revolution (and other events in the history of humanity, such as The Holocaust and 9/11) is also like The Bible of Hell in the sense that it forces itself upon the world – then vanishes. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell speaks of the Romantic era’s situation, attitudes, and institutions of knowledge and power, but its significance also extends beyond those constructions. Blake sets himself against tradition by miniaturizing, i.e. parodying and satirizing, established rhetorical positions on several concepts (of which “desire,” “Evil / Hell,” “Good / Heaven,” and “woman” will be discussed in this paper), and then reverses the content of those positions to critique them. The Marriage is parody in the sense that Blake was virtually unread in his time, that is to say, he (intentionally) falls far short of the real thing (the real thing being Swedenborg [who was quite well read or who was read quite well], in particular), and satire in the sense that it exaggerates the stupidity of “conventional” morality, politics, and its “virtues.” The Marriage shows Blake’s sensitivity to and reaction against the absolute division between body and mind, desire and reason, man and woman, evil and good: restraints placed upon the desire of individuals and women in the name of Enlightened Reason. He draws analogies between physical architecture and mental space: “Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion” (MHH 36). This passage requires close reading to link it to all of the subjects I have proposed; the subjects of the sentence are prisons (body, violence) and brothels (soul, desire), which are institutions for men, and women – prisons being usually built to detain criminal men, brothels for women. The action and preposition of the sentence, “are built with . . . of Law / Religion” suggests artifice; ‘stones’ may be a biblical reference (John 8:7), and ‘bricks’ perhaps refers to Freemasonry (although this connection is, at best, obscure). (Bricks and stones do have a significance in the larger body of Blake’s work[2].) Finally, Law and Religion, of which brothels and prisons are built, suggest that it is the search that produces the object – or, another way to put it: prisoners and prostitutes do not precede prisons and brothels, it is prisons and brothels that are constructed first, mentally, and then architecturally; the Law, by naming what is criminal, produces criminals; Religion (and to a large extent: morality), by condemning sensuality / sexuality in Woman, while also revering Woman as Mother, produces brothels and prostitutes (the paradox being that Woman cannot function as Mother without sex[3]) (TRP 78,87).

The most interesting opposition that Blake proposes is that

one portion of being is the Prolific, the other, the Devouring . . . they should be enemies; whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence. / Religion is an endeavour to reconcile the two (MHH 40).

Does this opposition extend to the other oppositions I have proposed (image / text, poetry / prose), and that Blake articulates (Heaven / Hell, Attraction / Repulsion, Reason / Energy, Love / Hate, Good / Evil, and Body / Soul)? Blake writes that “Without Contraries there is no progression . . . [they] are necessary to Human existence” (MHH 34). So, if the opposition between any two poles is necessary for human existence, and the attempt to reconcile the two is to seek to destroy existence, and religion is the attempt to reconcile the two – then what exactly is Blake attempting to do in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by blending thematic and formal opposites (poetry / prose, image / word)?

One distinction that can be made between Blake’s works and those of Religion is that Blake attempts a symbolic reconciliation between opposites, whereas Religion seeks to actualize their unity. Indeed, marriage is a religious institution that attempts to unify, by subordinating woman to man (TRP 75), the most Real (in the Lacanian[4] sense) of opposites: Man and Woman.

Now, it is not that man and woman are actually opposites, but there is difference between them, the difference being sexual differentiation; the difference between the two is what creates the opposition, which can never be fully resolved. Blake does not attempt to resolve this opposition, but he does say, “The nakedness of woman is the work of God” and “Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep” (MHH 36). These two fragments, from The Proverbs of Hell, challenge the conventional notions of the Romantic construction of the sexes insofar as the male and masculinity are equated with Reason (not energy, wrath), the female and femininity with Passion (not passivity, submission).

The nakedness of woman, an image overtly associated with temptation and sin, is the direct creation of God; insofar as her nakedness leads to energetic desire it is evil, a product of Hell – but the work of God. The association between man being clothed in the ‘fell of the lion’ and woman in the ‘fleece of the sheep’ is also contrary to the standard constructions, the lion being associated, elsewhere in Blake, with wrath and the “wisdom of God” (MHH 36): an energetic, active trait – therefore, evil. Woman, wearing the fleece of the sheep, seems to suggest passivity, which would be equated with Reason and Good (MHH 34). However, it is important to notice that the imperative verb tense ‘let man / woman wear’ also implies that there is something underneath both; that beneath the fell of the lion is man and beneath the fleece of the sheep is woman – and the nakedness of woman is the work of God. If we concatenate this ‘logic’ to its conclusion, the opposite would be true of man: the nakedness of man is the work of Satan. This, if true, would be contrary to the normal construction of man and masculinity.

The equation Blake offers on the sexes may help to explain his virtually non-existent contemporary audience. There is also the problem of Blake’s juxtaposition of the image / word and poetry / prose: the structure of The Marriage is, at best eccentric, practically unreadable as a whole. Yet this may also be the point of Blake’s project: that each section of The Marriage can only be read in part, that any attempt to impose structural unity on the work ultimately fails. This would, I imagine, put many readers off reading Blake’s work, especially if Wordsworth is correct in his assumption that most readers in the Romantic period responded most favourably to kitsch novels and poetry, with clearly delineated structures and unnecessary artifice[5] (266).

It is not that there is no structure in The Marriage – there is. However, the parts do not constitute ‘the whole’ because each part – each image, each fragment of poetry and prose – is a whole of its own. The images correspond to the work not just as illustrations of the actions and events, but as distinct works on their own. For example, The fragments of poetry, The Argument and The Proverbs of Hell, seem reserved for Blake to offer his prophecies of a coming apocalypse. The Argument contains two repeated ambiguous figures: “the perilous path” and “the just man,” which are book-ended by “Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burdened air; / Hungry clouds swag on the deep” (MHH 33). In addition, a temporality is established: “Once,” “Then,” and “Now” (MHH 33). It is the journey of the “just man” along “perilous paths,” all while ‘Rintrah roars & shakes his fires’ from the beginning to the end.

If the fragments of poetry are Blake’s prophecies, the fragments of prose are his critiques of contemporary society and its beliefs. In particular, A Memorable Fancy, in which he asks his reader to “Now hear a plain fact: Swedenborg has not written one new truth. Now hear another: he has written all the old falsehoods” (MHH 43). This fragment, although applied directly to Swedenborg, summarizes Blake’s view on the neo-mystical traditions in general – including, but not limited to, Deism, which held no small amount of influence on thinkers such as Rousseau.[6] In theory, Blake anticipates Hegelian and Marxist notions of mental and economic structures, the Nietzschean notion of the “Eternal Return of the Same,” and Wagner’s “total Art-work.”

The most important aspect of William Blake (1757-1827) and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is the way he combines the consistency of narrative with the finality of the image. It is presented in a simple manner: none of what is to be found in Coleridge, Keats, or Wordsworth. However, in defense of Keats, I will conjecture that if he managed to live to Blake’s age, he would have made manifest a fidelity to the truth-event[7] at the same intensity as Blake; although the apposite point may be made of Keats’ “provisional” use of such terms as “negative capability”[8] – but this term does not appear anywhere in his poetry, nor as a preface, nor as an elaborated theory: Keats’ shows fidelity to his fancy, and this is manifest in his works. Also, notions such as “no identity” combined with “negative capability” amount to what may be termed “negation of negation” – which is not the same as affirmation.

Stylistically, Blake’s presentation is closest to what is found in Shelley and Byron: much closer are the plastic artists Francisco Goya and William Hogarth. Goya is a contemporary of Blake’s, and recent scholarship has pointed to the affinity between the two– though whether they had known of each other’s work is unknown and somewhat irrelevant: Blake is articulating what The Sleep of Reason dreams of, the nightmare vision of human desire without consciousness. Hogarth is a predecessor of Blake’s – and Blake would have, most probably definitely, known The Four Stages of Cruelty, which, like Goya’s Los Caprichos, is a narrative sequence of images and / or surfaces. This style of representation, this manipulation of images – which Blake takes to its extreme by directly alluding to, re-naming, and obscuring elements of the symbolic order[9] – establishes a series of conclusions that affirm the negativity of reality rather than negate that negativity with a sequence of indeterminacy that never culminates in a logical conclusion but forever builds a chain of reason.

The critical difference between these two notions is that the series of conclusions are potential sites for an event[10], whereas the chains of reason “breed reptiles of the mind” or only yield betrayal, simulation, and disaster. The piece of visual art of Blake’s that I wish to compare to Goya and Hogarth, however, is not in The Marriage: it is The Ghost of a Flea (1819-1820), composed later on in Blake’s life. I believe that the figure that appears in this piece is the “Voice of the Devil,” the ambivalent and elusive speaker in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Goya-Hogarth-Blake form an interesting triangle here: if we look at it temporally, Hogarth comes first, then Blake, then Goya. We start with the “Reward,” move on to the “Marriage,” and then come to “Sleep.” This order seems to be strangely in reverse: that the reward of cruelty – the final result of reason’s slumber – should be posited first; that the fusion of Heaven and Hell is intermediate between the two has a double significance. Temporally, it is the cruel intention of a forced marriage that precedes the dreams of reason. Phenomenologically, it is the sleep of reason that forces opposites to unite resulting in the betrayals, disasters, and simulations of the period: Rousseau’s “noble-savage” is the prime example.

Figure 1 The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, ca. 1796-1797[11]

Figure 2 The Reward of Cruelty, ca. 1751[12]

Figure 3 The Ghost of a Flea, ca.1819–20[13]

The three portraits are, as already mentioned, placed in sequences arranged by their creators; each represents a conclusion: the borders of the frame are identical to the first and last letter of Blake’s Marriage. The unified importance of each picture lies in the position of the gaze: each figure presents us with a different subject – whose gaze is not on us. In Goya’s painting, the gaze is “inverted” – that is, looking at nothing, while we are looking at him, while his nightmares phantasmatically manifest around him. In Hogarth’s, the gaze is centred on the cadaver subject to medical experimentation and the gaze of all present in the scene; the cadaver’s gaze is vacant, staring beyond us, its audience, with the indifferent acceptance of a ritual death. Blake’s drawing, a barely humanoid looking figure, has his gaze fixed on (in?) a bowl while standing on an empty stage: he too takes no notice of us. I would like to propose that The Ghost of a Flea is the thing that reaps the Reward of Cruelty once the nightmares of reason manifest themselves. Each image within Blake’s Marriage affirms that the Sleep of Reason inaugurates the Four Stages of Cruelty, resulting in The Reward of Cruelty – whose ultimate (ironic) triumph is The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The Marriage is broad enough to encompass most – if not all – of the concerns that constituted events for people living at the time (or that we retroactively inscribe on them, which is also profoundly violent: a kind of crude universalism[14]). These concerns, that we will concern ourselves with, are the emergent notions of Rousseau’s “noble-savage,” the “inner-voice,”[15] Burke’s “beautiful and sublime” aesthetic categories, Enlightenment categories of knowledge and its manifest ideology, mystical and religious institutions influenced by Deism, and the ritual bondage that constituted the ritual of marriage (for both the man and the woman, though, it is true, in asymmetrical modalities, the famous indeterminacy of the slave / master dialectic) that certain people were reacting to – that has not changed significantly even to this day. (Although, of course, there have been “reasonable advances” in the way it is practiced – but not in the way it may be thought as a potential site for a truth-event.)

The title alone addresses all of these concerns if we read “The Marriage” as the event of a union of man and woman (much like today); this is also a definite article, which places it in the register of Real, as something beyond words but also as something that can only be related to in words. Clarification: The ‘beyond-language’ of the event, the appearance of the Real, is related to a traumatic[16] encounter: the Primal Scene, seeing the uncanny double or Das Ding, the French Revolution, an orgasm, or violence. We relate to the Real, our involvement in the Real, our being in the Real only through the intervention of language – or more specifically voice, and this is the meaning of “Rintrah roars” and “The Voice of the Devil.” Marriage as a union between man and woman, if they are really dialectically opposed – not merely different modes of coding the same thing (i.e., the human), translated into the proper nouns, place-names, objects: “of Heaven and Hell.” Let us first assume that they are “dialectically opposed” – which means they compose a “thesis” an “anti-thesis,” that they result in “synthesis.” Can this be the meaning of Blake’s “Contrariety?”[17] That somehow, contradictorily or paradoxically, Heaven and Hell can fuse?

The other alternative, that they are merely different, removes the dynamic of the dialectic and introduces a relationship of complementarity, in which each term is not part of a higher unity but a unity unto itself (IR 211). The “of” that precedes “of Heaven” is indicative of this, as “of” is not only an article, but a particle; this seems to further implicate that it is a piece of heaven being married to the whole of Hell, comparable to “The Messiah” who “formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss” (MHH 35). There is also a paradox lurking in the title that will sensitize our entire reading of Blake’s piece: The first is the obvious personification and implicit sexuation of the two terms; the second, related to the first, is the absurdity of such an event occurring between such entities as heaven and hell: as opposed to people – who may, on occasion, feel like they really want to be married – Heaven and Hell, if they are constituted as diametrically opposed opposites, would never consent to such a union. Finally, insofar as marriage is a ceremony or ritual, it is also aesthetic: it is based on the aesthetics of death, of religion that forgets “all deities reside in the human breast,” of the brutal and perverted “politics of fusion”[18].

The violence[19] in Blake comes from its excess and limitations: there is no lack of conclusion in The Marriage – there being seventy (70) proverbs. The importance of the proverb, in relation to poetry, is its utterance in speech, as our speaker notes “the sayings used in a nation mark its character.” This recalls the “roaring” of Rintrah, and the Voice of the Devil, and both are to be identified as surfaces that Blake is manipulating to underscore the seeming permanence of the written mark imitating the transience of the voice; here, we have the word operating in the same phenomenonological register as voice insofar as the “conclusions” made by the sequence of the proverbs mimic the way voice disappears as its meaning is registered: each conclusion is not final, it is succeeded by another, and then another. It is this continuous flow of conclusive finalities that makes Blake’s work so complex that it presents a rupture in the very being it represents to its reader; it is this rupture where meaning is inscribed. The work is severely limited, however, when it comes to establishing reasonable links between its assertions. There are precious few subjunctive clauses: they are mostly indicative, imperative, or declarative – hardly ever demonstrative. Blake declares the truth of his writings: Coleridge and Wordsworth bicker over an aesthetic, elaborate / establish each his own “theory,” which neither manages to maintain fidelity to because they are both simulations of truth – and are thus betrayed – and are thus led to disaster.[20] Blake does not elaborate a theory of aesthetics (in the body of The Marriage at least): he represents his aesthetic, his views on politics, religion, and sexuality in the work.

Blake does not discount the exterior, but he privileges the interior as possessing the depths of evil, the will to sacrifice, the orgiastic drive to murder, the suicidal drive to save, the courage to take responsibility for one’s own sins and to forgive the sins of the other[21]; he reads the surface of nature as the depths of the human spirit. Passages like: “’Here,’ said I, ‘is your lot … a number of monkeys, baboons, & all of that species, chaind by the middle, grinning and snatching at one another, but withheld by the shortness of their chains. However, I saw that they …’” (MHH 42). This passage is not “sublime” because it does not express the “highest point of the low.[22]” It tries to directly depict the low, without caring, with a violence that is indifferent and sovereign – it declares and indicates what Blake has seen, it is not posed as a subjunctive demonstration of reality. This is how Blake sees the reality of the violence of the event of the French Revolution. The negativity of “The Terror” is imperatively affirmed in Blake’s entire piece, and this is most clear in The Proverbs of Hell: for example, “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires” (MHH 38).

I have tried to show that Blake is against any kind of unity, synthesis, or blending of opposites into one another: he is strictly one to take a stance, he is on one side and not the other. Of all the critical reading of Blake, I am most inclined to agree with Bataille and Ruskin[23]; I agree with Frye’s structural analysis of Blake’s works, but disagree with his final analysis that Blake is trying to achieve some kind of vague, utopian notion of fusion[24] – such as many of Blake’s most fervent interpreters attempt to do.

I hope I have illustrated, at least, the way I do not read Blake. I do not see Blake as attempting some kind of larger synthesis of moral good or evil. By not reading Blake in this way, it was my intention also to show how certain trends in our own time (obsession with the archive and historicism, trying to fuse an abstract object with a material thing [as is the case with Woman and women], or trying to maintain an absolute distance between a surface and its depth) reflect these crucial misreadings of works like Blake’s Marriage. Blake is actively engaging in radical nihilism by affirming the negative.


[1] Blake, William. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Newly Revised Ed. Ed. David V. Erdman. Commentary: Harold Bloom. New York: Anchor, 1988. (MHH)

[2] Frye, Northrop. Fearful Symmetry. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1949. (FS). For the significance see pages 224 and 364; here, the only things that concern us about bricks and stones is their lifelessness.

[3] Jarvis, Robin. The Romantic Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature, 1789-1830. London: Pearson, 2004. (TRP). Sex is taboo as Jarvis cites A New and Appropriate System of Education for the Labouring People (London, 1806) as an example of female education: “fortifying their minds against those vices to which they are more particularly exposed – to guard them against seduction … the utmost horror of a state of female prostitution” (78) and “female education should concentrate on how best to please and serve men. In addition, women’s unequal responsibility for the legitimacy of offspring (and thus secure the transmission of property) put a premium on chastity” (87).

[4] Zizek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. Cambridge: MIT, 2006. (PV). Zizek defines the real as “the primordial fact is not Silence (waiting to be broken by the divine word) but Noise, the confused murmur of the Real in which there is not yet any distinction between figure and ground” (154). This definition, while true to the Lacanian sense, emphasizes the Real, in relationship to the seeming incoherency of Blake’s vision.

[5] Wordsworth, William. “Preface to Lyrical Ballads, with Pastoral and Other Poems.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period. Vol. D 8th ed. Ed. Jack Stillinger and Deirdre Lynch. New York: Norton, 2006. 263-74. (PLB).

[6] McCalman, Iain, gen. ed. An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age: British Culture 1776-1832. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. (OCRA). A curious passage that relates to the “crude universalism” of Deism: “an eclectic way to designate a variety of beliefs of a minimalist and universal kind to which all denominations and all humankind could supposedly subscribe” (480). This is an example of what I think Blake is against; Blake’s purpose is for heterogeneity.

[7] Badiou, Alan. Being and Event. Trans. Oliver Feltham. London: Continuum, 2005. (BE). A brief definition of fidelity and its relation to the event: “There is no more an angelic herald of the event than there is a hero. … [the] sole foundation [of the event] lies in a discipline of time, which controls from beginning to end the consequences of the introduction into circulation of the paradoxical multiple, and which at any moment knows how to discern its connection to chance. I will call this organized control of time fidelity” (211). Related to our purpose is Badiou’s notion of “the angelic,” “discipline,” and “chance.”

[8] Keats, John. “Letters.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period. Vol. D 8th ed. Ed. Jack Stillinger and Deirdre Lynch. New York: Norton, 2006. 941-55. (L) These specific instances can be found on pages 942 and 947.

[9] Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. Trans. Bruce Fink with Heloise Fink and Russell Grigg. New York: Norton, 2002. (E). In his seminar on Poe’s The Purloined Letter, Lacan says of the Symbolic “that imaginary effects … are related to the symbolic chain that binds and orients them … that it is the symbolic order which is constitutive for the subject … in a story the major determination the subject receives from the itinerary of a signifier” (6-7).

[10] BE. Badiou claims “that only an interpretive intervention can declare that an event is presented in a situation; as the arrival in being of non-being, the arrival amidst the visible of the invisible” (180).

[11] Francisco José de Goya (Spanish, 1746-1828), The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. (Caprichos, no. 43: El sueño de la razon produce monstruos.), 1796-1797. Etching and aquatint. First edition, 1799. Plate dimensions 213 x 150 mm. (this digital image has been cropped within platemark). Harris no. 78, Delteil no. 80. Accession no. 1946.D1.40.43. Gift of George W. Davison (B.A. Wesleyan 1892), 1946. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0f/Goya_-_Caprichos_%2843%29_-_Sleep_of_Reason.jpg

[12] William Hogarth. The Four Stages of Cruelty Plate IV, The Reward of Cruelty. 1751 (reprinted c. 1822) Etching and engraving. The Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Cruelty4.JPG

[13] William Blake (British, 1757–1827). Tempera heightened with gold leaf on mahogany panel; 8 7/16 x 6 3/8 in. (21.4 x 16.2 cm). Tate; bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 194. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/William_Blake_002.jpg

[14] Zizek, Slavoj. The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters. New York: Verso, 1996. (IR). Zizek says, ‘against historicism,’ that it is impossible to have a “complete description of a particular phenomenon” but that this impossibility is “the very place of the inscription of universality into the Particular. A particular social phenomenon can never be completely ‘contextualized’, reduced to a set of sociohistorical circumstances – such a particularization would presuppose the crudest universalism: namely, the presumption that we its agents, can speak from a neutral-universal place of pure meta-language exempt from any specific context” (214).

[15] Hogan, Colman. The Actual Murder with Words’: A Discussion of Violence in the Enlightenment, Romanticism … and After. Diss. U Toronto, 1998. (AMW). Hogan argues that in reaction to the “[exteriority of the Enlightenment] Rousseau … produces an inner ‘primitive’ as an image of an interior otherworldly-ness, an innate freedom” (120). And this is similar to what Blake is articulating as not the “sublime” but the “sub” – the depths of the human soul that are manifest not only in Nature’s atrocities but – all too humanly – in mankind who far exceeds the cruelty of The Tyger.

[16] Comay, Rebecca. “Introduction.” Lost in the Archives. Ed. Rebecca Comay. Toronto: Alphabet City, 2002. (LA). Comay writes that “the archive … confounds every beginning and every rule … This is traumatic. Traumatic not in some vague, trendy way (a whiff of melancholy here, some blurry photos there) but in a technical Freudian sense – trauma defined essentially as the slippage or non-synchronicity of experience” (14). Blake advent, and the event that Blake became as “slippage” or “non-synchronicity of experience.”

[17] Miller, Dan. “Contrary Revelation: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” Studies in Romanticism 24 (1985): 491-509. (CR). I disagree with the “contrariety” thesis, when Miller explains that it “is an escapable opposition, yet more than two equal opposites in direct confrontation” (502). I would agree with the second part, as contraries generate force and are never actually visible as themselves – but the first part seems to go against the singular stance that Blake maintains throughout his art: that contrariety is “inescapable.”

[18] Comay, Rebecca. “Hegel and the Terror.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 103 (2004): 375-95. (HT). Comay writes that “the sacramental substitution of people for king immediately closes the space it opens up – lack is perversely, simultaneously acknowledged and disavowed – and can be understood as the prototype for every politics of fusion” (475). This is to say that Blake recognizes this pattern of the exchange of power, the collusion of opposites and tries to expose the hypocrisy of those who use play both sides. And, on the theme of retrospective legibility, says, in a somewhat different but not unrelated manner: “Kant’s critical venture phenomenologically succeeds the revolution that it chronologically, of course anticipates only insofar as his text becomes legible only retroactively through the event that in institutionalizing the incessant short circuit of freedom and cruelty puts the project of modernity to its most extreme trial” (392). This is not unlike the event of Blake, who is only legible after his advent.

[19] Bataille, Georges. Literature and Evil. Trans. Alastair Hamilton. London: Calder & Boyars, 1973. (LE). Most interesting is Bataille’s consideration of literature in general: “literature is not innocent. It is guilty and should admit itself so … Literature had to plead guilty” (ii). He goes on to describe Blake’s writing as “indifferent,” “sovereign,” “violent,” “excessive,” and “joyful” which I am apt to agree with as it separates Blake from how he is normally interpreted, as offering “syntheses.”

[20] Badiou, Alan. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Trans. Peter Hallward. New York: Verso, 2001. (EUE). Badiou defines betrayal, disaster, and simulation as “the three figures of evil” (72-87)

[21] Derrida, JacquesThe Gift of Death. Trans. David Wills. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1992. (GD). Derrida compares the death of Socrates as representing an “orgiastic” quality and the death of Jesus as representing a “redemptive” quality. He introduces the notion of “responsibility” and says that the ability of Jesus’ death to be redemptive, the orgiastic Real of his execution must be repressed and sublimated. The opposite is true of Socrates’ death: it is orgiastic because the meaning of death as redemption is suppressed. This is what I believe that Blake’s “Bible of Hell” is: The Gift of Death – that takes responsibility for its utterances which verge on the orgiastic or redemptive, depending on how one reads The Marriage.

[22] Lacan, Jacques. On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 1998. (FS). Here I am using Lacan’s definition of the sublime: “Discourses always aim at the least stupidity, at sublime stupidity, for “sublime” means the highest point of what lies below” (13). This is exactly what Blake is not trying to do: set up a discourse. He is presenting a method, no doubt, but he embraces stupidity and the depths beneath the limit rather than try to limit them.

[23] Ruskin, John. “The Eagle’s Nest.” The Literary Criticism of John Ruskin. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Anchor, 1965. (EN). Thirty-five years after Blake’s death (1792) Ruskin registers Blake in the following terms: “You must have nearly all heard of, many must have seen, the singular paintings … The impression that his drawings once made is fast … his poems have much more than merit; they are written with absolute sincerity, with infinite tenderness … the words of a great and wise mind, disturbed, but not deceived, by its sickness” (173).

[24] FS. “The work of art suggests something beyond itself most obviously when it is most complete in itself …” (418). I would disagree with this and say, after Badiou, that the work of art can only be seen as beyond if completeness is subtracted from the way it represents itself, as Blake’s Marriage seems to do.

Jealousy and the Political

The difference between “Politics” proper (the practice of a militant social procedure to truth) and the “political” (indecision due to indeterminacy over a name, a name’s property, or a name’s relation to the Real it represents) is to be inscribed as the difference between knowing one’s “rights” and asserting them. Politicians, as we know, only play at politics in public forums: I call this “play” “the political.” Politics, as we know, is practiced in secret by politicians in rooms behind curtains. Obscenity and scandal are now normal and assert themselves with complete complicity on part of the public: gone are the days when we could charge our leaders with the crime of betrayal – alas! the ballot box is not a guillotine.

There is no need to assert rights when there is individual knowledge of them; when the units operating within a symbolic order are “informed” as to their proper behaviour toward one another – rights are obvious, without being asserted. Of course, economic power relations turn the “obvious” into the obscure; the signs of economic status are ambiguous (as all signs are) – one is never sure what political procedures the Other followed to attain that status. Politics, in this regard, would mean determining whether or not the procedure the other followed was a lawful one according to the status of one’s knowledge of the situation – that is: whether or not the names used in the description of the procedure are the correct ones, whether the properties of the names are correspondences and not merely connections, and whether or not the representation of the name is the one best suited to represent the Real of the situation.

The exact place where jealousy and the political intersect is in the phrase “possession of rights.” Whatever form these supposed “rights” happen to take: human, animal, women’s, men’s, environmental, auto, consumer, employer, employee, “to pleasure, to pain,” etc – the result is the same: assertions. The desire for rights is irreducible but not irremediable: we can change the way we pursue and “act out” certain of our rights, for example: the freedom of speech is better exercised when circulating language (conversation, laughter, meaning, etc.), rather than bringing it to a halt (the internet, for such a refined technology, is filled with shit).

We are so jealous of the rights of others – especially if they have none, in which case we force them to assume the pose of “liberty” – we are forced to act and seem as free as possible. It seems as if the assertion of “rights” (ours or others) is an imperative or injunction that impels us to perform freedom: the political as a process of excess – politics as a process of subtraction. “Political” in the sense of a dramatic ritual, reduced to its bare elements, and reproduced as a code ad infinitum. “Politics:” actions / gestures to be interpreted, not for their dramatic significance but for their validity pertaining to the current situation (which may or may not be the site of an event for politics).

Paradoxically, as mentioned above, it seems for us to be a perverse desire to “liberate” those who are not free – or who do not want to be free. So-called political, medical, social “intervention” is nothing but this perversity. We want to make the slaves like us: into masters who do not know their own desire – except in the performance of the slave, constantly amused but never satisfied. Or the reverse: we are slaves that desire to see the masters’ in chains’ – to see them perform our fantasy. These examples are examples of the “political” at its worst: when the desire of the Other becomes little more than a game of possessive jealousy, to add to the other what they lack (or vice versa) in order to make them the same as us!

The current trend in our political situation, as far as I have observed, is to possess “difference” – as if difference were a thing that actually existed or an object with a clear definition. It is impossible to tell whether something appears different or whether its difference is singular; the decision to judge something in the name of difference is now the criteria of justice. However, difference itself is split: between being condemned to villainy and being a grace beyond reproach. My government (Canada) seems to be bent on promoting “difference for the sake of difference,” rather than pursuing difference as a possible evental site (which is not limited to politics). Asserting difference, not being different.

When there is no knowledge left – just names: this is where politics can emerge, where difference can be itself, and the social can begin to build a system based upon the basic elements of the situation. When knowledge becomes the prerequisite criteria for political representation – when even the signs of knowledge translate directly into political power: this is trying to own the language of the situation, a process of exclusion that, paradoxically, is ready, willing, and able to include any term as long as it’s new or belong to any trajectory of thought as long as it’s trendy. The state of “just names” means that each term must be evaluated by each: its value determined from localized points of view that both belong to and are included in the situation to be altered by the practice of politics proper.