From "William Blake in Cyberspace" ... an excerpt
Fifty four years down the road from Blake’s productive day in 1790, the first Samuel Morse telegraph line is complete, and the first message from the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., via the first halfway decent bandwidth, to Baltimore, is this: "What hath God Wrought."
One-hundred and thirty years after William Blake’s productive day, a new convergent form of text set to flickering light would release a string of surreal worlds within worlds, self-contained mysterious gothic works with titles like "Metropolis," "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," and another about a child-man with bolts in his neck. But the year is 1790. Those Luddite films have yet to be imagined. That’s 114 years before the outbreak of World War I, when Promethean links fail to send the signal to return the troop trains loaded with a subsequently doomed generation. Well before Echelon sniffed out what Osama was up to (or did it?). The waking dead of World War One would never get to see the new century, the New Deal, or drink the New Coca-Cola. Certainly, Red Bull, as a refreshing and energizing drink, was beyond all physical possibilities, and "Batman" was just a dream that had yet to be dreamed. Stealth bombers, which look like flying Batmobiles … forget it.
The fodder for machine guns to come in World War One would never see their grandchildren raise the New World Order. Nor join in on the hype that an upgraded Network 3.0 -- the World Wide Web -- would really, really make peace possible via mutually co-dependent cyborg-servants via e-commerce. We could even avoid the use of a carpet bombing a nation to "send a strong message" to its leader when a simple diplomatic message, delivered by e-mail, might do. The doomed troops on the World War One trains won’t have grandchildren who get a voice, a vote or an e-mail address in the merging of the nations into One in cyberspace.
But they may have understood the promise (made at about the time many of the inbred nobles who sent them to doom were born, whose own ancestors dodged the guillotine during the French Revolution) of a poem called "Victory," a 1872 tribute (that is, 80 years after Blake, who was then lifting his head from a dream about his dead brother) to Samuel Morse, the spidery Web (Network 1.2) was celebrated with the words:We are one! Said the nations, and hand met hand,in a thrill electric from land to land.…and Science proclaimed, from shore to shore,That Time and Space rules man no more
Blake would have blanched at such tripe. The doomed of World War One would have no impact on the creation of the World Wide Web, fashioned as a marriage of heaven and hell in cyberspace, exactly 200 years after William Blake published the words, "What’s now proved was once only imagined." They would never log in at The Well, salon of neo-masons on acid, code-slingers and hackers and digerati connected to the Whole Earth Catalog, high on the wholeness, the ying and yang of interconnectivity like a Parisian salon for enlightenment, electrified by hyperlinks: Annuit Coeptus, our enterprise will prevail.
The year is 1794, and William Blake is ever-so-painfully etching his "Proverbs of Hell" with the words: "The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God." That’s done now, and Blake sighs, making certain the watercolor paint is dry on the plate with the following words, "The road of excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom." He throws it on the pile 13 years before Mary Shelley will start writing chapter four of "Frankenstein," or "The Modern Prometheus, " and so on. Another "illuminated book" is done for William Blake, the first convergent self-publishing empire in the post-revolutionary world.
He would, of course, as an innovator in his time, and, virtually unknown.
September 11 came and went, and suddenly, the cattle wanted to finish every idea they ever had, quick, before the anthrax came in the U.S. mail. "William Blake in Cyberspace" was up and running again, this time a play, possibly, with a dream of Broadway (still lagging, last time checked). The working title, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hal." The latter name more or less inspired by the run amok computer in "2001 Space Odyssey."
Wet snow falls in clumps on a barbed wire fence; eyes through mesh, a dream of democracies crushing grim, grim in the throat, choking up, flowing out in the furies of discontent. The prisoner pushes his Shakespearean heart through an electric fence; his face turned to imaginary muck and blood. The snow falls harder. The twisty tin wire could be repurposed into a shovel, the shovel could become a plow, the plow could become a motor, and the motor could drive us over the edge, into the woods and out, to safety.
But just as Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton right above the heart, the pendulum of law is a swinging limb of steel and foul weather. The snow sticks upon needle threads of green grass. Jail in Utopia is summery, warm in January, even as cattle cars and shooting range guns sound off in the distance and we trade German shepherd shouts for brief bouts of Gaelic ire.
Shout. Shout out for plainspoken truth! That carcass out there, the U.S. Constitution, over the fence, a twinge of agony over the breeze, while Lefty here, he paces the unfortunate floor, unfortunate in the choice his DNA made, sneezing up dust bunnies, phlem and TB.
The new bearded Aaron Burr is in caves somewhere, in Pakistan, Maui or Peru, flicking out a light, turning on a flashlight. The preamble of love is a target on a sheet, the sheet becomes a bullseye on a wall, while the guard dog sniffs, his master pouts, the FDA nurse shouts, “Meds only! Meds Only. If that doesn’t mean you, lock yourself down!”
Lefty leaves the big metal door open, just a little. They would have to close it for us. Close the door, they will. But in the meantime, grin a pirate smile. To resist is to enhance sanity and salvation. The mind breaks from the boundary, so to speak. The clamp may disfigure our hands, yet we abstain, feign sleep, waiting for the breath of the whore to dream, slithery, sleepy, shaking off the conspiratorial frame, dreaming of the other side of the door.
William Blake had a revelation when death was an intimate companion all around him. The vision was a gift confirming his coming of age, at 30, when the Christ meme had come from out of nowhere, from out of the forgotten years. Imagine coming unhinged when your father had just died, and then, your younger brother. The old quick-copy shop was never the same. The small printing establishment in London for commercial art is now lonely and quite unsatisfactory.
Imagine, in the 1780s you could still have visions -- as a child -- and be only marginally tolerated as an eccentric. As an adult spouting weird arcane imagery through poetry was acceptable, too, but the world was changing. The enlightened man of science knew better, knew that knowledge would cast out the myths and superstitions. Beyond sitting still for a Blake performance at the home of a radical bookseller, any rational mind can get increasingly impatient with such tomfoolery.
But now this man, this eccentric hopeless (yes, gifted) brayer of fanciful romantic words, who claimed in his youth to see angels in a tree and the prophet Ezekial in a field, well … it was getting harder and harder for an avowed deist to even imagine what, exactly, an Ezekial might look like, and how he might be subsumed in the world to come. After all, it gets harder and harder to find a suitable cave in the wilderness to crawl into. We’ve lost our taste for locust and forgotten how to make fire.
But what was this now, this crazy idea: It would never sell. Certainly not enough to make a respectable living. And the trouble and toil. For a few shillings or 10 guinea, tops. Dear, dear. What a madman! That’s what happens for want of a sympathetic publisher. What would he call it sometimes, his "illuminated printing"? Illuminated, as in light?
Indeed, the affront, no, an ethereal attack, on the bounds of decency and common sense. Hanging out with his Jacobite degenerate Freemason pals too long in the night. And he quarrels with that lot, too. He who is not of this world. Damned hard as it is to try to embrace both good and evil at once, it’s even harder to live with someone who tries. Just too much!
William Blake claimed his dear dead brother had come to him in his sleep and provided the full details for a method of engraving text and illustrations together. A Job of self-fulfilling torments, a Jesus of Nazareth at the marketplace as a bull in the china shop, just asking for it. Sometimes, he claimed to be a direct descendant of Joseph of Arimathea. The clown! Was it some virus?
Brother Robert’s soul. Rising. Joyfully … Right after a pretty mundane chat about relief etching, monochrome prints from an engraved plate, all painted up as if the Renaissance were still with us? Get real. As if the things of the other world really worked through the material? A believer in ghosts?
Get a job, ol’ Job.
The year is 1790 and the visionary poet’s first multimedia device is also built on a revolutionary new, if somewhat sluggish content delivery system, the "illuminated manuscript," starting with "Songs of Innocence and Experience" and then "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," two works that resonate with a creative sheen that breaks down the toughest firewall of all, time, as in breaking the bonds of the distant past with an idea that had been, in its time, far ahead of its time. Admittedly, with Blake’s arduous technique of printing and engraving, he could only produce at a painstaking rate, far slower than an ever evolving print-on-demand service might find to be acceptable before it determined a need for a new business platform, to be followed by a series of press releases to participating authors who were told their work didn’t fit the new model.
But he could produce it all in his own print shop, distribute it as far as he could mail, ship, by boat or buggy, or, lacking wagon wheels or a mighty steed, he could carry his self-published product as far as his two feet could take him. He would sell them for very little, usually just a few shillings. But at least derived all of the proceeds of the sale. By eliminating the middleman, he could conduct his imaginative campaign against the enemy of the poetic imagination, Urizen, exclusively, as an attempt to overcome the mortal tether of time and earthly gravity.
There was no cut for the agent, no intermediaries of any kind. Since his technique and artistry was a idiosyncratic concoction of pre-existent myths and cosmic metaphors, all transmuted into gold by the very genius of a uniquely gifted imaginator who could paint like a master painter and match wits with Dante, Milton and Shakespeare, copyright theft was hardly an issue.
One might wonder if it does a person’s lingering spirit well to live beyond the grave. Those limited edition "illuminated" works now are regarded among the world great art treasures. If the Age of Reason, followed by the Industrial Revolution, followed by Network versions 1.0 on ad infinitum, sheds even the darkest mysteries of the NSA into the banality of daylight, then one might wonder how, exactly, this prophet of the superiority of the imagination over the "organs of perception" could summon the persistence of bandwidth to become an anonymous post in Times Square, New York, right on the wall of Bar Code, a somewhat cyber-hip video game spot, 206 years after that single productive day at the copy shop.
Just what is it about "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" that rings so true as it relates to cyberspace fused, like an unstoppable fungus, to the New World Order?
In the 1790s William Blake’s logos of cosmic myths, his ever expansive, open-ended universe of epic and free-floating bodies impacting the Void, all derived from his imaginative, but quite worldly opposition to the forces of Urizen. Shed of layers of literature and philosophy and suffering by everyone who ever lived to question why, Urizen is the perfect metaphor for mankind’s imposition of order on space, both cyber and dirt real. The spurned and outcast immortal, who fell from the First World onto the second to build everything from pyramids to atom smashers, the Jehovah who gave man fire, the fruit of knowledge, the incessant dissatisfaction and need to hack into the environment, the garden, to supposedly, improve on the nature of things.
To be fruitful and multiply.
Desire, say the Hindu masters, is the source of all suffering. And reason, as well as the accumulating result of that first question, industry, only goes on to spread like a wildfire across the compromised plain. In the process, restricting, caging, suppressing the natural enemies of the human soul, and, devouring the world upon which he depends.
In the "Marriage of Heaven and Hell," in the appropriated passage at Bar Code from the section called, "Proverbs of Hell," Blake flames Milton’s Satan of "Paradise Lost" with taut verse reminiscent of the elliptical logic of Jesus on the Mount, creating the voice of bound up imagination, of Los, making the case that up was down, and down was up.
It was written in 1793, just as France was in revolt, just as Blake’s mythic being for rebellion, Orc, is loosed upon the world; Shortly after the New Jerusalem across the sea had decided to incorporate and marketeer itself with the name-brand symbolism of the all-seeing Masonic eye. All serve the master, Horus proclaims. We must now be, sayeth that eye in the sky, each of us, a subservient master to corporate reason of the New Age of Man.
According to biographer Peter Ackroyd: "The transcript of the trial has not survived, but there are reports … from Blake and others. It seems that the witnesses in his defence were of the type that would have recommended itself to a jury – an ostler, the wife of a miller’s servant – and they declared he had said nothing at all approaching sedition, had not uttered `Damn the King’ or any such words. His accusers were soldiers of the lowest rank, however, and somewhat dubious reputation. Scofield … had been reduced in office some years before. Samuel Rose, in defence, made a powerful is somewhat disingenuous speech in which he claimed, `Mr Blake is as loyal a subject as any man in this court’ and that it would brand him forever with `indelible disgrace’ -- `he feels as much indignation at the idea of exposing to contempt or injury the sacred person of his sovereign as any man’. Then Rose proceeded to depict his client in the most equable light, before denouncing Scofield as a `degraded man’ who was not to be trusted. He continued to describe the testimony of the various witnesses but then, only half-way through his prepared defence, he was seized with some illness and could only conclude his remark … `with apparent infirmity’. He could not even reply to the prosecuting counsel’s closing speech, but there was no need to do so. The conflicting testimony of the soldiers themselves seems to have decided the matter – at one point, during their examination, Blake shouted out `False!’ in a voice `which electrified the whole court … and carried conviction with it.’ One citizen of Chichester who was present at the trial said that `the only thing he remembered of it was Blake’s flashing eye.’ "
The work on the wall at Bar Code was, ironically, the romantic period’s version of "Sympathy for the Devil." Returned to its proper context and accreditation, the line was an incitement to riot against Urizen. That rebellious figure, the voice from subsumed Hell, was allowed to spin doctor himself this way to the court of poetic opinion:In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.Drive your cart and your plough over the bones of the dead.The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by incapacity.He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence.The cut worm forgives the plough.Dip him in the river who loves the water.A fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees.
And then, a few lines later, an observation rendered strangely appropriate in an age of security states, closed networks, feudal Internet strategies, affiliate deals and pop-up boxes you can’t click out of: "All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap." And then there’s always this: "A cistern contains. A fountain overflows."
The mad designer for Bar Code couldn’t have of really peppered up the place anymore by "repurposing" more of Satan’s sympathetic Mo’ Better Blues. My response to Bar Code’s iconographic stimuli was similar to the eerie feeling I’d often felt -- but had learned to accept almost casually -- whenever such synchronicities confirmed themselves as, what shall we call them, the usual suspects? Sayeth Blake, in one of his typical arguments about the limits of techgnosis, as well as global authority and those who cling to any earthly relationship out of fear:Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?Or wilt thou go ask the Mole:Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod?Or Love in a golden bowl?
As one resistant to the imposition of order in space, be it cyber or dirt real, Blake lived a life of seemingly over-sensitive and morally overwrought opposition to anyone who seeks to limit him, or control him, or clip the wings of any potentially creative leap from this earth. From the micro to the macro, from home, to the Web, to the planet and beyond: You know, that shining moment when our worst subterranean fears appear in the boldfaced type of life, as opposed to hidden between the lines. When we consider such hobgoblins of liberalism as "video violence." When the mob bosses advertise, as they did in the past decade, that a new Las Vegas was opening with a Darth Vader-styled menace: We are the mob, and We are going national. When we think of how "wicked" or "bad" is turned inside out to mean something positive. When we think of how weird it is that chocolate is marketed as "decadent." When mass insanity is fully sponsored, licensed, and packaged as commodity. When we feed the facts of our basic identity into America the Database, but only get queasy after the click-through is complete. When we find it curious that Urizen rhymes with Verizon. When we feel like kissing the very barcode applied, oh so fashionably, next to the belly button of TV’s "Dark Angel."
When you go to the ATM and think of the money tree, plug in the debit card and four-number code, and then, muse on that line in the Book of Revelations … What it made me do is write the following words, and it felt as if they were issuing forth like steam from some cauldron in the center of my brain.
Black and white vertical lines,
of varying width: Our worst
subterranean fears attuned
for positivism, licensed,
packaged for material
accumulation, logical logistics
for America the Database,
DNA and identity.
Code of conduct,
the angel or devil
you know, or, don’t know.
Each decision to click
you either adapt or resist,
filling in other
black vertical lines…
Better the devil you know,
as the blue light of a encircling globe
emits a scan across this very page,
then recedes, the ebb and cache
of a Tesla coil.
What is now proved was once only imagined.
Urizen’s code, Napsterized,
the imaginator subsumed
beneath the hierarchical
layers of the Void.
Layers of forgetfulness.
The Bar Code girl at the bar,
taking my credit card.
Material law mandates:
One cannot buy or sell without code.
We need not ask why. It is just so.
The blue light scan,
that Eye, again,
expanding the artificial
consciousness of database.
The divine aggregator
crunches the code
and the fittest meaning survives:
… New Rules Game Bar,
… Rules Game New Bar,
… Game Rules New Bar,
… Bar Rules Game New …
The bee in the hive
never knows why
it makes honey.
Why should I?
The limit of thought
is based on the code,
on the versatility
of each and every sign.
Repurpose thyself … free the code,
… Merchandise code, genetic code,
moral code and the code
of the one and only law.
When William Blake spams you from cyberspace, it just might be the mask of the man, smiling. "I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s," Los proclaims in "Jerusalem, A Prophecy."
"I will not reason or compare; my business is to create."
Get a job, ol’ Job.
Maybe not a job, but a good lawyer. Just like Blake. The jury’s verdict was fast after a one-hour trial. According to biographer Ackroyd, Blake was acquitted on charges of sedition and assault. The Sussex Advertiser made a big deal out of it, recording that "so gratified the auditory that the court was, in defiance of decency, thrown into an uproar by their noisy exultations. " Blake was led out the street, a hero for the day. It must have seemed like a grand scene from Les Miserables, with big music, hats flying, and the little people thinking, hey, we won, for once.
The Tarot cards in the Dixie cup were flying in the air. Kicked up, a spray into the sky as the strobes made them sputter and glitter, if for just a brief moment. Geologically speaking, of course. I figure the William Blake in Cyberspace project is pretty much cooked, for now. Things Blake just seem to be out of time, not of this world, and so on. Finally, I put the pirate flag away. "The dead, at dusk. You've got to listen. The dead are coming back, " says William Blake in Cyberspace for the very last time. "They are here again. The dead, they are rising up from the graves ... No, no ... you've got to listen ... The dead, at dusk ..."