“We are led to believe a lie / When we see not thro’ the eye”
Ok, so the preconceptions are so heavy, and that’s how it is, having a mind, isn’t it? I did have one unbelievable professor in the Ivy League. He was the brother of quite a celebrated fantasy author, though I didn’t know that. He wasn’t bored while lecturing. He wasn’t complacent in his knowledge. He taught Blake. Yes, he taught a bunch of other poets and writers, but what he really taught was Blake. That’s the amazing thing, what an impact Blake has had on so many people. It’s mind-boggling. Anyway, one of the most mind-altering thing this professor ever said (and he said it about Shelley) was that what the poetry was really about was that the world had been imagined inadequately. We ALWAYS imagine the world inadequately. This we call knowledge.
It’s a tricky thing to talk about, because the California entrepreneurs have got hold of this. A handful of techie geniuses are supposed to transform the technoscape every other year now, because of their visionary imagination and lucid aesthetic sense. They didn’t let preconceptions blind them to the possibilities. They had that Zen beginner’s mind.
Fine. But let’s ask why Einstein, whose insights seem simply beyond human, but who had a human heart indeed, was a Spinozist. I’d say it’s summarized in one of his most quoted statements:
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
But it’s not enough to hear someone’s words and sort of get the gist of it. That’s like drinking the wine but not getting intoxicated. There’s a moment when the brain grasps something and the words fall away like husks. You get the germ of what made the other person try to communicate in the first place. So why was Einstein a Spinozist? Maybe because Spinoza thought imagination was closer to a clear idea of substance than reason. Like my old professor said, when we imagine we know we’re not adequately grasping the way this human experience really is. So it’s not just that we come up with fanciful ideas, or mentally put together images we’ve taken in from the ordinary world, composing them in curious combinations that don’t actually exist. No. It’s because we know that our knowledge is reification, or inadequate imagination, that we allow ourselves to be in what Keats called “half knowledge.”
Instead of pretending to know the world, we know that our knowledge is a form of capture – image, idea, concept. If the image is foreclosed, a kind of bounded possession or property, then all the mind can do is relax into the impossibility of knowledge. The poet can’t actually help us know the world more adequately. Great poetry makes us realize that our knowledge is inadequate imagination, and that imagination is not production or invention but a more sensitive responsiveness to a world that can’t be conceptualized. Great poetry is the quiet liberation of the senses.
We don’t even know, most of the time, that our senses are blocked by preconceptions. We confuse sensation and stimulation. There’s an intelligence in sensation, a going out from the known to what has never been described. If stimulation conditions us, sensation deconditions us. Sensations don’t have a self to protect, because in fact they modify or alter the self, the identity we bring to experience. Spinoza said that when we imagine we are aware of the presence of other powers active in the composition of ourselves. We are modified by what we are not.
What could be more exciting than this: the Blakean and Spinozist notion that it’s absolutely possible for anyone at anytime to allow such spontaneous self-liberation of sensation from knowledge? The idea that we’re NOT bound in our limited experiences and limited identities. For both Blake and Spinoza, joy or bliss were not only possible. They were real. The rest was blind conditioning. Mechanical knowledge, the satanic mills of mutually exploitative identities.
This is surely how we need to understand the song/preface to his great epic Jerusalem:
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land
One has to cut through the ignorance and even the pleasantness to the medicine, which as Keats knew was no soothing balm, no consolation, but an intense attentiveness that spontaneously dissolved, or undid the formation, of any concepts, any forms of knowledge. For Blake, Jerusalem was the non-conceptualizing state of ceaseless creativity – a creativity that was a pure immanence.