~ Mihai Lucaciu - Here lies: Antonin Artaud
~ Cătălin Ghiţă - Contraria sunt complementa: Blake's Dialectic
~ Ştefan Bolea - A Philosophical Blake
~ Amita Bhose - A possible source of inspiration for Venus and Madonna
~ Patrick Călinescu - The Case for Operatic Larceny
# other texts in English can be found in section "Experiment"

Here lies: Antonin Artaud

by Mihai Lucaciu

Antonin Artaud explored in an exceptionally lucid way the relations between representation, writing, pain, society, madness, body and gesture. His investigations based on his own experiences proved to have a vast and later impact on art, writing and performance, especially on the French theoretical work from mid 1960s to the present, in the writings of Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Helene Cixous or Julia Kristeva. The transmission of imageries of bodies in his writings is impaired by representation and by what Artaud calls a double trap: the dispersal of language through inarticulation, that happens when his images of the body in extreme situation are taking a textual form, and the dispersal of relevance when a text is assembled through the loss of representation.

In Here Lies, one of his last poems, right from the start, hysterical elements come into play. As Sontag writes, we are dealing with a work that "cancels itself. […] It is an event, rather than an object," an action than rejects language and representation in a spiraling hysterical crisis. The title itself, connected to the first line, Here lies/ Antonin Artaud, brings in a word play an effect of pseudologia fantastica, a self-referential narrative where subjects try to draw attention from other people through lying. One of the characteristics of pseudologia fantastica is that the stories that hysterics tell are not entirely implausible and often have some element of certainty. They don't represent a form of delusion or forms of psychosis: upon confrontation, they can be acknowledged as false, they are not provoked by a direct situation or social demands.  Lying has a long historical relation to hysterical behaviour. The lie in hysteria can be seen as an unconscious desire that can be easily prohibited and for this reason it contains its own annihilation, an avoidance of its own materialization.

Pseudologia fantastica is just one of the many devices that hysterics use to capture the attention of others, offering themselves as spectacles, the well-known and despised attention-seeking of hysteria. The trouble in any psychoanalytical reading is not to make a clear distinction between reality and fiction, but to see how seduction and fantasy are affecting subjectivity. 

Starting the poem, the oedipal progression me-mummy-papa, the stickisome trinity/ of fathermother with kiddy sex or in other words self-other-law is mixed up by the periplum papamummy were the self becomes the infant wee, an abject element that takes out the self out of the equation, denies any relation to papamummy (I don't believe in father/in mother,/got no/pappamummy) or identifies with feminine space, the ass of granmummy, anality of the mother as life-enhancing, the female principle of absorption into the mother, which explodes the oedipal connection. The crud, the gift of the child to its parents, the most inner disgusting part of the interior world, the hysterical Artaudian self, is much more than pa and ma.  Before any possible oedipal relation that is strongly rejected, there was the useless body. Ironically, the distancing from Oedipus is Lacanian at its purest, "the way (as Lacanians might put it) the Symbolic order determines the positioning of the individual human subject and the way language constructs identity, the first relationship is theorized as something of the body, absorbing and 'symbiotic'." In other words, what lies here on the first page, is Artaud's Lacanian Real, which can never be encountered, the condition before any limit between subject and object. The Artaudian time is before the moment of abjection, when the subject becomes aware of the gap between self and other and encounters the horror of disappearing into the abyss, as Kristeva would say. This is exactly the space that Artaud occupies, here lies on the margin of abyss, staring at it, enjoying the horror show. The semiotic space comes with an inventory of feminine machinery – bodies, chaos, marginality to Symbolic order and language, a pre-Oedipal realm where sexual difference doesn't have a shape.

The hysterical moment of expel from the sleep of Inca/with mutilated fingers is when this useless body/ made of meat and wild sperm/ hanging escapes itself or jumps out of the skin to let the lawful child go free, voiding itself to the state of EGG…/the antiartaud state par excellence: convulsive forces like that sewer drilled with teeth are seizing the body in its getaway to remake an existence free of self but over and above the corpse/taken/from the void. The social monstrosities, the myrmidons of Infernal Persephone,/ microbes of every hollow gesture/ spittle buffoons of a dead law are  vomited, denied, expelled from the body. The visceral sensation of a mise-en-abyme of Artaud's hysterical body seems taken from one of Francis Bacon's paintings, the ones that Allon White  talks about. This hysterical exercise places Artaud on the margin of the abyss: there was no sun and no person,/no one ahead of me no one before me/ no one no one no one to thou me. But even if we acknowledge that Artaud is performing in solitude, his loneliness is a shared one: his readers are present in the text and their possible rejection is already relationship. Becoming a spectacle happens when the other refuses "the free flow of mutual identification" or the so-called folie a deux, what Artaud anticipates, because as Freud notes, the symptoms of hysterical attacks are actions, in the condition of a participating other, the audience. Artaud watchfully constructs his audience, he gives advices, he gives conclusions, he explains, he insults, he draws maps: there is always an us or a you involved. By acting in front of his audience, Artaud avoids thinking about acting and this is why his audience is mandatory for his hysterical crisis.

The diffusion of imageries of body and pain is impaired by representation. All true language/ is incomprehensible writes Artaud and he tries to achieve this level of language beyond representation.  Words become spells, Inca incantations or screams and in a Kleinian way, reading, "it feels like eating one's words", those that structure the I-you or subject-object relationship in a space of oneness with no demarcations. Following Kristeva, words "become performative: direct agents – erotic and in fact deadly – of a thereby disclosed hysterical intensity." In this process of thinking through the body, opposed to the rational and controlling use of language attribute of masculinity, the language does not disappear, but gains a "somnambular logic in which the animism of objects replaces the possibility of a metalinguistic evaluation of its discourse." Language is used as a mediator to the hysteric oversensitized body that is resistant to language and representation. If repressing oedipal desire contains the repression of representation of idea of desire, that representation becomes unconscious and its effects are transmitted through the body. In the case of the hysteric, there is no form of representation, the pain/sweating/inside/THE BONE actually affects language and the hysteric transforms it into actions of the body or unintelligible incantations.

At another level of analysis, Artaud's hostility towards representation is linked to his hostility towards social institutions or this arrogant capitalist/ from limbo and the son-in-law (observe the pun!) that use representation to empty the body whole,/wholly of its vitality and put instead this awful gimlet,/this gimlet crime,/this awful/ old stud of a screwed up/ deviation to the profit of the son-in-law. As we can see in this poem, one of his lasts, the artistic focus on the spastic body of the hysteric in a maximum exposed and condensed form that expresses "the convulsions and jumps of a reality which seems to destroy itself with an irony where you can hear the extremities of the mind screaming" remains for Artaud the main tool to oppose representation.

The self is abandoned in the body and the subject is repressed by being in the world. The self discovers itself in the break with the world. To transcend the societal, tabooed, prohibited body, Artaud had to break the moral and social laws, to experience physical decadence, verbal mockery. Only when the social morality had been deliberately broken, the body is capable of transformation, by leaving all the laws and moral categories behind. In a Gnostic style, Artaud tried to go beyond dichotomies: good/evil, matter/spirit, body/mind, matter/spirit, masculine/feminine, dark/light. His obsession with physical matter finds its expression in Here Lies and many other texts written over his last twenty years in a ruined world congested with matter in the form of shit, blood and sperm. In order to defeat the evil powers that are incarnated in matter, Artaud has to be in permanent contact with them, to submit to them and experience pain and poisoning artaud at their discretion, to become a monster. This puzzling I, much more than pa and ma, lies in front of us as a Zizekian kinder egg, an alien intruder, an excremental monster. The anal association with the self has a long history: the immediate appearance of the Inner is amorphous shit. Freud's identification of excrement as the primal form of gift, of a genuine object that the small child gives to parents, and in Artaud's case, his gift to the world, the crud, (as he shouts it crystal clear: let me tell you,/all of you, you've always/made me shit) his self in the state of EGG. This gesture is thus not as naive or immediately insulting as it may appear: this abject piece of self offered to the other oscillates between the sublime and not necessarily the preposterous, but, specifically the excremental. This is the reason why, for the infamous Dr. L, as Artaud calls him (none other than the famous Jacques Lacan who worked on Artaud's case for a couple of months and found him incurable), one of the characteristics which distinguishes humans from animals is that for humans, the removal of shit becomes problematic exactly because it comes out from our deepest depth. The shame in relation to shit is not related to its materiality but to what it represents: it exposes us, it takes out our most intimate profundity and constructs the ultimate abject barrier. This is exactly where Artaud lies: in his own excrements. This externalized shit thrown in the eyes of the world is similar to an alien monster that colonizes the Artaudian body, penetrating it and dominating it from within, and which, like in the famous scene from Aliens movie, breaks out of the body through the mouth, directly through the chest or in our case, through a poem on paper.

In this undertaking, followed by his ideas of theatre of cruelty, the "psychological man, with his well-dissected character and feelings, and social man, submissive to laws and misshapen by religions and precepts" are abandoned. This abandonment is possible through expressing impulses larger than life, serving an "inhuman" subject or freedom, in opposition to the masculine liberal, sociable idea of subject or freedom. For him, the obstacle and the locus of freedom is the feminized body: never a place for pleasure but electric capacity for intelligence and pain. The "intellectual cries" that come from his flesh are the only forms of knowledge that he can trust. Artaud/who knew that there was no mind/but only body is in conflict with his ignorant body, a grotesque obscene body that he depicts as this useless body made of meat and crazy sperm. Against this fallen body, dominated by matter, who for an idea had an arm, he proposes a new one: a body without organs, which he approached by transcending and intellectualizing it, in a gesture of unifying flesh and thought, renouncing its horny stink of atoms/its randy stink of abject. Artaud has the task here to construct this body without organs, in an alchemic way, by searching the method to operate on the body and change one miserable matter into another enhanced kind of matter.  Even if words, letters and lines seem totally out of control on page, they follow a strategy, they create a space in which they speak in a non-linguistic form that subverts usage of language and prove its inadequacy. The purpose of this strategy is to transmit the body and to attack back what Artaud sees as betraying organs of the body, nature/mind/ or god. The hysteric acts or performs even on page, Artaud's symptoms are performing in order to prevent thought and representation, as prerequisite of language, the male hysteric acts, enacts, performs or uses spastic language as incantations, spells, glossolalia or screaming. Juliet Mitchell argues that the hysterical body, Artaud's body without organs, is actually an absent body even if the terror of the body becoming absent generates hysteria. The absent body cannot be represented for the subject and the paradox is that the hysteric body is the most excessively present body but in the same time this bodily excess depends on the subject's absence. The need for acting-out and expression through body represents an assurance that the absent body that is not felt does not become completely non-existent.   

In his hysteric identification, Artaud is Inca but no king in a fantasized experience that was called negative capability in relation to hysteria, a name given by Keats. In negative capability, Artaud experiences the world so intensely that becomes what he imagines. He imagines himself into other persons, including his dead self or a horrible plague. But probably the most recognizable plagiaristic identification is with Jesus Christ (his flight to Jerusalem on a/jackass/and the crucifixion of Artaud at Golgotha). The hysterical identification in this case is characterized by a complete fusion, Artaud has a total plagiaristic position where he can't be differentiated from Jesus Christ and can't be sure of who's who. This type of serial creative identifications demands the potential hysteria of his readers. Through this possible reader's transference the hysteric is never alone, he guarantees his audience, even one that calls him insane and rejects his project. What are more important here are the prospective attention-grabbing and the existence of a potential audience ready to play a game of hysterical identification.

Contraria sunt complementa: Blake's Dialectic

by Cătălin Ghiță

In my opinion, the problematic of dialectic in Blake's thought looms large because it simultaneously constitutes the artist's favourite mode of aesthetic composition and his primary method of understanding reality. Christine Gallant opines that, "if one considers his work as a whole, it is difficult to think of a less dualistic writer than Blake" (43). For him, contraries bring forth unity only when they are sublimated for its sake. Thus, to a certain extent, contraries are complementary; more often than not, they even coincide. The idea is, of course, quite old: it was made famous by the German cardinal Nicolaus Cusanus in the fifteenth century, when he published his influential theological treatise De docta ignorantia. In the Romantic Age, some of Blake's contemporaries, for instance Hölderlin and Shelley, are in like manner obsessed with this mode of reflection on realia: Günter Klabes writes that "Hölderlin's poetry, like Shelley's, is characterized by an essentially duality blending the finite with the infinite" (320).

Mark Trevor Smith is the only critic to have analysed the scope and role of the coincidentia oppositorum in English Romantic literature, but his approach to Blake is premised either on specific poems (The Mental Traveller, Jerusalem) or on the polarity identity/otherness.1 Although his critical attempt proves to be successful to a certain degree, ultimately, Smith fails to offer a synthetic, unitary perspective upon Blake's dialectic thought, and the outcome is a mosaic of separate interpretations, rather than a comprehensive exegesis. Moreover, my main objection is that Smith does not even take into consideration Blake's most important dialectic text, i.e. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.2 An apposite approach to the Blakean formula of the coincidence of opposites cannot possibly ignore this chief prose work.3

But let me first present briefly Cusanus's main theological concepts, from which the coincidentia oppositorum syntagm stems. This explanation is relevant in this context not because Blake borrowed his ideas directly from Cusanus, but because the German theologian inspired a whole mode of world interpretation based on the tension between polarities that had been preserved and refined until Blake's time, so that the English artist came into contact with different major and minor figures espousing Cusanus's main convictions. The German theologian does not intend to alter radically man's Weltbild, but, rather, to connect the latter with the Platonic tradition. Starting from the assumption that all knowledge is ignorance, and that, in a Socratic manner, "the better a man will have known his own ignorance, the greater his learning will be" (9), Cusanus comes to the conclusion that absolute truth cannot be apprehended by human intellect. The docta ignorantia formula becomes even more transparent in the theologian's simile concerning the maximum and the minimum as essentially identical. The following excerpt is also valid in the case of the coincidentia oppositorum syntagm:

The maximum quantity is infinitely great, whilst the minimum is infinitely small. Now, if you mentally leave aside the notions of greatness and smallness, you are left with the maximum and the minimum without quantity, and it becomes clear that the maximum and the minimum are one and the same; in fact, the minimum is as much a superlative as the maximum. The maximum and the minimum, then, are predicable of absolute quantity, since in it they are identified (13).

Concordantly, God, as the ontological Maximum, encompasses all other imaginable forms and suppresses the very idea of opposition: Cusanus's arguments "show us the Maximum as a Being, to whom nothing stands in opposition, because all beings, in whatsoever way they be, are in Him and He in them" (51).

Resuming Anaxagoras's dictum, "everything in everything", Cusanus argues that universal harmony is brought about by the very fact that the parts that make up a whole become that whole, be it human or divine. Therefore, all diversity is ultimately a sublime unitas in diversitate:

You will also see on closer study how each individual in actual existence is at peace, for all in the individual is the individual and the individual in God is God; and there appears the wonderful unity of things, the admirable equality and the most remarkable connection, by which all is in all. In this we see the one source of the connection and diversity of things. (85).

Even Blake's idea of the giant Albion, as an all-encompassing human form, is transparent (in nuce, of course) in Cusanus's refined demonstration. One may see that what was to become one of Blake's favourite metaphors for the spiritual form of humankind had been, originally, a purely religious one, comprising anthropic, as well as divine, ontological qualities (it should also be noted that the poet consciously borrowed the symbol from Swedenborg's visionary description of the "greater man"): "If you were to think of humanity as an absolute, immutable, illimitable being, and of man as a being in whom absolute humanity exists in an absolute way though contracted by him to the humanity which man is, then you might compare the absolute humanity to God and the contracted to the universe" (86).

The outcome of all these theological schemes is that the anthropic principle is defined in paradoxical terms, "as being at once God and creature, creature and creator – creator and creature both, without composition and with confusion" (133-34), their formulator concurrently emphasizing that "[s]uch a union, therefore, would surpass all understanding" (134). Cusanus finally argues that it is human nature alone that is "peculiarly adapted to be this maximum" (134), since man is an inferior being elevated to the divine condition. If so, it follows that man is simultaneously God and himself.

Once these preliminary issues have been clarified to a certain extent, I can now shift the focus of the exegesis to Blake's idea of the complementary nature of polar realities. I have already mentioned the fact that Blake interprets his ultimate world, i.e. that of imagination, from a dialectic perspective. It is equally noteworthy that Blake's conception of the unity of contraries may also be related to Aristotle's Physics, emerging, in this case, as a sui generis pattern of hylomorphism.4 Whilst, originally, "body" stood for "matter" and "soul" stood for "form", Blake's poetic discourse rejects the aforesaid dichotomy,5 and replaces it with new series, encompassing such divergent features as "reason" and "intellect", "Memory and Imagination", "vegetative" and "spiritual". More specifically, Blake's visionary profile displays at its heart a series of clear-cut conceptual antinomies, which are subsequently transferred to the textual level, i.e. the prophetic books. It is for all these reasons that a scholar should analyse the scope and role of the abstract pairs of contraries in the artist's formal ideology.6

Concretely, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93),7 which serves simultaneously as "a foreshortened dialectic" (Spector, "Wonders Divine" 60), and as "a critical manifesto" (Spector, "Glorious Incomprehensible" 81), Blake says that a permanent state of conflict is inherent in subjects and objects alike, and that its existence is solely for their benefit: "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence" (E 34).8 Moreover, Blake conceives of two eternally antagonistic classes of man, contextualized in the double icon of the Prolific and the Devouring: "These two classes of men are always upon earth, & they should be enemies..". (E 40). However, when writing that "Opposition is true Friendship" (E 42), Blake believes in a fundamental unity of all ontological contents, since unreconciled contradictions block the generation of harmony.

An interesting metaphor for the artistic universe, which epitomizes Blake's view on the problematic of contraries, is the description of Beulah. According to Damon, Beulah is "the source of poetic inspiration and of dreams" (42). On the other hand, Frye points out that this is "the garden of Genesis in which gods walk in the cool of the day" (50), the true matrix of life. Be that as it may, Beulah, as described in Milton, represents a topos wherein contraries are rendered simultaneously true, and thereby insignificant: "There is a place where Contrarieties are equally True / This place is called Beulah. It is a pleasant lovely Shadow / Where no dispute can come. Because of those who Sleep" (E 129).

Mark Trevor Smith claims that Blake's self-contradictions spring from the poet's intention of describing life as it is, not as it should be according to man's rational faculty: "Blake's theology, however, is inconsistent and anti-rational because he is pursuing the details of the world, full of life and therefore of oppositions" (203). However, his opinion gives birth to a legitimate question: is life necessarily self-contradictory? Is it not man alone who finds contradiction once he has applied complicated processes of ratiocination to an essentially non-intellectual medium, i.e. nature?

A more illuminating point of view pertains to W. J. T. Mitchell, who strongly believes that Blake's aesthetic technique urges the artist to reach dialectic using dualism as a starting point. Oppositions are identifiable even at the concrete, aesthetic level: the Blakean work of art (a "composite" product, in the expression of Jean H. Hagstrum and Northrop Frye) is a mixture of text and image. Moreover, W. J. T. Mitchell describes an intricate "visual-verbal dialectics" (4-14): "Blake wanted to combine spatial and temporal form in his illuminated books not to produce a fuller imitation of the total objective world, but to dramatize the interaction of the apparent dualities in our experience of the world and to embody the strivings of those dualities for unification" (33). Mitchell even concludes his study by stating that "Blake's pictorial style, like his poetic form and the total form of his composite art, is organized as a dramatic dialectical interaction between contrary elements" (74).

On the other hand, M. H. Abrams's interpretation of Blake's dualism points to the shaping of an apocalyptic paradigm, "a mode of thinking in which all process, whether historical, logical, or empirical, is attributed to the dynamic generated by polar opposites" ("Apocalypse" 346). Abrams does not fail to mention that, within the given framework of the "chiaroscuro history", the prophetic narrative's chief characteristic is its ethical and ontological irreducibility: "the agencies are the opponent forces of light and of darkness and there is no middle-ground between the totally good and the absolutely evil" (345).9

Finally, Charles Taylor's brilliant description of millenarianism enables me to link this extreme intellectual trait to Blake's mode of thinking.10 Inspired by Joachim of Flora's bold announcement that the advent of the Age of the Holy Ghost is inevitable, millenarians embrace the belief in a decayed and spiritually dismembered world, soon to be replaced by a new, brighter order. Taylor expresses this in terms of an apocalyptic vacillation between "a moment of crisis, one in which acute conflict is about to break out, one in which the world is polarized as never before between good and evil" (387) and "an unprecedented victory over evil, and hence a new age of sanctity and happiness unparalleled in history" (387). Needless to mention here that, within this millenarian pattern, the eschatological scenario emerges as a spiritualist prolongation of a biblical mode (mainly neo-, not veterotestamentarian), of describing reality in terms of evolutionary stages, whose temporal dimensions are coextensive. A poetic instance of millenarianism is traceable in "The Little Girl Lost" (Songs of Experience), wherein the creative self exalts the virtues of a new Eden, which is to replace the obsolete, rationalistic reality of his present (sleep is Blake's predominant metaphor for frozen intellect):

In futurity

I prophetic see,

That the earth from sleep,

(Grave the sentence deep)

Shall arise and seek

For her maker meek:

And the desart wild

Become a garden mild (E 20).

Morse Peckham is perhaps wrong when he tendentiously asserts that Blake does no more than regress "to an ancient and exhausted redemptionism, concealing from himself his failure to achieve cultural transcendence by a clumsy and obsessive mythology" (55). When Blake reverts to a millenarian scenario, he does it with the fully fledged intellectual paraphernalia of the visionary who finds himself estranged in the eighteenth-century bourgeois milieu not because of a cultural failure, but because of his peculiar aesthetic approach to art and religion, which he reflects as essentially correlative forms of human expression. This, I think, is the telos of the artist's elaborate mythological system.

But one may detect a link between Blake's dialectic and an ancient line of esoteric thought, of whose elaborate doctrine and sophisticated development we can gain but an intellectual glimpse. In this sense, Stephen Gurney notes that "there is good reason to see Blake as part of a heterodox but persistent tradition of Western mysticism that has always clung to the margins of institutional Christianity. This tradition, which goes back to the second century A. D., has been termed “gnosticism”" (26-27). In the following lines, I shall be touching on the problematic of Blake's putative Gnosticism.

Harold Bloom justly underlines the fact that, insofar as Blake may be labelled "apocalyptic visionary, he seems in certain respects a kind of Gnostic, and Gnosticism is the most dualistic mode of belief ever advocated in Western tradition" (123). But the Gnostics, I may venture to add, originated geographically in the East, and they are an intrinsic part of the Western tradition only inasmuch as their late medieval avatars, the Cathars, who represent the Occidental version of the East-European Bogomils, are concerned. Nevertheless, the crux of Harold Bloom's argument lies in that Blake's visionary ideology, if I may employ such a term, is strongly influenced by the Gnostic tradition. I should perhaps add in this context Morton D. Paley's critical observations, according to which "Blake could never have accepted the Gnostic and Manichaean doctrines in full because they denied that Christ really became a man, suffered, died, and was resurrected" (6). However, the critic concedes that Blake "had a temperamental affinity for Gnosticism", (7), this propensity increasing in his last works.

First and foremost, a scholar must point out Blake's organic dualism, part of an inherently Gnostic Weltanschauung, which is occasionally nurtured by religious tracts or moralistic exhortations. Such is the case with Blake's Annotations to Lavater's "Aphorisms on Man", wherein the poet jots down a few inflammatory lines, according to which "Man is a twofold being. one part capable of evil & the other capable of good that which is capable of good is not also capable of evil. but that which is capable of evil is also capable of good" (E 594). The same goes for the poet's Annotations to Swedenborg's "Divine Love and Divine Wisdom": "Heaven and Hell are born together" (E 609).

Following both the Gnostics and the Neoplatonists11 (i.e. Plotinus),12 who see matter as "the primary evil",13 Blake too believes in the fundamentally erroneous character of matter. In this sense, he underlines, in A Vision of the Last Judgment, that "Mental Things are alone Real what is Calld Corporeal Nobody Knows of its Dwelling Place <it> is in Fallacy & its Existence an Imposture" (E 565). Moreover, in his Annotations to Swedenborg's "Divine Love and Divine Wisdom", the poet thinks that "the Natural Earth & Atmosphere is a Phantasy" (E 607).

Another Gnostic trait may well be the Demiurge as the origin of evil. Following an ancient heresy according to which the Creator of the material universe is a self-appointed god, ignorant of his own condition and, therefore, subject to blatant errors, Blake writes in A Vision of the Last Judgement: "Thinking as I do that the Creator of this World is a very Cruel Being & being a Worshipper of Christ I cannot help saying the Son O how unlike the Father" (E 565). According to the Sethian Gnostics' doctrine, quoted by Irenaeus, the Demiurge is called Ialdabaoth, and, on a certain occasion, his own mother confronts him with the charge of fallacy of identity: "Ialdabaoth, becoming arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those who were below him, and explained, “I am father, and God, and above me there is no one, ” his mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him: “Do not lie, Ialdabaoth...”" (Pagels 148). Furthermore, the radical Bogomils believe that there is a malevolent God, as potent as the good one, who plans to storm Heaven in order to capture good angels and, subsequently, to lock them up in bodies.14

On the other hand, Blake's dialectic may originate in the Paulician belief in the division of good and evil.15 These religious intellectuals are called Manichaens by Byzantine writers.16 According to Malcolm Barber, the Persian Mani, the legendary founder of the sect, is decisively influenced by Marcion, who completely rejects YHWH. Thus, Mani creates his own version of dualism, according to which matter is intrinsically evil and "God sent a series of “evocations” to create a material world in which to imprison the forces of Darkness" (Barber 10). In the long-lasting conflict between Good and Evil, Mani himself is one of these “evocations” (another one being Jesus Christ). But the essential difference between the doctrine of Mani and that of Blake lies in the eventual outcome of the struggle: in Mani, Light and Darkness are utterly separated, whereas, in Blake, contraries must be reconciled for the sake of primordial unity.

Of course, all these instances which I have discussed so far help us to understand Blake's relationship with authority and the ethics of evil, but do not favour any direction of interpretation. The exegetic path which I have suggested raises no claims to exhaustiveness: its only role is that of elucidating certain neglected sectors of the poet's philosophical thought. Thus, Damrosch, Jr. is essentially right in asserting that Blake finds it impossible to use the contraries as the sole vehicle of his philosophy, settling instead for "different kinds [italics in the original] of contraries, some of which are easily reconciled, other with great difficulty if at all" (181).

Perhaps the reader's final understanding of Blake's dialectic will be facilitated by Schleiermacher's contemplative method of perceiving the sense of the world in itself. The German hermeneutist writes:

Look outside again on one of the widely distributed elements of the world. Seek to understand it in itself, and seek it in particular objects, in yourself and everywhere. Traverse again and again your way from centre to circumference, going ever farther afield. You will rediscover everything everywhere, and you will only be able to recognize it in relation to its opposite [italics added]. Soon everything individual and distinct will have been lost and the Universe be found (138).

Few texts in the history of ideas can prove more fertile in the case of Blakean exegesis, and the aforecited one points to the indelible visionary method of apperception: individual contraries, whether they concern body or soul, matter or mind, must be sacrificed on the altar of the all-encompassing divine unity. Thus, the rift between isolation and communion, precipitated by the "fallen" condition of the solipsistic intellect, is happily closed.


1 For an extensive analysis, see Smith 151-251.

2 All Blake quotations are drawn from The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Ed. David V. Erdman. Commentary Harold Bloom. Newly revised ed. Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday, 1982, hereafter abbreviated to E.

3 Another strange fact is that, in theory at least, Smith should centre on Romanticism (as the title of his book clearly states), yet the second chapter is entirely devoted to Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man!

4 S. Foster Damon thinks that it is Jakob Böhme who originates Blake's doctrine of contraries, mainly because "the Teutonic Philosopher" was introduced to the English audience in the mid-seventeenth century: "John Sparrow translated his works into English in 1645-1662.... The books were republished (Vols. I and II, 1764; Vol. III, 1772; Vol. IV, 1781) with an unfinished dialogue by the Rev. William Law as an introduction. This is the edition which Blake read" (Blake Dictionary 39). Nevertheless, since Blake also read Aristotle, and took great pains to dismiss his works, it is possible that he may have borrowed this pivotal idea from the Greek philosopher. Damon himself concedes that "Blake referred to him [i.e. Aristotle] once as one of the great lights of antiquity" (Blake Dictionary 27). For additional details, see Blake's Annotations to An Apology for the Bible by R. Watson, penned in 1798 (E 615).

5 In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake writes that "Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five senses. the chief inlets of Soul in this age" (E 34).

6 Throughout this study, I have used the concept of "ideology" in its neutral sense, i.e. that of a set of general convictions which an individual holds to be true at a certain moment. I should perhaps mention that Karl Marx, the father of the idea, opposes it to science, which is the expression of truth. According to him, ideology is nothing but the deceptive worldview of the self-centred ruling class. Michael Ferber contends that, whilst "all literature has an ideology, or components of an ideology" (8), an individual's ideology "may be a very complicated affair" (7). Moreover, David Morse emphasizes that Blake's primary value as a poet lies in the fact that he is fully aware of ideology: "he recognises the hold that systems of ideas have over people's minds and the extent to which such structural formations are a major obstacle in the way of human progress" (235).

7 Prickett acknowledges the essentially unclassifiable nature of Blake's chief prose work, which is "at once theological, philosophical, psychological and aesthetic" (226).

8 The corollary to this idea is that the aforementioned contraries generate ethical categories: "From these contraries spring what the Religious call Good and Evil" (E 34).

9 However, the resulting peace, to be achieved under divine guidance, is, according to Abrams, "a perfected condition of mankind on this earth which will endure forever" (344).

10 For a recent collection of essays dedicated, inter alia, to the problematic of Blake's millenarianism, see Romanticism and Millenarianism, edited by Tim Fulford.

11 For more details concerning Blake's Gnosticism, see A. D. Nuttall, The Alternative Trinity. For an interpretation of the poet's Neoplatonism, see George Mills Harper's The Neoplatonism of William Blake.

12 Here, I should point out that Plotinus severely criticizes the doctrine of the Gnostics. Joseph Katz concedes that there is, however, essentially no difference between the two systems of thought. For more details, see Katz 289-98.

13 A useful synthesis on the subject of the generation of matter in Plotinus and the Gnostics belongs to Denis O'Brien. For further arguments, see O'Brien 108-23.

14 Here, I follow Malcolm Lambert's analysis. According to him, the moderate Bogomils hold that it is Satan, the son of God, who creates the material universe (for more details, see Lambert 132). Lambert's subsequent assessment is equally relevant: "The crucial difference between these views... lay in the status of evil: did it originate with a fallen spirit or an eternal evil principle?" (132). Quite naturally, no immediate answer is available.

15 For additional details concerning Blake's putative manichaeism, see Boutang passim.

16 For more details, see Barber 10. In the following lines, I intend to draw on several suggestions found in his book.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H. "Apocalypse: Theme and Variations". The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature: Patterns, Antecedents and Repercussions. Ed. C. A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984. 342-68.

Barber, Malcolm. The Cathars: Dualist Heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2000.

Blake, William. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, 1965. Ed. David V. Erdman. Commentary Harold Bloom. Newly revised ed. Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday, 1982.

Bloom, Harold. Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present. Cambridge, MA., and London: Harvard UP, 1989.

Blumenthal, H. J., and R. A. Markus, eds. Neoplatonism and Early Christian Thought: Essays in Honour of A. H. Armstrong. London: Variorum, 1981.

Boutang, Pierre. William Blake manichéen et visionnaire, Paris: La Différence, 1990.

Damon, S. Foster. A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake. 1965. Revised ed., fwd. and annotated bibliog. Morris Eaves. Hanover and London: UP of New England, 1988.

Damrosch, Leopold, Jr. Symbol and Truth in Blake's Myth. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1980.

Ferber, Michael. The Social Vision of William Blake. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1985.

Frye, Northrop. Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake. 1947. 10th ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1990.

Fulford, Tim, ed. Romanticism and Millenarianism. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Gallant, Christine. Blake and the Assimilation of Chaos. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton UP, 1978.

Gurney, Stephen. British Poetry of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Twayne Publishers, Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1993.

Harper, George Mills. The Neoplatonism of William Blake. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1961.

Journal of the History of Ideas 15, 1954.

Katz, Joseph. "Plotinus and the Gnostics". Journal of the History of Ideas 15, 1954. 289-98.

Klabes, Günter. "Political Reality and Poetic Mission: Hölderlin's and Shelley's Heterocosm". English and German Romanticism: Cross Currents and Controversies. Ed. James Pipkin. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1985. 301-21.

Lambert, Malcolm. Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from the Gregorian Reform to the Reformation. 1977. 3rd ed. Oxford, UK and Malcolm, MA: Blackwell, 2002.

Mitchell, W. J. T. Blake's Composite Art: A Study of the Illuminated Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1978.

Morse, David. Romanticism: A Structural Analysis. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982.

Nicolaus Cusanus. Of Learned Ignorance. 1954. Ed. W. Stark. Trans. Fr. Germain Heron. Introd. D. J. B. Hawkins. Westport, CT: Hyperion P, 1979.

Nuttall, A. D. The Alternative Trinity: Gnostic Heresy in Marlowe, Milton, and Blake. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1998.

O'Brien, Denis. "Plotinus and the Gnostics on the Generation of Matter". Neoplatonism and Early Christian Thought: Essays in Honour of A. H. Armstrong. Ed. H. J. Blumenthal and R. A. Markus. London: Variorum, 1981, 108-23.

Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Vintage Books, 1981.

Paley, Morton D. Apocalypse and Millenium in English Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1999.

Patrides, C. A., and Joseph Wittreich, eds. The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature: Patterns, Antecedents and Repercussions. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984.

Peckham, Morse. "Cultural Transcendence: The Task of the Romantics". English and German Romanticism: Cross-Currents and Controversies. Ed. James Pipkin. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1985. 35-57.

Pipkin, James, ed. English and German Romanticism: Cross-Currents and Controversies. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1985.

Prickett, Stephen, ed. The Romantics. London: Methuen, 1981

---. "Romantic Literature". The Romantics. Ed. Stephen Prickett. London: Methuen, 1981. 202-61.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. Trans. John Oman. Introd. Rudolf Otto. New York: Harper & Row, 1958.

Smith, Mark Trevor. "All Nature Is But Art:" The Coincidence of Opposites in English Romantic Literature. West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill P, 1993.

Spector, Sheila A. “Glorious Incomprehensible:” The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Language, Lewisburg and London: Bucknell UP and Assoc. UP, 2001.

---. “Wonders Divine:” The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Myth, Lewisburg and London: Bucknell UP and Assoc. UP, 2001.

Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. 1989. 7th ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1994.

A Philosophical Blake
[Cătălin Ghiţă, Revealer of the Fourfold Secret: William Blake's Theory and Practice of the Vision, Casa Cărţii de Ştiinţă, 2008]

by Ştefan Bolea

Cătălin Ghiţă belongs to the new generation of Romanian reasearchers, combining erudition with a careful study of texts. Born in 1976, he was mainly formed after the Romanian Revolution from 1989. While the 1990's could be characterized as a confusing decade, especially from an axiological point of view (as post-Communism laid on its death bed and shamans and medicine men were trying to provide the needed oxygene supplies and media injections ad nauseam), the present looks more promising, because freedom of speech ceases to be a priviledge of the few, becoming a fundamental right. There's more to it – the most informed generation of Romanian scholars in fifty years is being born. Most of them will study abroad, sucking like bees wisdom of immense libraries, after decades of cultural autarchy, which threatened to bring Romanian civilization, after its 1927 Renaissance back to the Midde Ages. Otherwise, there is no excuse of being misinformed in Romania today: questia.com, abebooks.fr or even e-mule for the fundamentals provide tons of books, Terrabytes of informations, which must be organized and disciplined as an army of pure knowledge, designed to conquer other territories and redeem half of century of cultural isolation. Ghiţă is one of the forerunners – though he published his work on Blake in Cluj-Napoca, he used English for it instead of his native Romanian. He wrote on one of the most obscure and misunderstood pre-Romantics, achieving the sort of originality that goes beyond infinite hours of library.

William Blake's context must be understood in the first place. Blake loathed Enlightenment values, such as absolute reason, which was meant to provide the fundamental source of intersubjective ethos: "Blake lived in an age when established rationalistic values were permanently shaken, to be replaced with new ones, defending the obscure forces of nature, imagination, and the expanded human intellect. The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revolutionary Zeitgeist proclaimed a new order, deriding the bourgeois facts of the previous Age of Reason." (28) Stirner argued in the 19th century that Enlightenment assasinated (long before Nietzsche acknowledged the fact) the divine principle, replacing it with a reasonable humanity, easy to be managed and controlled by the state. Blake felt that the philosophy of the Age of Reason and its inclination towards an immanent humanism was striving to create a diminished human being, which would later implode as a selfless, conformist and anonymous member of society. That's why mainly Blake doesn't offer his readers a way out, but rather a way inside:

To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes

Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought.  


He is interested in the inner psychological value of man, not in its external characteristic, which makes him a part of the Nietzschean "herd"; Blake doesn't simply reverse the paradigm of Enlightenment, offering mainstream Christianity – like Kierkegaard in The Present Age and Shestoff in Revelations of Death, the English poet presents us the authentic and narrow path to personal religion.

One of Blake's radical traits is his "thesis of aesthetic insularity, according to which no continuity is possible so long as the masters who follow outstanding predecessors lack Genius" (p.43):

Genius dies with its Possessor & comes not again till Another is Born with It.

(Annotations to the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds)     


We could argue that this is an alternative to Hegelianism (avant la lettre), which values the gradual acumulation of talent and not Kierkegaardian "cuts", "bursts" and "jumps", aiming to break the historical cycle. Ghiţă compares, early in his book, William Blake to one of his central characters, Urizen: "To speak about a relationship between Blake (or, rather, his creative self) and one of his characters, i.e. Urizen, may seem strange. But I must stress that it is precisely in this relationship that one must seek the key to the whole Blakean creative process, wherein the creative self seeks to exorcize the presence of the dark, sterile half of the psyche, i.e. the ego." (46) This is an interesting and somewhat postmodern direction – like comparing Nietzsche to Dionysos or Camus to Sisiphus – or Sartre to Roquentin. Though it is a risky way (a beginner almost always confuses the author with the main character) Ghiţă forces this direction to genuinly develop Blake's portrait: "Urizen's figure represents a Blakean mirror image, a force which is simultaneously constructive and disruptive. Undoubtedly, Urizen is Blake's most self-conscious character. Yet, it is quite obvious that he does not stand for the creative self, but for the poet's fallen ego, proud and vain." (47) There's more to it: "the Urizenic element corresponds to Böhme's Selbheit or to Schelling's Ichheit, both terms signifying ontological division, i.e. separation from the primordial divine unity, and impossibility of direct access to vision." Ghiţă quotes another fragment from Blake's Jerusalem:

O Saviour (…)

Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life!

We have here a conflict between the ego and the self, underscored by Ghiţă. We could deduce (something that our author doesn't suggest) from a philosophical-theological point of view (and in plain words) that the ego is demonic and the self divine. Otherwise said, the ego is more attached to the world, trapped into a Karmic circle of action and reaction, our self being a tool (to use a Heideggerian term in an opposite meaning) for transcendence. Our self is everything that remains when our ego shuts down or is depleted – for most of the human beings that equals to zero. We can understand in another way the quoted passage from Jerusalem. Buber and Levinas insisted that the absolute Other or the radical Thou should be our "conversation" partners – in other words, the self feeds from the divine "thou", while the ego is self-centered, claiming a sort of solipsist self-sufficiency.

Because the space of a simple review (however counter-conformist and "indirect" it may be) is not limitless, I will quickly add other virtues of Ghiţă's book, commenting them briefly: original definitions of imagination (p. 75), of inspiration (pp. 88-89) and of vision (p. 136). The argument of the book (or perhaps its key) is "that there exist four main types of vision" exposed in Blake's work. I enjoyed mostly the pages about the phenomenology of inspiration (Ghiţă upgraded his analysis from Schleiermacher, Plato or Tillich) – we should take note of "the motif of temporal suspension", highlighted by Blake in a letter to Thomas Butts:

I have written this Poem from immediate Dictation twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time without Premeditation & even against my Will. the Time it has taken in writing was thus renderd Non Existent.


I have noted elsewhere that inspiration changes the quality of time, thus having a direct aesthetical value, allowing writers or artists to be active in a different temporal "dimension" – abolishing the authoritarianism of mechanical time.

The four types of vision that Blake develops, according to Ghiţă, correspond to "a similar number of hermeneutic levels" (173): 1) social; 2) metaphysical; 3) aesthetic; 4) religious. Speaking of the fourth level, the religious one, the Romanian author claims: "its target is the totality of ontological contents, and therefore this niveau translates fourfold vision. Its defining element is spiritual redemption, perceived as cosmic unity. One may find its textual application in Jerusalem (1804-20)" (223). This fourfold analysis of vision, and especially its superior levels, reminds me of Kierkegaard's dialectic of stages and of the "infinite" gap between the levels. I think that Cătălin Ghiţă's book is full of insights not only for Blake's scholars but for poets and philosophers also.


A possible source of inspiration for Venus and Madonna
[originally published in "Revista de istorie şi teorie literară", tom 24, nr.2, pp.211-216, Bucureşti, 1975]

by Amita Bhose

"All imitated Bolintineanu... Eminescu broke the shackles almost all on a sudden with Venus and Madonna". Such was Nicolae Iorga's observation in 1895 [1]. The story of the publication of Venus and Madonna in Convorbiri literare and with that the discovery of Eminescu is too well-known to be repeated. It may only be mentioned that a few weeks after the publication of the poem Iacob Negruzzi wrote to A.D. Xenopol that it was heightened beyond measure in the Junimea circle, though none of them knew its author [2].

After the first flaah of surprise was over and Eminescu's literary genius was recognized, this sensation-making poem posed certain problems to critics and annotators. Two years after its publication, Titu Maiorescu saw a confusion of images in the "queer" Venus and Madonna, though he appreciated its grand conception the charm of its diction and Eminescu's understanding of ancient art [3].

Much later, C. Papacostea likened Eminescu's love for antiquity to that of Schiller's [4]. In 1932 G. Bogdan-Duică quoted a passage from Jean Paul's Vorschule der Aesthetik similar to the idea of Venus of Madonna, where it was held that Venus could be beautiful only, but Madonna was romantic and that the source of romantic love was to be sought for in the Christian temples, rather than in old German forests; this superior form of love, where a beautiful body melts into a beautiful soul, was a flower of Christianity [5].

In his critical edition of Eminescu's poems D. Murăraşu corroborated the view of Titu Maiorescu. He felt that the woman, whom the poet fire adored, then disregarded and finally treated with softness and warmth, was neither Venus, nor Madonna, but a third category of woman quite different from the two. In his opinion, the title of the poem was incomplete, asis did not encompass the entire context [6].

The significance of the two images and the source of their inspira­tion thus remained obscure.

It seems, however, a little strange that though it was realised that Venus and Madonna was quite off the beaten track, and though the poet himself left a suggestion that his "lost ideal" belonged to "the night of a world which was no more, that this' young and sweet message" came from a "sky with other stars, other heaven and other gods", the critics did not think of looking for its sources in a soil other than the European.

In the opening lines of the poem, Eminescu refers to a world, which thought in fairy-tales and spoke in poetry. Naturally this world, if ever existed, existed long before the Christian era. It is possible that Eminescu wrote these lines under the influence of Herder's hypothesis that poetry was the first diction of the childhood of humanity. Since the Indian Vedic poems were taken as a strong argument in favour of Herder's theory [7] this fact may give us a clue to the sources of Venus and Madonna.

However, before we look for some correspondence of Eminescu's poem in old Indian literature, let us consult biographical documents, about the background of its writing. Venus and Madonna was written at least one year before its publication (1870) [8] at the same time as writing Geniu pustiu [9]. Themes of these two works are also alike. The varying attitudes of the hero towards the heroine in the novel are similar to those of the poet in Venus and Madonna. The woman in the poem is a bachhante and the heroine of the novel is an actress. At the time of writing Geniu pustiu, Eminescu was in love with an actress of a provincial stage, about whom Caragiale speaks in his article In Nirvana. Caragiale remembers that one evening Eminescu showed him a poem composed by him about an Assyrian king, who was tormented by his own passions. The following day, the budding poet looked quite depressed and irritated. For, in the meantime, he had shown the poem to his actress lover, who was little impressed with the fate of the Assyrian king (perhaps Eminescu referred to this in The Blue Flower). On the third day, he regained his spirit, and among other things told Caragiale about ancient India and about the Dacians. Shortly after Eminescu went to Vienna, wherefrom he sent Venus and Madonna [10].

Caragiale's memoir reveals two singnificant points of Eminescu's thoughts. Firstly, thinking of ancient India he recovered from the shock of disillusionment. Secondly, even in his adolescence India occupied the same place in his mind as did the ancestors of the present Romanian people. For our purpose, the first is more important.

Caragiale's article does not offer any further details. So, it is not possible to know what particular aspects of India consoled Eminescu at that moment and brought him back to bis spirit. Nor is it possible to form an idea of the poet's knowledge of India at that period - It is gener­ally believed that Eminescu's acquaintance with India dates from the days of his studentship in Vienna. But Caragiale's article shows that even before going there, he knew much about India as to speak for a lenght of time. Ştefanelli says that Eminescu knew a lot about India in Cernăuţi [11], and that in Vienna he read a number of Indian texts translated into German including Sakuntala[12].

So, it is confirmed that at least as late as in Vienna, Eminescu came to read Kalidasa's Sakuntala. Here, we may reflect upon one point. Eminescu was a voracious reader. Both in idea and knowledge he was far ahead of his contemporaries. As we are to reconstruct his knowledge, at least about India, from the memoirs of his friends and colleagues, mostly written after his death, we have to think of the possibility that his friends did not know all the books he read. Even if they heard about them from the poet, they might have forgotten a number of names at the time of writing and confused the years. None of these remembrances was meant to be a proper biography, and the correctness of date cannot be expected.

Forster's German translation of Sakuntala was published in 1791 [13]. At that time it created a sensation among the German romantics; both Goethe and Herder spoke about it in highly appreciative terms. Eminescu studied at Cernăuţi and even at that tender age was the custodian of Aron Pumnul's library [14]. As in those days, Cernăuţi had a close cultural contact with Vienna,  it is not improbable that Eminescu read Sakuntala there itself. Later on, he read Max Muller's A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature [15], which quotes Goethe's famous quatraine on Sakuntala on its very first page.

In view of the above, we may assume that at the time of writing Venus and Madonna and Geniu pustiu Eminescu knew about Sakuntala and about the impact it created on the German poets. (Eminescu's inter­est in German literature, even from his boyhood days has been recorded by many, and may not be repeated here). Perhaps it will not be too much to suppose that he was influenced by Sakuntala to some extent.

If we place Kalidasa's Sakuntala side by side with Eminescu's Venus and Madonna and its prose analogue Geniu pustiu, it will be revealed that the latter two are built around a theme similar to that of the first. In Sakuntala, the hero, Duşmanta, falls in love with Sakuntala in her forest home, marries her, then, going back to the capital, forgets her under a magic spell cast by the curses of an angry ascet. When Sakuntala, comes to his  court, he insults her in public. Finally, he regains his remembrance, is down wich remorse, and asks for her forgiveness when he meets her again. The varying attitude of the hero corresponds to those of Emi­nescu's characters.

We shall limit ourselves to Venus and Jfadonna, and go into the details of its text and structure. Structurally, Venus and Madonna islike a dramatic monologue. It has the characteristics of a drama in four acts. In the first part, Eminescu establishes the character of Venus, in the second part, that of Madonna; in the third part, the person symbolizing the both is condemned. Then follows a gap, indicated by a line of demarcation between the 10th and the 11th stanzas, like fall of a curtain in a drama, and the fourth part, the last two stanzas, show repentance and reconciliation. So many contradictory ideas can hardly be accomodated within the frame of a lyric poem.

So far as poetical qualities are concerned, the last part weakens the poem. By accepted European standards, it is also an weakness for a drama to end in such an anti-climax. But, according to the classical Indian conception of style, which did not allow a drama to end in tragic separa­tion, this reconciliation was essential. It is worth-while to mention that these two stanzas do not appear in he first draft in ms. 2255 [16] ; they are a later addition in ms. 2259 [17]. Perhaps they were added after a better ac­quaintance and deeper study of Indian literature, as Goethe added the Theatre prologue to Faust, after the model of the Prelude to Sakuntala in 1797, long after writing the original play [18].

In the text of Venus and Madonna, we find some motives common with Indian poems. The beauty of the heroine is expressed by the descrip­tion of her eyes, hair, and arms, as is done in Sanskrit poems. Eminescu's heroine is blonde like an European beauty, but strangely enough her eyes are dark and as deep as the sea like the eyes of an Indian beauty. The arms of Venus are compared with the thoughts of an emperor-poet. Murăraşu wonders whether he referred to Byron's hero Sardanapalus, but at the same time he feels that Eminescu's emperor has more depth of understanding of human character; he has got a poetical conception of life for himself, as well as for his subjects [19]. Perhaps this emperor was Kalidasa's hero Duşmanta, who thought and spoke in poetry.

In Eminescu's poem the hero condemns the heroine as a woman with a barren heart, who has stolen the sacred laurels of a martyr. In Kalidasa's drama Duşmanta accuses Sakuntala as a fraud who claims to be his legal wife; she poses to be an innocent girl brought up in an hermi­tage, but has all the shrewdness of a woman of low order. Sakuntala then lifts the veil off her face to arouse his memory; still he fails to recognize her, and abuses her more bitterly. In Eminescu's poem the hero realizes that it was he who threw a white veil of poetry on the face of this woman, and now as the veil falls off he finds his love cold and extinguished. He is now free from the "dizziness of dry dreams" (,,dismeţit din visuri sece"). In ms. 2255, 125 v we find another expression in its place — "shaken violently by cold life" (zguduit de viaţa rece) [20] — which was more appropriate to the conditions of Duşmanta forgot his love in the forest hermi­tage after his return to the realities of palace life. Sakuntala's veil seems to appear in Eminescu's poem as a symbol of illusion.

The last two stanzas of Venus and Madonna offer a striking resem­blance to Duşmanta's repentance in the 6th and 7th acts of Sakuntala.

For the sake of comparison we are quoting below the relevant passagews from Sir William Jone's English translation of Sakuntala.

Act VI

Dushmanta... Then once more she fixed on me, who had betrayed her,

that celestial face, then bedewed with gushing tears; and

the bare idea of her pain burns me like an envenomed ja­veline...

Was it sleep that impaired my memory? Was it de­lusion?

Was it an error of my judgement? [21]


Dushmanta. Oh ! my best beloved, I have treated thee cruelly ; but

my cruelty is succeeded by the warmest affection ; and I

implore vour remembrance and forgiveness. ... (She bursts into tears)

Dushmanta. O, my only beloved, banish from thy mind my cruel deser­tion of thee. - A violent phrensy overpowe red my soul.

-Such, when the darkness of illusion prevails, are the ac­tions of the best intentioned...

(He falls at her feet [22])

In Kalidasa's drama Sakuntala speaks very little to refute the charges of Duşmanta. She only weeps. In the last act, her tears are those of joy; yet, they move Duşmanta, and he falls at her feet. In Eminescu's poem the accursed woman does not speak at all, we feel her tears through the remorse of the hero, who falls at her feet and implores her forgiveness.

In the foregoing pages we have dealt with the text and the structure of Venus and Madonna. We shall now look for some similarities in the essential ideas of the two texts, and shall try to arrive at an interpretation of the two images in this poem. Goethe's poem of Sakuntala presents the message of the drama in the short span of four verses. In the opinion of Rabindranath Tagore, this is a correct appraisal of Kalidasa's drama by a true connoisseur of literature. We shall quote below that famous quatraine of Goethe in Max Müller's translation.

Wilt thou the blossoms of soring and the fruits that are late in season

Wilt thou have charms and delights, wilt thou have strength and support

Wilt thou with one short word encompass the earth and heaven,

All is said of I name only, Sacontala, thee [23].

Here the blossoms of spring is a metaphor of youth and fruits of late season is that of motherhood; the earth is a symbol of passions and the heaven a symbol of maturity [24]. Kalidasa's heroine combines the two in one.

In Venus and Madonna, Venus is eternal youth ; Madonna is eternal motherhood. Eminescu's heroine is an embodiment of both. For, it is in the one and same woman Eminescu in whom saw Venus and Raphael saw Madonna.

Tagore says, Sakuntala is Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained taken together. Similarly, Venus and Madonna is a poem of the loss and regain of the Paradise of love. When the passions have calmed down, the veil of illusion has fallen off, it is love that survives. It is love that makes a Saint out of a demon, a Madonna out of a bacchante.

Kalidasa's heroine was essentially an innocent soul, an adorable character; Duşmanta blamed her through misunderstanding. Eminescu's heroine is in reality a fallen woman. The curses of the hero are cruel, but by no means baseless. Yet, the loving eyes of a poet raises her to the rank of a Saint. Eminescu's love is more glorious; Eminescu's attitude is more human.

From the point of view of artistic perfection, Eminescu's poem of adolescence does not stand in comparison with Kalidasa's materpiece. But, in the conception of love, the romantic poet has taken over his classical predecessor.


1. N. Iorga. Dimitrie Petrino — Poeme, Adevărul ilustrat, 8 mai, 1895, p. 6.

2. M. Eminescu, Opere, Ed. Perpessicius, 1939, vol. I, p. 287.

3. D. Murăraşu, M. Eminescu, Poezii, ed. critică, vol. I, 1973.

4. C. Papacostea, Filosofia antică în opera lui Eminescu, f.d., p. 31.

5. G. Bogdan-Duică, "Buletinul Mihail Eminescu", 1932, p. 200.

6. D. Murăraşu, ibid., p. 343.

7. Raymond Schwab, La Renaissance Orientale, Paris, 1960, p. 226.

8. Perpessicius, I, p. 286.

9. Perpessicius, I, p. 287.

10. I. L. Caragiale, In Nirvana, în Opere, ed, critică de Al. Rosetti, Şerban Cioculescu, Liviu Călin, vol. IV, 1965, pp.10-11.

11. Teodor V. Ştefanelli, Amintiri despre Eminescu, 1914, p. 26.

12. Ibid., p.72.

13. Raymond Schwab, ibid., p.64.

14. G. Călinescu, Viaţa lui Mihai Eminescu, 1964, p. 79.

15. G. Călinescu, Opera lui Eminescu, vol. I, 1969, p. 447.

16. Perpessicius, vol. I, pp. 257-289.

17. Ibid., vol. I, p. 290.

 18. Arthur A. Macdonell, A History of Sanskrit Literature, London, 1899, pp. 416-417.

19. D. Murăraşu, ibid., p. 344.

20. Perpessicius, vol. I, p. 288, vers nr. 29.

21. Sacontala of ihe Fatal Ring, Translated by Williains Jones, in The Works of Sir William Jones, vol. IX,London, 1807, pp. 492-493.

 22. Ibid., p. 524-525.

23. Rabindranath Tâhkur, Sakuntala, in Rabindra-racanavali, vol. V, Calcutta,

1963, p. 521.

24. R. Thakur, ibid., passim.

The Case for Operatic Larceny

by Patrick Călinescu

I am not brave enough to say what I have on my mind. I fear that what may come out of my mouth might offend any of you. For this and only this have I decided to commit to paper what I don't trust my lips to say beyond their limits. And, if my courage is to be written up, rather than spoken up, then I may as well only say to whatever ounce of valiance I have left on the side of my lips that it is not a brave thing to pour your mind onto the paper unfolding before you, but something likely to outdo even the "necessary" of the thing itself.

I am now content with this brief introduction to the way my verbal courage has been turned into textual; one of the deadest kinds. For, if I may just for one more second linger on the subject, courage is always to be spoken up in the form of vivid oratory, rather than to be put down, as if lain and then tucked in, like some person dispossessed of his good talkative health.

But no more of this.

Courage or no courage, things have already been set in motion once I have opened my mouth to say my mouth shall remain closed for the whole remainder of the following.

As of now, it is only the pen that will give itself to textual verbosity.


Stan of the Forty Mattresses and his brother, lying on one of those mattresses, placed one on top of the other, was humming subliminally into his brother's ear by way of his very own frontal ear a song so badly composed that only the lowest frequency of the melody was left to be enjoyed by the dual auditorium of the brotherly audience. But the ear, of whoever brother, should have been naturally endowed with so perceptive a sense of hearing that, quite obviously, neither brother heard anything that one of them hummed and the other was hummed to. The melody of the song had descended too far into the vaults of unheardedness to make any more sense than perhaps a remote hint does on the mind of an untrained person.

His brother, after a while, a little bored of hearing something which he could not hear, addressed his mattress richer brother in high pitched modulations:

"I am your brother, as your mother has well informed you. And I'm not of the melodious type of brother I know you wished I had been. I am sorry to say that, but I am who I am: a song free, melody proof, hearable person, who does not appreciate the fact that you can't accept me for who I am. Oh, and one more thing on the ontological menu: I just am".

Stan of the above mentioned stuff put his humming aside on the side of his tongue that the song was closest to, stopped from grinding whatever note he was humming at the moment of interruption, and answered his brother as if he were conducting his own opus and not me, that is, the me outside myself.

"I am blinded to hear such terrible monstrosities escape your unsinging lips. I do not want to know anything else that lies beyond the interior of your lips, which has not been put to good musical use. I am stubborn in keeping myself in line with the solfeggio in between whose lines I have always found the likeliest unlike of yours. You, my brother, are not my brother. You don't ring any brotherly kinship in me. You sound as opaque as any tin pan would in the hands of someone ontologically placed the furthest from the poorest conductor. You produce no echo in my memory, which, therefore, cannot reverberate in any way at the muteness of your deaf self. Oh, and one more thing on the ontological menu: you are no composer, which I completely am".

The argument having thus been concluded dovetailed and sonorously unwell, Stan of the Forty Mattresses split his possessions into two equal parts, of which he chose to take the bulk of both. His brother, on the other hand, was not as materially greedy as his sound sibling. He only took what he thought was rightfully his, but wickedly deprived of, namely the voice of Stan, whom he utterly hated for the grand orchestration of this resounding theft.


Now, I am only left to wonder, pen in my mouth, by which means did Stan's brother of no mattresses at all manage to steal Stan's voice back into his, up to then, mute mouth?

I wish to have an answer for it; but I have none. And, as no answer comes to mind, at least something else does, to wit, the good old judgment according to which never, ever should I believe everything that I myself write for my own, later, readable delight


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