~ 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,
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
Kristeva. The transmission of imageries of bodies in his writings is
by representation and by what Artaud calls a double trap: the dispersal
language through inarticulation, that happens when his images of the
extreme situation are taking a textual form, and the dispersal of
when a text is assembled through the loss of representation.
In Here Lies,
his last poems, right from the start, hysterical elements come into
Sontag writes, we are dealing with a work that "cancels itself. […] It
event, rather than an object," an action than rejects language and
representation in a spiraling hysterical crisis. The title itself,
the first line, Here lies/ Antonin Artaud, brings
in a word play an
effect of pseudologia fantastica, a self-referential narrative where
try to draw attention from other people through lying. One of the
characteristics of pseudologia fantastica is that the stories that
tell are not entirely implausible and often have some element of
They don't represent a form of delusion or forms of psychosis: upon
confrontation, they can be acknowledged as false, they are not provoked
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
for this reason it contains its own annihilation, an avoidance of its
Pseudologia fantastica is
just one of the many devices that hysterics use to capture the
others, offering themselves as spectacles, the well-known and despised
attention-seeking of hysteria. The trouble in any psychoanalytical
not to make a clear distinction between reality and fiction, but to see
seduction and fantasy are affecting subjectivity.
Starting the poem, the
oedipal progression me-mummy-papa, the stickisome trinity/ of
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
don't believe in father/in mother,/got no/pappamummy) or
feminine space, the ass of granmummy, anality of
the mother as
life-enhancing, the female principle of absorption into the mother,
explodes the oedipal connection. The crud, the gift
of the child to its
parents, the most inner disgusting part of the interior world, the
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
determines the positioning of the individual human subject and the way
constructs identity, the first relationship is theorized as something
body, absorbing and 'symbiotic'." In other words, what lies here on the
page, is Artaud's Lacanian Real, which can never be encountered, the
before any limit between subject and object. The Artaudian time is
moment of abjection, when the subject becomes aware of the gap between
other and encounters the horror of disappearing into the abyss, as
would say. This is exactly the space that Artaud occupies, here
the margin of abyss, staring at it, enjoying the horror show. The
comes with an inventory of feminine machinery – bodies, chaos,
Symbolic order and language, a pre-Oedipal realm where sexual
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:
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
the void. The social monstrosities, the myrmidons
Persephone,/ microbes of every hollow gesture/ spittle buffoons of a
denied, expelled from the
body. The visceral sensation of a mise-en-abyme of Artaud's hysterical
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
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
shared one: his readers are present in the text and their possible
already relationship. Becoming a spectacle happens when the other
free flow of mutual identification" or the so-called folie a
Artaud anticipates, because as Freud notes, the symptoms of hysterical
are actions, in the condition of a participating other, the audience.
watchfully constructs his audience, he gives advices, he gives
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
acting and this is why his audience is mandatory for his hysterical
The diffusion of imageries of
body and pain is impaired by representation. All true
incomprehensible writes Artaud and he tries to achieve this
language beyond representation. Words
become spells, Inca incantations or screams and in a Kleinian way,
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
fact deadly – of a thereby disclosed hysterical intensity." In this
thinking through the body, opposed to the rational and controlling use
language attribute of masculinity, the language does not disappear, but
"somnambular logic in which the animism of objects replaces the
a metalinguistic evaluation of its discourse." Language is used as a
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
its effects are transmitted through the body. In the case of the
there is no form of representation, the pain/sweating/inside/THE
actually affects language and the hysteric transforms it into actions
body or unintelligible incantations.
At another level of analysis,
Artaud's hostility towards representation is linked to his hostility
social institutions or this arrogant capitalist/ from limbo
son-in-law (observe the pun!) that use representation to
empty the body
whole,/wholly of its vitality and put instead this awful
gimlet crime,/this awful/ old stud of a screwed up/ deviation to the
the son-in-law. As we can see in this poem, one of his lasts,
focus on the spastic body of the hysteric in a maximum exposed and
form that expresses "the convulsions and jumps of a reality which seems
destroy itself with an irony where you can hear the extremities of the
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
itself in the break with the world. To transcend the societal, tabooed,
prohibited body, Artaud had to break the moral and social laws, to
physical decadence, verbal mockery. Only when the social morality had
deliberately broken, the body is capable of transformation, by leaving
laws and moral categories behind. In a Gnostic style, Artaud tried to
dichotomies: good/evil, matter/spirit, body/mind, matter/spirit,
masculine/feminine, dark/light. His obsession with physical matter
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
and sperm. In order to defeat the evil powers that are incarnated in
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.
association with the self has a long history: the immediate appearance
Inner is amorphous shit. Freud's identification of excrement as the
of gift, of a genuine object that the small child gives to parents, and
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)
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
oscillates between the sublime and not necessarily the preposterous,
specifically the excremental. This is the reason why, for the infamous
as Artaud calls him (none other than the famous Jacques Lacan who
Artaud's case for a couple of months and found him incurable), one of
characteristics which distinguishes humans from animals is that for
removal of shit becomes problematic exactly because it comes out from
deepest depth. The shame in relation to shit is not related to its
but to what it represents: it exposes us, it takes out our most
profundity and constructs the ultimate abject barrier. This is exactly
Artaud lies: in his own excrements. This externalized shit thrown in
of the world is similar to an alien monster that colonizes the
penetrating it and dominating it from within, and which, like in the
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
misshapen by religions and precepts" are abandoned. This abandonment is
possible through expressing impulses larger than life, serving an
subject or freedom, in opposition to the masculine liberal, sociable
subject or freedom. For him, the obstacle and the locus of freedom is
feminized body: never a place for pleasure but electric capacity for
intelligence and pain. The "intellectual cries" that come from his
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
grotesque obscene body that he depicts as this useless body
made of meat and
crazy sperm. Against this fallen body, dominated by matter, who
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
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
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
which they speak in a non-linguistic form that subverts usage of
prove its inadequacy. The purpose of this strategy is to transmit the
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
performing in order to prevent thought and representation, as
language, the male hysteric acts, enacts, performs or uses spastic
incantations, spells, glossolalia or screaming. Juliet Mitchell argues
hysterical body, Artaud's body without organs, is actually an absent
if the terror of the body becoming absent generates hysteria. The
cannot be represented for the subject and the paradox is that the
is the most excessively present body but in the same time this bodily
depends on the subject's absence. The need for acting-out and
through body represents an assurance that the absent body that is not
not become completely non-existent.
In his hysteric
identification, Artaud is Inca but no king in a
that was called negative capability in relation to hysteria,
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
(his flight to Jerusalem on a/jackass/and the crucifixion of
Golgotha). The hysterical identification in this case is
characterized by a
complete fusion, Artaud has a total plagiaristic position where he
differentiated from Jesus Christ and can't be sure of who's who. This
serial creative identifications demands the potential hysteria of his
Through this possible reader's transference the hysteric is never
guarantees his audience, even one that calls him insane and rejects his
project. What are more important here are the prospective
and the existence of a potential audience ready to play a game of
Contraria sunt complementa: Blake's Dialectic
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).
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
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
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:
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
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).
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:
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
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.
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
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
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"
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"
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
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):
the earth from sleep,
the sentence deep)
arise and seek
her maker meek:
the desart wild
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
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).
both the Gnostics and the Neoplatonists11
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).
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
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
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.
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).
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
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).
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.
For an extensive analysis, see Smith 151-251.
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.
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!
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).
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).
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"
Prickett acknowledges the essentially unclassifiable nature of
Blake's chief prose work, which is "at once theological,
philosophical, psychological and aesthetic" (226).
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).
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).
For a recent collection of essays dedicated, inter alia, to
the problematic of Blake's millenarianism, see Romanticism
and Millenarianism, edited by Tim Fulford.
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.
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.
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.
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
For additional details concerning Blake's putative
manichaeism, see Boutang passim.
For more details, see Barber 10. In the following lines, I intend to
draw on several suggestions found in his book.
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,
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,
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,
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
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,
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
Prickett, Stephen, ed. The Romantics. London:
---. "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
Ghiţă, Revealer of the Fourfold Secret: William Blake's
Theory and Practice of the Vision, Casa Cărţii de Ştiinţă,
by Ştefan Bolea
Ghiţă belongs to the new generation of Romanian reasearchers,
combining erudition with a careful study of texts. Born in 1976, he was
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),
looks more promising, because freedom of speech ceases to be a
the few, becoming a fundamental right. There's more to it – the most
generation of Romanian scholars in fifty years is being born. Most of
study abroad, sucking like bees wisdom of immense libraries, after
cultural autarchy, which threatened to bring Romanian civilization,
1927 Renaissance back to the Midde Ages. Otherwise, there is no excuse
misinformed in Romania today: questia.com, abebooks.fr or even e-mule
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
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
William Blake's context must be
understood in the first place. Blake loathed Enlightenment values, such
absolute reason, which was meant to provide the fundamental source of
intersubjective ethos: "Blake lived in an age when established
values were permanently shaken, to be replaced with new ones, defending
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
Reason." (28) Stirner argued in the 19th century that Enlightenment
(long before Nietzsche acknowledged the fact) the divine principle,
it with a reasonable humanity, easy to be managed and controlled by the
Blake felt that the philosophy of the Age of Reason and its inclination
an immanent humanism was striving to create a diminished
which would later implode as a selfless, conformist and anonymous
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
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
of aesthetic insularity, according to which no continuity is
possible so long as the masters who follow outstanding predecessors
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
aiming to break the historical cycle. Ghiţă compares, early in his
book, William Blake to one of his central characters, Urizen: "To speak
relationship between Blake (or, rather, his creative self) and one of
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
creative process, wherein the creative self seeks to exorcize the
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 –
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,
is Blake's most self-conscious character. Yet, it is quite obvious that
not stand for the creative self, but for the poet's fallen ego, proud
vain." (47) There's more to
Urizenic element corresponds to Böhme's Selbheit or
to Schelling's Ichheit,
both terms signifying ontological division, i.e. separation from the
divine unity, and impossibility of direct access to vision." Ghiţă quotes
another fragment from
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
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
tool (to use a Heideggerian term in an opposite meaning) for
self is everything that remains when our ego shuts down or is depleted
most of the human beings that equals to zero. We can understand in
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
I will quickly add other virtues of Ghiţă's book, commenting them briefly:
original definitions of imagination (p. 75), of inspiration (pp. 88-89)
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
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
against my Will. the Time it has taken in writing was thus renderd Non
I have noted elsewhere that
inspiration changes the quality of time, thus having a direct
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)
4) religious. Speaking of the fourth level, the religious one, the
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
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
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
imitated Bolintineanu... Eminescu broke the shackles almost all on a sudden with Venus
Such was Nicolae
Iorga's observation in 1895 . 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
the publication of the poem Iacob Negruzzi wrote to A.D. Xenopol that
heightened beyond measure in the Junimea circle, though none of them
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 .
C. Papacostea likened Eminescu's love for antiquity to that of Schiller's .
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
into a beautiful soul, was a flower of Christianity
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 .
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
the beaten track, and though the poet himself left a suggestion that
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
gods", the critics did not think of looking for its sources in a soil
than the European.
opening lines of the poem, Eminescu refers to a world, which thought in fairy-tales and spoke in poetry.
this world, if ever existed,
before the Christian era. It is possible that Eminescu wrote
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  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
Indian literature, let us consult biographical documents, about
background of its writing. Venus and Madonna was
written at least one
year before its publication (1870)  at the same time as writing
. Themes of these two works are also alike. The varying attitudes of
hero towards the heroine in the novel are similar to those of the poet
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
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
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
with the fate of the Assyrian king (perhaps Eminescu referred to this
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 .
Caragiale's memoir reveals two
singnificant points of Eminescu's thoughts. Firstly, thinking of
he recovered from the shock of disillusionment. Secondly, even in his
India occupied the same
place in his mind
as did the ancestors of the present Romanian people. For
the first is more important.
Caragiale's article does not
offer any further details. So, it is not possible to know
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
believed that Eminescu's acquaintance with India dates from the days of
in Vienna. But Caragiale's article shows that even before going there,
much about India as to speak for a lenght of
Eminescu knew a lot about India in Cernăuţi , and that in Vienna he read
a number of Indian
texts translated into German including Sakuntala.
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
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
names at the time of writing
the years. None of these remembrances was meant to be a
biography, and the correctness of date cannot be expected.
German translation of Sakuntala was published in
1791 . 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
. 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 , 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
boyhood days has been recorded by many, and may not be repeated here).
it will not be too much to suppose that he was influenced by Sakuntala
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
when he meets her again. The
of the hero corresponds to those of Eminescu's characters.
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
follows a gap, indicated by a line of demarcation between the 10th and
stanzas, like fall of a curtain in a drama, and the fourth part, the
stanzas, show repentance and reconciliation. So many contradictory
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
this reconciliation was essential. It is worth-while to mention that
stanzas do not appear in he first draft in ms. 2255  ; they are a
addition in ms. 2259 . Perhaps they were added after a better
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 .
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
Venus are compared with the thoughts of an emperor-poet. Murăraşu wonders whether he
Byron's hero Sardanapalus, but at the
same time he feels that Eminescu's emperor has more depth of
human character; he has got a poetical conception of life
as well as for his subjects . Perhaps this emperor was Kalidasa's
Duşmanta, who thought and spoke in poetry.
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
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
poem the hero realizes that it was he who threw a white veil of poetry
face of this woman, and now as the veil falls off he finds his love
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
cold life" (zguduit de viaţa
rece)  — which was more
appropriate to the
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
The last two stanzas of Venus
and Madonna offer a striking resemblance to Duşmanta's
the 6th and 7th acts of Sakuntala.
For the sake of comparison we
are quoting below the relevant passagews from Sir William Jone's
translation of Sakuntala.
Then once more she fixed on me, who had betrayed her,
celestial face, then bedewed with gushing tears; and
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?
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)
O, my only beloved, banish from thy mind my cruel desertion of thee. - A violent
phrensy overpowe red my
-Such, when the darkness of
prevails, are the actions of
the best intentioned...
(He falls at her feet )
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
the hero, who falls at her feet and implores her forgiveness.
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
images in this poem. Goethe's poem of Sakuntala presents the message of
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
below that famous quatraine of Goethe in Max Müller's translation.
the blossoms of soring and the fruits that are late in season
have charms and delights, wilt thou have strength and support
with one short word encompass the earth and heaven,
All is said of I name only,
Sacontala, thee .
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 . Kalidasa's heroine combines the
In Venus and Madonna, Venus
is eternal youth ; Madonna is eternal motherhood. Eminescu's heroine is
embodiment of both. For, it is in the one
and same woman Eminescu in whom saw Venus and Raphael saw
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
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,
romantic poet has taken over his classical predecessor.
1. N. Iorga. Dimitrie
— Poeme, Adevărul ilustrat, 8 mai, 1895, p. 6.
2. M. Eminescu, Opere, Ed.
Perpessicius, 1939, vol. I, p. 287.
Murăraşu, M. Eminescu, Poezii, ed. critică, vol.
4. C. Papacostea,
antică în opera lui Eminescu, f.d., p.
Bogdan-Duică, "Buletinul Mihail Eminescu", 1932, p. 200.
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.
Cioculescu, Liviu Călin, vol. IV, 1965, pp.10-11.
V. Ştefanelli, Amintiri despre Eminescu, 1914, p.
12. Ibid., p.72.
13. Raymond Schwab, ibid.,
Călinescu, Viaţa lui Mihai Eminescu, 1964, p. 79.
15. G. Călinescu, Opera
lui Eminescu, vol. I, 1969, p. 447.
16. Perpessicius, vol. I, pp.
17. Ibid., vol.
Arthur A. Macdonell, A History of Sanskrit Literature, London,
1899, pp. 416-417.
19. D. Murăraşu, ibid.,
20. Perpessicius, vol. I, p.
288, vers nr. 29.
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,
1963, p. 521.
24. R. Thakur, ibid., passim.
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
only this have I decided to commit to paper what I don't trust my lips
beyond their limits. And, if my courage is to be written up, rather
up, then I may as well only say to whatever ounce of valiance I have
the side of my lips that it is not a brave thing to pour your mind onto
paper unfolding before you, but something likely to outdo even the
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
For, if I may just for one more second linger on the subject, courage
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
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
whole remainder of the following.
As of now, it is only the pen that
will give itself to
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
so badly composed that only the lowest frequency of the melody was left
enjoyed by the dual auditorium of the brotherly audience. But the ear,
whoever brother, should have been naturally endowed with so perceptive
of hearing that, quite obviously, neither brother heard anything that
them hummed and the other was hummed to. The melody of the song had
too far into the vaults of unheardedness to make any more sense than
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
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
I am sorry to say that, but I am who I am: a song free, melody proof,
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
grinding whatever note he was humming at the moment of interruption,
answered his brother as if he were conducting his own opus and not me,
the me outside myself.
"I am blinded to hear such
escape your unsinging lips. I do not want to know anything else that
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
whose lines I have always found the likeliest unlike of yours. You, my
are not my brother. You don't ring any brotherly kinship in me. You
opaque as any tin pan would in the hands of someone ontologically
furthest from the poorest conductor. You produce no echo in my memory,
therefore, cannot reverberate in any way at the muteness of your deaf
and one more thing on the ontological menu: you are no composer, which
The argument having thus been
concluded dovetailed and
sonorously unwell, Stan of the Forty Mattresses split his possessions
equal parts, of which he chose to take the bulk of both. His brother,
other hand, was not as materially greedy as his sound sibling. He only
what he thought was rightfully his, but wickedly deprived of, namely
of Stan, whom he utterly hated for the grand orchestration of this
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
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
judgment according to which never, ever should I believe everything
myself write for my own, later, readable delight