A Certain Malaise
In spells, writing on the web allows the real world to catch up. “Blogging is so yesterday”— time to invent something new. Though the range of appetites and emotions, noumena and phenomena, are finite— the available combinations of them are infinite and inexhaustible. Retreat into this sort of thinking is predictable, trite, and ultimately yesterday. I’ll side with Iggy Pop in attitude. Just like the real world, the dead far outnumber the living.
Who cares who invented the pencil? I just want to write. I’ll say whatever I want to. At least, for as long as I can. An audience is free to come and go as it pleases. Rhetoric is the economics of attention and I’m bored with malaise.
I decided to have a look at the word itself. It was appropriated from French in 1768 to mean discomfort at the onset of a disease. It was extended, from a descriptor of an individual problem to a societal one in the early 19th century. But it wasn’t until the Victorians that it grew into a force. Malaise became “Uneasiness of mind and spirit” (OED) in the late 19th century. I woke up with it this morning with a sinus infection fitting my head like a space-helmet. Writing- wise I feel fine. I feel happy that no adoring public awaits my every word, and leaves crass comments when I don’t live up to their expectations. A poster in a lunch-room where I once worked said: “Attitudes are infectious— is yours worth catching?” Malaise is contagious and must be resisted at all costs. Especially, when a cult is formed around you. I think anger is an acceptable response. It beats starting a religion, and creating rules in solitude with a heart of brass.
Blake has a cautionary creation story on the subject: The Book of Urizen.
Founders of religions are often spurned.
Of the primeval Priests assum’d power,
When Eternals spurn’d back his religion:
And gave him a place in the north,
Obscure. shadowy. void, solitary. (U2:2-5)
As Henry Rollins has ranted, rejection sucks. When you take solitude your ally, it can breed religions— or monsters.
Lo, a shadow of horror is risen
In Eternity! Unknown, unprolific?
Self-closd, all-repelling; what Demon
Hath form’d this abominable void
This soul-shudd’ring vacuum? Some said
“It is Urizen”, But unknown, abstracted
Brooding secret, the dark power hid.
Times on times he divided, & measur’d
Space by space in his ninefold darkness
Unseen, unknown: changes appeard
In his desolate mountains rifted furious
By the black winds of perturbation
For he strove in battles dire
In unseen conflictions with shapes
Bred from his forsaken wilderness.
Of beast, bird, fish, serpent & element
Combustion, blast, vapour and cloud.
Dark revolving in silent activity:
Unseen in tormenting passions;
An activity unknown and horrible;
A self-contemplating shadow,
In enormous labours occupied (U3:2-23)
There are a lot of precedents for this depiction of a “fall from heaven,” or creation— depending on how you look at it. The scene which opens Ovid’s Metamorphoses is one of a pregnant chaos which is then ordered. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, jealousy drives Satan to rebel and fall. But in Blake’s version here, Urizen (sounds like “your reason”) is cast out because the Eternals don’t want to follow him. Rather than Satan’s legions, Urizen has only nature and his “self-contemplating shadow” to work with. Urizen thinks he’s found the problem:
From the depths of dark solitude. From
The eternal abode in my holiness,
Hidden set apart in my stern counsels
Reserv’d for the days of futurity,
I have sought for a joy without pain,
For a solid without fluctuation
Why will you die O Eternals?
Why live in unquenchable burnings?
The problem is that things change! They should stay the same. There should be joy without pain. With no fluctuation there would be no nostalgia or desire! We must banish desire! Urizen labored hard in solitude for this conclusion, much like Buddha:
First I fought with the fire; consum’d
Inwards, into a deep world within:
A void immense, wild dark & deep,
Where nothing was: Natures wide womb
And self balanc’d stretch’d o’er the void
I alone, even I! the winds merciless
Bound; but condensing, in torrents
They fall & fall; strong I repell’d
The vast waves, & arose on the waters
A wide world of solid obstruction
But unlike his eastern counterpart, Urizen writes a book about it:
Here alone I in books formd of metals
Have written the secrets of wisdom
The secrets of dark contemplation
By fightings and conflicts dire,
With terrible monsters Sin-bred:
Which the bosoms of all inhabit;
Seven deadly Sins of the soul.
Lo! I unfold my darkness: and on
This rock, place with strong hand the Book
Of eternal brass, written in my solitude.
So, this has got to be a good thing right?
Laws of peace, of love, of unity:
Of pity, compassion, forgiveness.
Let each chuse one habitation:
His ancient infinite mansion:
One command, one joy one desire,
One curse, one weight, one measure
One King, one God, one Law. (U4:6-40)
The problem is that it doesn’t work. To give the Reader’s Digest version— skipping the seven ages of woe that followed, and the division after division of people and their qualities— the imperfect world remains. Urizen is reason without imagination, rent from the side of imagination weakening both. His law creates dark places, indeed. While Urizen’s law sounds like the Old Testament law of God— it is not. It was born in darkness, far away from the busy, social universe of God— it can only create more darkness. Learning to tell the difference between God’s law and the malaise which results when we attempt to create humanity’s law in solitude was in many ways Blake’s life mission. As for Urizen, well:
He in darkness clos’d, view’d all his race,
And his soul sicken’d! he curs’d
Both sons & daughters; for he saw
That no flesh nor spirit could keep
His iron laws one moment.
For he saw that life liv’d upon death (U23:22-27)
Blogging is dead. Long live blogging.