Friday, May 10, 2013

Before and after



The illustration above is of Job and his family secure in their (self) righteous assumption that all is well. They are a pious, believing family, secure in their household and followers of the law whose open text is on Job's lap.

The illustration below is of Job and his family after Job's trials at the hand of Satan, his encounter face to face with God, and the restoration and renewal of his family's life. The musical instruments of Divine inspiration which in the first plate hang, unattended, on the tree have, in the last plate of Blake's magnificent series, been taken down and Job and his family play on joyfully, serenely.



In this fine juxtaposition is William Blake's whole abiding message: nothing replaces a genuine opening to the experience of the 'divine within' and that experience is shaped both within a recognisable pattern and is wholly unique to every individual person.

Job's trial by Satan is a trial by his own 'selfhood' by his own imprisoning egotism which when burnt away, broken through, restores us to our original face, God's face, and we party!

Blake, of course, recognised that what is represented here is an 'ideal process' from which there is no going back. Most of us, including Blake himself, recognise that our journeys are usually more prosaic - we glimpse illumination, we move forward, we stumble back into our imprisoning ego, we glimpse again. A spiral upwards, taken slowly, rather than a dramatic descent and redemption.

This series of 21 plates that form Blake's visual commentary on the Book of Job is one of the great monuments of iconographic art and Kathleen Raine's commentary (in The Human Face of God) is masterly. There is another wonderful juxtaposition from a plate where Job charitably dispenses bread (with pious manner and reluctant hands) to a later plate where the restored family and friends of Job live within an economy of gift, freely offered, celebratory in its sharing. Blake continually balances the most penetrating explorations of the inward self with a recognition of their outward social consequences.

The world is remade in how we see.

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