Reflections on William Blake, radical theology, politics and surrealism.
[Blake’s] spiritual rebellion against the powerful of this world was not made of that type of water-soluble gunpowder to which we have more or less accustomed ourselves.
Welcome to The Traveller in the Evening, a site focused on the work of William Blake. But it is a loose focus, because, in the right mouths, the discussion of Blake quickly turns to the discussion of surrealism, revolution, radical theology and much else besides. Blake himself easily combined all of these things, well in advance of his age—and ours.
The Traveller Hasteth in the Evening is an engraving by Blake from 1793, as part of his early collection, For the Sexes. Blake’s image shows his traveller pacing his way toward some unknown destination. Morton Paley shortened the title to The Traveller in the Evening for his book about Blake’s later works (after Jerusalem). I borrowed Paley’s title for the blog because it reflects my own situation with respect to Blake, and our collective situation more generally.
I’ve been reading Blake for years, quietly taking notes. My dream was to find the time and space one day to write a book about what I learned from him. Right now, it doesn’t seem that day is getting any closer. At the same time, the world has taken a dark and threatening turn, with the rise of far-right globally and of authoritarian governments bent on marching us headlong toward an environmental catastrophe we set in train a long time ago. Some days it feels like it is evening everywhere.
The old world is dying, and the old left, in the form of communism and social democracy, has perhaps run its course, because it was based too closely on an idealisation of production’s ‘Satanic mills’. The environmental movement is urgently relevant, but struggles to paint a coherent picture of any alternative. Social movements against oppression tackle the world’s abuses without being able to attack them at the root.To do so would mean coming to a very different picture of who we are in relation to our world. I believe Blake can help point us toward the reversal of perspectives needed, to fan the flames of solidarity and help to wake us from our long collective sleep. The ramifications of his thought would overturn our deepest assumptions—hence the need to present this new, and unheard Blake: a profound esoteric thinker and a thoroughgoing surrealist militant.