Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Agonism and Apocalypse: The Leviathan in William Blake

William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a poem conceived at the time of the French Revolution, consisting of equal parts prophetic, dialectic, wild fantasy, and political commentary, contains many startling and ambiguous images: angels and devils conversing in space, huge spiders stalking the cosmos, and the famous section titled Proverbs of Hell, many lines of which have passed into popular consciousness. One of the images that is paid less attention, perhaps because it is at once a familiar image both in Blake and apocalyptic literature generally is that of Leviathan; specifically the Leviathan that appears in the phantasmagorical journey that makes up plates 17 to 20. Above you can see Blake’s etching that appears at the end of plate 20 and which includes the barely legible motto “opposition is true friendship”. What could this curious combination signify? What is the function of Leviathan, the great ‘apocalypse fish’ in Blake’s mythology? And what significance can be gleaned from that strange motto which suggests in its combination with the image a more productive relationship between such extreme eschatological figures?

Leviathan: Apocalyptic Fish for all Seasons
The figure of Leviathan occupies a strange position between theology and politics. Its roots are deep in the history of ancient near eastern religion where it is variously associated both with creation myths and eschatological prophesy. In Canaanite mythology it goes by the name Lotan and is linked with the turbulence and force of the sea, an association that represents one of Leviathan’s few stable characteristics across the aeons. In the myth it is the Gods Ba’al Hadad, and later in the Hebrew version, Yahweh which are required to subdue the sea beast in order to reign over the world. And it is here that another of Leviathan’s archetypal characteristics, that of being a kind of serpent or dragon, are revealed: “you smote Leviathan the slippery serpent, and made an end of the slippery serpent, the tyrant with seven heads” (Trans Gibson in Cohn 1993 pg124). The reference to a tyrant with seven heads is an interesting one and pops up in later Christian eschatological sources, not least in the description of The Beast from the Sea in The Book of Revelations.  Remnants of this ancient creation myth find their way into the Old Testament and form part of a community lament recited at Passover by some Jewish traditions. The Psalm is both a lament and a plea to God not to forget the peoples of Israel during their plight under the Babylonian captivity:

Thou didst divide the sea by thy might;
Thou didst break the heads of the dragons on the waters.
Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan,
Thou didst give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
(Psalm 74)

However in Isaiah 27:1 Leviathan’s role is transmuted from creation to eschaton and is called that wriggling serpent (some versions of the Bible say twisted, coiling or crooked) that will be killed at the end of time. And again in a Jewish rabbinic legend found in the Siddur there is described a great battle which will take place at the end of time between Leviathan and its traditional land based monstrous counterpart Behemoth: "...they will interlock with one another and engage in combat, with his horns the Behemoth will gore with strength, the fish [Leviathan] will leap to meet him with his fins, with power. Their Creator will approach them with his mighty sword [and slay them both]." Then, "from the beautiful skin of the Leviathan, God will construct canopies to shelter the righteous, who will eat the meat of the Behemoth and the Leviathan amid great joy and merriment."  The idea of using the body of the slain beast as a shelter is found in another prayer to be recited at the end of the Sukkot festival (festival of booths or tabernacles) which entreats God that the righteous might dwell in the sukkah (booth) made from the skin of Leviathan in Jerusalem in the Time to Come. Judaism abounds with references to the great fish; sometimes paired with a female counterpart, sometimes battling with Behemoth or at other times with God himself, and in some versions, as above, ending up slaughtered and fed to the righteous without concern over whether its meat is Kosher.

In medieval Christianity Leviathan increasingly became associated with Satan and evil in general, a force opposed to creation, thus entirely reversing its association with the birth of the world in the Canaanite myths. In its apocalyptic guise the role of feeding and sheltering the righteous in the World to Come was also lost. The serpent (serpens) described in the Moralia of Gregory the Great is said to be the origin of capital sin, by working up its whole inside and discharging a bane of spite to infect the soul of the sinner deeply. Later in the Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas would come to quote this association of Gregory’s in his discussion of Envy (Secunda Secundae Question 36).   

A late apocalyptic image of Leviathan can also be found in the Hortus Deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (Image Left). In this wild vision Leviathan is shown caught by God, here cast as a fisherman using the Cross as a hook and Christ himself as bait!  The idea clearly took on some degree of significance at this time as Carl Schmitt reports in his text on the Leviathan in Thomas Hobbes that German crusaders would sing a marching song which went:

O blessed cross,
consisting of the best wood,
on you was caught
the greedy leviathan
(Schmitt 2008 pg8)

Aside from these colourful representations perhaps the best known evocation of Leviathan in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is found in the book of Job chapter 41. It takes the form of a lengthy description the last twelve verses of which are:

The folds of his flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable.
His chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone.

When he rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before his thrashing.
The sword that reaches him has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
Iron he treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood.
Arrows do not make him flee, sling stones are like chaff to him.
A club seems to him but a piece of straw, he laughs at the rattling of the lance.
His undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing-sledge.
He makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the deep had white hair.
Nothing on earth is his equal— a creature without fear.
He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud.

Taken together these varied images form a rich vein of demonology and eschatological prophesy. Despite their varying character there are it seems several common traits to Leviathan that I think are worth remembering in the subsequent discussion of Blake. Leviathan is associated with internal strength, disruptive or chaotic power, is opposed to external order and stasis, and is inevitably linked to the sea and serpent like creatures. More ambiguous is Leviathan’s association with evil; and it is this ambiguity that Blake at first sight appears to play on in his poem, as we shall see.

...and its appropriation by Hobbes
In political theory the Leviathan is almost exclusively associated with the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose mid 17th century text of the same name sought (amongst the books many aims) to articulate a modern theory of the state, of freedom and political representation, and to rebut the republican sentiments of many of the parliamentarian and so called “democratical” writers of his time. Hobbes’ appropriation of Leviathan is taken straight from the book of Job, going so far as to place the Latin gloss of the penultimate line from the description above on the famous frontispiece to his book: non est potestas Super Terrum quae comparetur ei (There is no power on earth to be compared with him). It is however the beast’s strength and image of impregnable unity which Hobbes is interested in drawing into his theory of the state, not its eschatological significance. Indeed elsewhere in the book the rationalist Hobbes explicitly describes the book of Job as a fiction design to illustrate a moral lesson but not conveying a historical account (Hobbes 1996 pg255).

The frontispiece (right) shows Leviathan as a huge man whose body is composed of hundreds of smaller indistinguishable figures (the body politic). The way that these figures overlap and interconnect draws comparison with chainmail or the scales of a fish, and recalls Job 41:23 above where the Leviathan is described as having folds of flesh that are tightly joined, and which are firm and immovable, and 41:17 where the shields that make up the beast’s back are joined one to another, clasp each other and cannot be separated. The authority granted to the sovereign by every individual through their mutual covenant is compared by Hobbes to a conferral of physical strength: “This done, the multitude so united in one person, is called a COMMONWEALTH , in Latin CIVITAS. This is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speak more reverently) of that Mortal God, to which we owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defence. For by this authority, given him by every particular man in the commonwealth, he hath the use of so much power and strength conferred on him, that by terror thereof, he is enabled to conform the wills of them all, to peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad” (Hobbes 1996 pg114).

The themes of unity and of a force second only to God is central to Hobbes’ appropriation of the religious figuration of Leviathan. The argument he wishes to make is that only a state that maintains both civil and ecclesiastic power under the direction of an absolute sovereign has the requisite force to maintain peace and security, to guard against invasion or the decent into the Bellum omnium contra omnes (War of all against all) which according to Hobbes occurs when there are no shared moral and political norms, and the multitude of individuals maintain their right to all things. In Job’s Leviathan he saw just such a figure that could represent his idea, a fearless creature, looking down on all those who are haughty, and reigning as king over the children of pride. Based on his sovereign power, he alone determines by law, in questions of justice, what is right and proper and, in matters pertaining to religious beliefs, what is truth and error (Schmitt 2008 pg53).

Having sided with the great fish as the mythologem of his commonwealth, Hobbes’ historical account of the English Revolution through which he lived and which shaped so much of his thought in Leviathan, naturally took the title of Behemoth. For Hobbes then, at least in a figurative sense, the conflict between State and revolution, Concordia and Discordia, were analogous with the conflict between these great eschatological monsters. That he decided to adopt the figure of a beast which throughout the Middle Ages had been associated with evil is perhaps more of a measure of his rational interest in the beast’s physical characteristics and its position of domination over man second only to God himself. It is however not surprising that many of his contemporaries found it a rather horrifying idea. Hobbes was on the wrong side of history in his own time, and in the end, as Schmitt points out, the unity of his Leviathan was instead defeated by the more powerful and for the English nation more suitable might of the sea and of commerce. The energies of sea power stood on the side of revolution (Schmitt 2008 pg79).

From Hobbes’ perspective the theory of the state he articulates and a literal interpretation of the eschatological motifs from which he drew the figures of Leviathan and Behemoth are simply incompatible. It is however a strange fact that the association of the State with Leviathan, with evil and domination fits far better into a possible Marxist Millenarian schema; the capitalist State, like Leviathan, to be slain at the End of Time, its body to be broken up and consumed by the righteous (read proletariat) in a strange parody of the state’s withering away under communism. This isn’t the place for a detailed comparison, but it may be worth bearing in mind when we look at Blake’s text. 

Leviathan as ‘Bride’ in Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell
In order to situate the Leviathan within Blake’s mythology it’s important to understand that the poem is not just a fantastical exercise in prophesy and a satirical polemic against the revelations of the scientist turned Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, but also a political and philosophical manifesto designed to reveal the polar nature inherent in Man’s being and to contest the normative moral categories of his time, most explicitly the teaching of rationalised religion. It is from this provocative standpoint that Blake seeks a marriage of heaven and hell, or more accurately a re-evaluation of those ‘contraries’ which have been set in fixed opposition to each other and denoted with the normative categories Good and Evil. In the mode of Blake’s apocalyptic prophetic this includes marrying, or at least inviting to the ceremony, some of the more outlandish figures incarnating Christian morality, sea beasts and all.

The poet provides the clearest explanation of this aim in plate 3 of the work, a section titled The Argument which bristles with veiled references to the French Revolution and of the return of Man to paradise. Blake is here setting out both his general thesis and the position which he wishes to overcome by the end of the poem.

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction
And Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and
Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call
Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason
Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.
Plate 3

As Michael Phillips contends in his commentary to the Bodlean Library edition of the poem, Blake may be employing a parodic version of Aristotle’s logic. Parodic since in Aristotle contraries take the form of propositions which cannot both be true (A and not A cannot hold simultaneously), whereas here Blake lists antithetical concepts which in his theory are both meant to obtain (Blake 2011 pg95).  Aristotle is also mentioned at the end of plate 20 where his analytics are likened to a group of primates dismembering and consuming each other. This is thought to be another pop at the method of scientific demonstration through empirical observation; “picking the flesh off of his own tail” i.e. knowledge gained a posteriori, from experience.

The Leviathan makes its appearance in the fourth of a series of passages titled A Memorable Fancy where Blake’s narrator having visited Hell and come away having studied the proverbs of infernal wisdom is accosted by an angel who reproaches him for having undertaken such a task and offers to show him his lot (future/fate) if he would choose to continue on this perilous path. Thus begins the often humorous adventure of the two lots. Firstly the angel takes Blake’s narrator down into the earth to his “burning dungeon”, and then the narrator himself forcibly takes the angel up on a bizarre space flight out towards Saturn. It’s however down in the black void of the earth that we find Leviathan.

But now, from between the black & white spiders
a cloud and fire burst and rolled thro' the deep
blackning all beneath, so that the nether deep grew
black as a sea & rolled with a terrible noise; be-
-neath us was nothing now to be seen but a black
tempest, till looking east between the clouds & the
waves, we saw a cataract of blood mixed with fire
and not many stones throw from us appeard and
sunk again the scaly fold of a monstrous serpent
at last to the east, distant about three degrees ap-
-peard a fiery crest above the waves slowly it rear-
-ed like a ridge of golden rocks till we discoverd
two globes of crimson fire. from which the sea
fled away in clouds of smoke, and now we saw, it
was the head of Leviathan. his forehead was di-
-vided into streaks of green & purple like those on
a tygers forehead: soon we saw his mouth & red
gills hang just above the raging foam tinging the
black deep with beams of blood, advancing toward
us with all the fury of a spiritual existence.

Plate 18/19 

Martin Nurmi has convincingly argued that “east three degrees” is another concealed reference to the French Revolution. From his work engraving geographical books Blake would have know that along three degrees longitude to the east of London lay Paris (Nurmi 1975 pg82). Blake appears then to be directly identifying Leviathan with the revolution, perhaps revolutionary force in general. Also of note is the description of the Leviathan as having tiger like marks on its forehead. This is an addition to the mythological appearance of the animal specific to Blake and may well refer back to one of the famous proverbs of hell: the tigers of wrath being wiser than the horses of instruction. The beast is observed arising from the sea and advancing towards London “with all the fury of a spiritual existence”, emphasising the fear at the time that the revolution in France might cross the channel. The angel clearly intends this scene to be horrifying, but the narrator having passed through the previous expository passages and memorable fancies where the contraries of hell are given their due, does not share the angel’s one sided perspective. Blake’s rejection of this absolutist position of condemnation is confirmed in the following lines where after the angel departs the narrator finds himself in moonlight on the bank of a calm river where a harpist sings “the man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind”. This suggests that Blake may wish us to understand the tempestuous image of the Leviathan as something of an exaggeration on the angel’s part. While Blake doesn’t seem to dispute the potentially terrifying ferocity of revolutionary violence, and often alluding to it in his work in apocalyptic terms, he nevertheless does not see it either in moral terms or as eternal. Instead in keeping with his theory of contraries he seems to impute this perspective to the development of rationalised hard and fast distinctions between aspects of human existence which at their extreme end leads in political action to ‘corporeal war’, oppression and destruction (Nurmi 1976 pg74).

Are we then to conclude that Blake deploys Leviathan in a fairly orthodox manner as an eschatological figure of upheaval linked to the destruction of the existing order and the unveiling (the literal translation of the Greek apokalypsis) of the new world? Not exactly it would seem. Firstly there is the problem of the metaphysics that are at work in his theory of contraries. We learn from The Argument at the beginning of the poem that there is no progression without contraries; love and hate; good and evil are all necessary to human existence. Thus it seems unlikely then that Blake thought the new world would be ushered in on Leviathan’s back by the sword and cannon of unfettered revolutionary fervour. This again would be taking one side to an undesirable extreme. Blake was however a supporter of the revolution, going so far as to wear the bonnet rouge out in London at a time when such open support for the Jacobin cause was a risky business.  And although how close their acquaintance was is a matter of some dispute, Blake’s extended circle did included Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft.  What then is the status of the destructive energies in Blake’s scheme? One answer is alluded to in plate 16 which poses the duality of Man’s Being in terms of the Prolific and the Devouring:

Thus one portion of being, is the Prolific. The
Other, the Devouring: to the devourer it seems as
If the producer was in his chains, but it is not so,
He only takes portions of existence and fancies
That the whole.
But the Prolific would cease to be Prolific
Unless the devourer as a sea received the excess
Of his delights.
Some will say, Is not God alone the Prolific?
I answer, God only Acts & Is. In existing beings
Or Men
These two classes of men are always upon
Earth. & they should be enemies; whoever tries
To reconcile them seeks to destroy existence.
Plates 16/17

The Devouring here is described as receiving the excess of the Prolific like a sea. This image is again in keeping with the mythological tradition by associating destructive chaotic power with the sea, and by association with Leviathan. This passage also marks a significant development in the proto-dialectics of The Marriage. Previously it might have been possible to conclude that the contraries were to be set against each other in such a way as to cancel each other out, or through some form of synthesis transform themselves into a third alternative. This expository section however tells us that these two sides to Being, the Prolific and the Devouring – which crudely we might associate with creative and destructive energies- are always present in Man and cannot be reconciled. Indeed to attempt to reconcile them, as Blake claims Religion does, is to threaten all existence. Whatever relationship the contraries have to each other it cannot be akin to Hegel’s aufhebung.  Blake’s contraries do not disappear in a form of higher synthesis. Nor is the progression in which they function one in which they change their identities, as the opposites do in Hegelian dialectic. The progression of human life to which they are essential is the progression of continued creativity; and if it goes anywhere it goes toward fuller realization of the divinity that is in humanity through continued fruits of a life lived with the divine imagination, rather than nature, as the ground of being (Nurmi 1976 pg75)

There is also evidence in other Blake sources that the poet did not associate Leviathan solely with the forces of revolution. In 1805 he produced two paintings with similar themes: The Spiritual form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth, and The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan. Both pictures were shown at an exhibition Blake held in 1809 and where he described Pitt - who was British Prime Minister at the time of the French Revolution - as “that Angel who, pleased to perform the Almighty’s orders, rides on the whirlwind, directing the storms of war”. Nelson of course was the naval commander who defeated Napoleon at Trafalgar. 

 The meaning of the association here appears to be Nelson (left) as directing the war at sea (hence the sea monster Leviathan) and Pitt (below) directing the land war (hence the land monster Behemoth). Blake then is not making use of the form of apocalyptic prophesy described above wherein the two monsters themselves battle to the death at the end of time, each representing one or other force in the world. Nor certainly is he playing on Hobbes’ use of the monsters in distinguishing between the State and civil war. Rather it appears that Blake wishes us to associate these terrible beasts with corporal war in general, that excessive and destructive consequence of dividing the world up into abstract Manichean categories such as Good and Evil which persists to this day.

Blake then to some degree ascribes to the pre-Christian tradition of associating these monsters not with fixed moral categories but rather with extreme, destructive, and chaotic forces; war between nations being the most obvious example. However he eschews the hard and fast distinction which prevents them from having any positive significance whatsoever aside from being slain by God. Their function is to represent extremes of opposition but not as illustrative of the necessity to remove opposition altogether. Opposition is as we learn from The Argument at the beginning of the poem a requirement for progression in human existence. Furthermore, if opposition is true friendship then that opposition cannot take the form of a battle to the death or struggle for imperial hegemony. As argued above it is precisely the attempt to abolish opposition in the political realm that Blake associated with tyranny and Empire, and which he saw the conflicts between France, Britain, and the newly independent America degenerating into.

Agonism: An Opposition in True Friendship
What then might a more productive and less apocalyptic form of political opposition look like, one which makes good on the motto that ‘opposition is true friendship’, and  preserves the contraries in all parties? We have already seen that Blake was a republican, albeit a rather strange one. So far as I know there is no republican theory which maintains the necessity of an apocalypse, which Blake believed was the event in which Man’s true Being will be unveiled. Quite what form Blake’s apocalypse might take baring in mind his rejection of so much Christian thought is unclear. Certainly post-apocalypse would be a state in which Man’s dual nature would be allowed free play; a state where those contraries, reason and energy, love and hate, could be harnessed towards the production of creative genius without falling into warring conflict through the attempt to cancel each other out. Despite the lacunae in Blake’s prophetic vision we might risk drawing one analogy from modern political theory, one which has some precedent in the ancient world and republican thought, and which bares at least some schematic resemblance to the form of productive opposition suggested by Blake’s theory of contraries. The idea is Agonistic Pluralism.

The basic idea behind an agonistic approach to human life can be drawn from the Greek word agon (γών) which denotes a series of meanings related to contests or struggles (notably Olympic contests) in which the aim is not the total defeat or elimination of the ‘Other’ but rather a contest which is marked by the parties mutual respect and recognition that the agonistic relationship is productive on both sides. Or as Foucault puts it: At the very heart of the power relationship, and constantly provoking it, are the recalcitrance of the will and the intransigence of freedom. Rather than speaking of an essential antagonism, it would be better to speak of an ‘agonism’ – of a relationship that is at the same time mutual incitation and struggle; less of a face to face confrontation that paralyzes both sides than a permanent provocation (Foucault 2000 pg342).

The ineliminable nature of conflict and indeed the positive impact that some types of conflict can have on the human genius is what I think Blake is alluding to in his motto placed alongside the image of Leviathan, and which is at the core of his theory of contraries. One of Blake’s principle complaints against both the modern church and the mechanised enlightenment age itself is that it produces a highly rationalised vision of the world.  Fixed moral categories which are meant to apply universally, the rationalism inherent in the scientific method which Blake saw exemplified in the image of dark satanic mills reducing human endeavour to a utilitarian drudge; all this renders the world into fixed oppositions which do not admit of a mutual enduring struggle but rather the exclusion or elimination of the opponent. Just as Hobbes wished to eliminate the possibility of rebellion against the sovereign, or the church wished to exclude that which it called evil; when these kinds of absolute positions take hold of nations and institutions, antagonistic conflict, the desire to dominate the ‘other’, and corporal war often result. As Blake puts it in plate 24 of the poem: One Law for Lion & Ox is Oppression.

 But of course Blake was writing at the end of the 18th century whereas the agonistic theory of politics has only been explicitly formulated in the 20th. So if Blake did have in his mind a more agonistic form of political life where may he have been exposed to it? Here we can only speculate, but we do know that his circle included Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft two people who certainly were aware of much historical republican theory where agonistic approaches to political life (albeit not explicitly presented as such) are espoused. To take one such source: Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy contains several chapters which argue against the notion that the political conflict in the early Roman Republic between the plebeians and the Senate was a sign of a disorderly republic made great only through a combination of good fortune and military prowess. In fact Machiavelli claims that is was precisely this ongoing conflict that was the primary cause of Roman liberty. “And suppose someone were to say: the means were extraordinary and almost barbarous – see how all the people are crying out against the senate, the senate against the people; how they are running wildly through the streets, closing shops; and how all the plebeians of Rome are leave the city altogether – events which terrify even those who read about them; I will respond that every city must possess its own methods for allowing the people to express their ambitions , especially those cities that intend to make use of the people in important affairs” (Machiavelli 2008 pg30).
Secessio Plebis (Secession of the Plebs) Engraving by B. Barloccini, 1849
The point to make here which I’m sure Blake would agree is that in democratic political struggle as in all areas of life, space must be made for reasonable disagreement, going so far as to even question what is considered reasonable.  Conflict must not be constituted such that the outcome is the likely destruction, alienation, or disenfranchisement of the opponent; a conflict that precludes the possibility of a permanent productive provocation. There thus will be democratic agreement and disagreement not only within the rules of law but over the rules of law. Agonism entails that no rule of law, procedure or agreement is permanently insulated from disputation in practice in an open society (Tully 2008 pg96). If it is the case as Blake’s theory of contraries claims that Man’s being is split in such a radical fashion between creative and destructive energies, that reason and pure desire, love and hate, are necessary to human existence, then an agonistic take on social conflict can be the only positive approach. Opposition is True friendship then asserts the fundamental virtue of just such an agonistic approach to social being, against the absolutism of Hobbes’ state or the divisive morality of the church.

Finally, it could well be said that this interpretation of Blake’s theory turns his Leviathan into something of a household pet in that it drastically tones down the messianic edge to his work. That much is obvious, and I’m certainly not suggesting that Blake’s mytho-historic imagery is all a complex obfuscation of an essentially modern vision of democratic life. As I’ve already said, republicanism is not a millenarian theory and so has no need of an apocalypse. But for Blake, and seemingly for many people during his time such an apocalypse did seem to be a necessity when faced with the intractable forces of monarchy, the Church of Rome, and the world altering powers of the industrial revolution. Agonistic Pluralism though is primarily a theory applicable to democratic societies and has little to say about how to fight tyranny. Blake held out the hope for a new form of human life beyond the veil of tears and mind forged manacles of late eighteenth century Europe, to a time where Empire is no more. To this end, open revolt, revolution and resistance were necessary, as they still are today, even if for a time it plunges the whole world into a maelstrom of corporal conflict.

Paradoxically I would claim that this vision of revolutionary conflict and the association of Leviathan with the extreme end of that conflict is a rather pragmatic one on Blake’s part. He doesn’t try to sanitise the horrific consequences of wars of liberation or struggle against tyranny, nor does he fall into Hobbesian territory by viewing conflict as something to be avoided at all costs, even if the cost is your liberty. For Blake the great fish will forever remain untameable and allied to no-one; a signifier of messianic time and revelation, the beyond of which can never be predicted in advance. Blake’s theory of contraries and the agonistic form of life they hint at does however suggest a world beyond the fire, one which in our time might be considerably more attainable than in his. Whether or not we still need the awesome power of Leviathan to change the world is a question I will have to leave open.

Let the Priests of the Raven of dawn,
no longer in deadly black, with hoarse not
curse the sons of joy. Nor his accepted
brethren whom, tyrant, he calls free: lay the
bound or build the roof. Nor pale religious
letchery call that virginity. That wishes
 but not acts not!
For every thing that lives is Holy
(Marriage of Heaven and Hell Plate 27: A Song of Liberty – Chorus)

Blake,William 2011 – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Oxford, The Bodleian Library)
Cohn,Norman 1993 – Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come (London, Yale University Press)
Foucault,Michel 2000 – The Subject and Power in The essential Works of Michel Foucault, Vol 3: Power (New York, New Press)
Hobbes,Thomas 1996 – Leviathan (Oxford, Oxford University Press)
Machiavelli,Nicolo 2008 – Discourses on Livy (Oxford, Oxford University Press)
Nurmi,Martin 1976 – William Blake (Kent State University Press)
Schmitt,Carl 2008 – The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (London, University of Chicago Press)
Tully,James 2008 – Public Philosophy in a New Key Vol 2 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press)