Thoughts in Response to Reading Blake’s, “The Garden of Love”

01.06.15 / 06.15.01

Partially inspired by a reading of William Blake’s, “The Garden of Love” 

I laid me down upon a bank,
Where Love lay sleeping;
I heard among the rushes dank
Weeping, weeping.

Then I went to the heath and the wild,
To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
And they told me how they were beguiled,
Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And “Thou shalt not,” writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires. 


Metaphor and analogy are useful tools in exploring the potential of abstractions.  An example of this is the use of an image of a garden circumscribed by a wall.  The garden represents the domain of an individual or individual society and the wall represents the boundary of the domain.  The individual or group exists in and explores the garden and wonders what is beyond the wall.  The wall’s existence is taken as incontrovertible.  Approaching/engaging it carries significance in relation to the concept of boundary.  Any passage through the wall, if such is possible at all, receives a proper, formal aperture; i.e., appropriate cultural significance is granted through the degree and complexity of ritual which approaching and engaging the wall requires.  But the nature and existence of the wall is more intriguing than this.  The existence and nature of the wall itself is, to an extent, the product of the mind(s) which recognize its existence.  This reveals an aspect of its nature which is watery and ephemeral.  The wall is mostly an intellectual construct tied in some way to a physical phenomenon which comes to represent it.  It functions as an inhibitor or governor for the individual’s as well as society’s explorations of its domain.  The greater part of the constitution of this wall as recognized by an individual or society is a descriptional construct which only approximates the nature of a wall and only to varying degrees.  The wall as an intellectual construct functions as a self-transmogrifying delusion which serves as a boundary for and contextualizes disparate but relatable perceived phenomena.  It is a relatively static pattern within a realm of potentialities which tends to delimit a given grouping of interrelated patterns of lesser duration.  Bearing in mind this description of the wall and its relation to the garden, moving beyond the wall is really about reconceptualizing one’s relationship with the wall; about sufficiently adjusting one’s perception of the wall so that it ceases to function as a delimiter.

At first, moving beyond the wall may instill a sense of being immersed in “the unknown”…the wilderness outside of the familiar domain.  Initially being beyond the wall can feel new, strange, nightmarish, exhilarating, etc.  But before the passage of much time and event, recognition of patterns begins again…elements of the garden are recognized and the concept of the garden is recapitulated to encompass the added domain.  To an extent this is just realizing that the garden already existed beyond the wall.  The domain of the garden wasn’t really increased, just the domain of perception.

What then is the real delimiter?  The wall was actually illusory even though it felt and therefore existed as an incontrovertible limiting element for a time.  The garden, despite always seeming to have definite boundaries and a definite nature which potentially can be exceeded, in actuality can never be escaped.  Which is wall then?  Which is garden?  Which facilitates discovery?  Which is truly confining?

There are two modes of orchestrating our perception, each of which casts the garden in a slightly different manner.  Each of which has different strengths and weaknesses.  One is a public means and the other is a private means.  The public means is the employment of standard and convention, especially through the use of institutions.  The private means, by its very nature in this binary, is the opposite of all things conventional, standardizable, and institutional.  It is undefinable except over very short durations and within very limited contexts.  It is a mode of parsing reality which does not attempt to accomplish the preceding by processing existence through generalized and homogeneous constructs but rather develops idiosyncratic, emergent strategies and explanations for the singular experiences of a given situation.  It may be apt to term this the phenomenological mode.

Again, each mode of engaging existence offers certain benefits.  The implementation of institutions of standardization and convention facilitates societal dialogue and large group engagement of existence.  It also portends to offer a measure of security to a plurality.  The Golden Cow which standard and convention offer is the ability to predict what will be in a broad range of situations based on an interpretation of the present and past which highlights the relatively static characteristics of existence.  Offering security facilitates taking greater risks in exploring.  Paradoxically, these “riskier” explorations are circumscribed within an inherently smaller realm of investigation, leading to more homogeneous outcomes.  The cost of institutions is the degree to which, in the interests of and need to justify the large expenditure of time and energy required to create and maintain standards and conventions, they must develop generic and static constructs through which to process existence, therefore failing to possess the capacity to differentiate and treat the fine and ephemeral intricacies of actual existence.  The potential danger is that existence will be overprocessed – a form of sensory deprivation.  Overprocessing confounds the individual’s as well as the society’s ability to discern an optimally distorted perception in order to advantageously parse reality.  Instead, overprocessing tends toward redirecting the point of society’s implementation of the institution toward the propagation of the institution itself.  This increases the involvement and power of the institutions (and our dependency on them) as well as providing explanations of all phenomena only as relatable and valuable relative to the institutions.  Over a short duration, this tends to reinforce the illusions which institutions afford…such as a thoroughly explainable and static existence, continuous and ever-advancing progress, process, security, speed, ease, and convenience.

The phenomenological approach also offers benefits and dangers.  It allows an individual or group to engage a particular aspect of or realm of existence very thoroughly and to generate mitigations superbly contoured to those few phenomena.  As such, the individual or group can have an extremely lucid and optimally distorted construct for parsing existence, creating a tremendous sense of connectedness with existence, albeit over a very limited range.  Such a system can support acceptance of the ephemeral and disjunctive qualities of phenomena without taking them as threatening or devaluing them because they do not offer “appropriate” advantages within a hegemonic context.  The failure of this mode of engagement is that it does not facilitate large scale discourse or exploration.  It does not allow an increased pace, the ability to predict, or security by means of perceiving of a multitude of disparate phenomena as essentially similar.

Existence must always be explored through the implementation of both of these techniques.  As one moves away from the vices of the institutional approach in order to regain the optimal distortion offered by the singular approach, one simultaneously loses the means of large scale engagement which would make an optimally distorted view so valuable.  The singular approach minimizes any sense of and dependence on the institutional construct, both those aspects which are good and bad.  As a result, it is impossible to switch to a phenomenological approach without creating the conditions by which the reorganization of an institutional approach seams idyllic.  When distortion is optimized, the potential productivity possible with the tools of institutionalization is infinitely great.  Thus the journey back toward the institutional mode begins again.

How best to balance the two modes is another discussion.  The phenomenological approach would seem ideal for individuals and small homogeneous groups existing as entities unto themselves.  However, it does not address the needs of large heterogeneous groups very well.  It does afford the clearest view into a particular and limited range of events and actions.  The institutional approach then, is necessary for the very existence of large-scale civilization.  However, it can tend to make a civilization course and inflexible as it achieves its affordances by means of oversimplifications and grotesque distortions of existence.  The greatest danger of this seems to be that, as its grasp of existence becomes increasingly out of tune with optimal distortion, it increasingly generates self-referencing standards and conventions which only serve to amplify the illegitimate distortions and thereby makes the task of ascertaining valid interpretations increasingly difficult.

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