11. Apocalyptic Sublime, Parts 1&2
Image: J.M.W. Turner, Death on a Pale Horse, 1825.
Part 1: Prometheus Unbound
Slide 1: In 1757, the English philosopher Edmund Burke, introduced the idea of the sublime just as the Industrial Revolution was beginning to radically change society and by the early 1900s British artists, (the New Prometheans) embraced the sublime, which linked sheer terror to astonishing beauty, and also to the end of the world, (a Romantic response to the new reliance on science and the modern idea of "progress"). The discovery of new forms of energy; heat from coal (in the 18th Century) and electromagnetic energy (in the 19th Century), produced the Industrial Revolution, which defines our era.
Slide 2: In the mid-18th Century it was discovered that steam, which was generated from heat (especially the high heat from coal) could be effectively converted to mechanical energy to do "work".
Slide 3: But what was this thing called heat, was it a 'substance' or something else?
Slide 4: The 1st law of the theory of Thermodynamics states that energy is "conserved" even when it is transformed from one form to another, such as heat energy to mechanical energy. The 2nd Law states that, in the transition from one form to another, not all the energy can be converted to work; the measure of what was lost, or what could not be converted into work was given a word: Entropy.
Slide 5: What was electricity and what was its relationship to magnetism and to life?
Slide 6: The concept of the field of energy emerged as a concept that continues to inform science and art today.
Slide 7: Mary Shelly was inspired to write Frankenstein (1818) by the discovery that an electrical current could twitch a fogs leg; life and electricity were somehow connected.
Slide 8: Turner, Rain Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, 1844 shows a steam engine at the center of a field of energy.
Slide 9: The train engine is turned around to present its engine as if it were a mouth of fire.
Slide 10: . Turner was aware of the field of vision. At the Royal Academy he lectured that, “The eye must take in all objects upon a Parabolic curve for in looking into space the eye cannot but receive what is within the limit of extended sight, which must form a circle to the eye.”
Slide 11: The Slave Ship (1840), originally titled "Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon Coming On," depicts a ship, dumping its sick slaves into a sea of churning water and leaving scattered human forms floating in its wake.
Slide 12: Turner chose the biblical Deluge as the vehicle for his ideas of the sublime and of the vortex and the recent theories of light and elemental forces that science was discovering. Although Turner’s triumphant explosion of light celebrates God's Covenant with Man and the brazen serpent in the center raised by Moses in the wilderness as a cure for the plague, Turner's emphasis is on the transience of the natural phenomena engendered by the 'returning sun’.
Slide 13: JMW Turner, painted The Fighting Temeraire,1839 as the ghost of the 98-gun ship, that had won battles in the early 1800s, and which remained in service until 1838, when she was decommissioned and towed to the junkyard by a steam tug.
Part 2: Satanic Mills
Slide 1: Blake celebrated spiritual energy as the opposiet of the energy of industrial progress, he tried to warn us that this new era brought about by coal and steam was transforming life in tragic ways that were distructive beyond what we could imagine.
Slide 2: When the Mills (to the right) and the Albion Mills (the first steam-driven mills), were set on fire by arson in 1791, the fire was the inspiration for William Blake's poems that reference th 'dark satanic mills of Jerusalem'.
Slide 3: For Blake, Isaac Newton, reason, and the Industrial Revolution that followed was ushering in a deadly era. Blake writes, "Art is the Tree of Life. Science is the Tree of Death." Newton's theory of optics was especially offensive to Blake, who proclaimed if the vision of the "vegetative eye" replaced true vision; 'spiritual vision' humanity would be lost.
Slide 4: The themes of War, Pestilence, Famine, Fire with their inescapably apocalyptic undertones, are virtually omnipresent in Blake’s works of the late 1780s. Blake was deeply engaged in the plight of the other -- of humanity -- which he was sure was bringing bout our own demise.
Slide 5: The focus on thesublime had the ability to open up social empathy for the plight of the other (Marx, Dickens, Zola).
Slide 6: Blake's Satanic Mills inspired Marx.
Slide 7: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. These figures were meant to represent states of mind. He saw Christ as the imagination at the center of masses of bodies ascending to his right and falling from his left -- not unlike an ecological cycle; a steady state system in balance.
Slide 8: Blake uses the name Albion as an ancient synonym for Britain, in his poem "A Little Boy Lost" in Songs of Experience. “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans, I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create."
Slide 9: Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy."
Slide 10: Blake's God/Man union is broken down into the bodily components of Urizen (head), Urthona (loins), Luvah (heart), and Tharmas (unity of the body) with paired Emanations being Ahania (wisdom, from the head), Enitharmon (what can't be attained in nature, from the loins), Vala (nature, from the heart), and Enion (earth mother, from the separation of unity).