Fractal Fantasies of Transformation: William Blake, Michael Moorcock, and the Utilities of Mythographic Shamanism

By Kaplan, Carter | Extrapolation, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Fractal Fantasies of Transformation: William Blake, Michael Moorcock, and the Utilities of Mythographic Shamanism


Kaplan, Carter, Extrapolation


In a posting to the Q & A page at the Web site of British fantasy writer Michael Moorcock, I asked about the operation of personal and group mythographies.

   My question has to do ... with the nature of human though processes,
   and my feeling--which I was led to by reading your Second Ether
   [trilogy]--that the source of much of our woe--East and West--has to
   do with our thinking in terms of archetypes and Platonic ideals. We
   create for ourselves (or they are thrust upon us) whole pantheons
   (or pandemoniums, as Milton would say) of expectations about
   ourselves, and we seek to live our lives according to the dictates
   and strictures voiced by the gods dwelling in these pantheons, and in
   the end we come up feeling very sad and very sorry, because our lives
   do not live up to these ideals. We are in a real fix, moreover, when
   these pantheons are controlled by corporations who use "our" gods
   against us....
     My general question is: My goodness, what's to be done! My specific
   question is: Can you reflect upon your reading in Milton and Blake?
     Thanks, Carter

Michael Moorcock answered as follows:

   In a way Jerry Cornelius and all the multiverse books are about
   shifting identities to suit one's context. Since you're going to find
   yourself in a good many more contexts than you might have a hundred
   years ago (unless a character in a Victorian long-running adventure
   serial!) you have to learn to move easily and fluidly between them
   while maintaining a core identity which provides what you might call
   public sector virtues--morality, commonality. A mixed psychic
   economy--the public sector doing what it does best, the private
   sector doing what it does best.
     Paradoxically, of course, the 'public' involves the most private,
   the most enduring self. To survive and thrive we don't necessarily
   confront our natural enemies--the lumbering dinosaur orthodoxies of
   big business and big government--we go around and behind them. To
   live to the full in the modern world, in other words, you have to
   learn to weave and dodge and drift and take advantage of what the
   moment offers. This isn't a particularly new problem for metropolitan
   working classes. The trick is to choose your masks. To choose your
   roles. And play them consciously as roles. The old notion of the
   person of integrity--strike them where you will they ring true--has
   to be revamped, perhaps. The existential moral being must learn whole
   sets of roles--Pierrot, Harlequin, Colombine. On we go. Blake and
   Milton provide us with models of Law and Chaos, rather than Good and
   Evil, and that can't be bad. What a lot of theological abstract fun
   you can have with that idea....
     Best, M

I am not so much interested in the way William Blake has influenced Michael Moorcock as I am in the way that Michael Moorcock has influenced my reading of William Blake and John Milton. While I have many reservations concerning what I understand to be Moorcock's take on Milton and Blake, I am moved by his work, particularly his most Blakean production, the Second Ether Trilogy, to identify my own understanding of Blake and Milton, and to discover in their epics a practice of mythographic shamanism that is at least as sophisticated, as supple and as clever as the more broadly understood shamanistic practices and rituals of archaic and pre-literate peoples. Indeed, the movement of shamanism from pre-literate to literate stages has enriched shamanistic practice and liberated it from the essentially conservative tendencies of the pre-literate mind. At the same time, however, the advent of written language has created new forms and processes of orthodoxy. It is the task of the literary mythographer to expose such orthodoxies and to release the poetic imagination from the tyrannies of custom and institution. Suggesting the program if not the techniques of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Blake and Moorcock are engaged in a mythographic house cleaning; their works pattern analytic processes which expose and clarify the complex operation of the mythologies which define our social identities and our self-concepts. …

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Fractal Fantasies of Transformation: William Blake, Michael Moorcock, and the Utilities of Mythographic Shamanism
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