William Blake is a poet, not a metaphysician. When someone writes with aphorism, irony, and wild and flamboyant system building (as Blake and Nietzsche did), they are mocking essentialism; they’re showing that language is infinite; that there are a gazillion ways to describe the world, and they’ve just created a new way to talk about it.
Blake is human evolution “LIVE!” and in action; the infinite imagination on the move. Blake puts on display as provocation and reminder the evolutionary superpower we have been given for redescribing things. We have, as individuals, the power to ignore what outside authorities take to be the essence of things, and to notice something else. Like Adam, we ourselves have the power to name the animals. It is human therefore to reach for the “disordered” and “abnormal”; to gamble in the direction of overgoing what is.
There’s no final language for this process, there’s only Blake (and people like Blake). There’s no pointing to a final essence with a final vocabulary, so to stop at a language like, say, Catholic Thomism is to lack sui generis individuality and imagination. It’s to stop growing.
Catholic Thomism started as a new language; a giddy incorporation of Aristotle into Christianity. What an adventure. But now it has solidified into the cranky rejection of women’s equality for the priesthood and no gay marriage. What a come down. How obviously it has veered into a ditch.
But there is only art. Blake’s Jesus is an artist, not an essentialist. Blake’s Jesus points to the moon, not to essences. The moon is always accompanied by an elipsis, like Walt Whitman’s grass. “What is the grass? The grass is x… and now it’s this, and now it’s that, and now it’s the flag of my disposition, and now it’s the uncut hair of graves, and now it’s…” There are no essences, only descriptions. If you tighten the noose of essences around Blake and Whitman, you lose Blake and Whitman (and tame poetry in general, and the danger that poetry represents to all systems, which are themselves tropes for essences).
This is why Plato didn’t want poets in his Republic. They were dangerous. They didn’t mirror the one truth that Plato thought he had grasped. They didn’t tell the TRUTH; they didn’t fit into the societal structure oriented to the TRUTH.
Poets have always reminded people that talking differently is possible; that the ontological mystery–the mystery of being itself–can’t be grasped in a final vocabulary; that when a poet points and speaks to the ontological mystery, that it must necessarily fail because the ontological mystery cannot be pinned down. (I’m using the Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel’s phrase, “ontological mystery,” in case you’re wondering where that phrase is from.)
In any case, this inability to pin down the ontological mystery is like human nature itself. As Sartre said, we are existence before essence. It’s the superpower evolution has given us, to be an open platform. It’s our evolutionary strategy, to not act on instinct, but to creatively re-purpose nature and culture.
All poets thus remind us of the possibilities of the open platform–and hence of the problem with essentialist metaphysics and cultural inertia. Blake and all poets are the children of evolution and revolution.