begin page 121 | back to top

Postscript: Blake’s Abnormal Psychology

Lest we drop off to sleep and dream that a few decades ago the subject of Blake’s lunacy passed quietly into the innocent and nostalgic half-light of primitive psychology, it might not be a bad idea to add a short postscript to Raymond Lister’s note. Abnormal Psychology: Current Perspectives is a hefty and up-to-date textbook widely used, for instance, in upper-level undergraduate courses, the early years of medical school, and the like. It was edited by a board of “contributing consultants” so long and so pee-aitch-deed and em-deed that it would put the editorial pages of some scholarly journals to shame. It professes the radical tolerance for mental differences of Laing and like-minded thinkers: “To see the manifest problems and illnesses of our society is to question the concept of the ‘well-adjusted person.’ To know the effect on language, literature, and art of the work of ‘mentally disturbed’ individuals is to be hesitant in pressing the claims of the homogenous ‘normal’ society as the greatest good.” “Acceptance means understanding.” “Establishing standard norms of acceptable behavior and labeling so-called inappropriate acts ‘abnormal’ has important consequences in terms of sanctioning a form of social control. Only by recognizing the importance of diversity and change does a society foster individual freedom and growth.”

begin page 122 | back to top

Then, in the section on “Psychoses,” a couple of pages after three of Van Gogh’s paintings are reproduced with a caption remarking how his paintings “are a powerful representation of the blending of psychotic chaos and artistic genius,” we come across a reproduction of Sin, Death, and Satan at the Gates of Hell, from Blake’s illustrations of Paradise Lost, accompanying a caption that I suppose the Paradise Lost picture is intended to document.

An early-nineteenth-century writer referred to William Blake as “an unfortunate lunatic whose personal inoffensiveness secures him from confinement.” A retrospective diagnosis of Blake would probably label him a paranoid schizophrenic, for he made no secret of the fact that he was “ . . . under the direction of Messengers from Heaven, Daily and Nightly.” Blake’s first hallucination involving divine personages occurred at the age of four, and succeeding “visions” probably provided much of the material for his illustrations of works such as Milton’s Paradise Lost, which includes Satan Comes to the Gates of Hell, shown above. This watercolor illustration depicts Satan advancing from the left, preparing to confront Death, right. In the center, thrusting them apart, is Sin. Flames writhe in the background, and to the right is Hell’s latticed gate.

Curtis L. Barrett et al., contributing consultants, Abnormal Psychology: Current Perspectives (Del Mar, Calif.: CRM Books, 1972), p. 249, fig. 12.2.

University of New Mexico

Print Edition

  • Publisher
  • Department of English, University of New Mexico
  • Albuquerque, NM, USA
    • Editors
    • Morris Eaves
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Bibliographer
    • Thomas Minnick
    • Associate Editor for Great Britain
    • Frances A. Carey
    • Editorial Assistants
    • Virginia Masi
    • Jean Stalker
    • Circulation Manager
    • Debra Sackett

    Digital Edition

    • Editors:
    • Morris Eaves, University of Rochester
    • Robert Essick, University of California, Riverside
    • Joseph Viscomi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Project Manager
    • Joe Fletcher
    • Technical Editor
    • Michael Fox
    • Previous Project Manager and Technical Editor
    • William Shaw
    • Project Director
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Coordinator, UNC:
    • Natasha Smith, Carolina Digital Library and Archives
    • Project Coordinator, University of Rochester:
    • Sarah Jones
    • Scanning:
    • UNC Digital Production Center
    • XML Encoding:
    • Apex CoVantage
    • Additional Transcription:
    • Adam McCune
    • Jennifer Park
    • Emendations:
    • Rachael Isom
    • Mary Learner
    • Adam McCune
    • Ashley Reed
    • Jennifer Park
    • Scott Robinson
    • XSLT Development:
    • Adam McCune
    • Joseph Ryan
    • William Shaw
    • PHP and Solr Development:
    • Michael Fox
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Assistants:
    • Lauren Cameron,
    • Rachael Isom,
    • Mary Learner,
    • Jennifer Park,
    • Ashley Reed,
    • Adair Rispoli,
    • Scott Robinson
    • Sponsors
    • Funders
    • Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly
    • William Blake Archive
    • Carolina Digital Library and Archives
    • Use Restrictions
    • Copyright © 2015 Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, all rights reserved. Items in this digital edition may be shared in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Redistribution or republication on other terms, in any medium, requires express written consent from the editors and advance notification of the publisher. Permission to reproduce the graphic images in this digital edition rests with the owning institutions.