Eden Is Where You Find It:
Frederich Nietzsche, William Blake,
And Bob Dylan
By Larry Fyffe
William Blake admonishes organized Christianity for its black-and-white portrayal of morality, its defining of human behaviour as either ‘good’ (of God) or ‘evil’ (of the Devil).
Poet Blake envisions Man as a Being possessed of a Devilish desire for individual freedom that rebels against overly-harsh authoritanian rule. With their over-emphasis on Reason, Blake considers that the thinkers of the Age Of Enlightenment, with their ‘deistic’ God, justify a new social order, but that they, while doing so, freeze in place injustices, like the institution of slavery, that take away liberty.
In the words of an anti-Blakean Modernist poet, social change is not necessarily a good thing:
“Tell her that sheds
Such treasure in the air
Recking naught else but her graces give
Life to the moment
I would bid them live
As roses might, in magic amber laid
Red, overwrought with orange and all made
One substance and one colour
(Ezra Pound: Envoi)
Frederich Nietzsche too criticizes the Christian establishment, but because it, in his view, sticks the label of ‘evil’ upon the energetic morality that allows capable individuals to exercise their ‘will to power’, and rise above others in the social hierarchy; who achieve their desires in the here and now because of their enterprising daring.
The underdogs’ resentment of success expresses itself through a ‘slave morality’, and results in the expansion of the altruistic-centred religion known as Christianity. The religion prepares the road to bring everyone down to an equalitarian level, based on its belief of a Paradise in the afterlife.
The ideas associated with the likes of William Blake lend themselves to supporting the establishment of an altruistic socialist economic system in the actual world; those associated with the likes of Nietzsche to the support of an ongoing capitalist system based on greed.
Then along comes various Fascist forms of capitalism, and various Soviet forms of socialism. That’s more than enough to make a crippled cynic out of the most sure-footed Romantic.
In the aftermath of the debasement of Nietzsche’s ideas by the Nazis (and also by Ezra Pound above), and the corruption of the ideas of Karl Marx by the Soviets, Bob Dylan hangs on to Blake’s imaginative vision of an ideal balance amongst spirit, power, and desire, elements contained within each individual. This even as the songwriter expresses the cynicism of a disenchanted Romantic. At the very least, there is the possibility of a chance meeting with kindred spirits who are able to shed their treasures in the air.
The idea of Nietsche’s ‘slave morality’ not forgotten:
“With a time-rusted compass blade
Aladdin and his lamp
Sits with Utopian hermit monks
Sidesaddle on the Golden Calf
And on their promises of Paradise
You will not hear a laugh
All except inside thd Gates of Eden”
(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)
This be the sham promise of a Paradise for those exploited; at worst they’ll find it in the hereafter, so say the High Priests of the capitalist elite, who worship the Golden Calf of capital accumulation.
Paradise Lost of childhood Innocence to the adult world of Experience, according to William Blake:
“The kingdoms of experience
In the precious wind they rot
While paupers change possessions
Each wishing for what the other has got
And the princess and the prince
Discuss what is real and what is not”
(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)
In the words of the pre-Romantic poet himself:
“Blind in fire, with shield and spear
Two horned Reasoning, cloven fiction
In doubt, which is self-condradiction
A dark hermaphrodite we stood –
Rational truth, root of evil and good
Round me flew the flaming sword
Round her snowy whirlwinds roared
Freezing her veil, the shell mundane
….One dies! Alas!, the living and the
One is slain and one is fled”
(William Blake: The Keys Of Ths Gate)
Words like those from an Elizabethan poet:
“My love is like ice, and I to fire
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my
So hot desire”
(Edmund Spenser: Ice And Fire)
Bob Dylan brings it all back home:
There are no truths outside the gates of Eden. The black-robed priests have planted briars around the locked gates.
But, sings Bob Dylan, where you find truth is Eden; you’ll know it when you are there; Eve awaits, under the tree of knowledge:
“At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempt to shovel the glimpse
In to the ditch of which each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what’s true
And there are no words outside the Gates of Eden”
What is on the site
1: Over 360 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.