Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict between Reason and Imagination

Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict between Reason and Imagination

by June Singer
York Beach, MN: Nicholas-Hays, 2000. Paperback, xx + 272 pages.

William Blake, poet, printer, and mystic, prophet, experienced his first vision about the age of eight. Thereafter, he balanced his connection to the practical outer world with the inner world of his visions. Like many of our contemporaries, he believed and experienced-that the boundless infinite is accessed by intuition and imagination, rather than by intellect or senses.

In this new and retitled edition of her earlier work, The Unholy BibleJune Singer studies Blake from the perspective of depth psychology. With clarity and detail, she leads us through Blake's later prophetic works, especially The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which consists of twenty-four plates of text and illustrations engraved by Blake. In this study of good and evil, he asserts that the codes of convention and morality taught by the law and the churches are repressively deadening. Only the exercise of the psyche's unique desires and perceptions provides experiences that are enlivening and spiritually transforming.

Singer compares Blake's understanding of individual freedom and creativity with similar Jungian theories. For example, both affirm the union of opposites. All dualities, such as heaven and hell, male and female, reason and imagination, soul and body, must be conjoined. According to Blake, without the contraries there is no progression. Both speak of this process of reconciliation in symbolic language. For Blake it is the marriage, and for Jung the conjunction, which joins the conscious and the unconscious. Combining the characteristics of the opposing dualities begets wholeness and integrity.

Blake was willing to look honestly at the beauties and the terrors of the unconscious. As Singer tells us, "Heaven only becomes available to the man who has dared to venture into hell." Blake's visions were not spontaneous, but' the result of intense concentration on a single object or idea, until the unconscious stimulated his ego and "something would appear out of the nothingness." The device Blake used to communicate the realties of the unconscious was the copper plate on which he engraved them, "the symbol of the threshold between his consciousness and the mystery." Moreover, his ego involvement in this creative process, Singer believes, kept him from going mad. For "by writing down what he heard and drawing pictures of what he saw ... the visions then became manageable creations of his own mind."

June Singer's insightful meditation on the symbolic words and images contained on those plates is an invaluable guide to all Blake readers.


March/April 2002