The great visionary poet and artist William Blake, whose career spanned the turn of the nineteenth century, was deeply concerned with the idea of transformation. Blake was a revolutionary in the sense that he believed society needed not just superficial reform but profound change. He did not believe that political action alone would bring about radical change. Political revolutions, he noted, have a way of reestablishing the tyranny they were intended to overthrow. Instead, the idea of revolution had to come first of all in people’s thinking and being. Truly meaningful change would happen only when people awoke to the infinite potential that was inside them.
In Blake’s mythical language, the world that I have described as the normal state is described as “fallen.” It is the world of self-concern, routine, conformity, and hypocrisy. Our longing for a more virtuous world is a sign that a better world is possible.
Most of us, however, see the normal world as something to accept and conform to. When we are in that state of passive acceptance, our view of ourselves diminishes. According to Blake, that is because our relationship with the world around us is reciprocal: the reality we perceive and the view we have of ourselves feed on one another. Describing this relationship, he wrote: “They became what they beheld.” When we accept the world as it is (that is, when we are in the normal state), we deny our innate ability to see something better, and hence our ability to be something better. The better world we seek can be found within us, if only we change our vision. (Kazin, 1974, p. 487)