About 30 years ago, I took a wonderful night class on the work of William Blake. We ranged through discussions of times and trends, philosophies and revolutions, madness and enlightenment. We discussed the climate of imagination. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, visual arts, music and literature reacted Romantically against the rational mode of the Age of Enlightenment. That may not sound like an especially good thing in the evolution of thought. After all, we think of the Age of Enlightenment as the time when science overcame superstition. But, seeking balance in all things, I and the Romantics happily embrace the flights of creativity that issued from the imaginative minds of that era. Blake wrote, “This world of imagination is infinite and eternal…” We were then just emerging from the exuberant 1970’s, and it seemed that must be true. “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which the vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.” It was the Age of Aquarius, right? We were on the way to a better humankind.
But Blake also wrote, “Without contraries there is no progression.” How were we to know we were about to enter a period of social and intellectual recession? How were we to know the gains of the last 2 decades would be greatly erased in the next years? We might have known because our professor Mariel in that William Blake class told us so. He warned us that, as in the time of Blake, we would see the pendulum of the public mind move. It would move away from the sweet left of liberal expression to, as we then and I now still think of it, the bitter right.
“The change comes quickly,” he told us. “You will wake up one morning in another world.”
He was right.
He promised us a return, however. “Thirty years,” he said. “That should be about right.”
Despair. How could I wait 30 years for everything to begin to come right again?
In that year I cannot tell you how many dinners at home we missed, how many meetings I sat, how I learned to beg for money, to stand up and beg publicly and to clasp my hands and beg person-to-person, how many hours we sat and contemplated the possibility that our libraries would close, how we cheered ourselves that our measure to form a District with its own tax base might just squeeze by… but I did not really think it would pass. The truth is, I think we worked at it month after month because we just could not accept the thought of a County without libraries, and if we kept on working, we didn’t have to look too hard at the reality of the situation: people have not been underwriting public services for some years now, and weren’t likely to opt for an addition to their property taxes to keep the libraries open with the national economy collapsing around them.
William Blake wrote, “One thought fills immensity.”
“You will wake up some day in another world,” said Professor Mariel, 30 years ago.
On Monday, the eve of election day, I thought Tuesday was going to be in the same world as the day before.