Blake’s Job: Adventures in Becoming

August 22, 2023

Jason Wright introduces his new book, which analyses Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job and shows their relevance in clinical psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.

I am a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist; prior to this, I worked in theatre as a director and a manager. As I transitioned between the not-so-different traditions, I became close to Blake. Whilst training, I offered to make a presentation about the Jungian Self. Edinger, a Jungian analyst, had written using Blake’s Job myth exploring the relationship between the Self, the archetype of the whole of the individual human experience rooted in a collective unconscious and the ego, the archetype where consciousness arises. The relationship explored is rooted in symbol formation not unlike the action of Blake’s contraries. Symbol in Jungian thinking spans the two Self and Ego with an ineffable divine root.

One sunny morning, between careers, I found myself at London University, dressed in a delivery driver’s uniform for the interim day job. I ascended a staircase in a Georgian townhouse to view Blake’s Job (1826), intending to plagiarise Edinger to make my presentation.

In a small office several floors up, I was greeted by a rather pixie-ish, late middle-aged man in a green tweed suit and a glint in his eye. I mustered myself, feeling out of place and announced, “I have come to look at the Blake.” He pointed to a large brown regency stripe box on the corner of his desk. I made to open it, and he barked, “No, no, you can take them away.” Surprised but not wanting him to change his mind, I was thankful, stuffed the box in a bag and left.

In the quietude of my tiny flat, I studied them reverently, then asked a friend to make transparencies for the presentation. I saw this, perhaps mistakenly, as a theft, which followed me for thirty years. A guilt that was only resolved when meeting the actual plates at the British Museum. My thinking about Blake’s Job has changed over the intervening years, but my resonance with it hasn’t. The experience in the British Museum was so profound, such a revelation, that when I asked to look at their copy of Jerusalem, I could read it like a novel.

Such resonance is at root in ‘Blake’s Job: Adventures in Becoming’. I suggest we are moving from a consciousness of exploitation, of an external world, to a consciousness of resonance, an imaginal receiving into life of the becoming moment. This is entirely coherent with Blake’s myth and directly expressed in his Job.

Usually, this piece is read as an individual journey of individuation, Jung’s second half of life journey toward self-realisation. However, at no time is Job alone; what is happening with him is a communal event. I would see this as the move toward a plurality of possibilities i.e. not one but many ways of imagining the world, a polyvalency, rather than a binary or a rigid known. My work with the illustrations and as a group psychotherapist has led me to understand symbol formation rooted in the individual in a group context. A communitarian dialogue, perhaps like Blake’s ‘Fourfold Vision’ or ‘Eternity in an hour’.

I describe this process of the continual relational revision of experience with relevance for clinicians and the general reader. Ultimately this is met in the simple human trust that is needed to bear the unfolding process within and between us. 

Blake shows us how this is inhabited both individually and collectively. I think his myth is traditional, as Shelia Spector suggests – very Kabbalistic. But more to the point, he understands what it is to be human and presents that as an experience and in a form with which we can resonate.

So using the Blake plates, people can respond to the content as they meet it in them, with their vision. Then, as a therapist, one listens, nudges, and helps them receive into life. As Job receives Yahweh.

This allows some movement – some healing is possible. The human bearing the divine. I think as we move away from a rational material vision to something wider, we will order things through a more spiritual frame but that spirituality will become more concrete like Blake’s vision. A seeing-through concretising spirit as Blake experienced. A resonant becoming.

Blake’s Job: Adventures in Becoming is available in hardback, paperback and as an eBook from Routledge.

A launch for the book will be held on 27 September from 6-8 PM at The Architectural Association Bookshop, 32 Bedford Square (door at no.33), London WC1B 3ES. Please RSVP if you would like to attend.