Michael Grenfell considers the gnosticism of William Blake and John Cowper Powys

This year's edition of the Journal of the Powys Society includes an article comparing these two mystic writers.

Volume 33 of The Powys Journal includes an article by Michael Grenfell, "John Cowper Powys and William Blake":

In this article I discuss Powys and Blake with respect to a series of salient features of their published writings (and paintings in the case of Blake). The fact that I consider Blake a Gnostic, and the philosophy underpinning Gnosticism as the key to understanding his sense and meaning, consequently entails me bringing the same perspective to Powys in comparing their respective works.1 But, I begin by looking at what Powys himself wrote about Blake. Actually, there are various en passant references made by Powys to Blake, but the most extended discussion comes from a 1916 essay.2 I use this source to address the ‘tensions’ they both shared to a lesser or greater extent. I then consider what creativity meant for them; in terms of the relationship between a human mind and its surroundings. In particular, I am interested in ‘the self ’ and ‘the other’, whether that latter be material, living or imaginary – or perhaps all three. It is on this basis that I consider the main tenets of Gnosticism (see below) to be a way of illuminating a series of features that might be found in Powys’ and Blake’s respective works. I offer some brief allusion to the history of Gnosticism and its defining elements in order to support the discussion. I explore Blake, Powys and Gnosticism in terms of the themes of Nature, (sexual) Union, Images, and Memory. There are elements of comparison and contrast in this undertaking. All these tease out the nature of the relationships Blake and Powys held with respect to creativity, self, and indeed the source of narratives expressed in their work. I conclude by suggesting that although Blake and Powys shared similar problematics, their final respective resting places were significantly distinct.

Michael Grenfell has held Chair positions in Scotland, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and the University of Southampton, UK where he is now based. Besides acting as Head of School and Director of Research, he has taken a special interest in post-graduate research methodology and training with some 30+ PhD students supervised to successful completion. His background is in French Studies and early research projects included French Catholic non-conformist intellectuals’ response to dechristianisation in France. His academic career also involved extensive research and publications on language, education and linguistics.

This paper is available via The Powys Society web site.