Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Nation of Orcs

Reading my way through a collection of the often willfully esoteric poetry of William Blake, I've come across his nearly indecipherable "America: A Prophecy." This whirling mashup of arcane imagery casts America as a place of radiantly demonic energy, and Americans allied with a godlike figure that exists only in the peculiar mythology that Blake created for himself: Orc.

Orc, in Blake's mythology, is not really kin to the semi-human beings of Tolkien. Orc is the demon of radically unfettered passion and creativity, the mortal enemy of Urizen, the demon of order and reason. For Blake, America is a land of creative energy, fierce and wild and warlike:
The plagues creep on the burning winds driven by flames of Orc,
And by the fierce Americans rushing together in the night.
This, at least in Blake's often self-absorbed poetics, is a good thing. But for all of Blake's joy in the expression of the self, I think we as a nation seem to be trending more towards Tolkien's vision of Orcdom lately. The idea that somehow shouting and bellowing at one another represents civic dialog seems quite in line with the ethics of Mordor. Whoever shouts loudest must be right. Truth? Civility? Kindness? Mutual respect? To heck with those things. Better to howl with glazed eyes, to berate, to belittle, and to insult.

We also love, love, love our violence. Things that are bigger and louder and more garish are inherently better, and the more impressively hyperkinetic and/or bloodspattered something is, the more we like it. How else to explain the success of our endlessly violent and brutal films? An audience made up entirely of Orcs would find our violence utterly entertaining.

Perhaps Blake knew more about where we were headed than he let on.