Sunday, November 14, 2010

Urizen by William Blake Chapter 3 [Part 2]

Urizen Chapter 3

I highly recommend keeping this open in another window as we work our way through the rest of chapter three. We are going to continue to read in a linear fashion, and do a parallel reading. With interjections from modern mathematics, science, philosophy and metaphysics and other disciplines which I know about.

I am intensely aware of the fact that the presentation I can offer you today will pale to that presentation that I can offer you in twenty years and that I am a master of none of these disciplines. So I hardly relate to any of this as if it is the final word.

Anyway, beginning with Stanza 4, Chapter 3. We find Urizen clasping his book of brass. Now, when I talk about the speech vs. writing we aren't exactly talking about two opposing forces as we would be in Derrida. We are talking about language which is subject to different laws.

The laws that govern speech: immediacy, cause & effect, human memory, and they are lost the moment they are spoken, movie.

The laws that govern writing: atemporal, cause in effect, uncorruptable stasis, photograph.

In effect, it is a dichotomy that has nothing to do with speech and writing, that nonetheless gets expressed in terms of speech and writing, and in effect becomes subordinated to speech and writing.

Let's re-orient ourselves at line three, take a step back for a second.

Sund'ring, dark'ning, thund'ring
Rent away with a terrible crash

Sundering and rent convey ripping and separation, a violent separation, of a whole into parts. Urizen is taking control of the show and the other Eternals don't like it. Departing, departing, departing the echo of a fall, mountains rising around us, obstructing our view, fragments of life, frowning cliffs, and voidness, un-fathomable. Fires run over the heavens, whirlwinds, cataracts of blood, desarts, darkness, sparseness. The fires try to break in on the void, but the void continues to expand. No light breaks through. Black combustion. Motors, factories, black smoke, heat, flames. A vision whose main character is blind.

Urizen flees to the desart to retreat from the flames. It's hard to hide there, he has no survival instincts. Instead he burrows into the ground like a mole, "digging mountains & hills", piling, containing, enclosing, structuring a base, on all sides around him "like a womb", rivers, veins, networks, webs, lines. They are made of life, and set against life. The "eternal fires" are cracking through Urizen's structure and he uses his own blood to "cool the eternal fires" It works, allowing the energy creating instability to slow and slow and slow. "Like a human heart strugling & beating, the vast world of Urizen appeare'd."

As a whole, (the treatment of a part of a thing as a whole), this is Urizen's fall into a separation, a state Urizen identifies with wholeness. The separation into an on and off state inaugurated by the appearance of the human heart, the rhythm of the body. This inaugurates the fall into Time, and simultaneously, the emergence of Los, who “keeps watch for Eternals to confine,” while Eternity stands “wide apart/As the stars are apart from the Earth.”

This suggests that from the Eternals perspective, Urizen is a black geophysical globe who at once inhabits his own world of creation. At the same time this happens, he is not entirely separated from the other Eternals who are imagined as a flames pouring through a void encircled by mountains within Urizen's creation.

The moment Los comes into being, he feels anguish because Urizen is “rent” from is side, a term in Blake which always entails a violent separation. Relative to Los, the Void, is his feet, and he dwells among the fires of the Eternals, looking for other Eternals to “capture.” Los is subservient to Urizen's will which is to void Nature by creating a selfcontained indwelling which captures the impulses of the body, and emotions to create a cold center of ethics and reasons. So the other Eternals are partially voided in the process, and these Eternals, Urizen, Tharmas, Luvah, and Urthona, manifest themselves in Urizen's realm in specific ways. Urthona manifests itself as Los, the Eternal Prophet, here enslaved to be a restrainer, and judge, and a punisher, while Urizen himself lay shapeless, dormant and malleable, “unorganiz'd, rent from Eternity,” like a man whose turned his back on the skies: “Urizen is a clod of clay.”

Los heals himself, but Urizen cannot be healed. He just sort of lays there like a shapeless blob, asleep in a dreamless night. So Los arouses the fires “affrighted” at the blob. This image of the Sleeping God recurs in Blake's depiction of Albion in Jerusalem.

8. And Los round the dark globe of Urizen,
Kept watch for Eternals to confine,
The obscure separation alone;
For Eternity stood wide apart,
As the stars are apart from the earth

Hey, Los comes into being, and immediately has a job. Not bad kid. He's the policeman for Urizen, he's Urizen's goon. He finds eternals and "confines" them, he inprisons them. Again, Urizen is associated with the Sky, and identified here with the stars, carrying an Astrological sense of a "Divine Writ", a static destiny.

The separation scars and heals. Urizen is "a clod of clay", malleable, impressionable, depressable. A thing to be shaped. The Urizen think he's dead, but he's in a death-like state, a sleep, a snooze, a dreamless drunken sleep.


Hello and thanks to good folks over at Blake 2.0 / Awesome, awesome project. Can't wait to take a look through.

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