Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Urizen by William Blake Chapters 7, 8, 9

The last third of the book is the last three chapters, the very ones before you in the title. We're going to see that the imagery isn't so abstract anymore. The beings may be surreal, the landscape hellish but the imagery is starting to come together in a real way which we can identify with as human beings.

No one has the experience of rending themselves from eternity, but people have kids, and those who don't still have parents.

Well, anyway, we're in a world now where the actions are less abstract, though still pretty weird. Orc is named for the first time. A girdle forms around Los' belly, and as he bursts the girdle from his belly, another forms, and the cycle continues, in precisely the same manner as Orc cycles inside and outside of his mother's womb. By day the girdle forms, by night it's burst in twain (Urizen 7:16).

So Los and Enitharmon bring Orc to the top of the mountain, and chain him there atop the rock “with the Chain of Jealousy” (Urizen 7:24). We are not told precisely what Los and Enitharmon are jealous of, but we know that jealousy motivates them to chain their son atop the mountain.

The imagery associated with Los' girdle is already Promethean, but it's about to become even more so. Blake will mix several metaphors at once. Orc is at once the sacrifice of Abraham, the sacrifice of Prometheus, and the voice screaming on the mountaintop.

But once Orc's screams awaken the dead, all things “began to awake to life” (Urizen 7:28), even Urizen who hungers and craves in spite of himself. His desire drives him to create measuring tools, weights, scales, compasses. He also forms a brazen quadrant; the Cartesian grid on the one hand, the Cross on the other; and indeed the scales weights and compasses, have that similar double meaning, where they imply the methods of science on the one hand, and the morality of the written law on the other.

This passion for measuring, characteristic of Urizen, is a passion (yes) to measure on the one hand, but it is the necessity for an objective standard, that one common measuring stick that we would all share that Urizen wants and yearns for. By creating a solitary communal standard, Urizen seeks to exteriorize a process by which perspective is generated and codify it, fixing it to a system for measuring; a system which on the one hand can measure the goodness or badness of deed; and on the other, my leg (for example) in a manner which is absolutely communicable and does not require a conversion to another standard of measurement. For instance, if I tell you my leg is 32 inches, you would know immediately how long my leg is. On the other hand, if I said my leg was one daveleg long you would not know how to gage this in terms of any physical set length.

So Urizen's motives are caught up in a web of intrigue that we have only begun to scratch the surface of, and which we can't begin to imagine until we realize the ramifications of what is at stake. Urizen as a character is the embodiment of the desire to create an objective standard. This standard, is an abstraction of a purely arbitrary system of agreed upon values. The utility of agreeing upon the system is for ease of communicability. If this was the sum of Urizen's influence we would all gladly celebrate his holiday.

But this same demand for a standard imposes itself on all arenas of man's existence; the ethical standard of Good and Evil which is established in the Bible as a primordial Post-Edenic governing principle which suggests that our material well being is causally related to our ethical and spiritual relationships to men and God respectively.

At the end of the chapter Los encircles Enitharmon with "fires of Prophesy" from the sight of Urizen and Orc. And she bears "an enormous race".

So Urizen has a look around his creation, he has a globe of fire to light his journey, and whereas before he "contended with shapes" he now is annoyed by "cruel enormities" or, in other words, forms of life.

2. And his world teemd vast enormities
Frightning; faithless; fawning
Portions of life; similitudes
Of a foot, or a hand, or a head
Or a heart, or an eye, they swam mischevous
Dread terrors! delighting in blood

When Urizen looks upon living things he is disgusted. The are portions of life, specters, simulations. Suddenly his children appear, as if blinking into existence, shocked by their sudden incarnation. His children are crying, screeching, wailing, pits, monsters, worms, animals, howling at the God of reason. They have failed him. Time again sinning and failing to meet the harsh standard of their surrogate father. No flesh nor spirit could keep his iron laws one moment.

7. Till a Web dark & cold, throughout all
The tormented element stretch'd
From the sorrows of Urizens soul
And the Web is a Female in embrio
None could break the Web, no wings of fire.
8. So twisted the cords, & so knotted
The meshes: twisted like to the human brain
9. And all calld it, The Net of Religion

And the mind twists and hardens. The result being an identity in stasis, and an identity that cannot recognize its own reflection anywhere.

7. The remaining sons of Urizen
Beheld their brethren shrink together
Beneath the Net of Urizen;
Perswasion was in vain;
For the ears of the inhabitants,
Were wither'd, & deafen'd, & cold:
And their eyes could not discern,
Their brethren of other cities.

8. So Fuzon call'd all together
The remaining children of Urizen:
And they left the pendulous earth:
They called it Egypt, & left it.

9. And the salt ocean rolled englob'd

Urizen, your reason, ourizein, to bind, Uranus, the sky god. Urizen the horizon. The defined limit of our eyes.

Los, the Eternal prophet los/sol, who like his name is a reflector and exists and is mapped onto the reflective dimension that sits in the "center" of the number line: 0. Urizen is Infinity, anything, the wild card, the variable. He morphs and changes into the phantasms of his own nightmares. His fear of the body is born out of a rejection of this world, a rejection in fact of life itself born out of impending death.

Blake makes the same points over and over again, cycling the same images and yet changing the names. This forces the reader to really see the images as they happen by and see them in relation to other images. Orc, Urizen, Los, Tharmas, Luvah. None of these Eternals are real. They are all parts of the Divine Man, the Adam Kadmon template which is fourfold.

Los represents: Time, Imagination, the Sun, Light, Reflection, Prophesy

Urizen: Logos, horizon, limit, reductive analysis without the knowledge that this is merely one technique among many, Architecture.

Tharmas: Body, sensation, painting/sculture, touch, sight, smell, taste...

Luvah: Heart, music, emotion

These four "eternals" correspond to Jung's "personality types" at a one to one level. The problem for Jung is that Blake isn't representing them as "types".

Because that would be largely to make the Urizenic fallacy that Blake is drawing attention to in his Urizen myth.

The issue then becomes, how do operate without a standard, without a measure?

Well, Blake would not have to wait long for science to catch up with these problems. The naivitee of Lockean materialism would wither and die and we continue to be reminded that what we were analyzing was not reality itself, but our capacity to analyze reality, and how that effects its transmission to us.

It would not be until Einstein's General Relativity that the paradoxes of light and time began to take shape, and Einstein will use what he calls "mind machines" on which to build his proofs.

And so concludes my delineation of Urizen. Urizen in his proper place is a lens, from which to refract the infinitude of the imagination. Urizen and Los are psychic energies in this text which have a reciprocal relationship to one another. When the one goes up, the other goes down, also know as a Zero Sum Game. Blake is merely pointing out that this needn't be the case.


Thanks for your interest, and I hope this meditation has opened up some interesting stuff. I'm just beginning to work with ideas associated with projection geometry and Urizen really is a great text to try some of it out on. Thanks again.

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