William Blake (The Four Zoas)

William Blake – The Four Zoas – from an illustration in Milton – A Poem (1804-1810)

We begin this week serialization of another of Allen’s Naropa classes – his 1979 lectures on William Blake. Today, a few preliminaries.

The initial tapes have a number of technical difficulties. As original transcriber Randy Roark explains:

“The tape machine malfunctions throughout this recording. A mechanical hum, sounding like a short in the microphone or recorder itself, interferes with the recording, which alternately comes in clearly.  The tape is labelled “Intro to Blake — Vala” — but almost none of this remains.”


AG:  If you’ll follow it with this document (sic) I’ve got here.  The page is not necessary. Blake divided human nature into four basic characteristics, which are almost like humanistic or ordinary mind archetypes, not very far from the kind of liberal thinking that people might indulge in now.  It’s not a very mystical or far-out system. It’s very easily comprehended.  Human nature, so to speak, has four characteristics, according to him, or four basic reference points, or four basic directions…[first tape malfunction]

(Urizen) is the intellect. Rationality.  (The) thinking process – which would have the characteristic of sight, clarity….(precision), visionary aspects.  What we know so well as reasoning, thinking, rationalization (but) which could tend to be rationalization, neurotic explanation, over-intellectuality, insistent aggressive intellectual arrogance, schizophrenic insanity, double-talking, meth-freak mumble, free-associational punning.  Just extremes. In other words, it’s just ordinary reason, ordinary common sense reason, which, however, could shade off all the way upward to complete insanity, a great logical structure, castle in the air, that has actually no reference point, has no body, no imagination and no art to it.  No emotions, no relation to a physical earth and… no spaciousness of imagination … just pure demonic reasoning when it’s out-of-phase., when it becomes a spectre of itself, so to speak, when it’s unhealthy and becomes a spectre of itself, so to speak, it can be as we…(observe in)…meth-freaks, or schizophrenics with logical systems, or….

Blake was thinking of it in terms of the philosophy of his own time, (John) Lockeand others. (Sir Isaac) Newton, Locke, (Francis) Baconwith their so very proud presumption of, or rational explanation for, the universe, thinking they could explain everything, and so…. (Blake argued against) mechanical industry.  (Remember, his point of view here was (that) he was an artisan, craftsman, making only one copy of each book.  There was only one copy made of his final work, Jerusalem, one copy printed and colored – twenty-seven copies of Songs of Innocence and Experience, sixteen copies of Urizen, maybe, two copies of Miltonprobably).  So he’s an artisan and handcraftsman.  But when (he) begins printing books, then he immediately….he begins to realize that the medium is the message, that pretty soon the medium….

(He) pointed out (early on) that the mechanical extension of the brain is going to begin taking over and reshaping the brain. So, he was one of the first prophetic, intuitive people who warned against what is now…(commonly understood).(in “Jerusalem”,  those “dark Satanic mills”.  Sort of the ultimate extension of reason.

So there is this mythological character called Urizen  – U-R-I-Z-E-N – (“Yur-rise-en” or “Yur-reason”).  So he’s one of the major, if not the major, characters in Blake.  And there’s a whole book called Urizen  – U-R-I-Z-E-N –  which has been recently (re-)printedwhich is a book I went over in the Spring (of 1978) in great detail.  And if you want to check that out there is, as I say, a text transcribed of those lectures in the library, or if it isn’t there now it’ll be in a day or two.

[to Student] -Do you know if it was there, Phil? (sic)  Did you check that out?

Student (Phil): If what was there?

AG:  If the text of the lectures on Urizen are in the library?

Student (Phil):  It’s…

Student (2): No, no.

AG: It’s there?

Student (3): Yeah.

AG:  Oh, okay.  My lectures.

Student (3): Yeah.

AG:  Do you know, is the whole thing there or is there also a little summary of it?

Student (3): No, it’s the whole … it’s every thing, you know.  A tape-manuscript.

AG:  Oh, okay.  There’s also a sixteen-page summary that might be usable if the whole thing is (too much).  You might check through it. So, there’s Urizen.

And then, as I was reading through and also checking through the Blake Dictionary and other things, Urizen is connected with various directions.  Each of these Four Zoasor four principles, is connected with a sense – like Urizen with the eye (and its direction is) the south, (and) with an animal (in this case the lion) ,with a worldly function or (a) labor function (in this case the ploughman, oddly enough – I guess (the) reason plows up reality and sort of like plows up a field, plows up the facts and rearranges them).  It’s got a metal and an element – (the metal) gold in this case  (air is the element) – It has sons, it has a worldy extension. (oddly, one of the most interesting worldly extensions of Urizen is religion….or natural religion… [significant tape malfunction follows at this point] –

AG: …  (Then there’s Los) … poetic imagination or poetic creative imagination.  So Urthona comes in and out, but his representative more throughout Blake’s system is L-O-S. Sort of an emanation of Urthona.

So, so far we have Urizen and Urthona — the imagination. Those are two basic principles of our nature.  The third that Blake lays out is the body itself.  The physical body, the senses.  Put as a direction to the west, (and) symbolized by an ox.  Pretty funny!  (The tongue, I guess – taste, and the loins are, apparently, the physical sensory representations).

Student: What was that again, Allen?

AG:  And his name … his physical tongue… It’s on this thing, here [refers to document], if you (want to check it out).  It’s all here..  It’s all on this page.

So it’s called Tharmas — the body is called Tharmas.

Peter Orlovsky:  How do you spell it?

AG: It’s on this page.  It’s T-H-A-R-M-A-S.  It’s all out here, already written out in great detail…. [further significant tape malfunction]

(That’s) pretty good, actually. that’s clear.  That’s sort of basic.  The essential basic thing that you…. And it’s not really very complicated or outrageous or (complicated to recall). A good representative working basis.

I don’t know, (but) those of you who play with Tarotor play with astrology or anything, there are equivalent symbols, you know, equivalent, very simple, systematic symbols that you manipulate.  This is very down-to earth, however, (because).. We do have imagination, we do have body, we have do feelings or emotions, and we do have a rational faculty, which can either be common sense or insanity.

So Blake’s notion is that if all these four…. (at approximately fifteen minutes in, tape malfunctions definitively and nothing further is decipherable until approximately forty-seven minutes in)

[Audio for the above may be heard here with the significant caveat that much of this tape is malfunctioning]  

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