Blake continues – 10

[ The Birnam oak in Birnam wood in Scotland, the last surviving tree from Shakespeare’s time]

AG: Then the King replies to the voice of the people with a kind of contempuous challenge, a riddle, just like in “Macbeth‘s Birnam Wood.  Remember in the play, Macbeth, Macbeth says, “until Birnam Wood”, what, moves?

Student: Leaves such and such forest.

AG: Yeah.

Student: And they were far away.

AG: Yeah.  Birnam Wood is very far in the horizon.  Until the Birnam Wood is here, around the castle, I’m not going to be unseated by these plots against my….

Student: Yeah, and isn’t that where the line “No man or woman born….”

AG: Yeah, I think it’s the witches’ prophecy.

Student: Um-hmm.

AG:  Or the three witches, or some … I’ve forgotten now.  But the.. Macbeth, the murderous king, who had gotten to be king by murder, consults the witch oracles to find out if he’s safe or not, if he’s going to be unseated, and the oracle says, “No, you’ll be alright.  You won’t be killed by any man …

Student: “No man of woman born”.

AG:  … no man of woman born will kill you, and you’ll be safe as long as Birnam Wood is in Birnam Wood.

Peter Orlovsky:  As long as what?

AG: Birnam Wood stays where it is.

So, the king says, parallelling Macbeth – “Seest thou yonder dark castle, that moated around, keeps this city of Paris in awe./ Go command yonder tower, saying, ‘Bastile depart, and take          thy shadowy course./ Overstop the dark river, thou terrible tower, and get thee up into the country ten miles../ And thou black southern prison, move along the dusky road  to Versailles; there/ Frown on the gardens’, and if it obey and depart, then the  King will disband/ This war-breathing army; but if it refuse, let the Nation’s Assembly thence learn,/ That this army of terrors, that prison of horrors, are the bands of the murmuring kingdom.” – (The prison bands are the murmuring kingdom)

Well, the Ambassador walked back to the Nation’s Assembly and told the unwanted message.  Sieyes returned to the Council. And apparently in actual history the Assembly floundered on five days on the King’s refusal.

Peter Orlovsky:  I don’t understand what you mean, Bastille depart?

AG: He’s saying, until the Bastille gets up and walks away and walks ten miles, I’m not going to send my army ten miles out of town.  The King is saying that.

Peter Orlovsky:  Alright.

AG: Till the prison – the Bastille is the prison – till the giant prison, which was described with its seven towers in the beginning, gets up and leaves, I’m not going to get my (Army out of Paris).  So this is very accurate.  He’s saying, until you get rid of … when the black hole disappears – the bottom of the prison, the solitary isolation ward  – (when)] the black hole disappears, then we’ll have domesticate peace.  Meanwhile I’ve got this black hole.

There’s all this new sociology of prisons, I guess, Foucaults books.  Does anybody know anything about that?  Well, one contention that (Timothy) Leary has made is that the black hole of solitary confinement and prisons (is) the kind of terror threat that keeps everybody in line in any society.  Well, on the surface it is, yeah.  Be good or you go to (prison).  Break the law you’ll go to prison.  But the sort of instrument of terror to keep any society together – the psychological symbol – is not the police and it’s not the armies, it’s the prisons.  And as long as you have the prison and the death penalty particularly, as long as you have that curse at the center of the society, everybody’s going to be scared.  I think Huey Newton in the ’60s and Leary and a few others were making the theory that it was not merely the prison but it was the center of the prison, (and) the terror center of the prison was the hole.  The Hole.  Isolation. Where people were just dumped in tiny isolation chambers.  That ultimate total black isolation – the void at the center of the bottom of the prison.  The presentation of this image of the void at the bottom of the prison was, strangely enough, the ultimate fear image, the terror image that kept everybody in line.  I remember Leary writing a lot about that when he was in Folsom (Prison).

So here Blake is saying, and the King himself is saying, till the prison departs, I’m not going to send my army (away). The prison and the army are related -they’re like electric poles that keep the entire magnetic hypnosis of society together.

Student: Electromagnetic.
AG: Huh?
Student: Electromagnetic.
AG: Yeah electromagnetic network.
Student: Field.
AG: Yeah.

The actual history of that scene (is) the King refuses, then, on line two-hundred-fifty-five  –  “Like the morning star…” –  (See, the commons hears that)- “Like the morning star arising above the black waves, when a shipwreck’d soul sighs for morning,/Thro’ the ranks, silent, walk’d the Ambassador..” – (That was Abbe de Sieyes, who’d made this speech, and it was refused.  The speech saying (to) dismiss your armies so the people can take over) – “… walk’d the Ambassador back to the Nation’s Assembly..” – (The People’s Assembly) – “… and told/ The unwelcome message; silent they heard; then a thunder roll’d round loud and louder,/ Like a voice from the dim pillars Mirabeau rose; the thunders subsided away”

Mirabeau calls for Lafayette to come out with the People’s Army.Student: He’s one of the revolutionaries?

AG: Yeah, Lafayette was at that point in charge of the army of the revolution.  Are you at all interested in hearing what the historical actuality of that moment is?

Students: Yes.

AG:  So you get where Blake’s symbolism comes from.

There was a very funny business.  The Duke of Orleans speech you remember. He was a good guy.  And then we had the citizen equalitative speech by Sieyes, I think it was.  No Orleans.  It was Orleans’s speech, wasn’t it?  The one about … let’s see.  The earliest speech … right.  It was Orleans’s speech:  “Go merciless man into enter the infinite labyrinth of another’s brain.”  And then Sieyes speech about political liberty.  And then the King refused to get rid of the army.  This is page one-seven-one of Erdman’s (Blake) Prophet Against Empire

{Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-seven-and-a-half minutes in]

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