Allen Ginsberg on the Proverbs of Hell from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” continues.
“The soul of sweet delight can never be defiled”
AG: That’s not.. Well, has anybody seen a “soul of sweet delight” recently defiled? – Yeah, I wonder of that’s true. (William) Burroughs has an opposite statement. He says, “Human beings can’t be expected to act like human beings under non-human circumstances”, or “under inhuman circumstances”. That’s an interesting.. I was thinking about that earlier today – “Human beings can’t be expected to act human under inhuman circumstances” (and he was thinking of, like, putting metal pans on the head and beating them, as a form of torture practice, from Hungary to China, you know, in order to reduce the brains to gelatinous mass because of the vibrations under metal, a metal drum continually beaten, would actually reduce the nervous system, the cells of the nerves to, and the brain too to jelly
Student: And what would the purpose be?
AG: To prove that “the soul of sweet delight” can “be defiled” ! – to send a shudder of thrilling fear into the entire consciousness of all sentient beings. I was wondering if Burroughs’ apothegm was true or not. I’d always assumed that it was so, as a big excuse for being a coward – Well, if they really tortured you and put dentists’ drills up your teeth, they got at the nerves, and gave you acid, and put electrodes in the back of your brain, and – what to do with the rats, you know? – open up your brain and put them in, and sutured you in, and connected you up with wires, and took you apart in a robot room – could you be “defiled”? – Is there..
Well, of course, he’s assuming there’s a soul to begin with, that’s another thing. He’s assuming an entity called the soul, which then can’t be defiled (or, if there is an entity, it probably can be defiled). But there’s another view which is the soul is a non-entity, that is it is not an entity but is a collection of disparent appearances – sight, sound, smell taste touch, or “eyes of fire, nostrils of air, mouth of water, beard of earth” – a composite, a compound, an aggregate, of heaps of appearences (or skandas, as it’s called in Buddhism), the aggregates, or heaps, or the aggregates of phenomenal flashes of all kind. That would leave out the soul there.
Student: (Was Burroughs thinking that if they did that to you, you would either be… Was he was thinking that possibly, that if you turned into a spirit, the ghost could be like that and you could still be like that, and..)
AG: No, he was saying that.. You could.. Burroughs, see, was not sure whether there was a soul or not. That’s really interesting. We’ve been talking about that over the last year, Because I’ve been taking the non-theistic Buddhist point of view that there is no anatta (“an” – no, or, like, “a“-theist, “an“-atman, atman, soul, you know? – ultimate essence?) So Burroughs, because of his cut-up procedure, I always thought, I assumed he thought , “Well, anything that occurred, you can cut it up, and so therefore you’re liberating yourself from sensations and “apparent sensory phenomena” (quote-unquote – apparent sensory phenomena), therefore he has the same position that of open blue space as being the ulimate mind. In other words, no person, no solidification, no reference point. However, recently, last year, he was standing around his apartment, muttering about the trouble with the radiation is (that) it is a killer of souls, quoting (J.Robert) Oppenheimer’s first remarks when he saw the Atomic explosion at Los Alamos, (or wherever – where was the first one? – I forgot). So Burroughs was theorizing that the trouble with the nuclear technology, nuclear mill, the nuclear mill, the trouble with that is that at that high level of heat or intensity there may be some rareified thing, some rareified emanation of the body which might be equivalent to a soul. And that the trouble of dying from atomic blast, as distinct from a knife, bad pork, falling off a roof, sinking in the ocean, shot in the heart, the trouble with the atomic is that it might burn up the soul, burn up that little evanescent material, figment. Well, it’s just an interesting idea.
However, so from that point of view, Burroughs says human beings “can’t be expected to be human under inhuman circumstances” (like, you take a fish out of the water, he can’t breathe – fish can’t be expected to behave like fish if you take them out of the water. Fish can’t be expected to behave like fish in non-fishy circumstances. So, human beings put under the ocean. Or in a situation of total pain. However Blake says, “The soul of sweet delight can never be defiled”, which is a declaration of independence from the vegetable universe (“vegetative universe”, as he speaks of it). He’s also saying, ultimately, in the plot of the…of competition for power between the body and reason and the imagination and emotions, the one person that never gets totally done in by Urizen (who does in the body, and does in the emotions),the one figure who never gets fully done is is Urthona (the imagination, poetic imagination) because the whole point of the imagination is that it’s free from fixed body form, it can go anywhere, it’s totally inquisitive, it pervades all space. It can create any kind of universe. It’s free from all rules. It’s free from the limitations of “the horses of instruction” (or it’s free from the instructions of the horses), free from the mill, free from the grip of the mill, is not bound by the horizon (of reason). So, therefore, “The soul of sweet delight can never be defiled”, because it does not exist in the.. because “defilement” is only another boundary, or condition, whereas imagination, Blake keeps saying, is totally unconditioned, absolute. Or, no matter what happens to body, emotions, and mind, the imagination will still, like water going downhill, find some way through the barriers, just by its very nature. He says! – Can you believe it?
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-five minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-seven minutes in