The Four Zoas – Ginsberg on Blake continues – 1

William Blake (1757-1827)

Allen Ginsberg’s William Blake instruction. We’ve been taking a break from transcription  but picking it up from here 

The next  (August 3, 1979) class at Naropa begins with William McKeever, a Naropa Institute official, making a fundraising appeal directly to the students. This takes up approximately the first twenty-five minutes of the class, then….

AG:  So.  We were analyzing … Yes..  Oh..
Student:  Does anybody not have the versification of English poetry (hand-out)?
AG:  That’s an accumulation of papers I’ve worked on over the last few years, sort of getting together.  I learned most of my counting of accents from actually the book that I’ve xeroxed. And then a couple of years ago I ran into a Greek dictionary which gave a complete outline of the Greek meters, which is really amazing.  So those four-beat meters.  You got that?
Student:  (Is that printed up individually somewhere?)
AG:  No, it’s an old book – an old high school (textbook) or an anthology of American and British literature that was used in Montclair State Teachers College by my brother in 1939.  Actually, I should get the citation for that.  I’ll look it up (and) bring it in.  So that covers everything from Greek through Western through Free Verse.

But I’d like to get on to the text, to page nine of The (Four Zoas) on (page) three hundred of the Erdman/Bloom edition (of The Poetry and Prose of William Blake), because we got bogged down in the text a little bit, and we were analyzing,

“And then they wanderd far away she sought for them in  vain.” – The septenary – “In weeping blindness stumbling she follow’d them o’er rocks & mountains/Rehumanizing from the Spectre in pangs of maternal love/Ingrate they wanderd scorning her drawing her Spectrous Life..”

Now, what is this Spectre?  We’ve touched on the Spectre before but I was checking out something to make it a little clearer, so, from (S.Foster Damon’s (A Blake Dictionary), he points out, “Being separated from its Emanation, the Spectre is completely unable to sympathize with any other person, and therefore becomes self-centered Selfhood.”

So, in this case, Enion is the Spectre of Tharmas, the body. The body, Tharmas, was the hero.  The first person.  The first of the four Zoas that Blake introduced.  The original parent power of the four Zoas.  Enion’s lust or energy desire – erotic desire – separated out from himself and split.  Tharmas’s energy desire separated out into an Emanation, called Enion, and left him a Spectre.  Left him a shadow of his original self, so Damon says, “For the Selfhood is that selfish ‘superiority complex’ which is determined to be the God of the universe.”  Which declares itself as the ultimate power.

“The Spectre is ruthless in getting its way,(and) cares nothing for the Individual it obsesses:  it will drive him into unhappiness, disaster, (and) even suicide.” –  Thus Don Juan or Casanova – the macho lover separated from his Emanation will be driven to unhappiness, disaster and even suicide in endless philandering love affairs chasing his lost Emanation.

Then there’s a famous quatrain Blake wrote – “Each Man is in his Spectre’s power/Untill the arrival of that hour/When his Humanity awake/And cast his Spectre into the Lake.”

The negation is the Spectre –  the negative, or that quality of grudging negativity.  Reasoning power.  Usually embodied as false rationalistic power.  The kind of reasoning power that actually is kind of Spectral when you come to think of it, such as the reasoning over, “Well, let’s see, if you kill a hundred million people with the nuclear warfare, that’s an acceptable loss.  Two hundred million may still be an acceptable loss.”  Herman Kahn, in the great spectral book on thinking about the unthinkable, recently had been checking out among the generals and chief warriors what is an unacceptable loss of human life in a nuclear war.  And it’s generally agreed that the complete destruction of everybody is unacceptable!  No, there’s some argument about it, because there is a device – the Doomsday Device – where, if the enemy attacks us, automatically and without any choice, a button (will) be triggered off that will destroy completely the enemy and have enough (power) to blow up the entire world.  And there was a…. [tape ends abruptly here, and then continues]…(an) (acknowledgment) that if anybody would start a war then “the whole shit-house would go up in chunks”, as (William) Burroughs says. However, that was never done entirely, though something approaching that was arranged, in terms of the number of bombs. It was decided that that was not an acceptable loss.

So then there was a lot of discussion in (the) Pentagon and the Rand Corporation and (the) Hudson Institute (about) exactly how many hundred million people was acceptable loss.  Finally, among the military, there was a general consensus that half the world’s population, or under half the world’s population, might be considered an acceptable loss.  A hundred-million, two-hundred-million, five-hundred-million, a billion, acceptable.  Over a billion people lost in the Great War might not make the war worthwhile, though there was still a lot of argument between the one and two billion.  Over two billion is half the human universe…  So that would be known as … ‘The Negation is the Spectre, the Reasoning Power of Man –  this is a false Body, an Incrustation over my Immortal Spirit, a Selfhood which must be put off & annihilated….” –  (That’s from Milton) – ‘The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man, & when separated from Imagination and closing itself as in steel in a Ratio of the Things of Memory …” –  (Like, “Well, in the old days they used to be able to have a fire and destroy the population, now we oughta be able to do something like that with this atom bomb”) –  “… It thence frames Laws & Moralities to destroy the Imagination, the Divine Body, by Martyrdoms & Wars.” –  (So, if you want to understand Blake’s concept of the Spectre –  i.e., a form of Rationalism divorced from the body, divorced from imagination and divorced from heart – the modern military spectral reasoning is the… might be seen as the equivalent).

Student (Steven Taylor):  Excuse me, Allen?
AG:  Yeah.
Student (Steven Taylor):  Are you familiar with The Report from Iron Mountain  the book that was put out, I think, in ’68 {Editorial note 1967]?
AG:  I heard of it but I don’t know what it was.
Student (Steven Taylor):  It was the same reasoning, but it had nothing to do with war.  It said, if war was shut down, if there wasn’t war, within six months time, what would be… how would the United States function, along with other Superpowers, in the way that they could keep the same industrialized base…
AG:  Right.
Student (Steven Taylor): …And they came to the conclusions which were, to take the place of war (what) would be similar (would be what) the Christians and Germans did to the Jews and other people.
AG:  You have to invent some other torture.
Student (Steven Taylor):  (some other) reasons to destroy people…
AG:  Yeah.
Student (Steven Taylor):  … and blow up things and stuff like that.
AG:  Uh-huh.
Student (Steven Taylor):  And that was all comprised of the university professors, and people
AG:  Yeah.
Student(Steven Taylor): … from the Defense Department, Rand Corporation….

AG:  Was that a fiction or was that a… ?
Student (Steven Taylor):  No, that was true.  That was …
Student (2):  It’s really not established.
Student (Steven Taylor): … Gregory (Corso) turned me on to reading that book.
AG:  Yeah, I think I read there was some argument whether that was a parody or whether it was the real report by serious men of distinction.  Well, the reasoning of serious men of distinction all finally does wind up into this kind of an area of weirdness… As in Pentagon thinking as to what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable risk –

“The Spectre Selfhood is Satan.” [Allen continues quoting from S Foster Damon] –  (Satan’s characteristic is he sets himself up as God, to make like God-judgements over what will become of the entire race) –  “The Great Selfhood, (Satan), Worship’d as God by the Mighty Ones of the Earth.”

“Although the Spectre is the Rational Power, he is anything but reasonable”, Damon continues, “rather, he is a machine which has lost its controls and is running wild.” –  (We’ll have this in the Four Zoas at the beginning) –  “Thou knowest that the Spectre is in Every Man insane, brutish, deform’d, that I (the Spectre) am thus a ravening devouring lust continually craving & devouring.”

His craving is what?  His craving is for the lost Emanation, obviously.  It’s this big absence of half of himself – the feeling part, the imaginative part.  In Tharmas’s case – the body, whom we’re considering now – it’s for Eros, lusts, sexual desire, which somehow has split out from the body and he’s constantly chasing it.

So, all four Zoas, in the Four Zoas, have Spectres, even Urizen.  But they aren’t exactly rational.  It’s more like (the) compulsive or obsessional machinery of thinking.  “Thus the Spectre of Tharmas,” (according to Damon), “is the sexual potency of the male, which awakes” –  (and, as somebody pointed out, it’s a puberty problem) –  “the sexual potency which awakes and is divided at puberty, when the attraction and repulsion between the sexes begins.”

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape (the first approximately twenty-five minutes are William McKeever engaging the class in fund-raising discussion, then the class begins)  and concluding at approximately thirty-seven minutes in

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