Allen Ginsberg lecturing to Naropa students in 1979 on William Blake (The Four Zoas) continuing from here
Student: You mentioned, you correlated eternity with a willingness to sacrifice the self or transcend the self in some way, but….
AG: Yeah, that was a line … “Such are the laws of eternity that each shall mutually annihilate himself for the other’s good.”
Student: I see something in Blake that seems to me pretty novel, and I wonder if you’ve perceived this, because in Plato, when he talks about the forms – beauty or eternity or truth – it’s not particular at all, it’s not individual. And similarly then that’s a kind of disembodied human truth. And a similarly when (D.H). Lawrence and (John) Locke, when they talk about blood consciousness or a kind of truth force, that’s also impersonal… it’s not individuated in any way.
AG: It’s abstract. Certainly it’s abstracted in Lawrence.
Student: Now, here, (S. Foster) Damon quotes Blake saying, “Each Identity is Eternal … it retains its own Individuality.” “In Great Eternity (each) particular Form gives forth or Emanates its own peculiar Light.” Now how would you interpret that? It seems like a kind of (personal) symbolism.
AG: Well, it’s a very common conception, of the luminousness of present time when any notion of another universe is abandoned and one is completely immersed in being here now, as the phrase goes. So there’s that quality of luminousness, which is taken on by objects when we give them complete attentiveness. When we become completely absorbed in the space where we are.
Student: The way you’re talking about it makes it seem very compatible with Buddhist thought.
AG: Well, the word “luminous” is a Buddhist word, characteristic of objects shining in their own light, when they are no longer considered symbols of another universe, but things in themselves. Or seen in themselves for their own character. Similar to William Carlos Williams, actually. It’s somewhere in between Williams’s pragmatism and (a) Buddhist notion. “No ideas but in things.” Or (Ezra) Pound – “The natural object is always the adequate symbol.” Or (Chogyam) Trungpa, (Rinpoche), “Things are symbols of themselves.” [Allen is quoting from his collection of aphorisms, Mind Writing Slogans, here]
Well, if things are symbols of themselves, then they become luminous in that sense. So luminosity is one of the characteristics of unobstructed attention, which people report in a state of high consciousness: That with unobstructed attentiveness to a tree a sort of luminousness appears, in the sense that the view of the tree is not distracted by intervening thoughts, so that the tree speaks for itself. Or the tree indicates its own nature.
Does that make sense?
Student: Yeah, well, Allen, didn’t Charles Olson (have a similar thing about…
Student: …seeing the self as a….
AG: Pretty much everybody has that idea. But Blake is approaching it from a very weird way, because first of all he’s saying, the tree isn’t real. In other words, time and space, which contain the tree. But then later on, he will come back to the moment as being ultimate. It’s sort of how is he getting to the moment? How is he getting to the moment without clinging to it, without Urizenic zeroing in on it? And that might fit with the notion of annihilating one’s self for other’s good. That is, the willingness to not fixate, obsessionally, but allow to see through the eye and not with it, and allow the phenomenal universe as it stands to be itself, changing and dying, and allowing yourself to change and die within it. So not grasping. Not grasping for possession of the things of the imagination, of the world of the imagination. So that would fit in with the notion “He who binds to himself a joy/Does the winged life destroy/ He who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sun rise.” – In other words, the psychological approach to an eternal tree. I don’t know. Yeah?
Student: I was just going to say that I think that is the key to Blake, it is that everything is individuated..because there is an individuated eternity, which is totally itself… .
[Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg converse briefly off-mic – PO: Where is the key? –AG: Excuse me – PO: It’s going to take two minutes to fix it.– AG: Oh – PO: If you don’t have the keys to it.]
Student: (continuing) …and a totally eternal state, and that this is different, opposed to the philosophers who were popular in his day, who were looking for abstract qualities, you know, like…. And he says things somewhere (I think in the Annotations to Lavater) that if you take away from the rose’s redness, and from a tree its this-ness, in taking these qualities away you lose the eternal reality, or archetype, of the rose itself. An archetype of the rose entails the complete individuality of the rose, so it really is unusual in Blake’s day. I mean you’re pointing out the parallels in other philosophies, but the rational philosophy that dominated in the 18th century went the other way …
Student: … so he’s really trying very firmly to make his statement, you know, and trying to show that the thing lives on in its individuality, and, as you said, in its luminousness. It is an important concept, in my opinion.
Student: Because you get lost sometimes. You think, well, Enitharmon is Intellectual Beauty and you tend to do the same but he’s trying to prevent you from doing that – that is, abstract the qualities. So, whenever he hits you with an idea or an indication of the idea that these things aren’t abstracts, they’re individual realities, but they’re eternal. Then you have to come back to his self, you know, his own ego..
AG: The thing he was complaining about, the Urizenic fault, was the Newtonian mechanistic notion of being able to abstract qualities from things and analyze them down to idea. In a sense he’s pointing out the idea is the thing itself and you can’t separate the qualities, can’t take the redness from the rose and entertain it only as an abstraction. You’d actually have to directly experience the rose. Or “A rose is a rose is a rose.” So that finally comes back to 20th century Zen relativism, sort of. But the amazing thing about Blake was that in that rationalistic century he had broken through and saw things as they were.
But my amazement is (that) in order to build some kind of intellectual and poetic ladder for the mind to climb to get to that point of living in eternity’s sun rise by “kissing the joy as it flies” and not insisting on grabbing it, binding it to himself with analysis… See, it would be the analytic thing – “You say you love me. Why do you love me? Come on, tell me why you love me. I don’t believe you love me. Tell me why you love me, I want to know. I want to know all the reasons..” In other words, an actual separation from feeling in an attempt to supplant it by a rational and ordered consistency on keeping everything in words, basically, putting it all into words and transforming it into only words, (and not even words with feeling or affect in the tone but just mathematical or philosophical abstractions). Which is, again, the Urizenic tendency in politics or industry now, to conduct the entire Cold War as a matter of abstraction, without reference to the actual body or people’s feelings.
I guess the permanent thing about Blake, why he attracted people over and over, over the centuries, was that he broke through sophomoric notions of ideas that students had, or that poets had, and somehow got to present this-ness as flowering moment, unexplainable beyond that, but completely present.
to be continued
[Audio for the above can be found here beginning at approximately ten minutes and concluding at approximately nineteen-and-three-quarter minutes in]