Allen Ginsberg’s 1979 Naropa class on William Blake’s The Four Zoas continues from here
AG: [reading from Blake] “The threads are spun & the cords twisted & drawn out; then the weak/Begin their work; & many a net is netted; many a net/Spread & many a Spirit caught, innumerable the nets”
In The Song of Los, (line thirty-three of Africa), he has the line – “Churches, Hospitals, Castles, Palaces,/ Like nets and gins and traps.” ‘Many a net” is spread & “many a spirit” is caught by Churches, by Hospitals, by Castles, many a spirit is caught by Palaces.” So it is the social institutions which are the nets and gins and traps. “Many a net (is) spread and many a spirit (is) caught.” I’m a spirit caught in the net of Vajrayana Buddhism.
“… innumerable the nets/Innumerable the gins & traps; & many a soothing flute/Is form’d & many a corded lyre, outspread over the immense/ In cruel delight they trap the listeners….” – (The very ear traps the listener).
So, now, (the) next interesting shot is the great architecture – ” Then rose the Builders” – ” First..” (Urizen) – “…the Architect divine his plan/Unfolds, The wondrous scaffold..” – (Now we’re actually going to build the city of London, in a sense. Or it’s the Industrial Revolution and the building of the human city as we see it, the building of the Boulder Mall..)
“Quadrangular the building rose the heavens squared by a line” – (that’s amazing!) – “…The wondrous scaffold reard all round the infinite/Quadrangular the building rose the heavens squared by a line.” – (Some people interpret that line as being the horizon, or a byproduct of the senses, anyway, but the thing that I notice about that is every time I’m in a large city, looking up through the canyons of the buildings, “the heavens” (are) “squared by a line”. Every time one wanders throughout a modern megalopolis, with a sense of the smallness of one’s self against the Empire State Building, or the Flatiron Building, or some copper tower, if you run your eye along the rooftop of the building, that’ll be the scale from yourself to the building, but then above that building top will be an infinite space of the sky. And there’s always a funny kind of subjective shiver when you see “the heavens squared by a line”.)
Student: Well, isn’t it also (circumlocution)
AG: Oh, yes.
Student: A line drawn around everything.
AG: Yes. Definitely. I was just thinking in terms of architecture itself and a vision of the human city, that the sense of total openness and infinite spaciousness that you get in nature (or the sense of organic line in nature – curlicue, or arabesque, or leaf), in cities, is reduced to a square line, from the square buildings and square blocks. And that.. I think somebody has recently been writing about how that conditions our.. conditions human perception, finally, or social perception. Things are not trustworthy unless they’re straight-lined, set four-square.
Nam June Paik (sitting in the class and filming the class): You know, Allen, New York (City)(first made their) New York City Plan, in 1811.
AG: Uh-huh. Around the time that this poem was written. A little after..
Nam June Paik: They ordered a-hundred-and-fify streets.
Nam June Paik: Yeah, they ordered the whole thing on the map.
AG: Probably influenced by the rationalistic philosophy of their day. First Street, Second Street, Third Street, Fourth Street, Fifth Street, Sixth Street, Seventh Street, Eighth Street, Ninth Street, up to One-hundred-and-fiftieth Street – “The heavens squared by a line”.
Well, all I’m pointing out is that I think almost everybody has had that vision in the middle of the city, at one time or another, as contrasted with nature. And the way you get out of the mental box in the city is, when you lift your eyes to the building tops and then above the building tops and your eyes enter into the skies and into heaven, there is a sudden realization that you’re standing on a planet – Earth – in the midst of vast solar system, rather than standing in the middle of New York City, or San Francisco, or Boulder. Has everybody had that experience? Of looking above the buildings? So I thought this was a great way of pointing out the archaic trauma of 1811.
Student: It’s interesting that, back on the other page, “many a pyramid is born.”
Student: (and here) Quadrangular buildings..
Student: …getting more and more lines …
Student: … to hem us in.
AG: Right, and then his next line is – “Trigon & cubes divide the elements infinite bonds…”
My note here, as I was reading this, is this reminds me of what London’s skies look like, when you go around London. Particularly, because the roofs are not so high in London, generally, that you don’t continually glimpse the eternity of the sky above the building-tops (whereas in New York you even sometimes get lost in Wall Street, or, these days, on Sixth Avenue, and on Park Avenue. Very often you really get lost inside the surround of the buildings and don’t get to glimpse the space above). So I was thinking London’s skies (and) buildings probably (are) very appropriate for Blake.. – Yeah?
Student: Unless you’re in the middle of the Parliament buildings..
AG: Pardon me?
Student: I said, unless you’re in the middle of the Parliament buildings in London.
Student: . ..(and then you see a spread)..
AG: Yeah. In the middle of the Parliament building?.. Inside it?
AG: Yeah. Inside the Parliament building. I forgot what that looks like. Well, it’s a big square room. It’s a big space. I seem to remember. A big square wooden room, as I remember. Stone, I guess.
Student: Doesn’t he mean the courtyard?
AG: Do you mean the courtyard? We were just there about a month ago. That’s what I’m trying to recollect. (I’m trying to recollect what point you’re looking from).
Steven Taylor (Allen’s guitarist and traveling companion is present in the class): You mean inside the courtyard, inside …
Steven Taylor …buildings on four sides.
AG (to Steven Taylor): Where was that? I don’t remember that
Steven Taylor: It’s like this (sic) … and you’re inside. We didn’t go inside.
Steven Taylor There’s a courtyard inside (and it just looks) rectangular …
Steven Taylor: (and) there’s a picture of the sky.
AG (continues reading from Blake):
Trigon & cubes divide the elements in finite bonds/Multitudes without number work incessant/ the hewn stone/Is placd in beds of mortar mingled with the ashes of/Vala” (“Mingled with the ashes of Vala” – See Vail, Colorado. (to make a pun!) Some friends of ours went to see Vail the other day – Vala’s Veil -Vail, Colorado. Nature overbuilt with condominiums, totally “the heavens squared by a line/ Trigon & cubes divide the elements in finite bonds.”….”… mortar mingled with the ashes of Vala” – ( ashes of nature. or ashes of material nature, or the Urizenic architectural Faustian push energy. Conspicuous consumption finally reduces even the seductive beauty of nature into ash).
“Severe the labour, female slaves the mortar trod oppressed..” – (So it’s tyranny, basically, that’s creating the city. So this coincides both with a psychological situation of reason’s tyranny over the emotions, as well as the tyrant’s tyranny over the slaves to build his pyramid, or manhood, or power, or ego, or self-hood, or Zodiac – as in the next line -“Twelve halls after the names of his twelve sons composd” – (That’s often taken to represent the Zodiac)).
to be continued..
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-nine minutes in