Ginsberg on Blake continues – 75

Allen Ginsberg ‘s 1978 class on William Blake’s The Four Zoas continues from here

Student:  I understand, I don’t know any others, but I understand that the Apocalypse was a sort of a literary form in Alexandria.  There are lots of (tales of the) end and Bibles…

Student (2):  It’s specifically a Jewish literary form.
Student:  Yeah.
AG:  Really?
Student (2):  Yeah.
AG:  Just like Buchenwald!

Student (2):  (Actually,) they had that imagination and the apocalypse is right in the culture at that point.

AG:  Yeah.  Of course, we were talking originally about the Seven Eyes of God, when we were talking about that, when we were talking about Eternity and the Seven Eyes of God and some footnote reference of who met in the Council of Eternity, I read out that list that Foster Damon had in the Dictionary of the Seven Eyes of God being seven stages of error and intensification of opacity and misunderstanding until the suffering became so intense that there was no way out, hope and fear were given up and then there was a relief and liberation in the Ninth Book.

Student (2):  This reference….

AG:  That may be.. in terms of personal psychology.. I mean, that’s a bit like what it is.  You don’t get laid until you finally tried every avenue and finally, when you’re seventeen or fourteen or something, in desperation, leap out of yourself, right?  You know,  when you can’t finally make it in any direction, finally the mind gives up.  And that’s obviously the process of Zen sitting and koans, to exhaust any possible conceivable conceptual avenue until the mind leaps out of itself, or its frame.. [to Student]  I’m sorry?

Student (3):  I was just going to say here that “How is it we have walkd thro fires & yet are not consumed”…
AG:  Yeah.
Student (3):  …seems to be a reference to the trial that Nebuchadnezzar … put the four, the three Jews through (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), and they thought they were going to die, but the form of the fourth,  (when) Blake refers to Los as the form of the fourth…  he’s really referring to that, well, (to) the imagination which completes the whole picture. And then, no longer…  I mean, then the material sufferings are transcended.. So it’s like that situation.  They thought they were going to die. And suddenly there were four people there, not three – four.  The completion had occurred.
AG:  That’s in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace …
Student (3):  Yeah, that’s in …
Student (2):  The Book of Daniel.
Student (3):  Daniel.  Right… I had to think of it for a minute.
AG:  There was a fourth in the fire with them.
Student (3):  And the Book of Daniel is a proto-apocalyptic book, also … so that it’s very fitting that it should be in this chapter.  It follows that whole idea.  Of things going to worse.
AG:  This is the commonest idea in poetry –  only through time is time conquered.
Student (3):  Right.
AG:  We are redeemed from fire by fire.  In the Four Quartets,  (T.S.) Eliot has a long passage – this is the death of fire, this is the death of water, this is the death of air.) [Editorial note – ” The death of hope and despair/This is the death of air”..”..the vanity of toil/Laughs without mirth/This is the death of earth..”..”The marred foundations we forgot/ of sanctuary and choir/This is the death of water and fire”]

Student (3):  And just one more thing, is that the Last Judgement is so very, very important to Blake both visually and poetically. It’s like the pattern of so many of his poetic texts and also his visual representations and he makes statements about it in his book, about his drawings where he says, every time an individual rejects error and praises truth, a last Judgement passes upon that person.  It’s kind of like a pattern of coming to know something other than who you are, moving out of a bad dream into a reality.

Student (2):  One more thing about the Biblical tradition is that it’s the tradition which Blake writes, the English non-conformist tradition, the tradition of (John) Bunyan, (John) Milton, (Edmund) Spenser, and though Blake, didn’t know (William) Langland, this is more like Piers Plowman  than anything else, I think.. So that for them, you see, the idea that the apocalypse could happen in our own lives, that it could mean something individualized, psychology trauma and its resolution, or it could mean the end of history and time, in Blake’s world a very sort of familiar idea.

AG:  I think Charles Olson said that the 20th century was the end of history, since an Absolute had been reached in terms of destruction.
Student:  Yeah.
AG:  And also in terms of mind-alteration – both L.S.D. and the nuclear bomb he was seeing as putting an end to history.
Student:  History as we knew it….
AG:  Yeah, well.  History, I guess,  as our forefathers thought of it.
Student:  People believing that we were at the end of history is a very long history.
AG:  Yeah.  And why not?  Why not?

Student:  Can I say one more thing?
AG:  Why not?
Student:  Tradition, because I started out really resisting (Harold) Bloom, because that’s what I do, and Northrop Frye, who also does … says … and it seems to tell you, Well, in order to understand this you have to read all these other books. And that’s what these professors tell us.  And in a sense that’s true, but I want to say that what happens is that if you are in the privileged state of having read these other books, that the reality of Blake reflects back on the other books that you’ve read, so that you knew … you knew Milton in Milton’s Book Two of “Paradise Lost you knew Satan’s flight out of hell.  Now you see it in a different shape of Urizen exploring the den,and it isn’t just that Blake thought, “Well, I’ll take that and use it”, it’s that it reflects back on it and changes your own understanding of Milton.
AG:  Yeah, he’s interpreting Milton.
Student:  And that’s …
AG:  Or interpreting Milton’s unconscious, really.
Student:  … and that’s the way the Bible works all along, too, from Exodus to Ezekiel to the Psalms to the Book of Daniel and then to the New Testament where it’s … the Bible keeps reading itself, and it seems to me that Blake is an extension of that process …
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  … of rereading the past, rereading history according to a present experience and the hope of Revelation.
AG:  Yeah, actually he’s reinterpreting the Bible, or giving insight into how you could interpret the Bible.
Student:  Basically a Gnostic interpretation of the Bible story, wherein Elohim might not be … actually reversing the interpretation of Elohim as…. [tape cuts out here..then continues}
AG: … (so the) notion (of) the universe founded on the assumption that the creator is that good guy that made the Garden of Eden and put us all here and did us a favor..

Shall we get back into the forest?  I think the trees are interesting, actually.
So, Urizen got mad and cast Ahania to earth….
Student:  What page is this?
AG:  Three-twenty-two.  It’s more or less where we left off…

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighteen-and-three-quarter minutes in  and concluding at approximately thirty-and-three-quarter minutes in.  

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