Blake – Recommended Reading – The Book of Urizen

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake continues and concludes from here

AG: And so our next task, our next trip, will be to complete an analysis of Urizen.  The inside of the human brain. How did it get to be a separated consciousness?  And Blake, if you’ll try and read this (The Book of Urizen) what you’ll find is that Blake goes through it chapter by chapter, over and over, making use of a series of different psychological schemes to account for the birth of ego, (and that they actually do relate to the< Five Skandha Principles, for those of you who are Buddhist).  You’ll find that they follow exactly from alienation to sensation to reaction to conception to mentation.  That is to say:

“Lo, a shadow of horror is risen/In Eternity! Unknown, unprolific!/Self-closd, all-repelling: what Demon/Hath form’d this abominable void/This soul-shudd’ring vacuum? -Some said/”It is Urizen”, But unknown, abstracted/Brooding secret, the dark power hid..”

So that’s the first shot there.  Just from somewhere ego arises, or from somewhere selfhood arises –   “a shadow of horror”; “Unknown, unprolific!” –  it can’t give birth to anything.  It’s all shadow, it’s all idea, it’s all thought-forms.

What.. “form’d this abominable void/… soul-shudd’ring vacuum?”  A “soul-shudd’ring vacuum.”  Reason, or Vajra principle gone mad – “soul-shudd’ring vacuum” – Some said/”It is Urizen.”

So that actually is really great because it presents primitive Western mind’s first psychedelic probe into the self-created unborn nature of self-hood (and) ego.  It’s the first psychological examination of phenomena from the inside which presumes that phenomena rise from our projection rather than we are formed by external conditions.  So, in a sense, it’s the first outright Gnostic psychological explanation of consciousness done in a poem form, at least in English, and it’s a fantastic breakthrough, mentally.

Bring my bow of burning gold, bring me my …” -what is that?  “I shall not cease from mental fight” – (intellectual labor. -it’s the first sort of triumph of his intellectual battle, after all this somewhat vague assembly of symbols, finally he does the real dark deed and the toughest thing possible and tries to look directly at Urizen and describe Urizen and where he comes from and how it is born.  And he does it in a series of books over and over from different angles, including a description of the growth of the eyeballs, and the growth outward of the nerves of the ear, and then the growth from that of the great whirlpools of the universe that they create.

So it’s actually a very great book.  It just needs a little penetration and a little work on it.  I’ve gone over it a number of times so that I know it more or less inside out and can expound it.  But I wish you’d read it first and read whatever footnote stuff you can on it.

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-six minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape.

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