Time and the quest for knowledge in the poetry of William Blake: a discussion of Tiriel, the Book of Urizen, the Song of Los and the Four Zoas

Kittel, Harald Alfred (1977) Time and the quest for knowledge in the poetry of William Blake: a discussion of Tiriel, the Book of Urizen, the Song of Los and the Four Zoas. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The physical appearances and specific behaviour of
the characters in Tiriel , even the subtly ironical choice
of names, suggest Blake's persistent opposition to the
prevalent materialist-determinist philosophy of his day
and to any form of dogmatism. This opposition accounts
for the imaginative assimilation of originally unrelated
literary material within a new symbolic context. Human
misery does not originate from innate limitations or from
a primordial fall from Divine Grace. It is caused by the
immanent phenomenon of legalism in thought,, ethics and
aesthetics. Physical, intellectual and emotional
oppression deformation and corruption begin in childhood
and are primarily perpetrated and perpetuated by repressive
methods of education. Har and Tiriel are self-centred
promulgators and, together with the other members of their
family, warped products of Natural Law and Natural Religion.
Tiriel's quest demonstrates that an increase in empirical
knowledge is not necessarily accompanied by spiritual
progress, nor does it improve the human condition. The
complex vagueness of aspects of the poem contributes
toward a more definite shaping of Blake's thought and
symbolism in his later 'prophecies.'

Portions of The Book of Urizen may be read as satire
directed against the philosophic premises of seventeenth
and eighteenth-century rationalism in general, and of
Locke's theory of knowledge,. in particular. Theme,,
structure and symbolism of the poem reflect this opposition
and implicitly affirm Blake's own idealist metaphysics
of reality. Abstracted from Eternity, Urizen's
monolithic world has no extrinsic cause. It is a
projection of his limited self-awareness. However, his
solipsism fails to resolve the persistent contradiction
between ideality and reality, thought and thing, subject
and object. Los imposes temporal order and physical
form on Urizen's disorganised thoughts. The limited
anthropomorphic universe, produced by this intervention
is a prison for mind and body, thought and desire. Henceforth, sensation and reflection determine the will to act. Man has rendered himself dependent on the fictitious
'substance' of matter, and on an equally mysterious remote
deity. Both are only known by their 'accidents.' Natural
science and Natural Religion are their respective rationalised
form of worship. Both the pursuits of knowledge
and of happiness require the suspension of desire.
In The Song of Los Blake adopts a supra-historical
perspective. Representative personages from biblical
history, the history of religions generally,, philosophy
and science are associated by their common failure to sustain their visionary powers. Blake incorporates into
his poetic typology of decline,, structural elements
derived from biblical, classical and modern conceptions
of history without adopting their respective philosophical
backgrounds. The notion of scientific progress
and the advance of civilisation, concurrent with linear
historical process, are dismissed. The achievements of
empirical science, organised religion and autocratic
government--synonymous with intellectual and physical
oppression--kindle Orcls "thought creating fires."
Despite its apocalyptic connotations, his violent outburst
is of a highly ambivalent nature.

The Four Zoas adumbrates the spiritual history of
mankind. The poem is also a complex epic phenomenology
of the human mind. Eden is an aspect of ideal reality
where natural and human organisms are identified, and
where life is sustained by loving self-sacrifice. After
the Han's Fall elemental uproar reflects the mind's
regression to the level of a perturbed oceanic consciousness
which can no longer integrate the dissociated phenomena
of the generative world into a living human form,
thriving on love and understanding. Nature is transformed
into a self-engendering monster. The human mind is
englobed by the illusion of reality conceived as external
and material, and by a fatalistic view of temporal process.

Nevertheless, both misconceptions impose a degree of
stability and order on the anarchic forces released by
the cosmic catastrophe.
Man's Fall is due to the dissociation of reason and
affection. "Mental forms" are externalised and idolised.
Eventually, under Urizen's control, imaginative energy
in forced into rigid geometric form and regular motion.
The beautiful illusion of the pseudo-Platonic "Mundane
Shell" reflects the essential structure of Urizen's
intelligence. however, it does not provide a lasting
solution to the human dilemma. after the Fall. After the
collapse of his creation, Urizen explores his alien
environment by empirical means. he is a prisoner of his
own restricted conception of reality.
Unexpectedly, in Night VII(a), the Spectre of Urthona
and Los are transformed into labourers of the Apocalypse.
Regenoration starts with the annihilation of 'self.' Aware
of his responsibilities, Los builds Golgonoozat the city
of art. Emulating Christ's self-sacrifice, visionary
activity is a form of self-denial. Time becomes a function
of imaginative creativity. The imaginative world created
by Los incorporates visionary time and space. Natural
existence is realised as being endowed with regenerative
qualities. Los no longer rejects Orc but sublimates his
energies. Orc's destructive powers become an integral
aspect Of the Last Judgment.

Throughout Night VIII the providential and redemptive
character of mortal life is stressed. Plunging into "the
river of space" is a baptismal, if painful, experience.
Although guided by Divine Providence, individual man has
to work for his own salvation. In Night IX prophetic and
apocalyptic views are fused as Los acts in a temporal
context when tearing down the material, social and metaphysical
barriers to vision erected by Urizen. The
symbolism of Revelation is employed to adumbrate the
artist's ultimate task in history. History is not beyond
human control. Submission to the "Divine Vision" is an
active ethical achievement capable of generating a powerful
social dynamic, rather than tentatively removing it.
Tyranny is overthrown because once the visionary poet has
revealed its deceptions, mankind follows his example and
removes it physically. This optimistic vision of the Last
Judgment is an affirmation of the poet's absolute faith
in the power of inspired vision to regenerate and humanize
all aspects of life in this world.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 1977
Depositing User: Ms Mary Anne Meyering
Unique ID: glathesis:1977-5037
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2014 11:14
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2014 11:11
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/5037

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