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Title: 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
Author: Kittel, Harald Alfred
ISNI:       0000 0001 3600 6242
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 1977
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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.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature