The Fourfold Universe

William Blake’s world-view appears to be quite unique, not in every aspect, but for the most part. Much has been written about his work, and many connections have been drawn to other sources – Neoplatonism, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Milton, among others. Blake typically renders new ideas from traditional sources, and the resemblance is reduced. Then there are those he opposed, often quite strongly, such as Locke, Bacon, Newton, and Joshua Reynolds, who indirectly did their part to form his ideas. Yet Blake claims much of his work to come from a higher source, as though divinely inspired, such as in his writing about his magnum opus, Jerusalem:

I have written this Poem from immediate Dictation twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time without Premeditation & even against my Will. the Time it has taken in writing was thus renderd Non Existent. & an immense Poem Exists which seems to be the Labour of a long Life all producd without Labour or Study.

– William Blake in a letter to Thomas Butts, 25 April 18031

Does one call this poetic inspiration, automatic writing, or perhaps even divine channeling? The answer to this really depends what one means by these terms. I won’t go into this topic here, but instead return to my opening statement on the uniqueness of Blake’s world-view, and outline an aspect of that.

Four States of Vision

Many times Blake writes of four states of vision in describing his cosmo-psychology. The four states of Blake’s system are both states of human experience and worlds in themselves.

The highest state is that of fourfold vision, which is synonymous with the complete awareness of Eternity and Infinity. This is why it is the highest state. Fourfold vision is possible, Blake writes throughout his works, through the complete integration of the human being in Divine Imagination, which is the true human nature. Such a human is limited only by the limits they consciously apply to their own experiences. This is the creativity of the artist par excellence, with the universe and self as limitless canvas. Blake calls this state Eden.

Yet as most of us experience, we are not in this state. The capacity required for such a state is great, and most of us certainly fall short of this on many levels: emotionally, in our ideas of the world, in terms of character, and in our capacity to withstand the energy of sublime experiences. Blake declares that as humans we are closed up in narrowness, not living our full potential. This reduction is described through three progressively less-complete states.

I will start with the lowest, onefold vision. This is the completely myopic state of consciousness, where there is only one truth (one’s own perspective, obviously) and that truth is selfishly centred on using the world for one’s own gain and expansion of power. Onefold vision is a state of exclusive rationality, dominating over all other human faculties, leaving the mind cold, hard, and calculating – it reflects the extreme Newtonian mechanical universe; without life beyond mechanism, without heart or spirit. This is a state of blind narcissism and isolation from relationship. Onefold vision is called Ulro.

The next state, Twofold vision is the world of animal instinct. It is nature in its struggle for survival. In twofold vision, oppositions are in conflict. This is very much the struggle of human beings in the world, where things are gained and lost, where there is suffering followed by joy followed by suffering again, where winter is too cold and summer is too hot. It is a realm of passion and conflicting energies. Creation is possible but then destruction is inevitable. Obviously there can be no peace from here. Twofold vision is named Generation.

The state of threefold vision appears as a paradise compared to these previous two, though it is not the ultimate state. Threefold vision is where opposites attain to a state of balance, they become equal, and so loving relationship can ensure. Threefold vision is a pleasant paradise, a restful place of delights. But it is a state of sleepy delights; desire is fulfilled, pleasure, restfulness and contentment are natural, but there is nothing more than this. Blake calls this state Beulah.

Beulah is not the ultimate because it is constrained by pleasant conditions. And much like a good childhood, it is a sheltered paradise, sheltered from the various energies of wider experience. The difference then between threefold and fourfold vision is that fourfold vision contains threefold vision (innocence), but also twofold vision (experience) and onefold vision (rationality), whereas threefold vision cannot handle twofold or onefold states. A child in their innocence is peaceful in a pleasant garden but not so in a war-zone, for example, unless they are a remarkable child. Threefold vision is not complete.

Fourfold vision is the complete integration of the human being, which is the integration of all lower states. From the state of fourfold vision, all that can be possibly conceived by the Imagination can become reality. If you think about this, this can be a terrifying thought, particularly if you are not ready for what your own Imagination might came up with. So the human of fourfold vision, which is Eternal Man (the term man refers to the species, being gender inclusive), must be capable of withstanding such experiences. Fourfold vision is the capacity for all experience, an awareness that is boundless and undaunted by that boundlessness. Another way to say this is that fourfold vision is Heaven, Hell, and Earth as one – it is the human capacity for Infinity and its endless exploration. This is Blake’s equivalent of God, for to Blake, Humanity is God through their Divine Imagination.

That is a brief outline of Blake’s fourfold cosmo-psychology.

 

Notes:
1 – From a letter written to Thomas Butts, 25 April 1803. Keynes, Geoffrey, The Letters of William Blake, Macmillan 1956, p. 83, archive.org/stream/lettersofwilliam002199mbp/lettersofwilliam002199mbp_djvu.txt.

Inspiration and Memory

If something is to stand up to scrutiny then it must be rigorous from as many angles as possible. This is the idea behind tradition: things stick around because they can endure the test of time. And what is this test? Well that depends what something is subjected to, what differing perspectives a thing is exposed to, placed into dialogue or debate with. I am referring to intellectual structures here: opinions, ideas, ideologies, philosophies, symbols, and the traditions that (slowly) grow from these. Something becomes a tradition when enough people see the value in it to invest their energy in it over time, and it is not eroded by neglect, or destroyed by countering points of view, and so on.

Within academia, there are traditions, a variety of them, and academia itself is a tradition. Living traditions are both preserved and evolving; they are not static things, but it is important that they keep a memory of their roots alive within them, a continuity, to enable their full power.

William Blake wrote of the Daughters of Memory and the Daughters of Inspiration. These are both types of the Muse. The Daughters of Memory are the sustainers of tradition,  the Daughters of Inspiration renew tradition. Blake equated the Daughters of Memory with the Classical tradition of Ancient Greece and Rome. He attributed the Daughters of Inspiration to the Hebraic tradition, which he placed more value in, because it arose from the inspiration of divine prophecy; that is, tradition renewed from the imagination, not solely carried through time via memory. Blake saw memory as dead and imagination as alive.

This same pair is found within us individually. Our memory sustains our identity across our lives, yet if we only had memory and no fresh input into our lives, what would we be? Dead is one way to symbolise such a state. The other extreme, of being entirely inspiration and no memory, certainly seems a more alive state – though this is too alive, an inspired presence without any trail of memory, a kind of psychosis. There needs to be a balance; our identity must have continuity over time, but not to the point of stagnation in Time. We also need to receive a degree of influx from beyond the circuits of what we already know. We need the new and the old, in a dynamic and constructive harmony.

Blake, William. Elohim Creating Adam. 1795. Tate Britain, London.

Returning to tradition, which is the memory of culture, we can see that throughout history there has always been the struggle between preserving tradition and renewing it; between defending it and ending it; between the old and the new. Where this is balanced – that happy medium has enabled both cultural stability and creative development – then society can flourish. Yet where people adopt a one-sided stance, and it really does not matter which side they stand on, then others will feel compelled to disagree and adopt the opposing stance.  You become a stance, rather than a representation of all that a human can be. It is like if you’re in a row-boat with another person. If you stand to one side, the boat tips up, so then the other person needs to take the other side to balance it again. There is a distortion in the craft when this tipping game occurs, and many problems ensure when this game becomes the focus, rather than focusing on the best way to move forward – and who can agree on what is best anyway? Perhaps there is a natural balancing mechanism in humanity; perhaps we need dynamic differences amongst us in order to thrive, rather than the bland agreement of sameness.

All of this becomes very complex, but at the same time, ideas such as the drama between memory and inspiration which William Blake writes about become points of meta-focus. They enable us to look at the dynamics of ourselves, our relationships, the world and its history, and the lives of other people from a much more sophisticated position. This is not saying you have to agree with Blake, or anyone for that matter – you can form your own conclusions – but without ever examining these kinds of things, we may simply remain closed without realising it,  a person who is only to see “all things thro’ narrow chinks of his [or her] cavern” (MHH14)1. That cavern is our memory, and the light that enters it is inspiration. To find the balance here between the two is no simple thing. What is wonderful about this is that in life, in every moment, we face this choice. If we can only realise this.

 

Notes:
1 – MHH – William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, from Wikisource: en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Marriage_of_Heaven_and_Hell.

Blake’s Jerusalem

I now enter into a study of William Blake’s epic poem, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion.

William Blake’s Jerusalem plate 1, c. 1804-1820.

 

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