The Fall of Urizen

If, as recommended in my previous post, you have not had a chance to listen to the CBC Radio interview with Chris Hedges on the imminence of revolution in the United States (and elsewhere),  please do so. Otherwise, not much of what I will write here will make much sense. Hedges is being neither alarmist nor a fantasist. Nor is he a Cassandra, for reasons I gave there and which I will supplement here. The interview with Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current runs 25 minutes. But probably 95% of that interview could be edited out in order to distill the two essential and crucial points that were, nonetheless, never made completely explicit in the interview.

That first crucial point is this: a state that adopts an adversarial stance and attitude towards its citizenry or public is doomed.

The second crucial point is this: the states of the Late Modern Era have adopted an adversarial stance and attitude towards their citizenry and public.

These two points, although never explicitly stated, are the gist of Hedge’s argument about the imminence of revolution. I will, once again, call upon Rosenstock-Huessy to bear witness to these facts about the contemporary state model. In his all-important essay, “Farewell to Descartes“, which was originally the concluding chapter to his study of the European Revolutions in Out of Revolution, Rosenstock-Huessy observed this about the onset of revolutions,

“The four hundred years’ dominance of physics inevitably leads up to the social revolution of the It’s, the “quantity” into which the workers are degraded by a mechanistic society. The politics and education of the last centuries proved a disaster whenever they tried to establish the abnormal and most inhuman extremes of Ego and It as norms. An imagination which could divide the world into subject and object, mind and matter, will not only accept the cog in the machine with perfect equanimity, but will shrink even less from the cold scepticism of the intellectual. His disinterested yet self-centred attitude, typical of the deraciné, will be thought of as normal.

Moreover, when humankind approaches a development by which one of its members, a class or a nation or a race, is to be enslaved and made into an It, a mere stock of raw material for labour, or freed to become, as a group or class, the mere tyrannic Ego—a revolution will arise and destroy these extremes, idealistic subject, the Ego, and materialistic object, the It, are both dead leaves on the tree of mankind. Our survey of revolution shows that they are both insupportable extremes. The positions of Ego and It are deadening caricatures of man’s true location in society. The great European family of nations was not concerned with the production or fostering of ideals or material things, but with the reproduction of types of the everlasting man, such as daughter, son, father, sister, mother and, of course, their combinations.”

This is the same situation that Chris Hedges sees now existing in the United States, and not just there. This adversarial stance of the state towards its publics is now evident in Canada and the UK as well, although I can’t speak much for other jurisdictions besides the obvious situation in the Middle Eastern nations. But when Hedges speaks of the weapons of empire — both material and psychological — being turned around to police the public or the “homeland”, this has the same significance. The weapons of propaganda and “perception management”. along with “mass surveillance”, so favoured by political elites, parties, corporations and con-men belong, essentially, to the weapons of psychological warfare.

Corporate and political elites in the United States (and elsewhere) have adopted an adversarial stance and posture towards the citizenry. In those terms, the situation described by Hedges corresponds to the pre-revolutionary situation that Rosenstock-Huessy discovered in his indepth study of the history of revolutions. I would say that Hedges is more probably correct than not in his estimation of the situation. Moreover, it’s a pretty persistent theme, too, in contemporary film and literature and it drives many a conspiracy theory.And, as Hedges points out, it’s when enough of the “foot-soldiers” who enforce the will of the adversarial state refuse to assume an adversarial stance towards the public, that the adversarial regime weakens and collapses. It becomes “illegitimate”. This is the meaning of Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and many others. It’s why Chalmers Johnson declined to remain “a speer-carrier for empire”. There are far deeper undercurrents at play here than what you see or hear in the media.

So, those who have not been long-time readers of The Chrysalis may be puzzled by the title of this post and the reference to “the fall of Urizen”. Following the poet William Blake, I use “Urizen” to describe what we might call “the ruling spirit of the age” or the Zeitgeist. Although the meaning and origin of the name “Urizen” (who is one of the four “Zoas” of Blake’s mythology and fourfold vision) is in dispute, I tend to think it as being a contraction of the term “Universal Reason”. In Blake’s mythology, Urizen is the false and mad god and a tyrant, and is called by many other names by Blake such as “Jehovah”, “Ancient of Days”, “Nobodaddy”, “Single Vision”, and so on. I have used “Urizen” mainly to describe what Jean Gebser calls “the mental-rational consciousness structure now functioning in deficient mode”.

It’s ironic indeed, that so many people confuse Blake’s depiction of Urizen as “The Ancient of Days” with “God”. That was none of Blake’s intention. Just the opposite, in fact. Here’s his by now very familiar portrait of Urizen,

Urizen -- Architect of the Ulro,

Urizen — Architect of the Ulro, “Ancient of Days”

And here he is again as a frieze over the entrance to the General Electric building,

Blake's Urizen over the GE building entrance

Blake’s Urizen over the GE building entrance

Ironies abound at “the end of history”.

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3 responses to “The Fall of Urizen”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    By the way, it just occurs to me that if you want to understand what Blake means by “Urizen” (at least, in Urizen’s negative aspect, for the Zoa also has a vital positive aspect as well), Ginsberg’s Moloch in his poem “Howl” is probably a very accurate rendering of Urizen.

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179381

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Soulless work stifles and dies and this is clear from the demise of our mechanistic civilization. First it pollutes other before it dies and Irak is only one example of the American exported pollution, only we can not tell when? Voices of doom is everywhere and reversal effect is already at work. The divine force is multi-functional and does not confine itself to one manifestation, and that is why all sane people are crying for integrality that is integrity, that is for human multi-functionality in order to retrieve himself from the single vision he fell in. God is aware and does not like lies and injustice. I do not need to read many books to know oppression and misdeed, it is clear and can see its ugly face everywhere. Only god saves us. It is frightening how complete is the oblivion.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    Urizen’s diet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is “profit motive.”

    Recently, I attended a conference, where, in my category of presentations – half a dozen in all – I was the only presenter who was not selling anything because everything I had was based on an open source software. The other five presenters in the category had developed and licensed their own software and were there to demonstrate and market it.

    I am trying to read through “Walden” at the same time I am reading through “The Anti-Christ.” I came across this illuminating excerpt by Henry Thoreau:

    “To my astonishment, I was informed on leaving college that I had studied navigation! – why, if I had taken one turn down the harbor I should have known more about it. Even the poor student studies and is taught only political economy, while that economy of living which is synonymous with philosophy is not even sincerely professed in our colleges. The consequences of that while he is reading Adam Smith, Ricardo, and say, he runs his father in debt irretrievably.” – Walden, chapter on “Economy”, page 49.

    So, a huge blow to Urizen will come when the profit motive proves to be deficient, totally inadequate, and even stupid.

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