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Chapter Eight - Twilight of the Psychopaths

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

To defend the Bible in this year 1798 would cost a man his life

The Beast & the Whore rule without controls

—Blake, On Watson

Introduction: Reason and insanity

The previous chapter has perhaps suggested something more “sinister” going on in human history, and inside the left hemisphere in particular. It examined hemispheric differences and focussed in particular on what McGilchrist calls the left hemisphere's “long-term agenda.” One of the characteristic features of Urizenic processes, I suggest, is an underlying and perhaps unconscious compulsion to interpret everything mechanically: to turn the experienced world into a mechanical model of itself, and thence to dehumanise the world. In a parody of right-hemispheric processes and values, it seeks to incarnate as a machine.

As the previous chapter also argued, in this the left hemisphere seems to operate as a sort of rationalised “version” of the right brain. It turns its metaphors into literalism, its bodies into machinery, and its right-hemispheric experience of eternity into an endless stretch of linear time. And the more it does this, the more it dominates as a mode, the more it mechanises and literalises. The hemispheres are not static: as the left brain becomes increasingly dominant and dissociated it also becomes increasingly dysfunctional and free-wheeling (M&E, pp. 392–393; as McGilchrist observes, “there is a range of evidence suggesting that just such an imbalance in favour of the left hemisphere occurs in schizophrenia”, ibid., p. 393). Blake charted and analysed the trajectory of this progress or “fall into Division” as he called it, in his longer, prophetic poems. In them he shows that the more Urizen, the “Rational Power”, is divided from its imaginative and humanist source, the more it degenerates and becomes increasingly out of control and destructive. It is caught in a sort of mad circle, in which the more it tries to impose and maintain order (through its complex of interrelated drives and programs: moral self-righteousness, the superiority complex, a consuming and ravenous “ego”, and an abstracting, instrumental, and manipulative propensity), the more it becomes degraded and—to use Blake's specific and precise word to describe this form of extreme, severed rationalism—“insane” (FZ vii:36, p. 360). In an astonishing passage in The Four Zoas this Spectre, the compulsive, free-wheeling, left-hemispheric “Reasoning Power”, now running out of control, itself realises this and declares:

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Chapter Five - The God of Reason

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

As the true method of knowledge is experiment the true faculty of knowing must be the faculty which experiences. This faculty I treat of.

—William Blake, All Religions are One

Introduction: The hall of mirrors

The first part of this book has explored the connections between the complex of ordering, rationalising, and evaluating processes which Blake terms “Urizen” and the dominant programs and features of the left hemisphere of the human brain. Drawing on the cognitive framework provided by Blake, it has argued that the neurological basis of the entity commonly referred to as “God” is grounded in a specific network of inter-related left hemisphere programs (such as its law-making, moralistic, abstracting, dividing, and linear-sequencing activities), a network both organised and integrated by a specific left hemisphere mode of attention or personality. Blake believed that the abstract, rationalising “Gods” of human culture were powerful instantiations of this power within the human brain, which he also termed “the Holy Reasoning Power” (J 10:15, p. 153, J 54:16, p. 203). Blake's arguments suggest new ways of interpreting the dominant religious and theological texts of our culture. They also, obviously, undermine the basis of all popular religion.

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Chapter Two - Urizen and the Left Hemisphere

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

I am God O Sons of Men! I am your Rational Power!

Am I not Bacon & Newton & Locke who teach Humility to Man!

—William Blake, Jerusalem

In the Brain of Man we live

Urizen is repeatedly associated by Blake with the human brain, and indeed that is where he is located. Los, who shares this location with him, specifically describes Urizen's world as being within “the Brain of Man”:

I see the swords & spears of futurity

Tho in the Brain of Man we live, & in his circling Nerves.

Tho’ this bright world of all our joy is in the Human Brain.

Where Urizen & all his Hosts hang their immortal lamps

[FZ 11:14–17, p. 306]

And again in The Four Zoas Urizen is depicted “as he stood in the Human Brain/And all its golden porches grew pale with his sickening light” (FZ 23:12–13, p. 313). Indeed, one of the most brilliant and startling aspects of Blake's presentation of Urizen is the very physicality of its location within the structures and activities of the brain. The precision with which Blake describes and presents the vegetative brain, with all of its nervous branches, its moated parameter (cerebrospinal fluid), its oxygenating blood vessels, and its rock-like orbed skull to enclose it all, is only matched by his insistence that these circuits and activities conceal a much greater wonder and power within them. In modern neuroscientific terminology Urizen therefore represents both the “software”—the network of interacting calculating processes and rationalising functions—and also the “hardware”—the material embodiment of these activities within the cavern of the skull. Blake describes Urizen's realm as being “a place in the north,/Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary.” Indeed, as Damon has noted, Urizen is consistently associated with the “north”, a region that is clearly of significance within the human body as being the locus of the brain (Ur 2:3–4, p. 70). And within the north he is also associated with the “west” or “western” parts of the psyche (“In the west the Cave of Urizen”): so that the north and west are areas significantly associated by Blake with Urizenic activity (FZ 74:15–16, p. 351).1 Positioned there, Urizen inhabits and indeed embodies a strange sort of self-enclosed, abstracted, or conceptual space that, in distinguishing itself and separating itself conceptually from the rest of existence creates for itself a sort of “non-being” being: an abstracted “inner” solitude or “void” (“unknown, abstracted/Brooding secret, the dark power hid” (Ur 3:6–7, p. 70). This conceptual “void” Blake strongly associates with the Lockean, or Cartesian, mind. Blake had earlier presented this “self-closd”, brooding, introspective “void” as being situated within the “cavern” of the cranium itself, the perfect materialisation of the cave-like reduction of perceptual existence by which this new emergent consciousness (“Reason”) believes itself to be limited. Thus, in one of the most famous passages of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake observes that “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern” (MHH Plate 14, p. 39). These epistemological caverns, chains, links, and “self-closings” return with a vengeance in The Book of Urizen, the full account of the development of this powerful new rationalistic and analytical consciousness. “Unknown” and “unprofilic”, the newly emerging Urizenic world is portrayed as being almost completely self-involved. Indeed the epithet “unprolific” perfectly sums up the huge difference between the left hemisphere and right hemisphere modes. Being unable to genuinely “create” anything (this being a function of bodily rather than logical existence), the “Reasoning Power” instead becomes a sort of immense Demiurge. It creates, but (in a key point for Blake) it creates solely by division and abstraction, and the conceptual world thus produced is both staggering in its complexity and ingenuity but also a lifeless mirror image or shadow-world reality: a world perceived not immediately and intuitively any more but merely rationally, abstractly, and conceptually. Blake magnificently evokes the sense of the immense brooding, introspective labour and sheer mental effort that this powerful evolutionary process entails: “Times on times he divided…In his desolate mountains rifted furious/By the black winds of perturbation” (Ur 3:8–12, p. 70). These perturbed, cogitative rifts and folds capture well the gradual materialisation of Urizen through the actual physical landscape of the human cranium, the abode of Urizen's “vast forests” of nervous fibres and neural networks which constitute both Urizen's modus operandi and his material formation. The result of these Herculean cognitive efforts is not only the brain itself but the way of perceiving the brain.

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Introduction

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

Blake and the Human Brain

I give you the end of a golden string,

Only wind it into a ball:

It will lead you in at Heavens gate,

Built in Jerusalems wall.

—William Blake, Jerusalem

When asked where his inspiration came from, the poet William Blake is said to have pointed to his forehead and replied, “Here, madam” (Gilchrist, 1863, p. 342). Blake was, indeed, one of the most physically aware and grounded of all artists and poets: his poems, like his etchings and illustrations, are filled with sinews, bodies, muscles, fibres, nerves, veins, and globules. But surprisingly few literary critics have taken the hint. Many seem happy to follow and to perpetuate the dualistic confusion of the lady to whom Blake was responding, or to recycle the similarly misleading idealistic presentation of Blake as “the most spiritual of artists, a mystic poet and painter”, in the words of his early biographer, Gilchrist (ibid., p. 7, p. 86). This book attempts something different: it seeks to place Blake's visions and experiences where they actually belonged and occurred: within the structure of the human brain itself. In this I hope to do justice to Blake's own conceptions of the extraordinary energy and latent, burning intelligence of the human body, and his attempts to dismantle the whole artificial and sterile mind-body dualism which, he believed, was preventing us from understanding and perceiving this dynamism. In an extraordinary passage at the start of his poem Milton, for instance, he invokes the sources of poetic inspiration and asks for their support in his poetic endeavour. Of course, this is entirely a traditional conceit, usually addressed to ephemeral “Muses” or to rather unconvincing other-worldly deities, or sub-deities, or even sub-sub-deities. What is striking about Blake's address is that he locates the origin of his inspiration within the structure of his own brain, not from any source outside it. “Come into my hand”, he urges it, “By your mild power; descending down the Nerves of my right arm/From out the Portals of my Brain” (Mil, 2:5–7, p. 96). As I hope to show in this book, Blake consistently and emphatically locates his experiences—the figures, characters, forces and powers—within the actual physical human body.

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Chapter Six - Urizenic Religion and Urizenic Reason: R1 and R2

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

I have always found that Angels have the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning.

—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Introduction: The operating systems

In order to clarify Blake's critique of both orthodox religion and post-Newtonian science as sharing a common Urizenic basis, in the following chapter I will be using the metaphor of rival operating systems. This may help to explain Blake's contention that both systems of thought obey the same basic program and are expressions of the same power. For whilst religion and rationalistic science are supposed to be at loggerheads, symptomatic of a “two cultures” divide, what they resemble more, according to Blake's cognitive framework, are different versions of essentially similar systems—Mac versus PC (Apple Mac OS versus Microsoft Windows)—battling it out for supremacy of the left brain. Indeed, perhaps it is because of this competitive rivalry that the infighting between the two can be so intense.

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