William Blake on Fixing Error

Note: As can be discerned from the Blake concordance (Blake Digital Text Project or The Archives of Victorian Literary Studies: Concordances - William Blake), the notion of ‘error’ is used in a few ways. Error may refer to misguided notions or actions, whether conceived as illusion (vs truth) or fault or sin or condition of existence or wrong art (vs genius). Blake’s notion of ‘error’ is something existentially substantial. I have selected those mentions of ‘error’ which I see as containing a strong epistemological dimension.

Blake has much to say about truth and ‘error’ according to his foundational concerns of art, religion, and redemption in A Vision of the Last Judgment (1810). Truth is not propositional but is embodied in people. I am not reproducing the relevant passages here, but note especially the lines comprising VLJ-N84[b], VLJ-N85[c], VLJ-N86, VLJ-N94-95 ( E562-563, E565).

There are related and not as immediately related uses of the notion of falsehood and the lie. Two uses of ‘Falshood’ also convey the sense focused on here, to be found below. Related also are Blake’s conceptions of ‘Minute Particulars’, the definite and determinate, and the ‘bounding line’ (Descriptive Catologue of 1809).

Blake’s notion of ‘Falshood’ has been aptly put in an Adorno-esque manner by Jerome McGann:

Today we begin to unbuild the literature of power by a Blakean retreat and recovery, by unravelling that fatal thread of ideas running through the past two centuries to the effect that poetry gives us the best that has been known and thought in the world. Blake’s idea was rather that poetry gives a body to falsehood, not a body to truth—that its truth-content lies precisely in its ability to reveal and set in operation ‘the furnaces of Los[s]’, where the body of error is created for its own self-destruction. The furnaces of Los are at once creators and destroyers.

SOURCE: McGann, Jerome J. Towards a Literature of Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 130.

From The Book of Los (1795)

5: Falling, falling! Los fell & fell
Sunk precipitant heavy down down
Times on times, night on night, day on day
Truth has bounds. Error none: falling, falling:
Years on years, and ages on ages
Still he fell thro' the void, still a void
Found for falling day & night without end.
For tho’ day or night was not; their spaces
Were measurd by his incessant whirls
In the horrid vacuity bottomless.

The Book of Los (1795), 4.27-32; E92. Plate 4. Text only

From Milton (1804-1811), Book 1

But Palamabron called down a Great Solemn Assembly,
That he who will not defend Truth, may be compelled to
Defend a Lie, that he may be snared & caught & taken

Milton (1804-1811), Book 1, M8.46-48; E102. Copy A, Plate 6Text only.

From Jerusalem (1804-1820), Chapter 1

Loud roar my Furnaces and loud my hammer is heard:
I labour day and night, I behold the soft affections
Condense beneath my hammer into forms of cruelty
But still I labour in hope, tho’ still my tears flow down.
That he who will not defend Truth, may be compelld to defend
A Lie: that he may be snared and caught and snared and taken
That Enthusiasm and Life may not cease: arise Spectre arise!

Jerusalem (1804-1820), Chapter 1 [plates 4-27], J9.25-31; E152. Copy E, plate 9. Text only: Jerusalem, Chapter 1.

Yet why despair! I saw the finger of God go forth
Upon my Furnaces, from within the Wheels of Albions Sons:
Fixing their Systems, permanent: by mathematic power
Giving a body to Falshood that it may be cast off for ever.
With Demonstrative Science piercing Apollyon with his own bow!
God is within, & without! he is even in the depths of Hell!

Jerusalem (1804-1820), Chapter 1 [plates 4-27], J12.10-15; E155. Copy E, Plate 12. Text only: Jerusalem, Chapter 1.

From Jerusalem (1804-1820), Chapter 3

Let the Indefinite be explored. and let every Man be judged
By his own Works, Let all Indefinites be thrown into Demonstrations
To be pounded to dust & melted in the Furnaces of Affliction:
He who would do good to another, must do it in Minute Particulars
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel hypocrite flatterer:
For Art & Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power.
The Infinite alone resides in Definite & Determinate Identity
Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falshood continually
On Circumcision: not on Virginity, O Reasoners of Albion

Jerusalem (1804-1820), Chapter 3 [plates 53-75], J55.57-66. E205. Copy E, Plate 55. Text only: Jerusalem (1804-1820), Chapter 3.

Comparative Studies of William Blake & Other Modern Writers & Thinkers:
A Bibliography for a Study in Ideology

William Blake Study Guide

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide

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