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Vol. 46 no. 3: Winter 2012–13

“Bound ... by their narrowing perceptions”: Sympathetic Bondage and Perverse Pity in Blake’s The Book of Urizen

15 January 2013
18 Dec. 2022


The Book of Urizen as a rewriting, or reinterpretation, of the Genesis myth has long been important to Blake studies in terms of understanding the very crux of Blakean mythology and the nature of what has come to be known as Blake’s bible. By essentially reading the act of “genesis” (what one might normally associate with an establishment of order and origin) as a kind of reverse creation myth, Blake suggests in Urizen that the birth of humanity emerges at the moment of its fall. Hence, what was once a story of creation out of chaos becomes for Blake a visionary apocalypse. I use the term “visionary” here not simply because Urizen acts as Blake’s artistic vision of man’s genesis, but because, for Blake, the nature of our origins as apocalypse is dependent upon the fall of our perceptions, on a collapse of both human and divine vision.  If the Blakean fall predates an exile of humanity from paradise, then it becomes divine in origin, stemming from acts of godly creation. Blake’s radical mythology essentially can be read as a critique of aesthetics and of our standards of both divine and artistic creation. We know from the original Genesis myth that divine creation arises out of God’s command “Let there be light.” However, Blake’s anti-Genesis begins and ends in obscurity, in a world devoid of light that remains in darkness throughout all of Urizen’s acts of creation. Therefore, we can read The Book of Urizen as a story of blindness, or of the relationship that emerges between man and God as both lose their ability to perceive fully.