Dolorous Hissings and Poisons (The Last War in Albion Part 79: Europe a Prophecy, Anarchy)


This is the seventh of fifteen parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Nine, focusing on Alan Moore's work on V for Vendetta for Warrior (in effect, Books One and Two of the DC Comics collection). An omnibus of all fifteen parts can be purchased at Smashwords. If you purchased serialization via the Kickstarter, check your Kickstarter messages for a free download code.

The stories discussed in this chapter are currently available in a collected edition, along with the eventual completion of the story. UK-based readers can buy it here.

Previously in The Last War in AlbionThe radical and anarchic spirit of V for Vendetta resembled that of William Blake, particularly in his Continental Prophecies, the second of which was Europe a Prophecy

"With dolorous hissings & poisons Round Enitharmons loins folding, Coild within Enitharmons womb The serpent grew casting its scales." - William Blake, The Book of Urizen

Figure 606: Vala hiding beneath the ground.
(William Blake, Europe a Prophecy, Copy K,
Object 4, Written 1794, printed 1821)
Vala opens Europe a Prophecy by railing against Enitharmon, asking her, “wilt thou bring forth other sons? To cause my name to vanish, that my place may not be found.” She speaks of how she, “sitting in fathomless abyss of my immortal shrine” looks up at heaven and the stars and seizes “their burning power” so she can “bring forth howling terrors, all devouring fiery kings. Devouring & devour’d roaming on dark and desolate mountains In forests of eternal death, shrieking in hollow trees.” But Enitharmon, she claims, foils her in this. “I bring forth from my teeming bosom myriads of flames,” she says, “and thou dost stamp them with a signet, then they roam abroad and leave me void as death.” But the prelude ends with a strange sense of hope, with the shadowy female asking “who shall bind the infinite with an eternal band? To compass it with swaddling bands? and who shall cherish it With milk and honey? I see it smile & I roll inward & my voice is past.” 

This prelude poses an interesting ambiguity, especially when taken in light of the remainder of Europe a Prophecy and, for that matter, of Blake’s mythology. Vala/the shadowy female is not generally a positive figure, but rather an embodiment of nature (itself a complex concept within Blake’s system), and a warlike death goddess. She speaks of her nature, saying “my roots are brandish’d in the heavens, my fruits in earth beneath Surge, foam, and labour into Life, first born & first consum’d! Consumed and consuming!” Ultimately, she will prove responsible for Albion’s fall. And yet it is difficult not to see her as a sympathetic figure in this exchange with Enitharmon - her revolutionary, destructive spirit is the obvious tonic to Urizen’s ghastly order. And it is worth stressing that it is Blake’s most famous image of Urizen, as the Ancient of Days, that serves as the frontispiece to Europe a Prophecy, a fact that further strengthen’s Vala’s moral legitimacy. 

Figure 607: The awakening of Orc. (William
Blake, Europe a Prophecy, Copy K, Object 9,
Written 1794, printed 1821)
Similarly, over the course of Europe a Prophecy, Enitharmon is far from a sympathetic figure. She awakens in “the deep of winter,” as Urizen flees to “the distant north” and “strong Urthona takes his rest.” In response, the Urizen’s children awaken Orc, vowing that “we will crown thy head with garlands of the ruddy vine.” (This passage also illustrates one of the extreme challenges of parsing and interpreting Blake’s work. The awakening of Orc comes within a passage that begins “The shrill winds wake! Till all the sons of Urizen look out and envy Los:”, the colon clearly indicating that what follows is a monologue delivered by the sons of Urizen, who speak of how “we may drink the sparkling wine of Los.” And yet this passage ends with a five-line stanza reading “Arize O Orc from thy deep den / First born of Enitharmon rise! / And we will crown thy head with garlands of the ruddy vine; / For now thou art bound; / And I may see the in the hour of bliss, my eldest born.” This last line, in the first person singular, cannot be spoken by the sons of Urizen, and must be either Los or Enitharmon, and yet at no point in the monologue is there any indication of a change in speaker. This sort of thing is alarmingly common in Blake. 

And yet despite this, the obvious assumption that Blake is somehow sloppy in his work simply does not hold - the meticulous attention to artistic detail and the painstaking, extensive revisions made to his work belie any account of his work that suggests that it is anything less than meticulous and precise. Rather, it is that it is a precise depiction of a worldview that rejects the idea of single vision - a sort of textual version of cubism in which a multiplicity of states of being are simultaneously described and depicted.) And so “the horrent Demon rose, surrounded with red stars of fire, whirling about in furious circles round the immortal fiend. Then Enitharmon down descended into his red light,” communing with Orc’s fearsome spirit. In the wake of America a Prophecy, with its ultimate rejection of Orc, this is an unsettling prospect to say the least.

Figure 608: One year after penning Europe a Prophecy Blake
used the phrase "The Night of Enitharmon's Joy" as a title for
a bespoke painting. (Butlin 316, 1795)
This communion with Orc brings about “the night of Enitharmon’s joy,” during which Enitharmon decides that  women will have dominion over the world. She sends her sons, Rintrah and Palambron, to “tell the human race that Womans love is Sin: That an Eternal life awaits the worms of sixty winters In an allegorical abode where existence hath never come: Forbid all Joy, & from her childhood shall the little female Spread nets in every secret path.” This commences a period of eighteen hundred years - a figure that reaches, essentially, from the birth of Christ to Blake’s present day - in which Enitharmon sleeps, and the world is captured within “a female dream.” This period is, to say the least, not a happy one. The council house in which Albions Angels assemble is destroyed, and the world plunges into materialism, with man being shackled by the five senses and the Angel having “turn’d the fluxile eyes Into two stationary orbs, concentrating all things. The ever-varying spiral ascents to the heavens of heavens were bended downwards; and the nostrils golden gates shut.” The infinite becomes a serpent, and pity becomes “a devouring flame” such that mankind flees and takes shelter “in forests of night” (a significant phrase, to say the least). The result is chilling: “God a tyrant crown’d.”

Figure 609: The Ancient of Days. (William
Blake, Europe a Prophecy, Copy K, Object 1,
created 1794, printed 1821)
This is the tyranny of Urizen implicitly foreshadowed by the frontispiece, leading to a world torn between Urizen’s tyrannical law and Orc’s violent upheaval. Blake describes a frantic struggle among Albion, Orc, and Urizen to seize and blow upon the trumpet that will bring about the last Judgment, but all fail. Instead “A mighty Spirit lea’d from the land of Albion, Nam’d Newton; he siez’d the Trump, & blow’d the enormous blast!” Newton, as ever, is an antagonistic figure within Blake’s work, representing, in his vision, an irrevocable turn towards Urizenic materialism, with “Newtons sleep” being the counterpart to dreaded “single vision.” His successful trumpeting of the horn of judgment reflects the awful state of the world after Enitharmon’s eighteen hundred year slumber. She calls upon her sons and daughters, who represent a complex and often debated set of viewpoints on sexual politics of the late eighteenth century the details of which Blake, in a 2014 seance, openly admits “were probably overly determined by the degree to which I wanted to sleep with women who weren’t my wife at the time.” (Numerous critics, it should be noted, directly associate Enitharmon with Blake’s wife, Catherine. Catherine, for her part, is an enormously complex figure in her own right deserving of considerable examination.) 

It is here worth pausing and clarifying the chronology of events in this cycle of Blake’s prophecies. Europe a Prophecy is, recall, the sequel to America a Prophecy. And yet over the course of Europe a Prophecy Blake retells a history of the entire Christian age of Europe, with this history emerging out of Enitharmon’s communion with Orc, the spirit of revolution unleashed and set upon Europe at the end of America a Prophecy. That poem, recall, was a symbolic reworking of the history of the American Revolution, and even that occurred, historically, near the end of the eighteen hundred year sleep of Enitharmon. And yet at its conclusion Europe returns to being a chronological and quasi-historical sequel to America, resolving with Orc launching another attack upon Urizen’s order of things: “terrible Orc, when he beheld the morning int he east, Shot from the heights of Enitharmon; And in the vineyards of red France appear’d the light of his fury.” With this, the French Revolution breaks out, Los returns and “reard in snaky thunders clad: And with a cry that shook all nature to the utmost pole, Call’d all his sons to the strife of blood.” This is a bold call for revolution, certainly, and a seemingly vocal embrace of the upheavals to England’s south. In this regard, at least, Blake and Moore are on the same page - the similarities between Orc and V’s twin campaigns of terror and insurrection are ultimately unavoidable. 

Figure 610: Like V for Vendetta, Europe a
 keeps a continual focus on the
material suffering of the oppressed population.
(William Blake, Copy K, Object 6, created 1794,
printed 1821)
And yet a revolution born of Orc has already been undermined by Blake, just as it would ultimately be rejected by Moore in Swamp Thing. Indeed, for all the revolutionary fire with which Blake’s continental prophecies so obviously burn, it is striking that Blake never actually endorses anything so crass as an actual political movement. There are some he holds in particular contempt, perhaps most obviously the entire apparatus of organized religion, which he associates with the hated Urizen and Newton. And yet the long reign of institutional Christianity and its failures are, within Europe, just as associated with Enitharmon. This further speaks to a certain perversity within Blake’s work - his decision to represent Christianity in terms of a feminine figure is visibly subversive, in a way that goes beyond any simple allegorical readings whereby, for instance, Enitharmon represents the feminine figures of Eve and Mary, embodying the classical virgin/whore complex embodied in the Kabbalistic image of Binah, which Moore describes as where “form becomes possible.” To link the entire history of Christianity with a goddess figure is, in a real sense, to reject it and propose something akin to his earlier nuptials between heaven and hell. And yet this subversive religion is also rejected, as is revolution, and everything else.

And so in the Continental Prophecies we have a an odd sort of revolution - what Moore, in Angel Passage, described, saying,  “voice suppressed, lips stitched, the vision has nowhere to turn save inwards.” But he could equally well have said that it was a revolution that had been pushed “to the very last inch of us,” where “it’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.” Which is all another way of saying that Blake, like Moore, was an anarchist. 

Figure 611: "Fear of a Black Flag" appeared
in the second issue of Dodgem Logic.
The precise meaning of this claim is, it must be admitted, a challenge to pin down. Moore himself traces the history of anarchism from ancient Greece through to the present day, and in a 2010 essay for Dodgem Logic entitled “Fear of a Black Flag,” offers a partial catalogue of the “bewildering profusion of anarchist subdivisions, categories and splinter movements with radically different views” including “Communist Anarchists, Free market Anarchists, Egoist Anarchists, Anarchists Green or Syndicalist, Post-Left or Feminist, Anarchists Insurrectionary or Pacifist. Then there’s Anarchy Without Adjectives which sounds entirely sensible despite the fact that the words ‘Without Adjectives’, used here as a descriptive phrase, are actually performing all the functions of an adjective.” When this diversity of viewpoint is extended historically, to try to encompass not just Moore’s own evolving views, preserved in amber in the earliest chapters of V for Vendetta and expounded, quite separately, nearly thirty years after the strip’s beginning in an underground magazine bearing the name of his own failed mid-seventies fanzine, but also the views of William Blake some two centuries earlier, it’s clear that any attempt at a rigorous philosophical position is going to be doomed before it gets off the ground/

Certainly Moore, in “Fear of a Black Flag,” declines to cast his lot with any explicitly named anarchist tradition. Instead he returns to first principles, noting that “as often proves to be the case with words, the Greens most definitely had one for it, in this case anarchos, meaning ‘without rulers’,” which is an accurate enough account of the word’s etymology. Moore, as befits his status as an autodidact regarding this philosophical tradition, ultimately ends the essay on the same note, describing the ancient Athenian process of sortition, “which is basically a type of government by lottery. In all decisions that concerned the state a jury would be randomly appointed from all parts of the community by drawing of straws or lots. This jury would then listen carefully to an informed debate presenting both sides of the argument, just as a jury does during a court case. After this a vote is taken on the matter and the jury is dissolved.” Moore muses on the advantages of this, noting that “no special interest groups or corporations can buy influence in the government if no one knows who government will be until the next time that the straws are drawn. No jury would be likely to vote in a set of special privileges for the jury, such as being able to claim back expenses on the paddocks for their unicorns, when they themselves would no longer be jurors when these perks were ushered in.” But for all that Moore praises this particular system, it is ultimately presented only as one of many similar proposals to emerge out of the millennia of anarchist thought that he summarizes.

Figure 612: Cromwell's New Model Army at the Battle of
This includes not just the ancient Greeks and Taoist Sages, but the word “anarchy” as a 1642 coinage within the English language, used to dismiss Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, along with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s nineteenth century idea of mutualism and Max Striner’s individualist anarchism from the same century. He turns also to Mikhail Bakunin’s Collectivist Anarchism, with was an important predecessor to Marxism, along with Peter Kropotkin’s rejection of private property, and, more contemporarily, Hakim Bey (who in addition to being an anarchist and pedophilia advocate was an open sorcerer, defining the concept as “the systematic cultivation of enhanced consciousness or non-ordinary awareness and its deployment in the world of deeds and objects to bring about desired results”). [continued]


Anton B 6 years ago

Instead he returns to first principles, noting that “as often proves to be the case with words, the Greens most definitely had one for it, in this case anarchos, meaning ‘without rulers’,”
I assume you meant Greeks here not Greens. Otherwise you're adding some deliciously anarchic confusion to the ongoing debate about debates in British politics' run up to the election where Cameron, weirdly, seems,to be rooting for the Green party in order to avoid TV debating with UKIP.

Otherwise, fascinating article. Must dig out that issue of Dodgem Logic.

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BerserkRL 6 years ago

The Levellers -- who weren't quite anarchists, but were close -- also originated out of the Model Army. My favourite title for any political work is from Richard Overton's 1646 Leveller pamphlet An Arrow Against All Ttyrants and Tyranny, Shot from the Prison of Newgate into the Prerogative Bowels of the Arbitrary House of Lords and All Other Usurpers and Tyrants Whatsoever. (And that's not even the full title.)

My favourite title of any work, period, is Christian Wolff's 1719 Rational Thoughts on God, the World, and the Soul of Man, and Also All Things in General.

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Matthew Blanchette 6 years ago

Weren't the Levelers from BEFORE the Model Army, though? John Ball, Wat Tyler, and all their sort? :-/

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sleepyscholar 6 years ago

According to my exhaustive researches, The Levellers started in '88, whereas New Model Army were '84. Wat Tyler, who by amazing coincidence I was listening to last night, started in '86.

If you consider those dates, this comment may not be as facetious as it first appears.

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David Anderson 6 years ago

Wat Tyler and John Ball led the Peasant's Revolt, which was late medieval.
The Levellers were a group during the Civil War, who believed in things like extending suffrage to everyone (excluding servants, benefits claimants and women). The Diggers were a utopian offshoot that wanted to banish private property, at least in land, and whose agenda hasn't been implemented yet.

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Daibhid C 6 years ago

Discussion of anarchy reminds me of a peeve I have with a current comics storyline which may possibly be related to V for Vendetta. But I should probably save it until Alan Grant actually enters the story...

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Daibhid C 6 years ago

sleepyscholar - Wikipedia says New Model Army formed in '80, although they didn't have their first album until '84.

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sleepyscholar 6 years ago

Daibhid: I stand corrected, thanks. My researches weren't anywhere near exhaustive enough. 1980 fits even better with the point I was trying to make about the background to V for Vendetta.

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Daru 5 years, 11 months ago

"She calls upon her sons and daughters, who represent a complex and often debated set of viewpoints on sexual politics of the late eighteenth century the details of which Blake, in a 2014 seance, openly admits “were probably overly determined by the degree to which I wanted to sleep with women who weren’t my wife at the time.” "

Wonderful! I love these inserts of alternative reality and magical responses to the overall narrative into the work.

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