On Blake’s Fourfold Imagination: A conversation between Mark Vernon & Jonathan Rowson

Mark Vernon & Jonathan Rowson
Nov 2nd, 2020

Einstein famously said that imagination is more important than knowledge, but how well do we really understand imagination? This conversation explores Mark Vernon’s recent essay in Aeon magazine that deepens that inquiry.

The poet and artist William Blake believed that imagination had distinctive forms, characterised as Ulro: single-pointed vision (what cannot be quantified does not exist). Generation: two-pointed vision (repetition abounds). Beulah: three-pointed (an ethical sensibility blighted by ‘selfhood’). Eternity: four-pointed (multivalent perception that opens on to infinite life). “Eternity includes and makes sense of the best of the other states: the discernment of Ulro, the expansiveness of Generation, and the feeling of Beulah, which is why artists and visionaries trust it.

When Vincent van Gogh painted starry nights, the enchanted cosmos became visible once again. When Albert Einstein envisaged travelling on a light beam, which was the imaginative exercise that fostered the special theory of relativity, physics uncovered new worlds. The geniuses of science and the arts work hand-in-hand in Eternity, illuminating each other.”

There are noteworthy overlaps between Ulro and a data-driven society, between Generation and consumerism, between Beulah and the challenges facing Human Rights and Eternity as the kind of ‘aperspectival'(Gebser) or ‘supramental'(Sri Aurobindo) vision that many believe will be necessary for humanity to survive (and perhaps thrive) in the 21st century.

Dr Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist, philosopher and Associate at Perspectiva where he researches and writes on the idea of Spiritual Formation.

Dr Jonathan Rowson is Director of Perspectiva.