Los Demiurgos

In Brief

Cracking along on his feet, tapping shells and sand with his cane, Stephen thinks, "Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand?" The eternal principles here are supplied by William Blake, who conceived of "Los, the creator" as the earthly form of one of the Four Zoas (the primal faculties), and by Plato, who conceived of a δημιουργός (demiourgos) or "creator" that fashioned the visible world. Stephen's idea of "walking into eternity" was probably directly inspired by reading Blake.

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Timaeus, in Plato's dialogue of the same name, says that a demiurge formed the world that we see about us. This deity acts from benevolent intentions in the Timaeus, fashioning the cosmos to be as good "as possible" (30b), as much like the eternal Ideas as "necessity" will allow (47e-48a). Later Gnostic works, by contrast, depicted the Demiurge as a demon whose creative work is evil, trapping mankind within the realm of matter. The Platonic position, it should be noted, is much closer to the Christian view that the world was made by a beneficent Creator who found his work to be "good."

Blake's Los, mentioned in The Book of Urizen, The Book of Los, America a Prophecy, Europe a Prophecy (all mid-1790s), and Jerusalem (1804-20), is also a creator, and like the Demiurge he inhabits an intermediary plane between the visible and eternal worlds. He is the fallen human form of Urthona, one of the Four Zoas. Blake represents him as a smith beating his hammer on an anvil (associated with the beating of the human heart) and blowing the fire with large bellows (associated with the lungs). He creates life, sexual reproduction, and consciousness, and as the begetter of Adam he originates the line of biblical patriarchs and prophets.

Thornton notes that, in a 1912 lecture, Joyce referred almost verbatim to a characterization of Los in yet another of Blake's works, Milton (1804-10): "For every Space larger than a red globule of Man's blood / Is visionary, and is created by the Hammer of Los." And, indeed, Stephen seems to be regarding the work of Los in Proteus as an occasion for "visionary" enlightenment, just as he drew on the works of Jakob Boehme and George Berkeley to read the sights of the seashore as "signatures" or "signs" of noumenal reality.

It is hard to know how many of Blake's works Joyce may be drawing on, but the lecture suggests that at the very least he was thinking of Milton. That work seems to have supplied Stephen with his idea of walking into eternity, which follows hard upon the mention of Los. Blake describes how Milton entered him through his left foot: "And all this Vegetable World appear'd on my left Foot / As a bright sandal form'd immortal of precious stones & gold. / I stoop'd down & bound it on to walk forward thro' Eternity" (I, plate 21).

Blake also connects Los with a large pair of compasses, suggesting the architectonic work of drafting the plan of creation. In a famous plate, he represented Urizen as the Ancient of Days extending an opened compass into the dark void beneath him. Urizen and Los are opponents in Blake's early works, each trapping the other within a human body. Does their opposition (constructed as a binary of reason and imagination, repression and revolution, denial of human passions and gratification of them) somehow reinstantiate the ancient debate about the goodness or evil of the created world? Gifford notes that, "in Gnostic theory and Theosophy," the Demiurge was called "the architect of the world."

These debates do not surface in Stephen's thoughts, but they do beg the question of how he may conceive the "Demiurgos": is it a force for repression and ignorance, or for liberation and insight? No certain conclusions can be drawn from such brief utterances, but Stephen's belief that he can access eternity through the created world does not seem to bespeak a Gnostic sensibility. It associates him instead with the view articulated by Plato—and, later, by the early Christians—that the Creation is good.

JH 2015
Los with his hammer, in The Book of Urizen (1794), copy G, held in the Library of Congress.
Los in his smithy with compass, hammer, and bellows, tormented by his Spectre, in Jerusalem (1821), copy E, held in the Yale Center for British Art. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Los with hammer and compass in Plate 10 of Jerusalem.