In response to haleyck’s post “Eternal Death and Sexuality,” I’d like to explore further the question of what implications self-annihilation has for the female sex. I would agree wholly with the statement, “The contrary of male and female, then, are not resolved in this one [hermaphroditic] body, but rather are both present, two opposites alongside one another.” Viewing the ultimate reconciliation of gender in this way, rather that arguing that male and female will cease to exist, preserves the contraries to which Blake is so dedicated while also moving beyond the traditional dichotomy between male and female. haleyck’s post succinctly describes this gender ideal of the New Jerusalem in its final line: “People will no longer limit themselves to either male or female.”
This resolution is affirmed in plate 48, lines 29-39 (p. 202) of “Milton: A Poem.” In these lines the virgin Ololon cries, “Is this our Feminine Portion, the Six-fold Miltonic Female? / Terribly this Portion trembles before thee O awful Man” (lines 30-31). Milton’s “emanation,” or his female part/his true self, cowers before the human (and thus the “shadow”) form of Milton. Ololon continues: “Altho’ our Human Power can sustain the severe contentions / Of Friendship, our Sexual cannot: but flies into the Ulro” (lines 32-33). Whatever human elements are present in an emanation – namely, the imagination – they cannot hold up to the male dominance asserted by the shadowy Milton in the context of a sexual union. And such a union is, according to Blake, the pinnacle of desire and the experience of the divine. After Ololon “flies” away, she asks, “Are we Contraries O Milton, Thou & I? / O Immortal! How were we led to War the Wars of Death?” (lines 35-36) Though Ololon is Milton’s emanation, she is nonetheless his female contrary, as well as his spiritual opposite. She and Milton must be enemies in the “Wars of Death,” in which they are pitted against each other and in which one must be annihilated. Of course, it is Milton who ultimately self-annihilates, and Ololon who is preserved. But what ramifications do these results have for the gender makeup of the New Jerusalem?
Ololon’s next query asks, “Is this the Void Outside of Existence, which if enterd into / Becomes a Womb?… / Thou goest to Eternal Death & all must go with thee” (lines 38-39). The “Void Outside of Existence” may be equated with “Eternal Death”: it is the place where one experiences “Eternal Life” (plate 48, line 21). In this sense life is the same as death because self-annihilation, which results in “Eternal Death,” allows for the type of “Eternal Life” Blake sees as resulting from sacrificial self-annihilation. Self-crucifixion is surely Eternal Death of the self, but it makes possible the Eternal Life that is eternity spent communicating with the divine via one’s imagination. This eternity is a “Womb” because it allows for endless creativity, imagination, and production – all of which originates in the female.
This idea of the eternal Womb makes a full circle back to the notion that Milton’s emanation is female and superior to Milton’s male half. Self-annihilation destroys Milton’s male presence in favor of preserving the female emanation. But that male part is not lost forever; rather, it then exists in Eternal Life as the necessary counterpart to the female Womb. For at the beginning of her dialogue, Ololon is described as a “Virgin” (plate 48, line 29). A virgin’s womb cannot reproduce unless it is united with its male counterpart. Thus Milton’s maleness, in the act of self-annihilation, is returned to its true form as part of the female emanation. Milton’s human form is a shadow of his true self because it has rejected its female part. Death to that self-consciousness, in favor of recognizing the importance of the other gender, allows for the ideal union of gender into one body. This is, of course, an unique eternal body that is closer to Blake’s conception of an emanation, though it is a hermaphroditic one in which male and female are perfectly in union and yet perfectly at odds – because each must retain their unique gender in order to be joined together as one: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (The Bible: New International Version, Genesis 2:24).