Tag Archive: Milton


Ololon’s False Self-Identification

In forming a contrary, two opposing ideas or being create a new, fuller meaning in their relationship to one another.  Despite Ololon’s self-identification as Milton’s contrary, she does not fulfill this purpose.  Notably, Olonon’s self-identification as Milton’s contrary comes in the form of a question; even this status depends on his validation.  The question is paradoxical:  Milton cannot confirm this idea without asserting his higher position in the power structure.  Her question therefore means that any acknowledgement of the contrary would, in fact, render it invalid.

Both in this passage, and in Book I of Milton, Ololon finds her identity in Milton; as she earlier “lamented for Milton with a great lamentation” (Plate 24, Book I) and now concludes that she must go to Eternal Death to rejoin him (Plate 49, Book II).  As such, while she appears to choose the course of annihilation for herself, it is not true self-annihilation as the decision is based exclusively on her ties to Milton.  By predicating her own choices on those of Milton, she places herself below him in power; the two figures cannot then form a functional contrary.  While Ololon gains significance and purpose from her association with Milton, Milton’s function remains unchanged by this relationship.

 

In answering the question of what precisely happens to Ololon, how such fits in, relates, to the rest of Milton: A Poem, I feel, firstly, a few prefatory remarks—a naming of parts or clarifying of terms—is required. I take “self-annihilation,” as it manifests, in the scope of Blake’s poem at face value, that is, meaning precisely what it says: “making the self into nothing” (its root word nihil being the Latin for “nothing”). The crucial distinction, I submit, is in the nuanced fact that is a process rather different and apart from destruction per se, though we tend to think it synonymous with such. In a certain line of thinking—admittedly Eastern—and with a little mental acrobatics, nothing (i.e., the absence of something, an existential lack) can be thought of as the potential for all things, as, say, blandness might be conceived of as not the lack of flavor but the potential for any. This is how self-annihilation—achieved in the dialectical struggle between Spectre (self, convention, reason) and Emanation (other, imagination, energy)—can allow one to enter into the higher synthesis, or reconciliation, of Divine Humanity. All that said, while the revelatory scene in Blake’s garden in Felpham seems to enact such a self-annihilation for Milton, it seems it only brings about a self-abnegation for Ololon. The movement feels to be one of a patriarchal possessiveness rather than total reciprocity or a complete, mutual meeting-in-the-middle. It all seems to be done for the benefit of Milton; Ololon is only peripheral or utilitarian—a means to an end—subsumed into Milton rather than unified with him. Though these last points are more impressions, things felts, than empirically verifiable points in the text.

Milton and Satan, tragic heroes

In considering how Milton in William Blake’s Milton a Poem is like or unlike Satan, I first contemplate how to define the Satan figure that we are discussing. My first assumption is to compare Milton to his own Satan in Paradise Lost, but I quickly question this narrow interpretation. In my mind, there are at least three potential Satans to compare Milton to, a Christian Satan and some Blakian Satan. I will deal with this final version of Satan separately. Both Milton’s Satan and Satan in Christianity are fallen angels and thus I find the character of Milton in that he returns to Earth from Heaven. I also found Blake’s characterization of Milton similar to Milton’s characterization of Satan, detailed, confusing, and odd. Like Milton’s Satan, Blake’s Milton is complex and multidimensional. Milton is “synister” as he enters Blake through his left food, but simultaneously includes a redeemable qualities. Likewise, Milton’s Satan possesses humanizing characteristics that make him incredibly accessible to readers. I would argue that both are heroes of their respective works.  I am interested in exploring what a Blakian Satan would encompass. I find the Blakian Satan similar to the characters of Milton and Satan in that I imagine he would be equally complex. Moreover, all three have include contraries that exist simultaneously.

This post is in response to the question, “Why does Milton need to ‘go down to self-annihilation and eternal death’ (Plate 15, ln. 22; p. 162)?” In order to answer this question, I referenced the image on plate 15 in the Blake Archive. This particular image depicts Milton standing naked with what looks like his clothing torn in half in each of his hands. His head is surrounded by a halo of light, and the sun is depicted rising (or setting) behind him.

In order to decode this image in conjunction with the idea of Milton’s “self-annihilation and eternal death,” it is important to consider Blake’s views on Christ’s resurrection and the atonement. In the introduction to Milton a Poem, Blake refers to the death of Christ as “prey” to the “False Tongue… a curse, an offering, and an atonement” (lines 10-14, pg.148). Traditional Christian dogma posits that the atonement of Christ allows mankind to be forgiven of their sins and eventually have eternal life after physical death. Blake flips this idea on its head, claiming that in order to gain eternal life, mankind must first experience eternal death. This idea of contraries is a theme that runs throughout Blake’s works, and it is echoed through Milton’s need to experience eternal death before Judgment.

In addition, it is important to consider Blake’s beliefs about sin and its place in religion. In “The Bard’s Song,” Blake describes a scene in which Satan “created Seven deadly Sins drawing out his infernal scroll… To pervert the Divine voice in its entrance to the earth” (lines 21-23, pg. 156). This paints sin as a satanic creation meant to muddle the true meaning of religion, or the “Divine voice.” This falls in line with Blake’s theory of eternal death as necessary for salvation—in order to gain true “atonement,” we must cast off the concept of sin, and recognize its position as an antagonist to true religion.

This idea of casting off the idea of sin leads us back to the original image referenced in this post. In this image, it looks as if Milton has rent his clothing, exposing himself to the world. In the story of original sin in the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve realize that they are naked after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. They immediately cover themselves, feeling embarrassed. When Adam and Eve learn of sin, they feel the need to clothe themselves—on the flipside, when Milton frees himself from the concept of sin; he no longer feels the need to clothe himself and therefore tears off his clothing.

Self-Annihilation

For next Wednesday (11/6), answer ONE of the two optional question prompts:

1. Why does Milton need to “go down to self-annihilation and eternal death” (Plate 15, ln. 22; p. 162)? hint: take a peak at the accompanying illustration/text images in the Blake Archive.

 

2. How is Milton like (or unlike) Satan?

 

Please categorize under “The Last Judgment” and don’t forget to create interesting tags.

Why so many “Moravian” animals?

This post is a response to the previous post’s fourth question,  “Does the line ‘The Tigers couch upon the prey & suck the ruddy tide’ (Europe 18/15:7; page 106) allude to a Moravian view of Christianity or, literally, to images of fearful tigers in other Blake poems (such as ‘The Tyger’ for instance)?”

Firstly, why do we have to choose between two possible interpretations? Surely the line can allude to both Blake’s other images of fearful tigers and a Moravian view of Christianity. To suggest that interpretation is a matter of either/or is especially “Urizenic” (it has just struck me that metalworkers call compasses “dividers”). Indeed, I think that its allusion to a Moravian view of Christianity makes Europe’s image of a tiger more fearful and therefore more likely to evoke the fearful description (but not depiction) of the tiger in “The Tyger.”

I have argued before that Blake used seemingly Moravian imagery in connection with animals; Europe‘s image of a tiger seems to be an extension of that (my argument is in the third comment down). We don’t have to be aware of the image’s Moravian undertones to find it fearful, but it is easy to read as Moravian. “Couch” gives the image a sexual interpretation that it would not otherwise have had. Although “couch” functions in this sentence as a verb with a similar meaning to “crouch,” it also evokes the idea of beds and lovemaking. The tiger’s sucking of blood then can allude that specific Moravian practice in The Shifting Times. The main cause of the fearfulness of the tiger in “The Tyger” is its predatory nature, the fear it inspires in humans and other animals alike. The image of the tiger in Europe takes this further by suggesting the tiger is also a sexual predator like the primates in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

So, why does Blake make images of animals fearful by having them engage in predatory/destructive sex or sexual acts? The sexual images of the tiger and the primates contrast with the visual images of couples having apparently very enjoyable sex throughout Europe and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. One possible interpretation is that Blake is commenting on ideas of prelapsarian and postlapsarian sex, given the figures in the clouds are angelic and therefore presumably not fallen. However, the excessive and hedonistic depiction of floating couples having intercourse would probably not have matched traditional understandings of prelapsarian or ideal sex1. The naked couples’ obviousness to what is going on around them suggests they aren’t entirely earthly or fallen beings. In contrast, the animals’ sexual behavior is predatory, fatal and therefore very morally compromised. However, in the case of the primates, it is very highly exaggerated and the same is somewhat true with the tiger. It is also incongruous, even ridiculous,  to have happy couples mating amid textual and visual images of destruction. Maybe Blake is lampooning the idea of an unsurpassable distinction between ideal prelapsarian sex and less ideal postlapsarian sex. I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw the distinction as “Urizenic.”

1 I’m drawing on the distinction between prelapsarian and postlapsarian sex from Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which sex before the Fall is depicted as purely loving, whereas afterwards it is more lustful. Perhaps someone could enlighten me further on ideas of prelapsarian sexuality? Given Blake’s obsession with Milton, it does seem highly credible he could be playing with his distinction, but I wonder if it was a manifestation of a wider theological distinction.

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).

This post is responding to Blake Lively’s Milton, Selfhood and Communication with the Divine. Blake Lively raised a point that to annihilate oneself is to shift the focus of self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

This is what Blake the character did at the end of Milton. Milton annihilates himself, so does the Virgin Ololon. Thus, Milton became one of the Starry Eight who finally becomes Jesus and the Clouds of Ololon became the vesture dipped in blood written within and without. (“with one accord the Starry Eight became/One Man Jesus the Saviour, wonderful! Round his limbs/ The Clouds of Ololon folded as a Garment dipped in blood/ Written within & without in woven letters, p.203 lines 10-13). At this moment, the Last Judgment happens and Blake goes on describing the scene of the Last Judgment. Elements such as column of fire and trumpets appear.

When Jesus comes to Felpham’s Vale, Blake begins his own self-annihilation. “Thou goest to Eternal Death & all must go with thee” (p.202). This sentence highlights the spirit of self-annihilation: one must take the action himself because no one, no matter that’s Jesus or Milton, can do it for you. “I stood at that immortal sound/ My bones trembled. I fell outstretchd upon the path/ A moment, & my Soul returned into its mortal state/ To Resurrection & Judgment in the Vegetable Body” (Plate 49 lines 24-27, p.203). I read this as Blake returns to his body and the mortal state to start self-annihilation, which is the resurrection and judgment.

“is this the Death Couch of Albion?/ Thou goest to Eternal Death & all must go with thee”

This Comment is in response to kathcal’s “The Necessity of Going Down.” This comment serves to add more support in terms of textual evidence to her argument. The passage that was assigned is in sync with kathcal’s statements on the sacrifice of autonomy in order to obtain oneness with God.

Milton, in his opening statements of the passage refers to the sacrifice of autonomy: “This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal Spirit; a Selfhood which must be put off.” Milton wishes to cast off his self-hood in order to become one with God–only attained through self-annihilation. He wishes to, in essence, be the impetus for a greater movement towards self-annihilation, to  start a chain-reaction. He wishes to “to take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination.” In the passage he speaks to address a large scale of people that seem to shun his view of Imagination–he seeks to purify, to reveal.

It seems to Blake that the individual forms that we currently occupy–our self-hood–has made us quite…selfish (ha). He is calling for a global cleansing on the scale of the Last Judgment in order to bring about the New Jerusalem. Blake, through Milton, fears that the current generation is too corrupt and tainted–too concerned with false figures, rather than pure Imagination–to bring about the New Jerusalem: “These are the destroyers of Jerusalem, these are the murderers/ Of Jesus, who deny the Faith & mock at Eternal Life.” And connecting back to kathcal’s post, it ties closely with the spiritual calling others down to the river. His call for rebirth indeed mimics baptism–a “Regeneration.”

Milton’s proclamation that he must “go down to self annihilation and eternal death” is accompanied by the threat “Lest the Last Judgment come & find me unannihilate / And I be siez’d & giv’n into the hands of my own Selfhood” (Plate 15, lines 23-24). Self annihilation in this sense refers not to physical destruction but to the mental, emotional, and spiritual crucifixion of the self: the destruction of the old, entrenched ways of living in favor of the new. The overarching message of “Milton: A Poem” is Blake’s version of Jesus’s admonition in Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

“Losing one’s life” in the context of this verse and of “Milton” is to destroy the power of the self over the spiritual state in order to gain the power of God over one’s soul. Blake’s interpretation of the Fall posits that Man severed his relationship to God, in which the divine was in direct communication with the mortal, in favor of an entirely human-centered focus. Blake does not dismiss the power or importance of the human element of faith, but he does affirm his belief in the importance of looking to the divine as the focus of one’s life. Only opening one’s mind and spirit to the power and methods of the divine (this is, of course, encapsulated in Blake’s idea of the “poetic genius”) can free the soul from the bonds of human-constructed laws and systems that proscribe the inspiration and creation of the imagination. “Dying to self” is thus the tenet by which Blake would have every person live: he affirms a mortal life that is nonetheless centered on the divine and anticipates the ultimate communication with God throughout eternity.

The consequence of failing to “self-annihilate” is to be condemned to Hell at the Last Judgment, or the final coming of Christ. To Blake, Hell, or eternal suffering, is encapsulated in the idea of “Selfhood”: an almost independent entity that, when given full reign over a person’s consciousness, places him in a state of constant self-awareness. Given the dominance of moral law, specifically that of the all-powerful Church, over an individual’s conscience, self-awareness in this life leads to a constant examination and condemnation of one’s “sinful” motives. For Blake is focusing primarily on the differences between the moral state propounded by the Church and that which he believes is the one truly in line with Christ’s life on Earth and the power of the divine present in humanity. According to Blake, mortal systems for regulating the conduct of one’s life emphasize constant evaluation of the self and one’s actions in place of a God-centered faith in which the divine is expressed via human creation and art.

To Blake, a constant focus on one’s own self – one’s thoughts, actions, and motivations – allows self-centeredness to become the compass of an individual soul. Every thought and event is evaluated in relation to the self. Conversely, a God-centeredness opens the door for the type of artistic imagination and production of which Blake is a staunch proponent.