Tag Archive: Ololon


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.

 

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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 Male Dominance

In book 2, plate 48-49, lns. 35-39, 1-15 (p. 202-203), does Ololon’s recognition of herself and Milton as “Contraries” result in her self-annihilation? If so, explain how her self-annihilation is similar to or different from Milton’s.

The Blake dictionary, of course, has a great section on Ololon that will help answer the question of whether or not she self-annihilates, and if she does, in fact, self-annihilate, how it will compare to that of Milton’s. According to the text, Milton A Poem is the only work of Blake’s in which she appears. This makes sense, because she unwittingly symbolizes the “truth underlying [Milton’s] errors about women.”

As we have been able to glean from the introduction and footnotes of our edition of Milton, the popular British poet had his fair share of difficulties with the ladies. The Blake dictionary describes Milton’s relationship with women thus:

“Milton had never discovered Ololon—had never really understood the other sex. His honeymoon difficulties with his first wife had inspired his great tome on divorce; he loved his second wife at least to the extent of a great sonnet; his third wife was merely a housekeeper. It is well known how his three daughters mistreated their great father” (307).

His three wives plus the three daughters are Milton’s “Sixfold Emanation”, emanation being to Blake the “feminine portion, or ‘counterpart,’ of the fundamentally bisexual male” according to the Blake dictionary. Milton’s emanation was lost in his poor relationships with the women closest to him throughout his corporeal existence. Milton is the story of his return to earth to reclaim his lost emanation in the annihilation of his unfulfilled mortal self.

But in a close reading of the text, we will find that Ololon, too, self-annihilates, though in a manner far different from Milton. She begins the final movement towards her moment of annihilation with a short lament over the lackluster self-annihilation undergone by Milton, citing his horrible treatment of women: “Is this our Feminine Portion, the Six-fold Miltonic Female?/ Terribly this Portion trembles before thee O awful Man” (30-31) Eventually, Ololon divides into six parts and flees into the depths of Milton’s Shadow. This is her annihilation, which curiously brings her to be a part of Milton, the very figure whose shortcomings she happens to incarnate.

Ultimately, Milton’s self-annihilation fails to change the errors of his corporeal existence in his return to Earth. Ololon, as the voice of feminine criticism, shows in her own self-annihilation the dominance Milton maintains over her. The flight into “Milton’s Shadow” is likened to “a Dove upon the stormy Sea”(pl. 49 ln. 6). Here, Blake demonstrates the spiritual turmoil in which Milton remains after his failed self-annihilation.

I’m not sure how to figure Ololon’s self-recognition as Milton’s contrary into my reading, so if anyone can help me, I’d appreciate the insight.