Tag Archive: Self-annihilation


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.

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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.”

Slavery as a Component of Milton

In response to kathcal,

I think that your connection between Milton and slave spirituals is not tenuous at all but, rather, quite an adept recognition. In fact, I would further argue that Milton: Book the First explores another form of slavery to which Blake frequently alludes: mental enslavement. Just as Blake disapproves of the institution of slavery, as is evident in many of his works, he also disapproves of the binding moral and logic-based laws of Urizen; such disapproval led him to put forward the idea of self-annihilation as a way of creating distance from the rational, systematized part of oneself. I’m curious about your claim that self-annihilation involves the abandonment, or sacrifice as you referred to it, of autonomy. Quite contrarily, I would argue that the act of self-annihilation enables one to become autonomous, The act of self-annihilation in and of itself is destructive but it doesn’t degrade the part of oneself that is intrinsically your own. Self-annihilation is a way of freeing oneself from Urizen’s ties and, on a more conceptual level, it is not the separating of the self into two parts, it is the final freeing of the self from a counterpart to which it was unceremoniously attached–Urizenic law.

Considering Milton in the context of slavery commentary, the engraving on Pg. 126 (shown below) takes on a double entendre of sorts. Milton’s personage, a sinewy character lunging forward and attacking Urizen dually suggests a break from his previous state of self and, more generally, from a state of subjugation and powerlessness. Certainly, the image of Milton is one of a man who has toiled laboriously, with brawny and defined muscles. One may even be as bold as to say that some of the markings on the back of Milton could be interpreted as scars from lashings by a whip. Thus, Milton gains a powerful, implicit jab at the slavery movement of the time while he furthers his contention imagistically that the self must be freed from Urizenic law to truly be capable of entering the “Kingdom of Heaven.”.

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The Necessity of Going Down.

After reading the paragraph of Milton’s proclamation on p.162, the repetition of the phrase “I will go down” in lines 20 and 21 reminded me of the classic Christian spiritual “Down to the River to Pray,” and I have included a version sung by Alison Krauss in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou.

Although the connection between Milton and slave spirituals may seem tenuous at the onset, these works both consider self-annihilation as a means to reaching the divine. When Milton states, “I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks!/ I will go down to self annihilation and eternal death,” he recognizes the need to sacrifice his current life in order to avoid remaining imbued with Satan, being “that Evil One!” (20-21, 30). The image of the sepulcher reinforces this idea that death (and all its physical pain and suffering) must precede oneness with God, a state that can only be achieved by the destruction of autonomic reasoning.

In the spiritual, the singer encourages others to accompany her to the river to pray, which is a reference to baptism, and this sacrament can be seen in the accompanying video. Though Christian doctrine believes Christ to have been the ultimate atonement for sin (a tenet with which Blake disagrees), the rite of baptism literally mimics the act of being reborn as a Christian, and one can not possibly be reborn if one has not already died. Even the most mainstream sects of Christianity preach one must sacrifice autonomy in order to be receive in the Kingdom of Heaven, so although this song lacks the intense corporeality of Blake’s images and prose in Milton, the underlying belief in the necessity of self-annihilation drives both.

Here’s a brief explanation of the Arab Spring, which we discussed briefly in class:

When a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire to protest government corruption, he started a widespread series of uprisings.
http://www.WatchMojo.com tracks the inception and rise of the Arab Spring movement from Tunisia, to Libya, Egypt and beyond.

This video introduction to the Arab Spring helps contextualize the prophetic revolution Blake calls for in Asia in The Song of Los. Blake’s use of polysemic language allows his prophecy to be read for the future, our 21st Century. In the case of the Arab Spring, Orc’s revolution begins in an act of self-annihilation: the Tunisian street vender who burns himself alive as an act of protest against political oppression and capitalist exploitation. Orc’s fires are raging today in North Africa and the Middle East…Blake’s prophetic vision is now here, we are now entering the Last Judgment. Creepy? Strange? Absurd? What do you think?