Friday, November 02, 2012

Sexuality II

       A loveless marriage is a profanation of the greatest gift of life; nothing could arouse Blake to a whiter heat of indignation. Wollstonecraft had called it legal prostitution. In the lines that follow Oothoon names and radically disaffirms (go to VDA Plate 6, ) the sick social attitudes that make sex a hidden and forbidden secret pleasure, and that degrade the highest sacrament, marriage, into a life sentence at hard labor:
       Theotormon's jealousy casts Oothoon out and darkens her into "a solitary shadow wailing on the margin of non-entity". Blake developed this theme at the beginning of 'The Four Zoas'. There he ascribed the jealousy to Enion; it precipitated the Circle of Destiny (The Four Zoas [Nt 1], 5.)(all our sorrow!), sank Tharmas into the sea and condemned Enion to the very "margin of non-entity" of which Oothoon had spoken.
       To perceive a lover or spouse as a possession (a thing) is a fatal act that brings about the deterioration of life. In fact the nature of fallenness is to degrade the person (the real) to the material (the illusory). The one tormented by jealousy loses the capability of creative life; in biblical language he covers his soul with a thick layer of miry clay, not to mention what he does to others! The profound theological corollary suggested by VDA. is that if we weren't jealous people, we wouldn't have a jealous God. Obviously the Old Testament symbol of a jealous God has other meanings, but rightly or wrongly that is what it seems to have meant to Blake.
       Long before Freud's day Blake understood and described the close relationship, in fact the identity, between sexuality and creativity. He considered sexual fulfilment the primary means of artistic achievement. The picture in 'Milton' plate 42 portrays the post coital moment with the eagle of inspiration hovering above.
       On the other hand all the evils of life Blake related to frustrated or sick sex. War in particular is perverted sexuality. The worship of the Queen of Heaven induces chastity with war as a substitute fulfilment. Blake's warrior cries, "I am drunk with unsatiated love, I must rush again to War, for the Virgin has frowned and refused."
       Blake's mind was fourfold, which means that most of what he wrote is susceptible to more than one meaning. David Erdman in Prophet Against Empire saw VDA as political oratory at the service of the anti-slavery lobby. Oothoon is the type of the slave (of either sex); (in slave times the owner often claimed prenuptial privileges with the body of his slave). Bromion is the type of the merciless slave trader, and Theotormon of the wishy-washy conformist who can't quite bring himself to express his opposition to slavery (much as the many good Christians in America who couldn't quite bring themselves to condemn the war).
Here is an interesting file on Oothoon and her two men.


Sex as Symbol

       Blake used the female as the basic symbol for the material and for the materialistic viewpoint. The history of this concept goes as far back as the beginning of time. The Sun represents a masculine God, the Moon, a Goddess, such as Diana, the great goddess of Ephesus, whose priests raised a riot against the apostle Paul, reported at Acts 19.
       Long after MHH he wrote 'Jerusalem' where the "female will" approaches identity with Satan. Both terms connote a preoccupation with the material, putting it first and only. Thus when we read a passage like
The Human is but a Worm, and thou, 0 Male! Thou art
Thyself Female, a Male, a breeder of Seed, a Son & Husband; & Lo
The Human Divine is Woman's Shadow, a Vapor in the summer's heat.
Go assume Papal dignity, thou Spectre, thou Male Harlot! Arthur,
Divide into the Kings of Europe in times remote, 0 Woman-born
and Woman-nourish'd and Woman-educated & Woman-scorned!
(Jerusalem, 64.12; E215)
spoken by Vala, the personification of the "female will", we understand that Blake is not talking about what we know as the sex economy, but rather making a hard nosed statement of the nature of fallenness: the dominance of the material over the spiritual, a dominance all too evident in his age as in ours. This sad situation was always Blake's major concern, and the basic symbol with which he expressed it was that of sex. When we remember to translate male/female into spiritual/material or eternal/temporal, we make a great gain in our understanding of Blake.      

Milton's theory of sex influenced Blake as much as any other literary source. 'Paradise Lost' provides a definitive model for much of the sexual imagery that Blake used. Professor Frye calls our attention to a line in Book iv of P . L. describing Adam and Eve: "Hee for God only, shee for God in him" Frye reminds us that this applies only to the unfallen pair; it assigns to Adam a purely spiritual authority. The male dominance of material history Frye calls a "fallen analogy" of that spiritual relationship.
       All this enriches our understanding of the meaning of Astarte in her many forms and of the priests' reactions to her which color virtually every word of the Old Testament and its literary descendants: God is male, the Creator. Nature is female, the Creation. The soul (of man and woman) is female in relation to her Creator. Christ is the bridegroom; in union with him we a11 (of both sexes) become part of the bride. The modern man can accept this only as an imperfect metaphor for spiritual reality.

An earlier version of this material may be found at Chapter Eight of the Blake Primer.

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