Sunday, April 07, 2013


Alfred Ames in reviewing Fearful Symmetry in 1947 soon after its publication comments:
"The typical poet, Frye believes, as he becomes wiser becomes less lyrical and more didactic, progressively rejecting the “cloven fictions” that delight and instruction are separable objectives, and that subject and object of experience are discrete entities."

Blake speaks of 'cloven fiction' as a shorthand for the false dichotomy which we create between things, people or ideas of equal value by calling them opposites. By using the term 'contrary' himself, Blake recognizes that what seems to be unlike may be equally true. The problem to Blake arises when our first parents eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Vision of Last Judgment, (E 564)
"Satan thinks that Sin is displeasing to God he ought to know that
Nothing is displeasing to God but Unbelief & Eating of the Tree
of Knowledge of Good & Evil"  
The knowledge they gained introduced a dualistic viewpoint which began to categorize everything they encountered as either good or evil. As Northrop Frye explains the situation:
"The same distinction between a contrary and a negation occurs in Blake's theory of ideas. All real thing have qualities in them, and qualities have opposites.This is particularly true of moral qualities, as every virtue has its corresponding vice. All 'good' men by any standards  may be 'bad' by other standards, just as an egg that is bad to eat may be good to throw at someone. But the believer in the cloven fiction prefers to identify a real thing with one of its qualities, because things become easier to generalize about when classified into qualities. Now as things are good or bad according to circumstances, the cloven fiction leads to absolutizing of circumstance. The deader a thing is, the more obedient it is to circumstances, and the more alive it is the less predictable it becomes. Hence the believer in the cloven fiction finds it much easier  to understand the behavior of dead things, the objects of exact science under the laws of 'mathematic form.' And in studying human activity he again finds it easiest to understand what is most automatic. So insensibly he tends to call 'the passive that obeys Reason' good, and the active springing from Energy' bad." (Page 189)

On Homers Poetry, (E 269)
"It is the same with the Moral of a whole Poem as with the Moral
Goodness of its parts Unity & Morality, are secondary considerations &
belong to Philosophy & not to Poetry, to Exception & not to Rule,
to Accident & not to Substance. the Ancients calld it eating of
the tree of good & evil." 
Vision of Last Judgment, (E 554)
    "The Last Judgment when all those are Cast away who trouble
Religion with Questions concerning Good & Evil or Eating of the
Tree of those Knowledges or Reasonings which hinder the Vision of
God turning all into a Consuming fire" 

Vision of Last Judgment, (E 563)
"By this it will be seen that I do not consider either the Just
or the Wicked to be in a Supreme State but to be every one of
them States of the Sleep which the Soul may fall into in its
Deadly Dreams of Good & Evil when it leaves Paradise
following the Serpent
The term 'Cloven Fiction' comes from this verse in the Keys to The Gates of Paradise
For Children: The Gates of Paradise 
Copy D, Page 7
For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, (E 268)
"Keys of The Gates

5    Blind in Fire with shield & spear 
     Two Horn'd Reasoning Cloven Fiction 
     In Doubt which is Self contradiction
     A dark Hermaphrodite We stood             
     Rational Truth Root of Evil & Good
     Round me flew the Flaming Sword
     Round her snowy Whirlwinds roard
     Freezing her Veil the Mundane Shell"

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