Monday, June 7, 2010

Rescuing Femininity (Part XI of the 'Blake Project')

The great secret of morals is love; or a going-out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own.’ ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

In a certain manner of speaking, the female has zero metaphysical existence; she is insubstantial; she has no Being, no identification whatsoever with the higher sort of reality exposited by the Vedas, the Platonic Dialogues, and the Enneads. Anything feminine is entirely a fabrication of this, the natural world, which can just as easily be said to be feminine itself. These are the foundational patterns that find their way into Blake’s cosmology, particularly in the later prophetic works, where the true nature of the female is finally delineated and consequently appropriated into the overall schema.

When looking at Blake’s poetry for the first time, common interpretations lead one to immediately pick out certain social criticisms that he is making, and yet a social criticism is rarely the full extent of what he is really expounding. It is more often the case that, instead of outlining a single idea through poetic discourse, Blake is identifying multiple ideas, the most important of which is frequently the one that is most cleverly ‘hidden’, in spite of his intense dislike for the artistic obscurity that was in vogue during his time. Moreover, these ideas are probably not intended to be opaque and concealed within layers of poetic ambiguity, but have nevertheless become so merely because of developing theories of literary interpretation that, in the main, read things at a surface level, sometimes missing the most crucial point in regards to the Blakean context. So, it is not that Blake purposefully hides an essential idea, it is that they are unusual enough to become hidden by the usual modes of understanding the text and imagery.

The specific point that we are trying to get at it is, Blake’s conception of woman has been portrayed as pointedly cryptic and enigmatic; on the one hand we have the seemingly simple explanation of woman as the quintessential picture of desire, and the moral incursions that impose chastity upon her are part of the devil’s work in actuality; and, on the other hand, we see woman defined in a rather patristic light, viz. of an unhealthy, seductive force that drives man to madness and spiritual corruption; so, in other words, woman herself is the devil’s work. As is often the case in these kinds of situations, the truth resides somewhere between the two, and to resolve the dilemma, we return to the concept of the Emanation.

As the positive reflection of a man’s inner state, the emanation is beautiful, appearing in all the virtues apropos of womanhood. There is also, however, a dual possibility inherent in the emanation herself: remaining as the silver luminosity of an Eve or a Jerusalem, or degenerating into a terrible femininity a la Rahab or Vala, the manifestations of the seductive and demoralizing impulse of the female persona. Los has this to say about the unnatural deification of woman, which is precisely what the latter type demands:

'What may man be? Who can tell! but what may Woman be?

To have Power over Man from Cradle to corruptible Grave

There is a Throne in every Man, it is the Throne of God  

This Woman has claimd as her own & Man is no more!’

Thus, in worshipping woman (we can also call this pantheism, or worship of the natural world), man has shifted his attention from within (which is the realm of God and man) to without (the realm of appearance and woman); and this he has done under the supposed splendor of the ill-meaning female who has effectively beguiled him into her chains. The contrasting element is, of course, the desire for union between male and female, which is consummated and symbolized in the loving embrace of physical union; this obviously represents the reunion of the poles that obviously takes place in the symbolical, metaphysical realm. Therefore, femininity is potentiality on either front: it can be either degeneration into a living manifestation of what Blake disparagingly called the ‘Female Will’, or it can be the patient ‘Shakti’ that acts as the spiritual stimulus for man himself.

'It is the natural and mortal body that Blake loved and hated, and though the potential for spiritual regeneration lies in the physical body, the actuality does not. (The actuality is in Eternity.)’ ~ Diana Hume George

William Blake dwelled in a reactionary age where many intellectuals and sentimentalists alike responded to the Industrial Revolution in similar ways. (This is what leads Kathleen Raine to say, ‘William Blake was a traditionalist in a society that as a whole had lapsed from tradition.') One of the reactions was in the widespread and newly founded appeal for nature, going so far as to deify it in the fashion of paganism, particularly in the case of the English and French romantics. This was the greatest reason for Blake’s intense scorn for the natural world in the metaphysical sense, since he saw the devoted attention formerly devoted to God being paid to the cruel and barren affairs of nature; this was a grave betrayal. ‘Where Man is not Nature is barren’, as Blake famously stated; and yet his vitriol for the ‘visible world’ is ultimately negated when we remember the importance of viewing the physical realm through the redemptive lens of symbolism, which is the vision courtesy of divinity.

'I assert for Myself that I do not behold the Outward Creation & that to me it is a hindrance & not Action it is as the Dirt upon my feet No part of Me. What it will be Questiond When the Sun rises do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea O no no I see an innumerable Company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight I look thro it & not with it.’

Once again, esse est percipi; the physicality provides the base, the material which our intellect works on; our vision sees through and beyond the matter and into infinity. The female is an inner part of an integral self; separate from masculinity and the apperception of the intellect, she is ontologically vacant; but when she is spiritually and physically joined with her counterpart, she has attained completion in the proper integration of Man.