Gender and Perception: William Blake and the Fall into Male and Female, by Northrop Frye

The Illusion of Objectivity and the Division of Perceived and Perceiver

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Introduction: Gender and Perception 

There are several accounts of the Fall in Blake but the invariable characteristic of them is Albion’s relapse from active creative energy to passivity. This passivity takes the form of wonder or awe at the world he has created, which in eternity he sees as a woman. The Fall thus begins in Beulah, the divine garden identified with Eden in Genesis. 

Once he takes the fatal step of thinking the object-world independent of him, Albion sinks into a sleep symbolizing the passivity of his mind, and his creation separates and becomes the “female will” or Mother Nature, the remote and inaccessible universe of tantalizing mystery we now see. Love, or the transformation of the objective into the beloved, and art, or the transformation of the objective into the created, are the two activities pursued on this earth to repair the damage of the Fall, and they raise our state to Beulah and Eden respectively. 

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The Sleep of Albion and the Fall into Division, by Northrop Frye

How the Sleep of Imagination Produces Dissociation 

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Any attempt to explain Blake’s symbolism will involve explaining his conception of symbolism. To make this clear we need Blake’s own definition of poetry:

Allegory addressed to the Intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the Corporeal Understanding, is My Definition of the Most Sublime Poetry; it is also somewhat in the same manner defined by Plato.

The “corporeal understanding”, according to Blake, cannot do more than elucidate the genuine obscurities, the things requiring special knowledge to understand (such as the contemporary allusions in Dante), or the literal mechanics of a poem (meter, structure, general themes etc). The “intellectual powers” go to work rather differently: they start with the hypothesis that the poem in front of them is an imaginative whole, a unique and irreplaceable event, and work out the implications of that hypothesis. The way that poetry is generally taught in schools therefore, by converting it into “corporeal understanding” – into a form of machinery – completely misses its whole point, like explaining a joke or analysing a dead body to find out what makes it tick.

‘Excrement’: John Keating’s apt description of the corporeal understanding’s approach to poetry

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