Scarlet Woman: Heather Corinna

Recently I noticed a fair amount of traffic coming to Zoamorphosis from people looking for a particular name, Heather Corinna. This was after a tweet of mine about an online interview with her that appeared on feministing.com was added to the site. I recognised the name from the old Albion mail list, but only recently realised that William Blake has been a continuing influence on the queer polymath and feminist activist who c0-founded The All Girl Army and whose work can be found on sites such as Scarlet Letters and Scarleteen. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend her blog and various musings at femmerotic.com, and her work has accolades from sources as diverse as Playboy to the Utne Reader.

Here I’ll concentrate on where Blake threads his way through some of her work. From the 1970s onwards, Blake took a beating from a number of feminist writings and – to be honest – deserved a great deal of it. While there is plenty that is vibrant, uplifting and sexually liberating about Blake’s works, he couldn’t resist absorbing all those emanations into his four zoas, and if he celebrates femininity, even feminism, the female vision of Beulah always seems to take second place to masculine Eden, at least in his later work.

In fact, that phrase – “later work” – sums up my own problems around Blake and gender. In his early works, such as The Book of Thel and Visions of the Daughters of Albion, he has no problems whatsoever with recognising the importance of gender politics and a Wollstonecraft-inspired response to the oppression of women in his day (he had, after all, illustrated some of Wollstonecraft’s work during the 1790s). Unsurprisingly, it is Visions, and particularly the lead character of Oothoon, that is one of Corinna’s inspirations:

HC: It’s crazy tough to pick just one, but Oothoon in William Blake’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion would have to win it if it was just one. It’s a short piece, but in but a few pages, mostly composed of Oothoon speaking and telling her own tale, she does those most magnificent telling-off on everything from how crazy it is for anyone to suggest that a woman raped is somehow “tainted” or “impure,” to what’s really at the core of sexual jealousy to what sexual freedom and women’s sexuality could really be like in a better world. It also contains Blake’s concept of what innocence is, which is radically different from how we usually hear it defined. For Blake, innocence was simply where we are at without experience, less about purity and more about an open wonder, then we get life experience, and the ideal state — unlike the one we often see, which is this perpetual state of innocence or “purity” — is to return to innocence informed and deepened by experience. (From an interview on Feministing)

Corinna spent her early years alternating between Chicago and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania before attending the Chicago Academy of Arts and Shimer College where, in her own words, “she discovered Blake and found that erotic literature and sexuality could parade as an actual major”. After throwing herself into online communities (All Girl Army being the most notable of many) as well as specialising in writing about sexuality and working as a sexuality educator and queer activist, she attracted considerable attention for sites such as scarleteen.com (she’s also a trained Montessori teacher). In short, she’s just the kind of person to get down and dirty with Blake or engage in an honest (mental) fight with him, for without contaries is no progression – though there would not necessarily be that many contraries between the two of them.

Blake crops up again and again in Corinna’s work, but I’m going to end with just one piece to demonstrate her way of using him to make humane and often extremely thoughtful observations – in this case on the subject of rape advice for teenagers:

Were our thoughts, as a whole people, more broad and wider in scope on sexuality, we would understand that an act of rape, legally defined as “a sexual act committed against a woman’s will,” is only a sexual act for the perpetrator, and even in that, has far more to do with other factors, such as power, dominance, control, anger and emotional imbalance, than it does with sex at all.

William Blake, in the late 1700’s, wrote a piece entitled Visions of the Daughters of Albion. At the time, the premise of this piece was revolutionary: Oothoon, a woman in love with Theotormon, is raped by another, Bromion, and despite Theotormon’s feelings she is “spoiled,” she boldly asserts otherwise. Oothoon — and Blake — states clearly that she is incapable of being spoiled, ruined or sullied by the action of others upon her, in which she had no part or engagement with. Thankfully, others have also finally begun to realize this is so. (From scarleteen.com)