[Milton-L] Hellish flatulence?

Mitchell M. Harris mitchell.harris at augie.edu
Mon Mar 1 14:54:05 EST 2010


Larry,

Given the dialectic you develop between interpretation and imposition,  
how can you honestly suggest that you're own reading of the sublime is  
not an act of imposition in itself?

Yes, I will concede that sometimes a canon is a canon, but I also will  
defend the possibility that Milton was not playfully but seriously  
considering the endless possibilities of theological, physiological,  
political, and ethical connotations in developing an analogy between  
canons and (pardon the French) demonic assholes.

But maybe we don't need to make this a false either-or. Isn't it quite  
possible that the sublime becomes all the more sublime when brought  
into distinct counterpoint with the scatological? God and the faithful  
angels have true substance and thus the ability to create real  
weaponry, while the fallen and unfaithful are left to deal with their  
own excrement, which pathetically moves from existence to nonexistence?

All the best,
	Mitch


On Mar 1, 2010, at 1:09 PM, Larry Isitt wrote:

> Mitchell, Jeffrey, Michael,
>
> I can agree that the rebel angels are not themselves sublime in  
> their constitutions and thoughts. And I can see some sense of the  
> mock-heroic. But sublimity in Book 6 is for me the overall elevated  
> nature of the conflict, its terror (in a Burkean sense that awakens  
> the sense of the sublime in readers). I also think of Books 1-2 in  
> this terrific sense.
>
> Cannons roar, volcanoes roar, behinds roar, and therefore the war in  
> heaven is flatulent, and I know this because Milton was flatulent,  
> is the slimmest of slim limbs to crawl out on. With respect, free  
> association of this kind is not interpretation, it is imposition, a  
> fraud on our students, and flat lunacy.
>
>
> However to clarify further, I do not only work on the sublime  
> assumption when I insist that there is no intended or unintended  
> flatulence in view in Book 6. If mention of alimentary canal terms  
> is automatically and inevitably flatulent, no matter the context,  
> just because Milton was flatulent and complained of that condition,  
> then we might all just throw on our gas masks and take our students  
> along as we go a-tripping through all of Milton's poems on the  
> lookout for winds, explosions, fumes of sulphur and the like. I  
> contend that no student, uninstructed by our own clever insertions,  
> would ever arrive at flatulence in reading Book 6. I say again, that  
> to entertain our own fantasies in reading literature is not  
> interpretation but imposition and a fraud. If Freud did not say  
> this, he should have: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And  
> sometimes cannons belch flame and volcanoes expel great winds  
> because that is how cannons and volcanoes act.
> Larry
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu 
> ] On Behalf Of Mitchell M. Harris
> Sent: Monday, March 01, 2010 9:45 AM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Hellish flatulence?
>
> Larry,
>
> You work from the presumption that the war is "sublime," and thus
> contend that all actions within the scene should add to its sublime
> state. However, Milton repeatedly dwells on the lamentable state of
> the angels' decision to rebel in the first place. I don't ever think
> he saw the war as sublime--necessary, but not sublime.
>
> Best,
> 	Mitch
>
> Mitchell M. Harris
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> Augustana College
> 2001 S. Summit Ave.
> Sioux Falls, SD 57197
> (605) 274-5297
> mitchell.harris at augie.edu
>
> "Each goodly thing is hardest to begin . . ."
>
> 				   - Edmund Spenser
>
> On Feb 28, 2010, at 4:16 PM, Larry Isitt wrote:
>
>> Mitchell, John, and Horace,
>> I will concede the references to flatulence in 16th and 17th century
>> imagery, and in Aquinas, where it is made the deliberate subject at
>> hand (as Aquinas overtly represents defecation and angels). Raphael
>> is indeed speaking of flatulence but in a context (food) where it is
>> appropriate. But where sublimity is in view as here in Milton's
>> supreme elevation of the grandest war in the world, how may we
>> imagine that that sublimity is magnified by alimentary canal
>> venting, especially when it is cannon, not the angels themselves,
>> who belch? Milton's volcanic winds and stench is language true of
>> such events (I know personally of the stench when Mt. St. Helens
>> blew in Washington State).
>>
>> Might cannon belch and not mean implied flatulence even though an
>> author in other contexts brings it overtly into his discussion or
>> because he is personally suffering from it privately? The words
>> Milton chooses to represent warfare and volcanoes belong
>> appropriately to those subjects.
>> Larry
>>
>> ________________________________________
>> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>> ] On Behalf Of Mitchell M. Harris [mitchell.m.harris at gmail.com]
>> Sent: Saturday, February 27, 2010 1:22 PM
>> To: John Milton Discussion List
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Hellish flatulence?
>>
>> Thank you, John, for this appropriate response to Larry's posting. I
>> also would add that Milton's fascination with the scatological is
>> evident in his Prolusions. He also most likely saw it as an  
>> acceptable
>> point of discussion in the epic genre, given Arthur and Sir Guyon's
>> fascination with the bowels of the House of Alma in Book 2 of The  
>> F.Q.
>> Also, Aquinas made it an expressed theological issue when he argued
>> that angels do not defecate in his Summa.
>>
>> All the best,
>>       Mitch
>>
>> Mitchell M. Harris
>> Assistant Professor
>> Department of English
>> Augustana College
>> 2001 S. Summit Ave.
>> Sioux Falls, SD 57197
>> (605) 274-5297
>> mitchell.harris at augie.edu
>>
>>
>>
>>
>> On Feb 27, 2010, at 12:11 PM, John Leonard wrote:
>>
>>> Larry,
>>>
>>> You argue "with nicest touch," but think not that Milton shall be
>>> nice.  The passage to which you refer (appended below) includes
>>> "narrow vent," "belcht," "Emboweld" and "entrails."  It is hard to
>>> believe that Milton is simply deaf to the scatological potential of
>>> those words.  Then there are the volcanoes in Hell that erupt with
>>> "winds, / And leave a singed bottom all involved / With stench and
>>> smoke" 1.235)..   Raphael himself is not so nice as to exclude a
>>> reference to flatulence:
>>>
>>> But knowledge is as food, and needs no less
>>> Her temperance over appetite, to know
>>> In measure what the mind may well contain,
>>> Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns
>>> Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind. (7 126-30)
>>>
>>> None of this is evidence of "delight" in "an outhouse."  The windy
>>> suspirations are in every case an indication that something has gone
>>> wrong or is in danger.  It may be relevant that Milton suffered from
>>> flatulence. In his letter to Leonard Philaras dated September 28,
>>> 1654 he refers to "my spleen and all my viscera burdened and shaken
>>> with flatulence" (Yale Prose, 4:869).
>>>
>>> John Leonard
>>>
>>>
>>>
>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Larry Isitt" <isitt at cofo.edu>
>>> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>>> Sent: Saturday, February 27, 2010 12:15 PM
>>> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Hellish flatulence?
>>>
>>>
>>>> To the flatulence hunters:
>>>> There is flatulence in Book 6 only where "interpreters" wish to
>>>> find it, bringing to their own delight an outhouse and setting it
>>>> up in the midst of the great war Milton was actually describing. To
>>>> insist on finding flatulence where Milton clearly did not intend it
>>>> (he was not stupid enough to ruin his own poem by making it a joke)
>>>> is to reduce the grand poet to an oafish sniggering lout. The only
>>>> straining going on in Book 6 is in the minds of "interpreters" who
>>>> miss the sense for the nonsense they bring into the text.
>>>>
>>>> Larry Isitt
>>>> College of the Ozarks
>>>>
>>>> ________________________________
>>>> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>>>> ] On Behalf Of Brendan Prawdzik [brendanprawdzik at gmail.com]
>>>> Sent: Friday, February 26, 2010 2:41 PM
>>>> To: John Milton Discussion List
>>>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Hellish flatulence?
>>>>
>>>> Now that this stinky subject has been pierced, I must say that I
>>>> think flatulence may be unusually important to Milton and related
>>>> to the discussion of his monism/vitalism from some days ago.
>>>>
>>>> To me the most remarkable lines on flatulence in the poem occur in
>>>> Book 6, particularly in relation to Satan's invention of the canon:
>>>>
>>>> thir mouthes
>>>> With hideous orifice gap't on us wide,
>>>> Portending hollow truce; at each behind
>>>> A Seraph stood, and in his hand a Reed
>>>> Stood waving tipt with fire; while we suspense, [ 580 ]
>>>> Collected stood within our thoughts amus'd,
>>>> Not long, for sudden all at once thir Reeds
>>>> Put forth, and to a narrow vent appli'd
>>>> With nicest touch. Immediate in a flame,
>>>> But soon obscur'd with smoak, all Heav'n appeerd, [ 585 ]
>>>>> From those deep throated Engins belcht, whose roar
>>>> Emboweld with outragious noise the Air,
>>>> And all her entrails tore, disgorging foule
>>>> Thir devilish glut.
>>>>
>>>> The language of throats belching is also here, but the language of
>>>> flatulence is clear.  I discussed this passage with students of an
>>>> early modern eco-poetry class last year, analyzing it as a
>>>> monstrous birth that follows upon Satan's proto-industrialist
>>>> relationship to the terra firma. I compared it with these lines
>>>> from Book 7, which describe the creation in the precise terms of
>>>> human pregnancy:
>>>>
>>>> The Earth was form'd, but in the Womb as yet
>>>> Of Waters, Embryon immature involv'd,
>>>> Appeer'd not: over all the face of Earth
>>>> Main Ocean flow'd, not idle, but with warme
>>>> Prolific humour soft'ning all her Globe, [ 280 ]
>>>> Fermented the great Mother to conceave,
>>>> Satiate with genial moisture ...
>>>>
>>>> One other passage that appears, a hilarious passage that links
>>>> flatulence both with knowledge/conversation and with Milton's
>>>> vitalism, also appears in Book 7, 126-30, spoken by Raphael to  
>>>> Adam:
>>>>
>>>> But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
>>>> Her Temperance over Appetite, to know
>>>> In measure what the mind may well contain,
>>>> Oppresses else with Surfet, and soon turns
>>>> Wisdom to Folly, as Nourishment to Winde. [130]
>>>>
>>>> Are these passages, and is flatulence in general, related to
>>>> Milton's understanding of his own creative output?  I ask this
>>>> because of Milton's remarkable explanation for his blindness, as
>>>> appears in a 1654 letter to friend Leonard Philaras:
>>>>
>>>> "It is about ten years, I think, since I perceived my sight to grow
>>>> weak and dim, finding at the same time my intestines afflicted with
>>>> flatulence and oppression ... Obstinate vapours seemed to have
>>>> settled over my forehead and temples, overwhelming my eyes with a
>>>> sort of sleepy heaviness, especially after food ... "
>>>>
>>>> Consider too that the same shepherds in "Lycidas" who make the
>>>> flocks' bellies fill with gas are also described with that famous
>>>> phrase "blind mouths."  What is the link between blindness, mouths,
>>>> and flatulence? Certainly some type of folly, nefarious in the case
>>>> of Satan and the corrupted clergy, is involved ...
>>>>
>>>> It also seems intriguing that Milton writes this passage in 1654, a
>>>> time when, I would aver, his millenarian optimism has given way to
>>>> a degree of bitterness and frustration, and as he may be rethinking
>>>> some of the previous decade.
>>>>
>>>> Yours,
>>>>
>>>> Brendan M. Prawdzik
>>>>
>>>>
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> On Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 12:14 PM, Dario Rivarossa <dario.rivarossa at gmail.com
>>>> <mailto:dario.rivarossa at gmail.com>> wrote:
>>>> So, guys, let me quote the immortal
>>>>
>>>> "Ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta"
>>>>
>>>> Dante, Inferno XXI: 139
>>>>
>>>> Ipse dixit.
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