[Milton-L] no fall before the fall

Brendan Prawdzik brendanprawdzik at gmail.com
Mon Mar 29 12:02:23 EDT 2010


While I agree with Richard Strier that, theologically, there can be no "fall
before the fall," that Eve's (and subsequently Adam's) act of eating the
fruit performs the fall (as in the violating of a verbal contract), like
Carol I cannot accept the view that all sign of affective perturbation or
tension before the fall is a sign of the projecting reader's fallen state,
rather than a genuine
not-quite-being-absolutely-perfect-in-the-sense-that-we-tend-to-expect
sense.  Who does not struggle with the feeling that, when Eve "chooses"
Adam, she is not losing something dear?  Does not Eve's experience reflect
the lessons of Lacan's mirror stage (pardon the anachronism)?  I.e., the
sense of invulnerable wholeness of the mirror stage recognition is
delusional, yet the weaning from this delusion into the sign -system of the
paternal, legitimating order is nonetheless traumatic, marking as it does
loss, and a new sense of dependency?  For a long time, the most troubling
lines of the poem, from the perspective of gender, have for me been these
(Eve begins by quoting Adam):

Part of my Soul I seek thee, and thee claim
My other half: with that thy gentle hand
Seisd mine, I yielded, and from that time see
How beauty is excelld by manly grace [ 490 ]
And wisdom, which alone is truly fair.

Why does Milton fold "thy gentle hand" and "seisd" over that enjambment, if
not to register a dissonance between Eve's desire to accept Adam's
gentleness and her sense that she has been "seized" from something that she
is not quite ready to forego?  Likewise, why pit the act of "claim[ing],"
via the enjambment, against the idea of "other half," that ideal of absolute
equality, here sounding like a thing possessed?  Here is another moment
where Milton is drawing us into the heart of a seeming contradiction, a
paradox that bears an almost insupportable burden.  Is he merely aiming, as
Fish argues, to elicit a fallen response to be subsequently chastised?  Or
is there not a tension between the letter of the law and the spirit of Eve's
actual experience that it is Adam's duty, and hers, to find a way to
harmonize, specifically by that loving labor of conversation?

Milton allows himself to have it both ways at once: the fall does not occur
until the fall, yet tension between surface and subconscious, sign and
signified rumbles and rumbles until the rupture.  The separation, the result
of a derailed conversation, happens at the worst time because here is
precisely where Eve needs to confront and express -- and Adam needs to
confront and express, and both need to discuss until they can find a way to
harmonize -- the sign of their supposed "equality" with the deeper reality
of their differences.

None of this detracts from God's "innocence."  In fact, a reading that
provides no affective or psychological context for the Fall makes Eve's
error as arbitrary as Sin who leaps fully formed from Satan's head.  This
God would be much harder to forgive.

Brendan M. Prawdzik


On Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 8:26 AM, richard strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>wrote:

> As usual, it seems, I agree completely with Gillum.  I think it extremely
> important to avoid ANY VERSION of a "fall before the Fall" view.  This
> means that
> everything that occurs before the actual fall (the taking and eating) is to
> be
> construed as innocent-- everything (Eve's initial reaction, the argument
> about
> division of labor in book IX, everything).
>
> ---- Original message ----
> >Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2010 11:09:17 -0400
> >From: Michael Gillum < mgillum at unca.edu>
> >Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Adam and Eve alone
> >To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> >
> >   But Carol, as someone recently noted here, in
> >   responding to the image in the lake, Eve isn't being
> >   narcissistic because she doesn't know the image is
> >   of herself. She is responding to a need for
> >   companionship that, as Harold says, is innate to
> >   both Adam and Eve. Readers may take the incident as
> >   foreshadowing and may apply the fallen archetypes of
> >   Narcissus and woman-as-vanity gazing into a mirror.
> >   However, there is nothing morally defective in her
> >   response. It is the result of misapprehension.
> >   Although the confusion does indicate that her
> >   understanding is not as strong as Adam's, not as
> >   quick to distinguish truth from "fair appearing
> >   good," it is not misguided in an ethical sense. She
> >   is looking for someone to love.
> >   Michael.
> >
> >   On Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 10:13 AM, Carol Barton
> >   <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net> wrote:
> >
> >     I agree with John, and believe that the point is a
> >     portent (not a sin in and of itself, but a
> >     foreshadowing of Eve's fall). Adam awakes at
> >     Creation with a compulsion to find and thank his
> >     Creator (it's a beautiful passage, so I will cite
> >     the whole thing from Book 8):
> >
> >     As new wak't from soundest sleep
> >     Soft on the flourie herb I found me laid
> >     In Balmie Sweat, which with his Beames the Sun [
> >     255 ]
> >     Soon dri'd, and on the reaking moisture fed.
> >     Strait toward Heav'n my wondring Eyes I turnd,
> >     And gaz'd a while the ample Skie, till rais'd
> >     By quick instinctive motion up I sprung,
> >     As thitherward endevoring, and upright [ 260 ]
> >     Stood on my feet; about me round I saw
> >     Hill, Dale, and shadie Woods, and sunnie Plaines,
> >     And liquid Lapse of murmuring Streams; by these,
> >     Creatures that livd, and movd, and walk'd, or
> >     flew,
> >     Birds on the branches warbling; all things smil'd,
> >     [ 265 ]
> >     With fragrance and with joy my heart oreflow'd.
> >     My self I then perus'd, and Limb by Limb
> >     Survey'd, and sometimes went, and sometimes ran
> >     With supple joints, as lively vigour led:
> >     But who I was, or where, or from what cause, [ 270
> >     ]
> >     Knew not; to speak I tri'd, and forthwith spake,
> >     My Tongue obey'd and readily could name
> >     What e're I saw. Thou Sun, said I, faire Light,
> >     And thou enlight'nd Earth, so fresh and gay,
> >     Ye Hills and Dales, ye Rivers, Woods, and Plaines,
> >     [ 275 ]
> >     And ye that live and move, fair Creatures, tell,
> >     Tell, if ye saw, how came I thus, how here?
> >     Not of my self; by some great Maker then,
> >     In goodness and in power prćeminent;
> >     Tell me, how may I know him, how adore, [ 280 ]
> >
> >       >From whom I have that thus I move and live,
> >
> >     And feel that I am happier then I know.
> >
> >     Eve, on the other hand (as John suggests) wanders
> >     off to find her own Narcissistic reflection in the
> >     pool, and is *led away from it* (not to it) by
> >     God:
> >
> >     Shee disappeerd, and left me dark, I wak'd
> >     To find her, or for ever to deplore
> >     Her loss, and other pleasures all abjure: [ 480 ]
> >     When out of hope, behold her, not farr off,
> >     Such as I saw her in my dream, adornd
> >     With what all Earth or Heaven could bestow
> >     To make her amiable: On she came,
> >     Led by her Heav'nly Maker, though unseen, [ 485 ]
> >     And guided by his voice, nor uninformd
> >     Of nuptial Sanctitie and marriage Rites:
> >     Grace was in all her steps, Heav'n in her Eye,
> >     In every gesture dignitie and love.
> >     I overjoyd could not forbear aloud. [ 490 ]
> >
> >     Adam wakes "to find her" (i.e. and searches for
> >     her, just as he searched for his Maker at his
> >     first awakening--another portent, in this case
> >     that Eve holds a place parallel rather than
> >     subordinate to God to his heart).
> >
> >     I don't think it's helpful to confuse the poet's
> >     grieving vision of his phantom wife with Adam's
> >     reaction to the absence of Eve, except in the
> >     intensity of the feeling of bereavement.
> >
> >     Best to all,
> >
> >     Carol Barton
> >
> >     ----- Original Message ----- From: "John Leonard"
> >     <jleonard at uwo.ca>
> >     To: "John Milton Discussion List"
> >     <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> >     Sent: Sunday, March 28, 2010 10:40 PM
> >     Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Adam and Eve alone
> >
> >       Louis writes:
> >
> >         To me the most interesting difference has
> >         always been the elaborate way in which God
> >         first allows Adam a period in which to develop
> >         and articulate an acute sense of loneliness
> >         before then creating a companion for him; then
> >         He allows him to witness the creation and
> >         immediately fall in love, before then taking
> >         the new companion away before he wakes up
> >         (this sequence is part of the passage's
> >         strange and suggestive intertext with Sonnet
> >         23).
> >
> >       "Taking the new companion away"?  Is there any
> >       textual evidence that God *takes* Eve away from
> >       Adam?  Adam awakes to find that she is not
> >       there (echoing and even quoting "Methought I
> >       saw" from the sonnet), but how do we know that
> >        God *led* her to the lake?  Might she not
> >       wander off there by herself?  I am not
> >       referring to the moment when she turns *back* to
> >       the lake upon first seeing Adam (4.480
> >       corresponding to 8.507); I am referring to the
> >       means by which she arrives at the lake in the
> >       first place.  Unless I have missed something,
> >       the poem is inconclusive on this point.  I have
> >       always assumed that Eve just wanders off, not
> >       even noticing Adam, who is presumably close by,
> >       still in his trance.  Eve awakes "under a shade
> >       of flowers" (that is the 1674 reading, though
> >       1667 has "on" not "of").  If Eve is under
> >       (rather than on) the flowers, that might explain
> >       why she does not see Adam. Her wandering off can
> >       perhaps be read as a dangerous moment, but God's
> >       test (if it is that) would be very different if
> >       he had actually *taken* her away. Perhaps it is
> >       pointless to speculate how Eve arrived at the
> >       lake (the old sin of "extra-textual
> >       speculation"), but we should wary, I think, of
> >       assuming that God led her there.
> >
> >       John Leonard
> >
> >       John Leonard
> >       _______________________________________________
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