[Milton-L] help interpret a line

Harold Skulsky HSKULSKY at email.smith.edu
Tue Jan 27 16:23:12 EST 2004


Alan Horn is quite right about at least one thing; the time I can well
afford to devote to pursuing this discussion is long since exhausted. I
will content myself with one last observation.

Horn has repeatedly paraphrased my version of the Tempter's argument as
follows: "The act of eating the fruit, rather than prospective evil acts
in general, will--if it is in fact evil--be "easier shunned" after
having eaten it." 

I allowed this contrivance to pass because the central issue for me has
always been how, in the troublesome 702, the speaker can take for
granted a logical connection between the fear of death and the "removal"
of another (unspecified) fear. I found it unacceptable to replace
"death" with "God" so as to produce a reading nearer to one's heart's
desire; a tendentious reference to "metonymy" a la Horn hardly, in my
view, improved matters.

I now think (with thanks to David Harper) that the subject of the line
is "fear itself" simpliciter, and that the rest of the line is an
inversion; so that what is getting "removed" is indeed the fear of
death, as others have suggested--no metonymy required. 

The initial problem (for me) is now dissolved, and replaced with the
question of how the fact of "fear itself" can be said to remove the fear
of death. Perhaps "fear itself" can mean "fear of God," though this
seems to me to give "itself" no plausible function beyond obfuscation. I
will spare Milton-L the solution that occurs to me, since time for a
follow-up is simply not available.

Horn's reading of my text, however, cannot pass unnoticed (see above).
It seems to me to betray an approach to interpretation that was the
original irritant of my ill-starred appearance on this thread. Here is
what I wrote: 

"How can fear of death eliminate fear of eating a deadly meal? 
The Tempter has just been saying that the best way to SHUN evil--and
the evil of death in particular--is to learn from the apple how to
KNOW
evil when it presents itself. As the name of the fruit indicates, it
was
created precisely with this prophylactic purpose in mind. If the
Prohibition were seriously intended, it would involve Eve in a nasty
Catch-22: how can she shun what she doesn't yet know? No just God, and
hence no one who truly was God, would put his creatures in such a
bind.
Eve, if you truly fear death, the apple is the last thing you should
fear! The fear of death itself removes the fear! So go ahead and eat,
and learn what really deserves to be feared!" (Emphasis added.)

I ask the candid reader if Horn has (habitually and eristically) relied
on a remotely fair version of what I actually wrote.

To repeat, I am no longer in a position to defend a reading based on a
parsing of 702 that now seems to me probably mistaken. I would like
nothing better than to develop a reading to go with the parsing I now
favor; I'm not sure that it would be the reading now favored by many,
but it might be.


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