[Milton-L] O Eve, in evil hour...

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at email.smith.edu
Mon Nov 21 23:00:06 EST 2005


Richard Strier writes that "what's really interesting to consider is that the movie version would be pornography; I think this is actually quite important." This is a touch cryptic, but (from where I sit anyhow) on the mark.

I rarely get through a reading of PL 4.492-502 (to take one example), with its gratuitously teasing closeup at 495-97, without regretting the obvious discomfort of my otherwise worldly senior classes. I remind them that this is prelapsarian sexuality, pure as the driven snow. (Think of the naked figure in Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love.") I might as well not bother. For them it's unmistakably a decorative little riff of lubricious peek-a-boo. 

But could the fallen eye be onto something? After all, stretching in all directions around the embracing pair is a physical universe that is charged with eros, as with other marvels of the body; the archangel in PL 8 lets us know that an erotic version of the ladder of love reaches up even to the heaven of angels (though the blushing description of their "unrestrain'd conveyance" is hardly the stuff of a scene in Aretino). 

Asked for a constitutionally respectable definition of pornography, the Supreme spoke only too well when he answered, helplessly, "I know it when I see it"; the pornographer Professor Strier has in mind, of course, is the film maker, not Milton--the film maker who can't avoid this kind of trivialization even if he would: there are no prelapsarian movie cameras. 

But maybe (as Professor Strier seems to be hinting) there's something in Milton's Eden that the voyeuristic eye singles out in spite of itself but is doomed to misrepresent, and that something is "actually quite important."




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