[Milton-L] Re: The War in Heaven

bberry at mail1.vcu.edu bberry at mail1.vcu.edu
Sun Jul 16 12:27:19 EDT 2006

Well, at last, someone has mentioned the Father (although not the
Son)--a distinction which seems tome fairer to the poem than
discussions, like Empson's, about "God."  "God" does appear, in book
7, but othewise the focus is on Father and Son.  Work I recently did
on PL and Lucy Hutchinson's Order and Disorder strengthens my sense of
the terribly important verbal work done in conversations--and
conversation first occurs in book 3, which is imitated by various
creatures.  (conversation both in our sense and in the early modern
sense of "way of llife.")

Boyd Berry

> In response to Michael Gillum, who wrote the following:
> ****************************************
> "Michael Bryson criticized this sentence from one of my posts on
Wednesday, 'However, God, being incalculably 'better' than angels or
humans, justly rules over his creatures,' saying it begs the question
of whether God is morally better than Satan.
> True.  My statement was not about my judgement of the Father's moral
goodness. It was part of an argument that in PL the Father's
ontological superiority (as supreme mind and creator) justifies his
rule over his creatures and marks Satan's revolt as wrong. Earthy
tyranny is not analogous to heavenly kingship because humans are
ontological equals, whereas the Father is Satan's creator. I haven't
read a lot of the literature yet, but I assume this is the normal
argument to be made in defense of the Father's authority, since the
argument is so plainly marked out in PL itself, and so clearly implied
by Milton's pronounced emphasis on  obedience to God in sonnets 7 and
19, in PR, and elsewhere. Neither Richard Strier or MB has engaged
this ontological argument at all in this thread. As best I recall, MB
did not engage the argument in his article about 
> kingship and the tyranny of heaven either. (I have not read MB's
book yet; perhaps he addresses the issue there.) So it isn't clear to
me that I am the one who is begging the question.  I tried to respond
to assertions by Richard Strier with an argument. The answers I've
heard are along the lines of, 'That's all very smug, tidy, and
orthodox, but begging the question.'
> I mean all this politely, since I'm aware I'm talking to people who
know more about Milton than I do."
> ****************************************
> Actually, I think Richard Strier deserves the credit for the
response you quote at the beginning. I would say, though, that I am in
basic agreement with the point made in that response.
> I think there is an important distinction to be made between the
divine (whatever it may be) and representations thereof (assuming, for
the sake of argument, that there is such a thing as the divine at all,
an assumption I believe that Milton--and his contemporary
reaership--did share, but that not all of his current readers will).
One way of expressing this might be to recognize a distinction between
the "hidden" God--deus absconditus--and God as evidenced in human
experience of the world (but that is only one way). At a further level
of remove entirely would be literary, or other artistic depictions of
the divine, like the Father in Paradise Lost (from this point of view,
the Father of Paradise Lost is at the same level of remove as the
figure on the Sistine Chapel ceiling). What is Milton doing with his
depiction? Is he presenting his creation as if it were to be taken as
an accurate portrayal of the divine (or at least of his idea thereof)?
Many readers seem to think so.!
>   I!
> !
>  don't. I think his portrayal is a kind of negation, a nescio,
nescio, if you will. So I think the ontological argument about the
Father and his relation to Satan, Adam, etc. in Paradise Lost--while
interesting--is potentially misleading here. The Father--the King of
Heaven in Paradise Lost--is *not* God. 
> The often-cited idea that one must apply different standards to
earthly politics and heavenly politics runs aground, in my view, on
the shores of this dilemna: how is it possible that there can be any
heavenly politics in Paradise Lost that are not drawn from the
categories of earthly politics? Paradise Lost is a creation of the
human mind, and as such can only express human ideas through human
categories within the limits of human experiences and perceptions--the
very limits that negative theology is so keen to point out. Even
presumably inspired texts like those of Ezekiel and John of Patmos
cannot transcend these limitations, so how much less can an epic poem,
calls to the muse notwithstanding?
> Thanks for the interesting conversation...this exchange gets me back
in the mindset I need to get some more work done this summer.
> Michael Bryson
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