[Milton-L] Re: The War in Heaven

Jason Kerr aelfric at gmail.com
Mon Jul 17 18:20:42 EDT 2006


Greetings all. I've just finished reading my post-end-of-semester backlog of
Milton-L, feeling both chagrined to have missed participating in some of the
dialogue and delighted to enter the fray now. I have to say that the
anticipation of Michael Bryson's entry into the present discussion was
exhilarating. Whoever quipped earlier about academics being cheap dates was
right. Cheap, but never easy...

I think the question Michael raises about what Milton is doing with his
depiction of God needs to be addressed en route to assessing "Milton's God"
qualitatively. C.S. Lewis, I think in _A Grief Observed_, suggests that God
is an iconoclast who must shatter our ideas of him from time to time. I
believe a similar idea also arises in _The Screwtape Letters_. Without
necessarily bringing the level of personal investment in the question, so
poignantly evident in Lewis's book, to bear, I think the representational
difficulties Milton needed to grapple with in writing PL (cf. Fish) raise
the possibility of a deliberately iconoclastic representation of God. While
I am not prepared to argue the point conclusively (I can at best claim to be
a "budding" Miltonist), let me explain what I mean by such a representation
and why I think it might be relevant.

A deliberately iconoclastic representation would be one characterized by
deliberate paradoxes or inconsistencies that invite the reader to challenge
the validity of the representation, hopefully in fruitful ways. A risky
approach, to be sure, but consider the project of justifying the ways of God
to man in the context of 17th-century pamphlet wars and religious
controversy, particularly in a poem composed by a major participant in these
controversies after his faction's defeat. I think such a project, undertaken
in such circumstances, would almost presuppose some necessary re-education
of one's readers, aka iconoclasm (something the author of _Eikonoklastes_
had attempted before). Which raises the question of who exactly belongs to
the "fit audience, though few." The warfaring/wayfaring Christian of
Areopagitica, perhaps?

In short, while I am not yet sure whether or not this is definitely what
Milton is doing in PL, the question is still open in my mind. Michael, with
his idea of "leave-taking," seems to suggest something similar to what I am
saying here. At any rate, the question of how the God of PL relates to the
God Milton believed in/advocated for (a thorny question also tangled in
issues of representation) seems a crucial one to ask if we are to understand
how PL functions as theodicy and whether or not it succeeds.

I look forward to much further conversation.

Best,
Jason A. Kerr
Boston College

P.S. Apologies in advance for all bad jokes, past, present, and future. Take
what comfort you can in knowing that the most egregious tend to be edited
out in advance. When you start seeing my name on conference programs in the
next few years, come prepared to cringe, and I'll try not to disappoint. ;p

-- 
"Den som vover mister Fodfæste et Øieblick;
den som ikke vover mister Livet."
                                    -Søren Kierkegaard
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