[Milton-L] Directly

Jeffrey Wilson jrwilson at uci.edu
Fri Jul 28 15:40:57 EDT 2006


I agree with Dr. Herman's reading of this line, and I agree that  
Milton knew what he was doing when he wrote it, which is why I submit  
here what some have suggested is pedantry.

What clinches Dr. Herman's reading for me is "And man there plac't."  
Even for all its failings, perhaps Stanley Fish's affective  
stylistics - the notion that one must analyze "the developing  
responses of the reader in relation to the words as they succeed one  
another in time" - and his theories on the need a reader feels to  
generate a fixed and complete meaning when she reaches the end of a  
line are relevant here.

When one reaches the end of the line "Directly toward the new created  
World," it would be reasonable for the reader to conclude that by  
"new created world" God means "Earth," and if this were what God  
meant then he would be telling the truth (the dark side of "This  
round world" is, in fact, directly where Satan goes after the  
fortuitous gust of wind in Chaos and where he stays from 3.419-539,  
after which he goes to the gates of heaven to learn from Uriel the  
location of man). But when one comes to the next line and reads, "And  
man there plac't," the reader is forced to revise her understanding  
of God's meaning from "Satan goes directly to Earth" to "Satan goes  
directly to Earth and Man." This revised reading, of course, is not  
true, and that means that God is not telling the truth in this line.

In my opinion, it is accurate to say that the line "Directly toward  
the new created World, / And Man there plac’t" means the same thing  
(in terms of content) as "Directly toward...Man there plac't" in/and  
"the new created World." If anyone sees that as an unfair reading,  
perhaps we can discuss, but I don't think I'm manipulating the  
message of the text in any way. What I hope to be doing is pointing  
out that the conjunction "and" between "new created World" and "man  
plac't there," distributes "Directly toward" equally to both clauses.  
What Milton has the the Father do, fairly ingeniously, is to put the  
second clause (i.e. the false one, "Man there plac't") farther away  
from and on a separate line than the adverbial clause that governs  
it, making the reader forget about the important word "Directly" by  
the time they get to "Man there plac't" and only remember the general  
thrust of the governing clause as indicative of the general (not the  
specific) direction in which Satan goes.

If one follows my reading, one must then consider, first of all, that  
God is not omniscient (that maybe he doesn't know where Satan is  
going). This theory, however, can be dismissed fairly quickly,  
because in the very next clause God accurately predicts not only what  
Satan will try to do to man and how ("with purpose to assay / If him  
by force he can destroy, or worse, / By som false guile pervert") but  
also the eventual outcome of this encounter ("So will fall / [Adam]  
and his faithless Progenie"). Given therefore that God's omniscience  
is genuine, the reader must square the fact that God knows that Satan  
is not going directly to Adam and yet God tells his Son that he is  
going straight to man. A number of readers have resolved this problem  
through some combination of beliefs that God occasionally lies, God  
is not a reliable narrator, and/or God is not morally perfect.

The crux of the matter, and the reason that pedantry is important, is  
that omniscience is not a fuzzy category (one can't be kind of  
omniscient, one either is or isn't).

Jeff Wilson

On Jul 28, 2006, at 1:16 PM, Peter C. Herman wrote:

> I do not see how the passage in question--" . . . And now / . . . /  
> he wings his way/ . . . / Directly toward the new created World"-- 
> can be construed as indicating intent rather than the actual course.
>
> As for Prof. Strier, whom I honor as a distinguished senior  
> colleague, we differ as the degree of conscious intent in this  
> poem. Prof. Strier would have Milton, following Shelley,  
> "unconsciously critiquing his own overt system of beliefs." I  
> prefer to assume, based on the care Milton lavished on this poem,  
> it's careful use of foreshadowing and parallelism, and the fact of  
> his subsequent revisions, that Paradise Lost represents Milton's  
> conscious intentions, that he knew exactly what he was doing every  
> step of the way. That is why I find the use of seemingly small  
> details thematically resonant.
>
>
> pch
>
>
> At 12:08 PM 7/28/2006, you wrote:
>> Just wanted to drop a brief note expressing my gratitude to all
>> participants in this disucsion, and for the suggested reading.
>>
>> And to add that "directly" might be a statement describing Satan's
>> intent rather than the actual course of his travels.  My intent might
>> be to drive to a destination somewhere west, but I may drive briefly
>> east in order to stop a gas station and purchase a map.
>>
>> Jim R
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