[Milton-L] Re: Directly

Jason Kerr aelfric at gmail.com
Sat Jul 29 19:13:02 EDT 2006

I appreciate Jeff Wilson's grammatical fastidiousness, and I especially
appreciate his post's attempt to lay out his position clearly and calmly. On
the basis of his argument, I am prepared to accept the proposition that the
passage must be read as showing Satan winging directly towards both the
cosmos and A&E. Now perhaps there has been too much give and take in the
discussion, or maybe I'm just slow, but I seem to have forgotten how so
saying puts the Father in a—shall I say—"incomplete" relation to the Truth.

I say this not because I have much stake in the outcome of the present
discussion; I confess—sorry PCH—that it seems (ironically) tangential. I
seek clarification on the possibility that it could persuade me that my
perception of the discussion has been wrong. I understand the stakes of
whether or not God is just, truthful, etc., but I seem to have lost sight of
the relevance of "directly" to these stakes. Again, I am grateful for Jeff
Wilson's attempt to put this all in freshman-comp terms. I guess I'm looking
for the supplement to his summa.

I understand Michael Bryson's reading—that the purported directness of
Satan's flight is not *exactly* direct (and yes, I have driven on the 405:
lasciate ogne speranza, che voi intrate). This just doesn't seem the most
effective textual point on which to base an argument for the Father's
practice of prevarication (if there is such a textual point, which seems to
be the issue).

If I could offer a possible change of direction, we could discuss the
consistency, or lack thereof, in the poem's representations of the
prohibition. As nearly as I can tell, there are three: 4.411-439, 7.529-547,
and 8.319-337. Without going into length, things that seem inconsistent
include whether or not Eve is present, the ontological status of death
(allegory or no?), and how the human(s) who hear(s) the prohibition
respond(s) to it.

Whereas the discussion over "directly" involves the narrator portraying,
however directly the narrator does (sorry...), the Father speaking. The poem
does not do this for the prohibition. Unless I am mistaken (always a
possibility), PL never shows the Father directly delivering the prohibition;
all representations of it are mediated. My point is emphatically not that
the Father is somehow derelict in his duty to be forthright (I'm not sure he
has such a duty). Rather, I think a discussion of the differing perspectives
these multifarious accounts give, from within the poem, of a presumably
singular statement by the Father might usefully give us some insight into
the difficulties Milton's God faces in trying to communicate something as
seemingly direct as: "See that fruit? DON'T EAT IT!"

Since the meaning of "directly" in the current discussion seems to hinge,
PCH's reference to the OED notwithstanding, on how we, the readers,
understand the word, perhaps it might be enlightening to see how "readers"
in PL address what the Father has to say. Along the way we might also
conjecture as to why Milton chose not to show the Father saying it.

Jason A. Kerr

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