[Milton-L] or, chaos large AND small

jsavoie at siue.edu jsavoie at siue.edu
Thu Sep 20 15:14:20 EDT 2007

O God [no mere casual expletive it seems], I could be bounded in a nutshell,
and count myself a king of infinite space--were it not that I have bad dreams.
Hamlet 2.3.255

Quoting Horace Jeffery Hodges <jefferyhodges at yahoo.com>:

> Fascinating stuff...
>   Chaos, though it seems huge, is described in such a way that one could
> maintain that it is neither large nor small:
>   "illimitable ocean, without bound, / Without dimension, where length,
> breadth, and highth, / And time and place are lost"? (2.892-4)
>   Chaos is an illusory realm, and while it seems enormous when Satan stares
> out into it, it literally has no "size" at all, for "length, breadth, and
> highth ... are lost."
>   Jeffery Hodges
> Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:
> In regard to my sense of what might be the right word for the totality of
> space depicted in Paradise Lost ("infinitude"), Jeffery Hodges asks the
> follow-up question "is chaos the largest realm?"
> I would answer that question with a version of the claim I made in the
> second half of my e-mail. Working in a verbal medium allows Milton to
> offer descriptions that seem like they are images, and register in the mind
> a lot like images, but that can't actually be delimited pictorally. How
> big is a place that is "high throned above all height" compared to one that
> is "illimitable ocean, without bound, / Without dimension, where length,
> breadth, and highth, / And time and place are lost"? A graphic illustrator
> will have to make a decision on the relative amount of space each of the
> two realms would take up on his canvas. But Milton makes them both
> sublimely big.
> (I'm reminded of a Monty Python sketch, the preacher saying: "O Lord,
> though art so large, so incredibly huge, so tremendously enormous . . . ";
> as though some number of size words will eventually capture infinitude.)
> That said, I think I would still say that whatever name we give to the
> space God occupies is the biggest space in the poem. The epic develops in
> part by making once big-seeming spaces suddenly feel small. Hell feels
> enormous until Satan launches himself into Chaos. Chaos feels almost
> unimaginably huge; then God turns out to be watching Satan traverse it from
> a distant perspective, which implies that even Hell and Chaos fit within a
> still larger space. The passage I've already cited from Book 7--"Boundless
> the deep because I am who fill infinitude" is phrased in such a way as to
> suggest that Chaos has even its boundlessness as a result of God (the
> ground of all being)'s giving it space.
> Greg Machacek
> Associate Professor of English
> Marist College
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> University Degrees:
> Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
> (Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
> M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
> B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University
> Email Address:
> jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
> Blog:
> http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/
> Office Address:
> Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
> School of English, Kyung Hee University
> 1 Hoegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu
> Seoul, 130-701
> South Korea
> Home Address:
> Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
> Gunyoung Apt. 102-204
> Sangbong-dong 1
> Jungnang-gu
> Seoul 131-771
> South Korea

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