[Milton-L] swerving

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 25 16:01:58 EDT 2007

Milton leave out a comma? But God is speaking here, and would Milton have God speak ambiguously? Isn't it Satan who uses ambiguity in his fallen language?
  So scoffing in ambiguous words... (PL 6.568)

  Or is merely the scoffing at issue here? An unambiguous reading is crucial to our understanding...
  I say that those who claim that God speaks with ambiguity have twisted the poem's meaning and belong among the goats surprised by sin on the left hand of the piscine Judgement Seat, soon to be damned forever to hell, placed in the midst of chaotic ambiguity, forever hopelessly butting heads over the Barthesian 'bliss' of polysemous language. Hell is other people's interpretations...
  We sheep, on the other hand -- that's the right hand, by the way -- will be gathered among the neo-orthodox Barthean elect, to see no longer through a glass darkly but face-to-face, and so without ambiguity.
  Now, Carl, I ask you: Which side are you on?
  Jeffery Hodges
carl bellinger <bcarlb at comcast.net> wrote:
  This fine catalogue --"the ostensibly nonsensical, the paradoxical, the 
mercurial, the polysemous"-- which Fleming applies to Milton's rhetoric 
seems not dissimilar to characterizations of Chaos he and others have 
offered recently.

Now Fish makes the rhetorical effect of PL a judgment or disclosure of the 
reader's sin. Please correct me if I don't have that right. But, if so, 
mustn't we then formulate thus: Milton has created a text whose 
(nonsensical, etc..... polysemous...) rhetoric provides just the sort of 
fertile (and illusory) psychological environment for us sinners as Chaos 
provides for Satan?

This line of thought would suggest that those who, with Fleming, enjoy and 
discover and prefer the nonsensical/mercurial/etc. spaces&qualities of 
Paradise Lost are of one party, perceiving the poem and their own place in 
it as Satan perceives Chaos. Better to reign in Polysemy than serve in 
Faith. While another party doubts not in the end (and perhaps not even in 
the beginning) but that "warne him beware / He swerve not too secure" means 
simply "warne him beware / He swerve not, too secure." Milton leaves the 
comma out so that the text can play its winnowing role, but to the fit 
audience, comma or no comma, "simply doesn't matter."


----- Original Message ----- 
Sent: Tuesday, September 25, 2007 9:58 AM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] swerving

> In my opinion, the ostensibly nonsensical -- the paradoxical, the 
> mercurial,
> the polysemous, etc. -- is precisely appropriate to the extraordinary task
> of representing unfallen freedom.
> And it is freedom, isn't it? JDF

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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

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Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
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