[Milton-L] 'Myth' of "Unfallen" language

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at email.smith.edu
Sun Sep 30 14:18:35 EDT 2007


If I understand him correctly, Carrol Cox's point is that IN ITSELF a language (a grammar coordinating a vocabulary with a meaning assignment) is morally neutral. In short,"corrupt LANGUAGE" makes no sense. It is only the USE of language, e.g., for deceiving oneself or others, that is subject to corruption. 

Lit-crit confusions on this point are all too predictable. To head one off at the pass, the existence of a word like (say) "corrupt" is not itself corrupt; the CONCEPT of corruption--the meaning assignment to "corrupt"--is obviously in the repertoire of the Judeochristian God himself, who knows both good and evil. 

To head off another confusion, most words have more than one meaning, but no such word is a weasel unless the user perversely uses it in a context that he knows will mask the true application, thereby harming the hearers but affording the user a loophole for dodging responsibility if the truth comes out (see casuistical treatments of "equivocation" in the early years of the 17th c.). 

Some multivocal words have one meaning that applies to the prelapsarian state of affairs, and another that applies to our own condition; thus Eve's prelapsarian "ringlets" are "wanton" but (in PL 4) as innocently "wanton" as Horace's "lascivae hederae." The point of M's using the word (rather than some univocal synonym of "playful") is a proleptic irony that comes back again and again in PL 4 and 5: A&E will eventually doom themselves to doing dirt on ALL their blessings--hair, language, and everything else created for their use. 

If this isn't Professor Cox's point, then I'm happy to take sole (and I hope unambiguous) responsibility for it.






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