[Milton-L] Reply to Alice Crawford Berghof (Abdiel thread)

Alice Crawford Berghof aberghof at uci.edu
Sat Jul 12 07:40:25 EDT 2008

Dear Kim,
Thank you for this detailed response to my posting.  I have one big 
question, and a few brief responses interspersed below.  After leaving 
London, I will have a more substantial response to the doctrinal issues 
in your first paragraph.  The one overarching question has to do with a 
d-word that is in Milton circles perhaps worse than "death": 
deconstruction, specifically de Manian (!) deconstruction.

A big question:
Is de Manian deconstruction dependent on a single consistently 
identifiable and ideologically charged rhetorical thread that runs 
throughout the poem or could it work with local oppositions between 
grammar and rhetoric?  I am not talking about Derridean deconstruction, 
and therefore am not denying the force of authorial intention.  I am 
asking whether deconstruction could proceed if the coherence of its 
requisite rhetorical meaning were to splinter.  Your first paragraph 
gets at the inconsistencies in the rhetorical meaning of the poem, as 
rhetoric is considered in its de Manian sense.  To the extent that de 
Manian deconstruction would need a consistent rhetorical message in 
order to proceed, it cannot, given your analysis.  I am fascinated and 
floored.  (In a corollary: Roy Sellars - "Milton's 'Wen'" - has done 
important work that informs although is not indebted to a 
linguistically deconstructive approach to Milton.)

I am sorry I didn't meet you at the conference.  I owe you an immense 
debt of gratitude for your philosophically charged textual analysis.  A 
coda: is there an ideology underneath or motivating your rejection of 
"a coherent theological position in Paradise Lost"?  I am looking 
forward to hearing what you have to say.

On Jul 7, 2008, at 11:29 PM, Kim Maxwell wrote:

> Reply to Alice Crawford Berghof
> I should say that I do not believe a coherent theological position can 
> be developed from Paradise Lost.  Among my pieces of evidence is the 
> sequence from 3.170 to 3.216, where God seems to say, in order: (a) 
> some will have their lapsed powers restored by grace alone (limited 
> atonement); (b) some will be elect above the rest (unlimited election, 
> irresistible grace); (c) the rest will be granted resistible grace 
> (limited election); (d) those who resist will be damned forever; (e) 
> “unless for him some other . . . pay the rigid satisfaction. . . and 
> just the unjust to save.”  (sounds like unlimited atonement).   The 
> first is puzzling in part because God will shortly declare, and repeat 
> again with more venom in Book 10, that he only recognizes salvation at 
> the  end of time, when the need for man’s lapsed powers will no longer 
> be necessary.  Otherwise, why must his curse precede? 

Alice: I think there may be a further distinction to be made regarding 
the resurrection and its effects on grace.

> (This passage was discussed today at the Milton conference in London, 
> with its puzzles admitted, and resolutely unresolved.)

Alice: Sorry I missed this!  An ongoing debate in the literature, as 
well.  I think Dennis Danielson's work might be interesting, set 
against Victoria Silver's.

> My point about recognition and assurance relates more to the elect 
> than those with conditional grace.  The elect presumably have to do 
> nothing.  They may behave exactly as God wishes, but that would 
> compromise free will (as Calvin notes), and God does not enter into 
> any more detail.  As such, an individual under this scheme, as far as 
> the poem gives it,  cannot know into which group he fits. 

Alice: Right, I think we simply differ on this, and I think what Milton 
is adding to the Calvinist picture is the subtle distinction between 
two postlapsarian "moments", one pre-resurrection and the other 
post-resurrection, in the last books of PL.

> Furthermore, I believe the developments of Book 9 and 10 after the fall

Alice: - but before the resurrection (? - am wondering about your take 
on this) -

> suggest the incapacity for man to exactly distinguish in all cases 
> between acts God would judge as good or evil.  Unless confessions are 
> completely general (as we find at the beginning of the Catholic mass), 
> an individual would not always know his faults (what Adam confesses to 
> at the end of Book 10).  A general confession will take the form of 
> ritual, something the poem and Milton seem to find offensive.

Alice: Ritual prayer v. ritual confessions, then - thank you for this 
distinction.  What do you make of the supplicant posture at the end of 
X?  Not ritualistic?  I can see it either way.  I guess I see the 
repentance at the end of X as a bit more ritualistic than you are 
finding it.

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