[Milton-L] to James Rovira re irony

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Wed Jun 25 00:39:07 EDT 2008

That is interesting, Alice -- I think Kierkegaard would want to
examine motives behind specific rhetorical choices and what they
reveal about the personalities involved.  I read Satan in PL as a
reflective aesthetic personality as defined by Either/Or I.  Able to
think, reflect, argue, without being committed to any one position but
a negation: not God's.  I think there's a great deal of confluence
between PL's Satan and Kierkegaard's Seducer in Diary of a Seducer,
even on the point of tempting/seducing a woman into sin in order to
ruin her.   In these terms it's not surprising that Romantic readings
of PL would be sympathetic to Satan, as Romanticism is a vast
expression of the aesthetic personality at work in K's terms.

I tend to read Kierkegaard as restating medieval thought / values in
Hegelian terms, both as critique of that Hegelian context and a
redirection of it -- back toward more Socratic models of dialectic,
for example.  He has Haufniensis say, for example, that we should
approach the topic of subjectivity as the Greeks would have,
especially as the Greeks would have had they been Christians.  He also
seems to have a great deal in common with pietist traditions
theologically.  There are historically based connections to be made
with Milton here that could be explored -- Kierkegaard is an heir of a
tradition similar to Milton's own and a restatement of it.

Big thing in Kierkegaard scholarship since the 70s is taking the
pseudonymous nature of his authorship seriously -- his individual
pseudonymous works  represent subjectivities and the types of ideas
these subjectivities would hold (and how they would phrase these
ideas), so that all his pseudonymous works, as well as his
concurrently published signed works such as the upbuilding discourses,
are all in a vast Socratic dialog with each other.  The name
"Johannes" signifies a Don Juan/aesthetic personality or project -- so
that his seducer is Johannes, and the one who most effectively casts
Christianity into reflection is Johannes Climacus.  Reflective thought
is an aesthetic activity in that so long as we are thinking about
something we are not choosing, deciding, becoming ourselves, the
defining characteristic of an aesthetic personality being a failure to
make committed, self-defining choices.

We could say that Satan in PL has certainly made a committed,
self-defining choice by rebelling against God, but if his trajectory
is really a negation -- "not God" -- then he literally has no single
direction.  He can move in any direction away from the center, even in
opposite trajectories at times -- only so long as he is moving away
from the fixed center point, God.  An ethical personality, on the
other hand, wants to move toward an ethical ideal for the self, so is
moving toward something positive, rather than away from any one set
possibility.  Romantic irony in K's On the Concept of Irony is
"absolute infinite negativity" -- and this is distinguished from
Socratic or ethical irony, which is never ironic toward the good, just
all poor substitutes for it.

Jim R

On Tue, Jun 24, 2008 at 11:39 PM, Alice Crawford Berghof
<aberghof at uci.edu> wrote:
> Thank you for a thought-provoking analysis of Milton and Kierkegaard!
> Longer response off-list.  Thank you for bringing to mind the possibility of
> irony and self-defining choices in Milton.  It seems to me that
> Kierkegaardian irony would work as a lens through which to examine rhetoric
> rather than personality.  Rhetorical subjectivity is what I meant.  I do not
> think Kierkegaard is as useful for Milton in terms of the characters'
> personalities as he would be in terms of plot and genre.  The most important
> kinds of irony in PL are dramatic and verbal, so I think I would start
> there.  The reflective stage is of interest given the present discussion
> about internal monologue.  The image of Satan "squat like a toad... at the
> ear of Eve," might complicate our ideas about her dream stage.
> Alice Berghof

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