[Milton-L] to James Rovira re irony

Alice Crawford Berghof aberghof at uci.edu
Wed Jun 25 02:25:06 EDT 2008

Wow, perhaps too much for the week before IMS9...  Just a few quick 
responses, none doing justice to the thoroughness of your thought:

On the first point: there is evidence in PL for Satan as a continuum 
from pure negation ("evil be thou my good") to carefully wrought 
political allegory that exceeds the scope of mock-epic and becomes 
disillusionment with Cromwell.  In the middle of the continuum would be 
an attack on vain philosophy or pure logic without faith (could also be 
taken in a Ramist sense).  Given the importance of the political 
allegories in PL and elsewhere, I tend to find that the Romantics 
misread Satan.  For purposes of our discussion, I see his irony in the 
relationship between his tropes and Eve's in IX.

2nd point, on Hegel: Milton trumps and anticipates Hegel by requiring 
the post-Interregnum (as opposed to generically Restoration) reader to 
distinguish as well as mediate between an abstract idea and the 
emissary of or lens on that idea, something Hegel cannot allow.  I 
don't know if we need Kierkegaard in order to see that Milton is doing 
this.  However, I find your interest in Kierkegaard and Hegel to be 

On reflective thought: speech act taxonomy seems in order there.  Would 
dovetail with what you are saying.

Last point is covered in first, via political allegory as a caveat to 
Satan as pure negativity.  The interesting thing about your last 
paragraph, to me, is the Augustinian redolence of moving toward 
goodness as the opposite of privation (Manichaeism, etc...).

I think the bottom line is that I am studying genre and rhetoric at the 
moment and find my brain in Gordian knots when I attempt psychological 
or even character-oriented analyses in PL.  It's a balancing act 
between giving real force to the humanity of Edenic freedom, on the one 
hand, and humility in the face of making postmodern or even modern the 
voices that to me define early modern lyric and tragic modes of speech. 
  The rest off-list.  I fear our exchange exceeds the scope of the 

On Jun 24, 2008, at 9:39 PM, James Rovira wrote:

> 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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