[Milton-L] to Jim R irony and epistemology
Alice Crawford Berghof
aberghof at uci.edu
Thu Jun 26 02:52:48 EDT 2008
Thanks, Jim, although I maintain that my ideas about Kierkegaard might
not be pertinent to Milton studies, in general... I'll post them at
the end of this comment. At this point the two discussions (irony and
the question of fallen dialogue) have dovetailed nicely, I believe.
What I find interesting in your contribution to the discussion is the
use of existential irony to describe dramatic irony - although the
prolepsis of speaking about the Fall before the fact was Milton's
prolepsis, and not ours.
In my view, the way to reconcile, for example, what I find compelling
and beautifully articulated in both Richard Strier's and Ann Coiro's
views would be to distinguish between ontology and epistemology (not in
Foucault's sense - Milton would keep them separately and would disprove
Foucault's thesis in this sense). Although it is easy to distinguish
dramatically and with masque-like overtones between prelapsarian
internal monologue and fallen soliloquy, in my opinion it is not
inwardness nor soliloquy but the conflation of epistemology with
ontology that constitutes fallen discourse and, perhaps, would in an
Augustinian sense be a necessary if not sufficient cause for the Fall.
Examples abound in Satan's punning - "how soon would heighth recall
high thoughts," etc - and in Eve's ill-fated echoes of the Satanic
articulation "if what is real be evil, why not known, since easier
shunned" (please forgive mis-quoting...). The latter passage is
admirably treated by John Leonard in the Cambridge Companion. (In the
case of height recalling high thoughts, the transgression is the
failure to repent, something I find more important as instruction for
readers than lessons about the Fall in real time.) For Milton, even in
Eden, one should be able to contemplate transgression (epistemology)
without that contemplation becoming tainted by the transgression
itself. This has implications for Trinitarianism... The way genre
enters the picture is that the language of Adam and Eve echoes the
rhetorical structure of tropes in Satan's soliloquies, hence the more
insidious parallel than we might find between soliloquy and inwardness,
per se. Just a few very sketchy late-night thoughts...
The discussion of treason is something for which I have to express
strong gratitude, and seems important for Cromwell's justification for
the suppression of the writ of habeas corpus in the oppression of
Levellers. Although I'm not sure how I would talk about treason in
relation to Edenic thought, I am thankful for the thought-provoking
discussion begun by Peter Herman and extended by others who gave
important documentation for the study of early modern legal history.
Very interesting for the burgeoning field of political theology -
there's a consortium at UCI studying this.
Here's what I had sent you earlier. I am wondering, in general,
whether we sometimes use the term "irony" when we mean paradox. Again,
your knowledge of Kierkegaard far exceeds mine.
Briefly, what I remember writing: aesthetics exists in Eden in the form
of artifice, ethics seems a prelapsarian issue not in terms of the Fall
but in terms of mutual trust, and the use of irony as a tool seems
something Milton does rather than something Adam and Eve do.
Warm regards and gratitude,
On Jun 25, 2008, at 9:49 PM, James Rovira wrote:
> Alice wrote a longish email to me offlist which she lost, replacing it
> with a shorter one that was a summary of the previous one. Very
> Coleridgean. Perhaps she would post her initial offlist email to me
> here and we can take it from there?
> Jim R
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