[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,
Alice


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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