[Milton-L] Abdiel

Jason Kerr aelfric at gmail.com
Thu Jun 26 07:35:26 EDT 2008


Jim,

Thanks for the great post about the Kierkegaardian position. Just to
clarify: when I talked about the solution being more complex than the
problem, I wasn't referring to Kierkegaard, but to the use of Kierkegaard to
resolve a crux in Milton. As I said before, I find Kierkegaard's resolution
very appealing, but that resolution depends, for instance, on a
highly-developed set of ideas about the relationship between body, mind, and
spirit—a set of ideas that I don't think can be unproblematically mapped
onto Milton's thoughts on the same relationship (I'm pretty sure we're still
arguing about just what those thoughts were, especially with regard to PL).
The complexity of the solution begins to overwhelm the complexity of the
problem precisely when we begin to attempt such a mapping, which would seem
to me to entail developing a concept of anxiety in Miltonic terms. Such a
concept might be indebted to Kierkegaard, but it might not end up being very
Kierkegaardian. I think Tanner's book is a very admirable attempt, but in
the end I'm not quite convinced.

Jason A. Kerr

On Thu, Jun 26, 2008 at 12:44 AM, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
wrote:

> Michael: I read that line as saying that evil thoughts can enter our
> minds without us being guilty of sin -- the point here is that mere
> thought itself is not necessarily sin, which was my point to begin
> with.  However, you do seem to anticipate virtually every response I
> could give, so be patient with me as I feed them back to you trying to
> think them through.
>
> As you point out there is an implication that we can "approve of" a
> sinful thought, so the opposite appears can be the case too: that a
> spot or blame is left behind in the mind of the speaker.  But this
> does not, I think, address my point.  What is it that qualifies
> something as sin in prelapsarian Eden?  You do ask if "spot or blame"
> has to refer to sin, or if it refers to some other flaw that is not
> sin?  I think it's probably safest to say that "spot or blame" does
> refer to some notion of guilt or sin.   Adam allows for the
> possibility of blame or spot -- sin -- when a thought is approved.  My
> question: does the God of PL see things this way, or is one only
> guilty of sin when one breaks the sole command: do not eat of the
> fruit?
>
> You do anticipate the next possible response as well: that thought is
> "approved" only when acted upon.  I don't think we need an OED
> citation to justify this use of the word "approved" -- we can say
> we're "resolved" to do anything, but our resolution is only
> demonstrated when we follow through with action.  Think about it
> another way: if someone were to say they were resolved to do some good
> act, or some required act (say, repay a debt), and kept talking about
> their resolution without ever acting on it, wouldn't you doubt their
> words in favor of their actions eventually?   How often was Hamlet
> "resolved" only to withdraw from carrying out his resolution?
>
> Kierkegaard's handling of the case of Adam and Eve is quite deft --
> yes, they needed to have an inherent weakness in order to be able to
> sin (also per M. Bell), but we can't make this weakness or
> vulnerability a flaw, otherwise God is responsible for human sin.  The
> weakness according to K's Concept of Anxiety is anxiety -- since human
> beings exist as a synthesis of mind, body, and spirit, these
> components can be at odds with one another, and these conflicts can be
> registered as anxiety.  Anxiety, in turns, motivates us to act to seek
> relief from our anxiety.  This act is the grasping of something known
> or finite in the case of the unknown (K's pseudonym defines innocence
> as ignorance), the unknown itself provoking anxiety.  This is why the
> fruit is the fruit of the tree of knowledge -- we grasp something
> concrete, finite, and self-defining in response to anxiety, and this
> grasping is usually something sinful but familiar.
>
> However, ch. 5 of Concept of Anxiety is titled, "anxiety as saving by
> faith," so sin is not the only option available as a response to
> anxiety.  Our choices are between faith and knowledge.
>
> While I agree with the sentiment that K's solution appears to be a
> complex one for a relatively simple problem, I think we should
> acknowledge that the problem is really not all that simple to begin
> with.  The ground rules that K appears to be working with in Concept
> of Anxiety is that God's creation must be without sin or flaw from the
> beginning, that human actions must be free (though not necessarily
> without pressure in a certain direction) for all human beings equally,
> but that sin must be hereditary.  Representing these problems in
> narrative form is one thing; puzzling them out conceptually so that
> all ground rules are given equal weight is another.  The problem is
> highly complex, so the solution may be as well.
>
> I think the Satan--Sin--Death relationships are simple allegory for a
> passage in James: "desire, when it is conceived, gives birth to sin,
> and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death."  Milton simply
> illustrates this for us in his narrative.  Satan desired the place of
> God; gave birth to Sin from his head, then Sin brought forth Death.
> The sexual relationship between the sinner and sin in Milton probably
> illustrates the need to "act upon" sin before it will bring forth
> death, just as Satan had to make war in heaven before he was cast into
> hell.  Satan was not cast out of heaven for bringing forth sin.  He
> was cast out of heaven for making war with heaven.
>
> Jim R
>
> On Wed, Jun 25, 2008 at 1:10 PM, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:
> > James Rovira suggests Adam and Eve could only sin by acting against the
> sole
> > commandment, not by thinking. If we take Adam's statement as
> authoritative
> > -- "Evil into the mind of god or man / May come and go, so unapproved,
> and
> > leave / No spot or blame behind" -- doesn't that mean one could sin by
> > approving a wrong thought? If so, Adam sins with the thought, "Certain my
> > resolution is to die." Also, Satan gives birth to Sin before he takes
> overt
> > action. Having sex with her would then be taking "approval" up a notch.
> >
> > I don't find any OED senses of "approve" that quite mean "act upon,"
> though
> > some are close.
> >
> > Could there be "spot or blame" short of the big fall and its
> consequences?
> > As Millicent Bell says, Milton had to endow Eve and Adam with some degree
> of
> > human weakness in order to motivate their actions, as God apparently did
> in
> > order to leave them "free to fall."
> >
> > Michael
> >
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-- 
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

—Czeslaw Milosz, from "Ars Poetica?"
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