[Milton-L] Abdiel

Watt, James jwatt at butler.edu
Mon Jun 30 15:16:20 EDT 2008

Hi Jim Rovira

No.  I don't think the only thing we can do with poems is admire them.
And as to rules I think one of the functions of poetry is to reveal to us
the necessity of pushing, with all our being, against them in order to
discover their limits.  Not so we can live outside limits, but so that we
can manage our existence with equal respect to rules and the makers
of them.  For me (and I think for Milton) God's incredible gift of free
will means the necessity to push even --or especially-- against rules
perceived by us to be God's.  And, for me, (and I suspect for you, since
you are loving K.) theology sans emotion is as bad as poetry sans

Jim Watt
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of James Rovira [jamesrovira at gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, June 27, 2008 11:16 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Abdiel

Jim W -- do you really believe that once we call something a poem all
rules are off and there's nothing left to do but admire it?  I don't
buy this, and don't think Milton did either -- esp. since he seemed to
take his own theology very seriously, and was very aware that he was
responding to more than one Christian tradition.  For that matter,
poetry written without limitations winds up meaning nothing at all.
The difference between poetry and theology is poetry's integration of
the conceptual (when it is present) with the emotional and
psychological, while theological writing tends to remain on the
conceptual level.  I say this recognizing, of course, that there's a
range of theological writing out there, but in general the more
precise and conceptual the theological writing is, the less emotional
it is.

To me, the question of motivation (psychology) has never been lost in
this discussion.  I think my main disagreement with Alice would be (I
think, if I'm understanding her properly) a dissociation of language
from psychology.  Returning to Kierkegaard, one of the insights
Kierkegaard lends to us is that language in part constitutes our
psychology, our choice of language therefore being highly significant.
 Through the process of reflection we therefore create ourselves in
the sense that we reconstitute our given selves.

So yes, absolutely, Michael, I agree:  Milton did have to motivate his
characters.  Once we accept this as a given, how we understand these
motivations and talk about them becomes the issue.

After my last post I considered the idea of "falling" and realized
there's an equivalent to the idea of "falling" in Kierkegaard's
Concept of Anxiety.   But, to start, K's conception of the innocent
individual is that s/he remains innocent until the moment of sin, so
that the transition from innocence to sinfulness is a leap, not a
gradual progression.  Losing your innocence is like losing your
virginity: you have it or you don't.  Or being innocent is like being
pregnant: you are or you aren't.  This is a very serious ground rule
in Kierkegaard's thinking.  We never know that we -are- innocent, in
fact.  We are only aware of innocence once we have lost it.  We can
only know we -were- innocent.

K does acknowledge that sinfulness in our external environment can so
overwhelm us that we feel sinful ourselves, but he emphasizes that
this is very different from our own first act of sin.  He also says
this experience can motivate us to sin -- it can make sin seem
inevitable, and we become so anxious about sin that we sin.  But the
feeling itself is not sin.

Another claim K makes -- and the parallel to the notion of "falling"
is found here -- is that anxiety is a presentiment of the state we
will be in after we make the leap into sinfulness, but that we
experience this presentiment before we make the leap into sinfulness.
So anxiety mimics a postlapsarian psychology in a prelapsarian mind.
This constitutes a very clever solution to the problem of maintaining
innocence but still demonstrating some characteristics of a fallen
psychology while still being innocent.

The greatest weakness of K's solution is, perhaps, that it is too
clever.  Its strong point is acknowledging that our own acts following
from specific decisions are far more significant than any emotional
state prior to the act, taking our actions and decisions seriously,
and also confining sin to the act.  At any rate, K's description of
anxiety at this point does serve as a plausible explanation of what we
read as the state of "falling" in Adam and Eve.

The problem I have with the descriptions of Adam and Eve's psychology
in recent posts is that I don't see a significant distinction between
Adam and Eve's prelapsarian psychology and that of the Early Modern
Christian.  However, this may very well be Milton's intent and, dare I
say it, perhaps not inconsistent with Protestant theology of his own
day.   I came in expecting an innocent psychology to be very different
from our own.  Perhaps the real problem is that my expectations are

Jim R
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