[Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Fri Sep 4 18:43:02 EDT 2009

Carol Barton suggested of Eve that:
"the seeds of self-absorption have already been sown (as demonstrated at her creation)"
What seeds were these, who sowed them, and where did they come from?
Jeffery Hodges

--- On Fri, 9/4/09, Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net> wrote:

From: Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
Subject: Re: RE: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Date: Friday, September 4, 2009, 2:06 PM


Oh, I quite agree, Gardner; there is discomfort in straying from the safety of the "known" to strike out on one's own, no matter what the context, and no matter how appealing the "alterity." Within what she will later call the "narrow circuit" of perfect unity, the world is in order and the way and the rules are clear. From one perspective, the microcosm that is Eden is perfection (or as close to it as we imperfect beings can understand)--safe and sustaining, like the womb--but there is a thrill involved in flying beyond the clouds, and recognizing that it is from that perspective just a small island in a vast cosmos--a constellation of potentiality, if you will--just begging to be explored.
I think it's possible to experience both unity and alterity simultaneously. To my mind, the key is consent: one has to *choose* to put thy will before my will, voluntarily and whole-heartedly, the way one might with a beloved, without resentment or regret. My valuing the Other's happiness more than I value my own at times (or recognizing that his happiness IS my happiness, or that when I contribute to it, the pleasure I get from his happiness is greater than any pleasure I can have on my own) is not a surrender of identity. I am still me; I still have desires and dreams of my own, and I could still refuse to acquiesce, if I chose to do so. I haven't relinquished that positive self-hood (alterity) that defines me as an independent entity. I've just chosen not to assert it.
If Eve could Christ-like say "thy will, in thy time, be done," if she could serenely reject the serpent's enticements with the simple conviction that anything not-God is evil, the way Jesus does in PR, she would recognize, as Adam does, that sometimes a dream is just a dream, and dismiss it without adverse effect. But (I think) the dream comes to her in the first place because the seeds of self-absorption have already been sown (as demonstrated at her creation), and in her sleep acts out what her conscious mind would overrule: she permits her impatience and her yearning to take precedence over her faith in Adam and God. In her dream, she puts her desires before theirs, as she will at the fatal moment in the Garden, and as Adam will put his obsession with Eve before his trust in God after she has fallen. In that sense, it is the self-centeredness of her behavior--the-me-not-you-ness of it, if you will-- that engenders the negative alterity that
 upsets her.
I'm not sure I've expressed that very well. Apologies, if I haven't.
All best,

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Campbell, W. Gardner 
To: 'John Milton Discussion List' 
Sent: Friday, September 04, 2009 1:09 PM
Subject: RE: RE: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)

Where I’d differ, Carol, is in drawing the line between “unity with God’s will” and alterity. I think Milton believes that his project of justification depends on a God who’s really serious about creaturely alterity within the context of obedience.  I don’t doubt that Eve’s disturbed by her own growing alterity. It’s hard to know or accept or navigate one’s own alterity, let alone that of others. (“I is another,” after all.)
Perhaps Empson is right that genuine creaturely alterity is simply incompatible with the Christian God. Perhaps he is wrong. Whatever one’s conclusions, though, I think that Milton’s exploring the question in fascinating, novel, and complex ways.

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