[Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Wed Jan 20 10:54:08 EST 2010


This is a tangent, but it's a significant point that Milton, unlike
Shakespeare and others, doesn't seem to fear chaos. The physical domain
Chaos in PL doesn't threaten to invade or overturn created Nature. It is not
bad, but as Harold Skulsky says, potentially good. Its seething energy is an
interesting elaboration of the physical concept. That energy doesn't know
what to do with itself in the current state of being, but, once directed by
reason/law, probably it makes some essential contribution to the workings of
the created worlds. And because reason/law becomes part of the nature of
matter in the created worlds, there is no fear that it will withdraw and
allow the ocean, say, to make a sop of all this solid globe.

And similarly, Milton does not fear that the social order will dissolve
because there is no king or because someone fails to tip his hat to milord.

These are two of the crucial ways that Milton's thinking diverges from "the
Elizabethan world picture." They are related.

Michael


On Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 8:15 AM, Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>wrote:

>  I too agree with Harold (and now John), and think there is a fine
> distinction to be made between Chaos writ large and the atoms that comprise
> it. Chaos as a whole is formless--a bunch of random atoms "unassembled" if
> you will. That does not mean that the atoms themselves are formless--just
> that they don't add up to anything recognizable in the material world. I
> once heard Stanley Fish--in characteristically flip profundity--refer to
> Chaos as "God's Home Depot" (analogous to B&Q, for English Miltonists). I
> think that his "simplistic" analogy is a useful one, though: Chaos is a
> warehouse of the materials that, when "assembled" by the Creator, become
> matter as we understand it. It is as much part of the Cosmos as Home Depot
> is of the residential neighborhoods that surround it, and though the items
> it contains (planks of wood, nails and screws, paint and varnish and so on)
> are not furniture or houses or even packing crates in their current state,
> in the hands of a carpenter who knows how to use them, they are transformed
> into finished works.
>
> Best to all,
>
> Carol Barton
>
>
> Jan 20, 2010 07:28:40 AM, milton-l at lists.richmond.edu wrote:
>
> A characteristically excellent post from Harold Skulsky and I agree with
> much of it. But I do not share Harold's view that atoms in Chaos "are
> determinate in form and movement." I know that some are sharp while others
> are smooth, and some are swift while others are slow, but did not Lucretius
>
> say this too, and if he did why call the picture "faux-Lucretian"? But my
> real question concerns "determinate in form." Both Milton himself as epic
> narrator and Uriel describe Chaos as "formless" (3.12, 3.708). If
> formlessness is "Satan's manichean delusion," he has won some august
> witnesses over to it.
>
> John Leonard
>
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Harold Skulsky"
> To: "John Milton Discussion List"
> Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 11:07 PM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe
>
>
> > In Milton we are always well advised to beware of rigid dichotomies, like
>
> > the alleged dichotomy between cosmos and chaos.
> >
> > In PL the pervasive order guaranteed by God's omnipresence reaches into
> > all the worlds, including Chaos. That order is none other than the
> > evolution of the One First Matter celebrated by Raphael in PL 5, an
> > evolution that begins in God and gradually ascends to pure spirituality
> as
> > it returns to its origin.
> >
> > As an early stage in the evolution of material form, the faux-Lucretian
> > world of Chaos is well beyond inchoate; its constituent atoms are
> > determinate in form and movement, and ready to serve as the fabric of new
>
> > worlds (though impotent to create by themselves).
> >
> > In short, the Chaos M shows us in PL is an integral part of Cosmos; this
> > complicated fact doesn't protect the allegorical figure of the same name
> > from sharing Satan's manichean delusions, but it ought to protect us from
>
> > joining them.
>
> >
> >
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