[Milton-L] "Avatar" reviewed by Milton : What can we do?

Sanford Blackburn antinomian2 at hotmail.com
Thu Jan 28 20:32:37 EST 2010


Jim:
I agree, of course, with your distinction and applications of melodrama and drama. Absolutely. But I think I disagree with initial assumption, your statement that the issue isn't utopianism.  In fact, if we are glancing of Rousseau (and let's put our matches and dry wood aside for the nonce) then utopianism is the issue.  But you're right of course when you say utopia doesn't exist--and that's getting closer to what I do see as being the issue--and isn't this Dali's (and Bloom's) problem with Rousseau?  Let's revisit my "chain of cogitations" for a moment:
"If pre-literate culture is our pedigree of the conservative Weltanschauug.
And Rousseau championed the pre-literates.
Then Rousseau championed conservatism?
Was Napoleon the direct outcome of Rousseau put into practice?
Dali's conclusion is that Rousseau leads to tyranny, utopianism leads to Hitler.  And isn't this what what Jonathan Littell is suggesting in _The Kindly Ones_?
Where does Milton frown upon utopianism?"
My answer to this last question is that Milton "frowns on utopianism" in his presentation of Eden. In a sense it doesn't exist, as you suggest; however, as a literary place--as a hypothetical place used by the poet to make a point--it does exist. Can we compare it to the Utopia Rousseau proposes? I am thinking that the answer is "yes."  In fact, prelapsarian Eden is a dystopia, or the formula of the psychology of Utopia. Adam of course doesn't realize it is a dystopia, and part of his "epistemological journey" is his coming to his realization that Eden does not exist (or "no longer exists" works as well, too). Adam's initial worldview, however, his belief in that Eden, his trust in the visiting angels and all the divine rules of that ideal realm, can be compared to both the psychological formula of the pre-literate people who believe in the reality of their nature-utopia, and compared also to the psychological formula of the Nazi party member cheering in the mob, who with comparable conceit and vanity believes in the reality of his utopia, which we "fallen" observers understand to be the totalitarian state.  And at this this point we might pull out our matchbox again and wonder if in addition to Rousseau's champions we ought to burn Hegel's followers at the stake too, because like Adam--despite the reason of all their good sense, despite the motions, say, of the planets in the sky--the Hegelians adhere to the customs of their utopia, their "no where," and their dictatorship, be it under Napoleon, Hitler, or the Rousseau specialist at the university down the road. Utopia is the model of their state.  
Thus Eden, utopia, is Milton's model of the psychological formula of dictatorship, and the dictator there is equally the Father, Satan, and Adam. And I'll close on your use of "indigenous people." Is there such a thing? Or is the concept itself as mythical as the people who supposedly dwell in that edenic realm? 
The prelapsarian world is a dictatorship, and Adam's fall is in fact a march into reality and liberty.
Carter Kaplan
www.carterkaplan.blogspot.com

> Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 01:39:10 -0500
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "Avatar" reviewed by Milton : What can we do?
> From: jamesrovira at gmail.com
> To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
> 
> I don't see the issue being utopianism, Carter.  I think Milton
> created one in his prelapsarian Eden, for that matter.  The point of a
> utopia, however, is that it does not exist, just as Milton's Eden does
> not exist.  Whenever we describe indigenous cultures, we are
> describing current and real living human beings -- we are describing
> existence.  If we don't ascribe to any human being the full possible
> range of human emotion, then we relegate them to an inferior status.
> Members of indigenous cultures can be sophisticated in their pursuit
> of ambition and greed.  They can be selfish too.  They have a culture.
>  They are not mere unadorned nature.  Idealizing a people group robs
> them of their humanity just as much as degrading them, because real
> and fully human persons are nothing to be idealized.  They have
> faults. They are never innocent and pure.  I know of Asian students
> who are consistently annoyed that US students expect them to be very
> good at math -- it's a positive stereotype, but it's still a
> stereotype, so that annoys them.
> 
> My reaction to Avatar was to its ideological content and to an act of
> bad faith that this content unintentionally (no doubt) encouraged.  A
> more realistic film, even given the unreality of the setting and the
> unreality of the goodness of the indigenous peoples, would have at
> least underscored more clearly just how compromised even the
> scientists were by their collaboration with the military and with
> business.  They should have known what side their bread was buttered
> on.  What separates drama from melodrama is the absence or presence of
> uncomplicatedly drawn good guys and bad guys.  Great drama, however,
> has flawed heroes facing flawed opponents and leaves audience
> sympathies divided.  By that standard, Avatar is melodrama.  Star Wars
> is melodrama except for a few, brief moments.  Richard II is drama.
> PL -- for all the sympathy for the devil that it encourages, intended
> or not -- is drama.
> 
> Jim R
> 
> On Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 11:19 PM, Sanford Blackburn
> <antinomian2 at hotmail.com> wrote:
> > Jim:
> > You remind me of a thread I once briefly followed (I was exploring the
> > anthropology of shamanism at the time) that looks at the essential
> > "conservatism" of pre-literate cultures.
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