[Milton-L] Fallen vs. Unfallen Sex

JD Fleming jfleming at sfu.ca
Thu Jul 21 11:10:47 EDT 2011

Interesting comments. However: on semantics and definition, I would suggest that it is philosophically preferable to reverse the default procedure: not "what distinct states of affairs does this pick out," that is, but "what distinct states of affairs are there to be picked out." So let's say, per the current example, that it is legitimate to differentiate a morally indifferent from a morally interesting unclothedness. I think that differentiation matters more than the question -- which seems to be part intuitive, part empirical -- which is called naked, which nude. Because it could go either way, or neither.

On sex in PL: you suggest that pornography entails exhibitionism. If so, I would point out that it is precisely book 4, and not book 9, that is pornographic. The whole significance of Eve's invention of secrecy is that she thinks she is entering into the power of _not_ being watched. "Heaven is high, high and remote.. and other care may have diverted from continual watch our great Forbidder, safe with all his spies about him." Thus the fallen sex that comes under the rubric of secrecy is something that Adam and Eve think they are sharing, on their own, without spectators. It is, if you like, polite. The relevant contrast is with the exhibitionistic glory of the garden of love. Even when Adam and Eve enter the bower in book 4, they are entering, giving thanks all the way, the omphalos of God's universe, which reconnects their acts to the whole as though through a reverse panopticon.

I think also of "wanton." "She him as wantonly repaid," in 9. Thus one is invited to infer that at the fall, "wantonness" enters what was previously "pure" (all the usual schoolmarmishness). But of course Milton has massively forestalled this reading, by loading every rift of the unfallen garden with the imagery and rhetoric of wantonness. The correct reading, in my view, is not that sex first becomes wanton at the fall, but at the fall wanton sex first becomes a problem. This is what is lost: almost everything. jdf

----- Original Message -----
From: "Brendan Prawdzik" <brendanprawdzik at gmail.com>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 3:57:21 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fallen vs. Unfallen Sex

We would not call Michelangelo's David "naked," right? But we would call it "nude." David is a nude. David also appears "nude" from our perspective, for we view him from an aesthetic distance, as art. "Nude" (but, crucially, not "denuded") carries a sense of moral indifference. 

To be "denuded" is to be discovered (both senses) as naked. 

If Michelangelo crafted a David who knew that his unclothed body was being viewed and scrutinized by us, might we not then, seeing in his face and gestures signs of this self-consciousness, call him "naked"? It seems that the "naked" body is being watched, and is conscious of this fact. The "nude" body of David is but an aesthetic form. It does not know that it is naked, that is, that we are looking at a semiotic nudity. In this sense, it is not naked. But Milton does not use "nude," does he? 

The key passages for this sense of nakedness as observed unclothed body would be 9.1054-59, and 10.115-23, 220-23. 

When the Son asks, "that thou art naked, who/ Hath told thee?" we see clearly that nakedness, at least in the sense in which we typically use it, entails the sense that one is naked. 

Yet "naked" appears often in Book 4, too: "in naked Majestie seemed Lords of all" (290); "So passd they naked on, nor shunned the sight/ Of God or angel" (319-20); "her swelling Breast/ Naked met his under the flowing gold of her loose tresses hid: he in delight ... smiled" (495-99); "to our Sire/ Brought her in naked beauty more adorn'd/ More lovely than Pandora" (712-14); and the passage of the bower described by Michael, where the sex does not have a manifest observer, but multiple implicit observers -- God, angels, author, readers, and of course, Satan. 

"Guiltie Shame" is the key culprit here, no? It is what moves "naked" from knowing oneself naked, sans anxiety (see 4.319-20), to knowing oneself naked, with debilitating anxiety. In addition to the key passages from 9 and 10, one might quote Animadversions : 

"Oh what a death it is to the Prelates to be thus unvisarded, thus uncas'd, to have the Periwigs pluk't off that cover your baldnesse, your inside nakedness thrown open to publick view." 

On this note, may I propose two things? First, that pornography is infused with the sense that it is being watched, and plays to the emotive effect (as others have said) that comes with watching sex that knows it is being watched, without the spectator having his (pardon the gendering) own nakedness, own gaze, "thrown open to publick view." It plays to being mastered as an object that is a subject aware of its objectification. (Upon this consciousness comes "Guiltie Shame," without which pornography merely becomes aesthetic, erotic. On this note, the meaning of "pornography" is bound not to the form but to the eyes and culture of eyes that views the form. Yet the form also responds to the culture of eyes.) Second, that both unfallen and fallen sex is sex that knows that it is being viewed. However, after the fall, guilty shame enters the scene as the eyes that observe now have an intense, painful, withering power in the imagination. (Do Adam and Eve know the *word* "naked" before the Fall?!) Even if the sex scenes were physically identical (the possibility of which I must doubt), the psychological experience of the sex would be -- and clearly is, with a view to the evidence -- essentially different. The best evidence for this, in my view, is the phrase "[Eve's] Eye darted contagious fire." I believe that darting eyes, as appear also in 8.62-63, evince a gradual transformation of subjectivity, from "naked" (as nude) to "naked" (as painfully knowing oneself to be naked). I believe that the seduction scene, where the use of "gaze" becomes abundant and exceedingly complex, shows the culmination and fruition of this process. 

It is also here where Eve first raises the hypothesis of her secrecy, of being "secret" (9.811). 

Brendan Prawdzik 

On Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 3:00 PM, richard strier < rastrier at uchicago.edu > wrote: 

But how can sex between A and E be "casual," and it's certainly not "retail." I 
don''t see how any of this is relevant to PL -- though I must say that, even to a 
mere male, the distinctions you note seem pretty obvious. 

---- Original message ---- 
>Date: Wed, 20 Jul 2011 17:39:28 -0400 
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of "Carol Barton" 
< cbartonphd1 at verizon.net >) 
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fallen vs. Unfallen Sex 

>To: "John Milton Discussion List" < milton-l at lists.richmond.edu > 
>I think the distinction between fallen and unfallen sex might be 
>easier for women to comprehend, Richard (and that's 
>not--intentionally--a sexist comment). There is a real distinction for 
>most women between making love (unfallen sex, if you will) and the 
>sort of wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am engagement that occurs between 
>partners (or those involved in a retail relationship). 
>Nudity and nakedness are different? I had no idea . . . but with a 
>heat index of 102F and climbing (around 35C for those who don't 
>Fahrenheit) I think I'd welcome being either one . . . 
>Best to all, 
>Carol Barton 
>----- Original Message ----- 
>From: "richard strier" < rastrier at uchicago.edu > 
>To: "John Milton Discussion List" < milton-l at lists.richmond.edu > 
>Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 3:51 PM 
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] It's Confirmed! 
>Well, I don't hold the view (which some philosophers--e.g. Roger 
>Scruton) hold 
>that great art can't be erotically stimulating. Seems like a silly 
>view. Lots of 
>great Renaissance art is very sexy. MIlton insists -- surely with his 
>male readers 
>in mind (but not only, of course) -- on Eve's gorgeousness and her 
>nakedness. No reason for us, or her, to feel ashamed, and no reason 
>for us (or 
>her, or Adam) not to feel erotically aroused. 
>And, to say something that will surely invite/incite some responses, I 
>think the 
>supposed contrast between the fallen and unfallen sex of A and E to be 
>And, finally, I think the supposed distinction between nudity and 
>(Kenneth Clark) also to be bogus (let's all pretend to be very 
>Milton-L mailing list 
> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu 
>Manage your list membership and access list archives at 
>Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/ 

Milton-L mailing list 
Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu 
Manage your list membership and access list archives at http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l 

Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/ 

Milton-L mailing list
Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
Manage your list membership and access list archives at http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/

James Dougal Fleming
Associate Professor
Department of English
Simon Fraser University

"to see what is questionable"

More information about the Milton-L mailing list