[Milton-L] Fallen vs. Unfallen Sex

Brendan Prawdzik brendanprawdzik at gmail.com
Thu Jul 21 13:07:47 EDT 2011

To JR:

I initially made the point, that unfallen sex knows that it is being
watched, with some doubt.  It seems in retrospect that I was wrong here, or
at least, that I made this point too carelessly.  I think now that it would
be more appropriate to say that unfallen sex is *indifferent* to whether it
is being watched.  This indifference does, however, seem to be transforming
already by the time that Eve asks Adam about the stars: "Wherefore all night
long shine shine these, for whom/ This glorious sight, when sleep hath shut
all eyes?"  The enjambment reveals a way in for Satan, who in the Book 5
dream answers the question on this side of the ambivalence of "sight" (as
both vision, to see, and spectacle, to be seen): "Heaven wakes with all his
eyes,/ Whom to behold but thee?"  I am even more perplexed by the question
of whether Adam and Eve are aware of being observed (and who *can* observe
them) after just reading Joanna Picciotto's fascinating/strange view of the
subject in the rich and vast *Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England*
(2010), pp. 476-93, where she reads flowers as at once lenses and veils
mediating our view of prelapsarian sex.  On this note, it would be
interesting if in the upcoming film (I cringe) flowers and foliage obtruded
upon our sight, blocking our view of the naked members, though imperfectly,
opening up a glimpse here and there.  I doubt that the film will rise to
that level of subtlety, one way or the other.


Thank you for your thoughts.  Regardless of the method of inquiry (using as
I was the question of semantics, under debate, as a wandering way into the
question of whether there is an essential difference between pre- and
post-lapsarian sex), I must clarify that I was not suggesting that
postlapsarian sex is so much *exhibitionistic*, at least not in the sense
that I understand this word, but that it entails a painful sensitivity to
being watched.  Indifference has become a perhaps excessive investment in
the imagined presence of observing eyes, now more powerful, even, because
generalized and imaginary.  My sense of existence *in here* becomes
conditioned by my sense of the fact that I am being watched on all sides
from eyes *out there*.  Hence immediately after the Fall Eve adopts a
theatrical countenance in order to mediate, to Adam, the bare fact of her
action.  As to the question of secrecy, it seems to me that Eve *invents*
the idea of secrecy precisely because she is now painfully aware of the
"continual watch" of "our great Forbidder ... with all his Spies."
 Moreover, she might fancy the idea of hiding her "knowledge" from Adam, yet
it soon becomes clear that she could not possibly have hidden the Fall from
him, had she tried. It seems to me that Eve goes from wanting to be seen to
wanting to be secret in the space of time it takes to bite an apple and
swallow.  More scopophobic that scopophilic (at least at first, though the
end of Book X offers an interesting twist), the fallen Adam and Eve seek to
carve out nooks of secrecy, of course in vain.

Sex in Book 4 -- that is, the *actual* sex, as opposed to the representation
thereof -- cannot be pornographic in my view because it doesn't care whether
anyone is watching. (The question as to who is watching, who *can* watch, is
particularly fascinating.)  The actual sex in Book 9 *is* pornographic, in
the sense that it is infused with the idea of secrecy, that is, with the
idea of being watched.

To restate my thoughts, in brief: Prelapsarian sex is indifferent to being
watched; postlapsarian sex is infused with the awareness of being watched,
even if this awareness makes the delusion of secrecy, premised upon painful
awareness of nakedness, a seen-ness, a turn-on.  Neither the nakedness nor
the sex is objectionable in itself.  The power of the phrase "guiltie Shame"
is that it connects guilt to the shame, rather than attaching guilt and
shame necessarily to the fact sex or of a naked body.  Pornography is not
pornography without guilty shame.  The sex scene in Book 4 is not
pornographic.  The sex scene in Book 9 essentially is.  Pornography requires
secrecy, that is, the lens that is the veil, the veil that is the lens:
"naked left/ To guiltie Shame hee cover'd, but his Robe/ Uncover'd more."

To be honest, I'd like to dismiss the idea that pornography is, in its
essence, mere "bestial rutting" (to borrow a phrase from Picciotto) lacking
any emotional investment.  Like art and as art (whether good or bad, I'll
leave that to you), pornography *relies* on affective/psychic investment.
 It is not blissfully open, but painfully open.  Pornography has no power,
has no sexiness, without the idea of the veil, the idea that this should not
be open, should not be seen. It seems that many readers here would suggest
that pornography = Discovery Channel bestiality featuring humans that are
essentially animals.  To me, that just sounds like bad pornography.

Herrick surely likes his naked bodies veiled ...


On Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 8:10 AM, JD Fleming <jfleming at sfu.ca> wrote:

> 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" b!
>  efore 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
> casual
> >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
> >absolute
> >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
> >quite
> >unconvincing.
> >
> >And, finally, I think the supposed distinction between nudity and
> >nakedness
> >(Kenneth Clark) also to be bogus (let's all pretend to be very
> >high-minded!).
> >
> >
> >
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> --
> James Dougal Fleming
> Associate Professor
> Department of English
> Simon Fraser University
> "to see what is questionable"
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