[Milton-L] "erotic" versus

Brendan Prawdzik brendanprawdzik at gmail.com
Mon Jul 25 17:33:42 EDT 2011

Hmm ... Thank you, James.  There's a limitation to parallelisms
between Adam+Raphael and the reader, surely.  It does seem all too
easy to say, "and the reader also"; yet of course, we all know how
persistently Milton engages the reader's perspective ...

As I suggested earlier, one difference would be the more total
perspective that Milton affords the reader of A&E's marriage.  Yet I
would still insist on a strong analogy between Adam's sense of Eve and
the reader's, in that for both she seems endowed with a subjectivity
that exceeds appearances, indeed exceeds the letter of the Law.  That
is, there's a depth guarded by opacity that allows for a psychological
justification of Satan's "too easy entrance," while its obscurity
defends against doctrinal error: we are allowed to sense and
hypothesize a fall *in occulto* (Spirit of the Law) that does not
contradict the fact that Eve falls only when, "beguil'd," she violates
the prohibition (Letter of the Law).

Milton is constantly playing with Eve's obscurity.  A perfect example
of this would be her tears following the relation of the Satanic
dream, tears which Adam reads "as the gracious signs of sweet remorse/
And pious awe, that feard to have offended."  There is clearly a
distinction here between Eve's innocence, bound to the prohibition,
and the thoughts of a subconscious disturbed (by Satan).  Adam reads
the tears according to the Letter, while the very Miltonic "as"
underscores a potential irony between appearance and underlying cause,
the tip of the iceberg and the shadowy depth of the iceberg, concealed
by the dark surface of the water, that may not actually be there at
all.  Quite neatly, the tears here *are* the surface of the iceberg.

As Emily points out, 9.274-78 is striking in that it shows that Eve
has been listening unawares to us and unawares to Adam and Raphael:

That such an Enemie we have, who seeks
Our ruin, both by thee informd I learne,
And from the parting Angel over-heard
As in a shadie nook I stood behind,
Just then returnd at shut of Evening Flours.

This means that Eve likely heard Raphael's most potentially stinging
appraisal of her worth:

worthy well
Thy cherishing, thy honouring, and thy love,
Not thy subjection: weigh with her thy self;
Then value: Oft times nothing profits more
Then self esteem, grounded on just and right
Well manag'd; of that skill the more thou know'st,
The more she will acknowledge thee her Head,
And to realities yield all her shows:
Made so adorn for thy delight the more,
So awful, that with honour thou maist love
Thy mate, who sees when thou art seen least wise.

In this light, it is small wonder why Eve feels compelled to seek out
glorious trial of her strength: "so to add what wants/ In Femal Sex,
the more to draw his Love,/ And render me more equal, and perhaps,/ A
thing not undesireable, somtime/ Superior."  The last phrase of the
above passage, "sees then thou art seen least wise," suggests that not
only does Eve's subjectivity exceed external signs as read with piety
to the Letter, but that this excess correlates with a power of
observation that can exceed our own perspectival frame.  Both are part
and parcel of her essential shadiness (value-neutral).

So when Adam sees Eve as both "absolute" and self-contained, like a
walled garden that he can "but approach," he is expressing a sentiment
with which the reader, I expect, is intimately familiar.  Eve is
naturally the center of scrutiny for early modern and contemporary
readers alike: her motivation is central to the doctrinal difficulty
of the Genesis narrative, and especially to the failures of earlier
attempts like della Salandra's *Adamo Caduto*, Andreini's *L'Adamo*,
and even Grotius's *Adamus Exul*.  A failure to portray a complex,
sympathetic Eve would mean a failure to justify the ways of God to
men.  By shading a suggested but never quite excavated depth, Milton
enables a radical re-interpretation of the Genesis narrative on many
levels (including, of course, gender) without preventing us from
seeing the Fall as doctrinally straightforward: i.e., "the serpent me
beguil'd and I did eate."  (In this sense, as an embodiment of seen
surface/unseen depth, Eve herself embodies an exegetical principle
underlying Milton's poetic rewriting of Genesis.)

As I have been suggesting throughout, Eve's visibility (as one who
sees and as one who is seen) provides one of the most crucial means by
which Milton mobilizes the mysteries of fallen and unfallen
subjectivity, and of the relationship between the two.


On Sun, Jul 24, 2011 at 10:39 AM, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:
> Brendan:
> Thank you for the consideration you've shown by providing a close
> reading of the selection from Bk VIII.  Wonderful to read.
> I registered an erotic tinge to the flowers too -- hadn't considered
> their responsiveness to Eve to mirror an erection at the time, so
> perhaps was thinking more in terms of bodily or visceral or physical,
> or just felt, responsiveness.
> However, I did not pick up on the word "all" in the passage in
> question and agree with you that it's a very important detail.  There
> is at least a narrative self-consciousness of Eve being watched
> because of her beauty, and your entire discussion of Adam feeling the
> lack of Eve was quite well done.
> I'm not sure that the reader's eyes see Eve in quite the same way that
> Adam's and Raphael's do.  These are two different kinds of seeing.
> Adam and Raphael did not have to be told that they were drawn to look
> at Eve.  They simply were.  Readers, not actually seeing the scene,
> have to be told by the narrator that this is going on, otherwise we
> would not know.
> Jim R
> On Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 7:14 PM, Brendan Prawdzik
> <brendanprawdzik at gmail.com> wrote:
> > James:
> > I'd be happy to elaborate my own understanding of the long quotation from
> > Book VIII.
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