[Milton-L] from unlibidinous to non-jealous

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at smith.edu
Tue Jul 26 12:38:17 EDT 2011


"My suggestion is -- and I will reiterate it -- that we read the last
part of the sentence from the ending." Thus Richard Strier.
I'm afraid I don't understand the idea of reading sentences backward. I
tend to stick to the default assumption of pragmatics, that the drift
and scope of utterances unfold in time, with earlier developments
providing the context for developments down the line. (I'm not sure M's
pragmatics differed on this point.)
If the assumption is not acceptable, then I guess we need to agree to
disagree. But until further notice I'll proceed as if agreement is still
possible.
Given the principle of progressive (not  regressive) drift, M’s
contrafactual line of thought goes like this: 
If Raphael had coveted Eve, this bad behavior would have been excusable
[not, of course, justifiable] given her dazzling beauty. BUT (just to
avoid misunderstanding) IN FACT an unfallen angel is incapable of
coveting somebody else's wife, so Raphael doesn't covet Eve. 
Adam’s incapacity for jealousy simply doesn’t serve the logically
required purpose of the BUT IN FACT--that is, of making sure we
understand that the COUNTERFACTUAL ABOUT RAPHAEL (the excusableness of
Raphael's coveting of Eve) is counterfactual though true.
The point of the reference to Adam's incapacity for jealousy is to
forestall a parallel misreading of a second true counterfactual (the
excusableness of Adam's jealousy given Eve's dazzling beauty), a
contrafactual that if taken as factual would once again compromise the
innocence of the scene. 
Why does M bother to warn us about the counterfactuality of both true
conditionals? Who, contemplating Eve ministering naked, would entertain
cynical thoughts either about Raphael’s libido or about Adam’s
suspicions of Raphael’s libido? Answer: the postlapsarian reader. It's
people harnessed with imaginations like ours who might convert M's scene
into a version of Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe equipped with a running
docent commentary by Henry Miller. 
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