[Milton-L] from unlibidinous to non-jealous

Neil Forsyth neil.forsyth at unil.ch
Tue Jul 26 13:35:11 EDT 2011

Dear Miltonists

May I, finally, contribute something to this irritating thread, irritating because I want to get off to other tasks but keep getting interested by all this erotic chat. First let me alert those who have not yet read it to the discussion of 'unlibidinous' in Annabelle Patterson's Milton's Words, where some of these interesting points are briefly made. Second, because of the talk of pragmatics and word order, may I run in something from my own discussion of these words, obviously written under the influence of Stanley Fish, but in fact an argument about the Homeric originals of these passages.
Eros has an even more tenuous ontological status in the passage. But the effect, again, is what counts — the impact on the audience — and the effect of Eros’ darts was usually to make the victim gaze longingly at the beloved — precisely what happens to Adam as Eve departs.[1]

         By this point in the poem, the render should be alert to the shock of finding sensual language used in innocent ways before the Fall.[2] But he may feel a certain discomfort that Eve should provoke desire, even under cover of a mythological allusion. He will probably experience more discomfort if he recalls that the audience into whose eyes the darts of desire shoot includes the archangel Raphael. The reader must immediately cancel all these lascivious ideas, however, for the sentence does not end with the line, nor even with the desire‑pierced eyes. Instead the word “desire” turns out to be modified by the infinitive clause, “to wish her still in sight.” So this is not, after all, the “Carnal desire” which erupts after the apple is eaten (IX.1013), still less the “fierce desire” to which Satan confesses on first seeing Adam and Eve make love (IV.509), but merely that Latinate and rather stilted English word that means “to wish for.” Once we reconstruct the syntax in this way, the words “desire to wish” are seen to be oddly repetitive and we realize that Milton has offered us, by the network of allusions, the sexual meaning of “desire,” only to retract the offer with the colorless synonym “wish.” One may assess the effect of the word order here, especially of the word “desire” falling at the end of the line, by comparing the less ambiguous echo of this passage at the second, fatal separation the next day: there Adam watches Eve’s departure, and “Her long and ardent look his Eye pursu’d / Delighted, but desiring more her stay” (IX.397‑98).[3] This time the sexual meaning of “desire” is carried over from the “ardent look,” but is quickly subsumed within the more general idea of the specific object “her stay.” Such are the ways in which the text performs its Satanic work.[4]

[1]For example, the Argonautica of Apollonius, III.282‑88; see the examples collected by Panovsky, Icolonoly, pp. 95‑128.
[2]See Fish, Surprised, pp. 92‑107, especially the critical discussions collected on p. 93.
[3]Ricks, Grand Style, pp. 98‑99, makes a similar point without citing the parallel. He aptly cites Richardson, who also noticed the ambiguity of the syntax and “hurried to protect Eve’s honour: ‘This passage must be pointed thus, as in Milton’s Editions; as Some have done it, it makes Wild work. Darts of Desire but only to Wish her Stay.”’
[4]Cf V 445-50, where the description of the naked and innocent Eve ministring at table for Adam and angel suddenly evokes from the narrator, first a reference to the Sons of God who at Gen 6.1-4 fell for the Daughters of Men, and in many accounts thus caused the Fall (see below, n 31), and then a reference to “jealousie/ . . . the injur’d Lovers Hell”. Flannagan points out ad loc that “lurking in the background of Eden is Satan”, but, since he is definitely absent as a character at this point, and a very different and unfallen angel is present, I would rather say, as I am arguing here, that the text is potentially Satanic.

Neil Forsyth
Professor of English 
University of Lausanne
neil.forsyth at unil.ch

On Jul 26, 2011, at 6:38 PM, Harold Skulsky wrote:

> "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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