[Milton-L] process v end; agreement

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at smith.edu
Tue Jul 26 15:34:52 EDT 2011

To a post of mine with the usual dogmatic strut (a top hat on a Bradford
millionaire, as the poet says), Richard Strier replies with his usual
Of course he's right; if literary interp. is anything, it's multistep.
Which lets back in the jealousy-libido reading. Which is (I suppose)
just what I should have expected. 
Just to avoid total capitulation, the prospect of a crux looks good to
me at this point. As Rahm Emanuel says, never let a good crux go to
>>> richard strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu> 7/26/2011 1:37 PM >>>
Certainly, agreement is possible -- we're not the federal government,
after all -
- but I think that it is important to recognize reading, especially
reading, as a multiple-step process.  Of course one must attend to the

movement of sentences, and take seriously the order in which elements
received (this is the Iser-Alpers-Fish contribution).  But one must
also take 
seriously the entire shape of a sentence when one has gotten to the end
of it.  
And with a writer like Milton, steeped as he is in Latin, the final
word or clause 
often is (as I needn't tell Professor Skulsky!)  the point of the
construction.  And I 
do think that the "drift and scope" way of reading does suggest getting
to the 
end before one starts analyzing.

But, even from the processive point of view, a "this nor that"
construction invites 
one to see the items as strongly parallel, and the "reign'd, nor"
gives one only a very weak stop after "reign'd," so the movement is

I think, though, that the best way to resolve this crux is to see it as
a crux.  
Milton is simply trying to pack too much into too few words here, and
perhaps is 
not quite sure himself where his focus is.  I don't think that we harm
the master 
by seeing a bit of clumsiness here.

---- Original message ----
>Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2011 12:38:17 -0400
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of "Harold
<hskulsky at smith.edu>)
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] from unlibidinous  to non-jealous  
>To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>   "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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