[Milton-L] Debbie does Eden

Hugh Wilson wilsonh at gram.edu
Wed Jul 27 16:39:23 EDT 2011

Professor Strier's language is bold, but I feel his argument is persuasive.  
Prolonged dallying with nakedness, and imagining pre-lapsarian sex has 
an inherent erotic potential, whether or not we prefer to call it 
pornographic per se.
Botticelli's Venus, Gaugin's Polynessian women, Shakespeare's
bawdy or Melville's Typee have an implicit erotic element that elicits 
interest, but none are merely or primarily pornographic.  Awe or pathos,
humor or sometimes anger--"black rams" and "white ewes"--tend 
to preponderate over mere arousal, and efface it.
We can be "surprised by sin" or attracted by sex (which, of course, 
isn't necessarily sinful) to an experience--reading Paradise Lost--that 
transcends (or sublimates) sexuality.  Transcendent and humbling purple 
passages elicit sublime ecstasies of their own; they evoke Wordsworthian 
meditations that are themselves Miltonic and biblical.  "We see by this, it was 
not sex," or sex alone --that "binds the subtle knot" which constitues 
our humanity.
Hugh F. Wilson


From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu on behalf of richard strier
Sent: Wed 7/27/2011 10:36 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Debbie does Eden

Dear James (if I may),

You are fighting a straw person.  No one thinks that PL and Debbie are the same
sort of work.  Debbie (which I think I once saw) is, if I recall correctly, a comic
treatment with a fair amount of rather soft-core porno.  But I may be mis-
remembering it, nor not remembering it at all.  I believe that it is not a serious
work of art of any kind, nor intended to be (though might be a sort of classic in
its genre).

The point, for me, is that there are places in PL where M creates the effect of
pornography, and knows he is doing it.  I believe you basically concede this in
the phrase, "except at rare moments."  The point, as I see it, is not to deny that
there are such moments, but to think about why they are there.

"half her swelling Breast / Naked met his"  -- this is right out of a bodice-
ripper, and Milton knows it (though he did not know about that exact genre). 
The fact that it is poetry, and well written, only makes it sexier -- with the
enjambment and metrical reversal emphasizing "Naked."  The passage that we
have been discussing, where "libidinousness" is imagined and then denied, is
one where M is confronting the problem--one that he knows he has created. 
And, to bring the discussion back to where (I believe) it began, a movie version
of PL that filmed the Eden scenes as Milton has written them would, I guarantee
you, be eagerly attended by every teenage boy in the country, even if he had to
listen to some poetry while watching it.  But this is not to in any way deny the
greatness of the poem; I think that M's willingness to move into this territory,
and knowingly so, is part of his imaginative courage.  I think the fact that in
some respects, and in some places, PL is a pornographic work is, in fact, part of
its greatness.

The "borderline" category is important, since the Supreme Court used to think
that there was a bright line-- which, of course, there isn't.  And I'm not
convinced that a work can't be pornographic in a much more sustained and
purposeful way than PL and still be a great work of literary or visual art.  The
case with regard to visual art is easy, so I'll take the harder route.  I'm not all
that knowledgeable in this field, but would say that, for instance, The Story of O
is a serious work of literature (and of pornography).

---- Original message ----
>Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2011 04:39:34 -0400
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of James Rovira
<jamesrovira at gmail.com>)
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fallen vs. Unfallen Sex 
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>   Carrol --
>   Thank you for the response.  Apparently I've had a
>   hard time communicating my main point, was that
>   there is a distinction between the erotic and the
>   pornographic, a distinction that Richard Strier
>   seemed to be erasing at one point in the discussion.
>    The pornographic is a species of the erotic, but
>   the concept of the erotic is not exhausted by the
>   concept of the pornographic.  Because I make this
>   distinction, I have argued that identifying the
>   pornographic with the erotic is reductive.  I
>   defined pornography as seeking only, or primarily,
>   to arouse sexual stimulation without attempting to
>   achieve any other effect.
>   Applying this distinction to PL, I never denied the
>   erotic in the poem.  I only denied that the erotic
>   in PL was pornograpghic.  It is too complex for
>   pornography and too unfocused on sex, except at rare
>   moments.  That is why I said that PL and Debbie
>   Does Dallas cannot be said to be attempting the same
>   effect.  Debbie Does Dallas is pornographic.  PL
>   is more than that.  I think it takes a seriously
>   dull sensibility to miss the difference.  I'm not
>   saying there aren't borderline works, just that
>   there is a distinction.  Discussions of Lucian
>   Freud and Mapplethorpe, on my end, have been
>   attemplts to refine the distinction and identify the
>   nature of some borderline works.
>   Jim R
>   On Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Carrol Cox
>   <cbcox at ilstu.edu> wrote:
>   > On 7/25/2011 3:25 PM, James Rovira wrote:
>   >
>   > " I don't see how PL and Debbie Does Dallas can be
>   said
>   > to be attempting to achieve the same effect.  I
>   don't see this claim
>   > as supporting any kind of dogmatism, but rather
>   trying to avoid
>   > reductionism in literary treatments of the
>   erotic."
>   >
>   > This raises problems with what we mean by
>   "erotic." If it (text, painting, what have you)
>   elicits no 'erotic' response from the reader/viewer,
>   can it be called erotic? And if it _does_ elicit an
>   erotic response, then there may still be a line
>   between Debbie & Eve -- but it's getting a bit iffy.
>   >
>   > Carrol
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