[Milton-L] a note to the saint-exupery edition

Watt, James jwatt at butler.edu
Sun Oct 27 13:01:19 EDT 2013


Thanks. This has been a fun thread to follow and your account of Milton's working to solve a narrative problem imposed by a philosophical conundrum neatly sums up the entire kerfuffle.

After all, he did warn us that he'd be taking on Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme (or, for that matter, in blank verse iambic pentameter --another bastard child as an earlier thread here exhaustively demonstrated.) The Heav'nly Muse, whose assistance he invokes, was, like muses everywhere, prone to silence now and again, leaving the poet in the kind of pickle and internal conversation you evoke for us here.

Jim Watt
Allegra Stewart Professor (Emeritus)
Butler University
Indianapolis, IN
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Horace Jeffery Hodges [horacejeffery at gmail.com]
Sent: Saturday, October 26, 2013 9:00 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] a note to the saint-exupery edition

Here's the crux of Greg's cutting:

>From Book 2, omit the material from the second half of line 648 through the first half of line 884.  Line 648 should now end "Surprised but with delight" and the new line 649 begin "Satan observed."

Assuming that Greg is right, that the allegorical figures' interaction with Satan was a later addition, the question is "Why?" Why did Milton add it? Actually, there are two questions: 1) why did he need an interpolation, and 2) why did he choose this allegorical interpolation?

(I believe some answers have been broached, so I may be repeating what others have said.)

Milton needed to get the gates of hell opened, but who would be culpable? Not the unfallen angels since they would not disobey. Only someone disobedient could be responsible. But not the locked-in fallen angels, not directly, else there would be no point to locking them in. That would be the adamantine-chains problem writ large. One can see how Milton could have thought:

"I need someone culpable, but it can't be the fallen or the unfallen. Culpable . . . hmmm . . . why not 'sin' itself? It's the 'key' to getting into hell. So, sin can open the gates. Or better, Sin herself with a key. Culpability write large! But she has to be allegorical, though I'll still need to 'explain' her presence. Satan was the first to sin, so Sin is his conception, as I've already implied in the line 'Deep malice then conceiving.' Ah, I  can take 'conceiving' in two senses and have 'Sin' spring from Satan's head! That'll also be a slap at the Zeus myth on Athena's birth -- goddess of wisdom, hah! The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk because she prefers the gathering darkness! Anyway, Sin will open Hell's gates with her key. But I'll be criticized for having an allegorical figure interact with a 'historical' one. Hmmm . . . ah, no problem -- Sin is just Satan's conception, so she's only in his head, anyway! He's insane and hallucinates the encounter. But I've got to make the episode intriguing. Hmmm . . . ah, I've got it! James 1:15. Satan's lust for power brings forth Sin and Sin brings forth Death! I'll write up a gripping little allegory on this and 'fit audience find, though few' who'll understand that it's all in Satan's mind. I haven't really resolved my dilemma of fallen or unfallen, of course, since the fallen Satan would, implicitly, be the one who opens the gates, but I'll at least have told a good tale to cover the gap."

Or something like that . . .

Jeffery Hodges

Ewha Womans University
Seoul, South Korea

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Bottomless-Bottle-of-Beer/204064649770035 (The Bottomless Bottle of Beer)

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Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in the Gospel of John and Gnostic Texts"

Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

Home Address:

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On Sun, Oct 27, 2013 at 7:02 AM, Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu<mailto:Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>> wrote:
I tried to describe something in a post that preceded the ad for the Saint-Exupery edition, but it probably didn't make any sense then.  I want to try again because in doing this exercise, I noticed one thing that I think bears on the whole discussion of how the allegory fits within the overall "historical-mimetic" narrative.

In God's speech starting at 10.616, he predicts a time when the Son will "sling . . . Both Sin and Death and yawning Grave" through Chaos and they will henceforth and forever "obstruct the mouth of Hell."  I don't think this "Sin and Death" is exactly the Sin and Death of Book 2 (though I think it might be the start of that imagination).  One reason I don't think so is that this Sin and Death is part of a threesome, as the Sin and Death we know from elsewhere generally are not.  And I'm going to start with this other fellow:  yawning Grave.  I submit that slinging a yawning Grave in such a way that it lodges and henceforth obstructs a mouth is a sublime conception.  A grave, not necessarily; it might be a filled grave; such a thing could be slung and obstruct.  But the thought of the space inside an empty grave, a yawn(ing something) obstructing anything, suggests something about how insubstantial Milton regards all of these concepts as being (including, now, this Sin and Death, the ones with whom Grave is paired).  It's true that elsewhere in the poem, Milton gives us the sense that Hell is a more historical-mimetic place than Sin and Death are figures, but here, no.  They are equally insubstantial-substantial.  Insubstantial because they're yawning gaps filling yawning gaps; substantial because one yawning gap can be slung into the other and lodge there.

This picks up several of the comments that have been made in defense of the allegory in the course of this thread.  The Revards stressed early on the status of some of these figures as "found poetry."  Sin and Death have a history as concepts and as allegorical figures, and I think that might confer on them a tangibility that they wouldn't have if they were a fresh allegory.  Hugh Richmond said "I always saw Satan as a mere element of human consciousness (an allegorical figure?) not a complete personality" and I think someone else said everything in the poem is allegorical to a degree (I can't find that post).  And John Leonard pointed out that the Book 2 Sin and Death are themselves not simply allegorical, but a weird mix of historical-mimetic and allegorical.  (He didn't use that language; all along I've borrowed "historical-mimetic" from Strier).

In the Improved Paradise Lost, several "sin and death"s and even one "Sin and Death" didn't get excised.  The phrases didn't feel to me as though they referred to our figures; they're the kind of concept and phrase a guy writing an epic on sin and death will occasionally have to employ.  What I'm trying to get said is that sin and death exist in varying degrees of substantiality in the poem, one of them substantial enough to carry a key that opens a door for a figure who feels to us like he has a still greater degree of substantiality.  I'm imagining trying to build a rhetorical continuum (on the model of Milton's monistic substance having varying degrees, some more spiritous and pure) a monistic rhetoric that runs from the firguration that gives us solid seeming historical-mimetic figures like Adam and Eve; through Satan, who's mostly historical-mimetic, but sometimes a shade more allegorical; through Sin and Death in their Book 2 forms; to the 10.635 version; to mere concept; to some Augustinian privation version. (Gotta go read Fallon) And the rhetorical continuum might be somehow continuous with the substance continuum (since discursive and intuitive reason is the most refined thing on the substance continuum). It's not going to do away with the key problem, but it might contexutalize it in some interesting way.

Two other incidental points.  1) In the drafts for a tragedy on the Fall, Death appears, usually in a group of mutes (Feare, Sickness, Ignorance (but not Sin)) but sometimes having prominence as the first or last of those mutes.  2) I did glance at Gilbert, just his table.  He puts the composition of Sin and Death as among the latest material, Group VI, the last group.  I'd be willing to bet that in the text of his study, his grounds for placing it there is its easy excisibility from book 2, so I don't think, as was asserted earlier, that mine was an altogether new discovery.  Anyway, Sin and Death may be both and early and a late conception.

I'm thinking of signing off now, going mute myself for two weeks to make up for the eighteen posts I've made in the last four days.  Thanks, all, for playing along.  Proud as I am of the Improved Paradise Lost, I return to my paean to Milton's Impropriety that began all of this.  The way Sin and Death cross representational lines is improper, but sublimely improper.  Although I admired the courage of Richard Strier's frank answer to my question, "would the poem be better without them?" and although it prompted the exhilarating fun of seeing what the poem would look like in that case, he gave the wrong answer.  Even if inconsistency-in-representational-mode is a flaw, the poem is better for the flaw.  So, sadly, the Saint-Exupery edition probably won't sell particularly well.

Henceforth, I'm going to try to find excuses to take lots of things out of Paradise Lost; it focuses one's attention in interesting ways.  Talk to you all again on November 9th.  If you want to torment me, have lots of discussions about metrics between now and then.

Be well,

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College

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