[Milton-L] Lesser forms

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Wed Oct 30 10:53:02 EDT 2013


I would add, because it's had some impact on my own reading of the episodes, that as a mode of representation allegory also tends to present characters who have severely limited wills--they must act out the program of the abstractions they represent (this is why in Milton's allegory Death cannot eat Sin, although he wants to).  There is, in other words, a privation or limitation of will inherent in the mode compared to mimetic narrative.  This is not a "problem" in a work that is entirely allegorical, where there is no expectation that a character called "Sin" might have anything like a free will (in such texts only the main subject of a "psychomachia" has a "free will"), but in Milton's mixed work it arises as an issue.  Sin seems in so many ways like a creature (she is the offspring of one, and has offspring herself, for example), but she seems not to have free will--a fact underlined with pointed irony by her being given the key, which she of course uses to open the gates (gates which we are told she does not have the power to close).  Also her suffering, without having chosen to be what she is, is an important and signifying "problem."

This aspect of the mode and it's contrast with what we might call creaturely free will in the mimetic majority of the epic is perhaps even more pointedly underlined by the ways in which Milton suggests the process by which Satan loses the freedom of his will (climaxing in the humiliation by allegory he undergoes in Book 10).  I think this figuration of privation in an epic so centrally concerned with free will is deliberate, and it's one of many things that point to just how complex the episodes are in how they suggest several modes of allegorical and mimetic reading at once (including reference to contemporary conditions in addition to the more immediately obvious theological abstractions and operations of the soul).

It would take too long to say here just how I've read out some of that complexity myself, but those who are interested can look at chapter 8 of Milton and Maternal Mortality, or the shorter, simpler exposition in Milton Studies 32.

I'd add also that in addition to Steve's essay/chapter there are important ones by Philip Gallagher and John Steadman that anyone interested in these questions should look at along with important examinations in Michael Lieb's The Dialectics of Creation, Margaret Thickstun's Fictions of the Feminine, and Elizabeth Sauer's Barabarous Dissonance. But the list of discussions that feed into the kind of reading that I'm suggesting the episodes call for is long.  And there are other contrasting strains to take into account.  I won't list them all here, but they are worth reading, and comments here ought to at least reflect some awareness of them.

Louis



======================
Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu
________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Steve Fallon [sfallon at nd.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 10:02 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Lesser forms

Thanks, John, for saving me a longer post.  I was about to point to my old argument, which holds in a nutshell that "Milton uses allegory in his mimetic epic to point to the ontological deficiency of evil.  He reserves allegorical status for the paradoxical embodiments of metaphysical evil, which [following Augustine] is the negation rather than the expression of substance" (Milton among . . . , 193).  I take your point about the good allegorical figures (Graces, Hours, Pan), but I see these as ornamentation, not characters interacting with others in the narrative, even when, as in the case of Pan, pointing to a character.

To the rest of the thread, I wouldn't say that allegory is necessarily lesser than, but it is other than non-allegorical mimetic narrative.

Steve F


On Oct 30, 2013, at 9:10 AM, John K Leonard wrote:

Precisely Steve Fallon's argument in Milton Among the Philosophers (allegory is privative and so befits Augustine`s notion of evil as privation). A plausible if ingenious argument, though it does raise a difficulty as to what we are then to make of the good allegorical figures, for there are a few (most memorably, universal Pan knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance).  No God`s party critic would argue that Pan is a degraded version of Creation, especially if Pan is the Son (as he is in Spenser and Milton`s Nativity Ode). Interestingly, Bentley spared universal Pan even though he wanted to cut the catalogue of gardens that immediately follows.

On 10/30/13, Susan McDonald <sjmcdonaldsk at gmail.com<mailto:sjmcdonaldsk at gmail.com>> wrote:
Having followed this discussion, I wonder whether or not the "lower" mode of allegory used for Sin, Death, and other entities might not be intentional: a lower poetic form for a degraded version of Creation?



Susan McDonald
sjmcdonaldsk at gmail.com<mailto:sjmcdonaldsk at gmail.com>
susan.mcdonald at usask.ca

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