[Milton-L] "Oh we can't eat apples"

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Thu Apr 3 12:50:32 EDT 2014


Can't be the case that there's anything special about whatever grows on the forbidden tree, since that is exactly what Satan wants Eve to think.  The point about that tree being forbidden is that it is forbidden, not anything else.

(Luther, by the way, makes the same point about the Eucharistic elements; they are special because God singled them out -- Luther thought that God/Christ was bodily present everywhere, so that the Real Presence was not something special, but the command was [on this, see my essay on "Luther and the Real Presence in Nature" in JMEMS [Spring '07]).

RS
________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Gregory Machacek [Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu]
Sent: Thursday, April 03, 2014 11:35 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] "Oh we can't eat apples"

I do strongly hold the assumption that John pinpoints me as holding, so strongly that the alternative he proposes has never so much as entered my mind:  that there are lots of whatever-kind-of-fruit-the-forbidden-fruit-is trees throughout the Garden, and that just one of those trees has been interdicted.  Eat all the apples you want, just not this tree's apples.

I suppose I got the notion in my head that the interdicted tree has a unique fruit because the words fruit and tree are always singular, so I've concocted an interdicted variety of fruit.  So I've done a quick search of all of the instances of "fruit" in the poem.  There didn't seem to me to be any passage that proved conclusively whether John's or my assumption is correct.   If I had to argue for the validity of my assumption, I'd start with 7.537ff

He brought thee into this delicious grove,
This garden, planted with the trees of God,
Delectable both to behold and taste;
And freely all their pleasant fruit for food
Gave thee; all sorts are here that all the Earth yields,
Variety without end; but of the tree,
Which, tasted, works knowledge of good and evil,
Thou mayest not.

I'll give a paraphrase of part of this that at least shows the logical connections by which my mind has devised the notion of a unique fruit:  all sorts (of trees-and-their-fruit) are here that all the Earth yields, a variety (of trees-and-their-fruits) without end, but one part from that variety (one sort of tree-and-its-fruit), you may not eat.  I guess, in short, I'm reading "but" as singling out an exception from among the "sorts."  A sort has been interdicted.  I'm not certain that the passage must be read that way, so I don't take it as conclusive proof for what I've always assumed about the poem.

If the forbidden fruit is not a unique kind of fruit, then, yes, my reading of 9.585 falls apart.  I'll have to ponder to determine how much of the case I'm making to Salwa crumbles along with it.  Because there I'm saying a bit more than that "Milton didn't much care" what particular kind of fruit was on the forbidden tree; I'm saying he positively wanted us to steer clear from bothering to speculate on the matter.

But am I alone in assuming that God's forbidding a tree was tantamount to forbidding a particular kind of fruit?   Boy how embarrassed I'll be if I've had something so fundamental so wrong.

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College


-----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
From: John K Leonard
Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
Date: 04/03/2014 09:38AM
Subject: [Milton-L] "Oh we can't eat apples"

A characteristically astute post from Greg, but the following sentences surprised me:

'If the forbidden fruit was known to Eve as an apple, she would not have had to wait until Satan brought her to the tree to say, "Oh we can't eat from this one" (9.647).  As soon as he'd told her that he'd tasted "those fair apples" (9.585), she could right then have said "Oh we can't eat apples."  She must take "apple" at 585 as meaning just "fruit."'

Like Greg, I don't much care what particular kind of fruit it was (and I don't think Milton much cared). The above quoted sentences nevertheless surprised me because Greg clearly imagines that the forbidden tree was the only one of its kind. I have never made that assumption. I have always made the opposite assumption that it was just one of many apple trees that was singled out from the others (and other kinds of tree) by the simple fact of being prohibited. If my assumption is correct, the logic of Greg's last quoted sentence breaks down. Eve could take 'apple' at 585 to mean 'apple' (in our familiar sense) and still not know for sure that the serpent is referring to the forbidden apple tree. Hence her high excitement when she follows the serpent, and dashed hopes ('Fruitless to me, though fruit be here to excess') when she arrives at the tree and discovers that it is the forbidden one.

I do think it matters that Satan is the only speaker to name the fruit an 'apple'. It matters not because precise identification of the species is of any consequence, but because 'fruit' includes the sense 'consequences'. The narrator and the good characters always name the fruit in a way that preserves an awareness of the dreadful consequences that will ensue if Adam and Eve eat it; Satan shifts focus to the apple itself (both to promise immediate gratification and to reassure Eve that transgression will be a trivial offence).


John Leonard


On 04/02/14, Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:
I'm trying to make sense of the fact that this poem is so coy about identifying the variety of fruit that was the Forbidden Fruit.

I take the following as the relevant background to his treatment of the fruit.  Milton is writing in a time when 1) there was controversy over the matter, various commentators proposing figs, pomegranates and other contenders and 2) the common opinion was that it was an apple (genus malus, what we today call an apple: Macintosh, Empire, Red Delicious; also crabapples, I guess).

John Leonard will say, the poem isn't coy at all; Satan twice names the fruit as an apple.

But we know that apple had two seemingly equally current and well-established meanings in Milton's day.  The OED gives as a second definition "any of various fruits that resemble an apple" and gives 17c instances of pomegranates, palm trees and oaks all as producing "apples" in this sense.

So, in Milton's day, "apple" could mean, essentially, "fruit."

I think the first of Satan's uses of the word must mean this, and the second can.  If the forbidden fruit was known to Eve as an apple, she would not have had to wait until Satan brought her to the tree to say, "Oh we can't eat from this one" (9.647).  As soon as he'd told her that he'd tasted "those fair apples" (9.585), she could right then have said "Oh we can't eat apples."  She must take "apple" at 585 as meaning just "fruit."  And all that the boast in 10.487 requires is the meaning "some minor thing," "a mere piece of fruit," not genus malus specifically.

That would leave us nowhere in identifying the variety of fruit that is the forbidden fruit.  (Which, I'm arguing, is where we should stay.)

But, the two Satanic uses do introduce the word "apple" into the poem, and it's hard therefore for our minds to prevent the "genus malus" meaning from entering, not least because it's the common opinion, and therefore to begin to raise the question of what is the variety of this fruit.

But I think Milton's consistency elsewhere in the poem in only calling it a "fruit," signals that he wants to avoid the interpretive controversy of his day over the variety of the fruit.  And his assigning the only two uses of "apple" to Satan constitutes a temptation to the reader to begin to try to identify or speculate or argue about its variety.  I think Milton thinks the controversy of his day is a fruitless controversy; I think he would say we know everything we need to know about the fruit when we know that it is forbidden.  Look how much of a mess A&E get themselves into by trying to interpret the tree's name rather than just know what God has told them to know about it.  We are to see the possibility of speculating on the genus of the fruit, and decline to pursue that line of speculation (like Adam with the controversy over the motion of celestial bodies).

Now this might seem a Fishian argument:  the poem gives us readerly equivalents to the moral choices depicted in the poem.  But I take courage from noting that Patrick Hume's second annotation for PL is for the phrase "Fruit of that forbidden tree" and he says the following: "it imports not much to know, nor can it be determined, what kind this Interdicted Tree was of, the Prohibition having no regard to, or influence on, its Fruit, more than that it was made the Trial of man's entire Obedience to his Maker."  That last bit is what I've been arguing we must discipline ourselves to have be the only thing we think about the fruit in this poem.  It's hard to tell if Hume is saying what he is about the "real life" forbidden fruit, or the one in Milton's poem, but I will note that, relative to 9.585, he repeats "Tis difficult to divine what Tree the forbidden one was"; he must be taking "apple" here in the broader definition.

An early reader thought we ought not be spending our time with such questions, and seems to have thought that Milton thought that as well.

In sum, I don't think refusing to consider the genus of the fruit is tendentious, or if it is, its a kind of tendentiousness that Milton's God, and Milton, want us to exercise.

I decline to speculate on what the fruit was.  It doesn't matter.

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College


-----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
From: "Salwa Khoddam"
Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
Date: 04/02/2014 05:20PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] on not imagining in paradise lost

"but that Milton believed we should exercise the mental discipline to know about it that it variety is irrelevant.  Does the poem call on us steadily to say to ourselves "though I am curious as to the variety of this fruit, I will fight that curiosity and remember that the only thing important about it is its being forbidden".

 One could also see "mental discipline" in reading literature as an "intellectual askesis," as as emptying of one's self from a tendentious argument and opening up to the text, including images and symbols, that excite our imagination, and let them speak to us freely before we render our conclusions.
Then we can be ready to absorb the "intention" of the author, assuming we can. It would be bad poetry, if the poet asked us to do any restraining of our curiosity or imagination ,  in the first stage of interpretation. I believe that reading a poem begins with the text, moves into research, ponderings, and deliberations, and returns to the text for validation. I don't think it matters whether the fruit is an apple, peach, or banana, I agree, but it matters that a poet would be asking his readers to restrict their imagination in the first stages of the interpretation in order to get his theological doctrine across. A reader would get his doctrine without the restriction of the imagination to wander in pleasure and appreciation of colors, smells, and beautiful shapes. (A platan is nicer than a fig tree and gives more shade). To use Renaissance faculty psychology, the sensual experiences are relayed to the imagination, and then to understanding (higher reason) and will. Before the will interferes to act to restrain (the last stage of intepretation) there must be something in the imagination to be acted upon. Restrain the imagination early in the process and the will delivers abstract doctrines. Those who studied the apple/peach as a symbol, conclude that it doesn't matter what it is, but only at the end of an enriching  process of interpretation. What a loss to the richness of Milton's poem (linguistic, cultural, etymological) and to the pleasure of interpretation itself if curiosity about the fruit is enforced.
I hope I'm making some sense. If not, let me know.
Best,
Salwa




Salwa Khoddam PhD


Professor of English Emerita
Oklahoma City University
Author of *Mythopoeic Narnia:
Memory, Metaphor, and Metamorphoses
in The Chronicles of Narnia*
skhoddam at cox.net<mailto:skhoddam at cox.net>
----- Original Message -----
From: Gregory Machacek
To: John Milton Discussion List
Sent: Wednesday, April 02, 2014 9:18 AM
Subject: [Milton-L] on not imagining in paradise lost

Yes, Jim, I feel that that is in accord with what I am asking/proposing.  Except that I think I going this degree further:  Not Milton "believed the type of fruit was either unknown [or] irrelevant," but that Milton believed we should exercise the mental discipline to know about it that it variety is irrelevant.  Does the poem call on us steadily to say to ourselves "though I am curious as to the variety of this fruit, I will fight that curiosity and remember that the only thing important about it is its being forbidden".  If that kind of determined and sustained anti-curiosity is a mode of ambiguity (I'll have to go reread Empson), then yes, ambiguity.  But I'm thinking something that depends on "registering ambiguity to get Milton's point," but goes beyond that.



Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College


-----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
From: James Rovira
Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
Date: 04/02/2014 10:04AM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] oops, "proud" not "vain"

It could be that Milton deliberately used a less than precise term to describe the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because he himself believed the type of fruit was either unknown, irrelevant, or both. In this case, the ambiguity is the point, and registering ambiguity is to get Milton's point.

Saying that the nature or type of the fruit is irrelevant existentializes the act of eating rather than attributes some kind of magical property to the fruit itself, which I think is more consistent with Milton's presentation of and emphasis upon character. Satan's physical appearance certainly isn't trustworthy, and where he goes is hell, as he himself is hell, regardless of his physical nature.

Jim R


On Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 9:48 AM, Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu<mailto:Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>> wrote:
(I'm prepping the Limbo of Vanities for class and got a wire crossed.  Here's the correct version of my reply to Salwa)

Salwa, you claim that "we have to imagine it as readers before we can picture the action involved with it" and in the next breath tell us that the poem prevents us from being able to imagine it to the degree we "have to" do: "the 'apple' was a generic term for a group of fruits," and therefore could be a peach.  If the most precise term Milton gives us for imagining the variety of what he elsewhere calls just a "fruit" is itself a category word, how do we then do this imagining that we "have to" do?

And do we have to do it?  Must "poems as poems" prioritize imagination in this way?  I know that presupposition is plausible and deeply ingrained in us.  But might a given poem challenge us to adopt the "rational viewpoint of God" over the imagination that other poems (and even it itself) do routinely expect us to exercise?  Particularly a poem that explicitly states that fancy serves "reason as chief," a poem that links "imagination" with "aery things," not to mention "proud" Satanic ambitions (2.10).

The only "actions involved with"  the fruit that I can remember being called on to imagine are plucking and eating (and avoiding), I can picture those actions relative to a generic "fruit" as easily as to a generic "apple."  (The rapidity of 9.781, "she pluckt, she eat" does seem to me to rule out fruits that would need to be peeled, but still rules in many other kinds of fruit.)

That is all to say, might the poem be calling on us to check our natural desire to know what variety of fruit this is and instead regard it as (as God calls it) a fruit, and "know to know no more"?  All in service of sustaining the view/resolution that theonly important thing about it is that it has been forbidden.

These may sound like rhetorical questions, but I'm in fact genuinely asking them, because, while I do believe what I say about the fruit, I've never realized what a profound ramification that has for the operation of our imaginations in reading this poem.  So I'd like the list members' help in working these thoughts out, even if it means that we're back to one of those questions that, as John Leonard pointed out, refuse to stay settled and periodically re-emerge on this list.




Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College

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Dr. James Rovira
Associate Professor of English
Tiffin University
http://www.jamesrovira.com<http://www.jamesrovira.com/>
Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety
Continuum 2010
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Text, Identity, Subjectivity
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