[Milton-L] FW: seizing | seizing; sex before and after

Uzakova, Oydin Yashinova oydin.uzakova at okstate.edu
Mon Apr 14 17:47:58 EDT 2014

I am forwarding the detailed conversation we had about this topic (prelapsarian vs. postlapsarian sex) last spring, first begun as the "seizing" thread on 22 March 2013.

These topics seem to come up on our listserv about the same time every year--it must be something about spring! :)

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> on behalf of Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>
Sent: Saturday, March 23, 2013 2:25 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] seizing | seizing; sex before and after

Dear Greg,

Thanks for your thoughtful response.  I think that we are indeed getting to the heart of the matter -- not just the question of how to read the unquestionably paralleled scenes in PL, but of how to approach literary texts in general, especially ones where one thinks one knows something in advance about the author's or period's views or values.  My view, as I tried to lay out in Resistant Structures (see the opening chapter on Tuve v. Empson on Herbert's "The Sacrifice") is that the more one attempts to come at the texts "naked," without presuppositions about how it must work, the better one's reading is.  If one only finds in texts what one already knows, one can't learn anything from them or be surprised by them.

Re the particular reading issue at hand:  I think that whatever its excesses and perversities and its own rigidities -- and I fully acknowledge these -- deconstruction had something quite important to tell us:  namely, that oppositions and contrasts, especially when they involve the same terms, are extremely hard to maintain and keep stable.

William Empson Paul de Strier
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: Saturday, March 23, 2013 2:00 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] seizing | seizing; sex before and after

This makes your position clearer.

It would seem that, as I do, you believe Milton created parallel, nearly similar scenes and situations and that he intended for readers to distinguish between them--discern a difference and then distinguish between them on the basis of that difference.  On this view, the most successful pairs would be nearly identical, but with just one small-but-discernible difference that the reader would discover and use to draw the distinction.

It's just that, in execution, you find that he in fact made the prelapsarian and postlapsarian sex pair (at least; it sounds like you think there are others) so similar that one cannot describe the one as elevated and the other as debased except by taking for granted, assuming in advance that there must and will be a difference.  In this case, he made the pair actually identical.  So that when modern critics describe the differences they see (as several listmembers have done), you feel they are imposing their own morality on textual details that don't sustain the distinction.

But what if bringing the morality from outside, assuming in advance that there will be a distinction, and imposing what is needed to make the preassumed discinction is itself part of the exercise?  The Areopagitican reader doesn't just discern differences in the text he reads but comes able to impose them where needed, brings to his reading a spirit and judgment equal or superior.  And what he brings what need he elsewhere seek?  In such a case, the success of the project would require what you find here:  actually indistinguishable scenes that one nevertheless distinguishes.

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: "Richard A. Strier"
Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
Date: 03/23/2013 12:44PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] seizing | seizing; sex before and after

In response to Greg:

Yes, I think that the distinctions in just about all these cases are quite hard to make, often impossible (though, again, it is obvious what Milton INTENDED).  If one takes it for granted that the differences are there, I think one is avoiding the real complexities of the poem.

Richard Strier
Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor
Editor, Modern Philology
Department of English
University of Chicago
1115 E. 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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: Saturday, March 23, 2013 11:14 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] seizing | seizing; sex before and after

Richard Strier reports that he has "never been convinced by all the thousands of words written about the (supposed) difference between the sex before and after. I think it's unnecessary moralism."

So we give him thousands more words, but as of his most recent post, he still believes "the distinction between the good and bad versions of activities is being over-used and over-relied on in the other discussion."

But giving similar situations that the reader is called on to distinguish might well be regarded as the very method of Paradise Lost.  How is Satan's volunteering for a dangerous mission different from the Son's?  How is God's leaving humans free different from Adam's leaving Eve free?  How is Adam's willingness to die with Eve different from the Son's willingness to die for humankind?  How is divine self love different from Satanic narcissism?

Based on the Psyche passage in Areopagitica, Milton seems to have thought that virtue involved precisely such fine discriminations, imposing morality (though he wouldn't have called it that) on almost inseparable, involved, interwoven, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, good and evil.

Is the prelapsarian and postlapsarian lovemaking pair the lone instance of paired scenes that truly are morally equivalent?  And if so, why just this pair?

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College

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