[Milton-L] more on fallacious

Uzakova, Oydin Yashinova oydin.uzakova at okstate.edu
Thu Apr 17 17:08:14 EDT 2014

I want to clarify those of my points which Greg Machacek found objectionable in my earlier post:

1.) What Greg Machacek calls my "chain of near synonyms" was actually all possible meanings of the adjective "fallacious" that I had found in the dictionary and that were applicable in this context, so it was not meant to represent a progressive chain of meanings with an alleged gradual shift to "delusive."  Perhaps I should have named the subject line of my post the following way instead, for better clarity: "fallacious=false, deceiving, misleading, delusive."

2.) I do believe that in the postlapsarian narrator's eyes, "that fallacious fruit" has acquired all of these four nearly identical meanings, as he laments their disobedience and original sin that have impacted him as well. The postlapsarian narrator is the only one who calls the fruit "false" (on 2 occasions) and "fallacious" (on 1 occasion), and he is the one who calls the fallen angels' hope "fallacious," so it is his postlapsarian perspective, his hindsight that allows him to have foresight into the events as they unravel.  For me, some of the most touching lines in the poem that show the epic narrator's clear empathy with Adam and Eve occur in Book 4: "Sleep on,/Blest pair; and Oh yet happiest, if ye seek/No happier state, and know to know no more" (4.771-73).  I have also noticed that Milton loves word play and reinforcing the words' meaning with their sound like in this passage, with its repetition of the words "know" and "no" that cleverly emphasizes God's prohibition with a quadruple "No!" (in sound) to seeking "happier state".

3.) With regard to my choice of the phrase "It [the forbidden fruit] allegedly promised," I was not arbitrarily assigning agency to the fruit, but was simply using Milton's words without the quotation marks around the word "promised."  Originally, I had block quotations to illustrate my points in the longer version of my post, which I then condensed to a more readable version that had integrated quotations instead.  At the time I did not realize that a more laconic post would result in less clarity on my part, so here are the two passages where Milton uses the word "promised" in connection to the "false" and "bad fruit of knowledge" in Book 9 (lines 1069-75) and Book 11 (lines 411-14).  I also specified in my earlier post that the fruit's "fallacious reasoning" was performed "via Satan."  For his poetic needs, Milton could have also chosen "that fraudulent fruit" as a synonym for "false" or "fallacious," but he apparently decided to reserve that term exclusively for Satan in the poem, who is a much more active agent of fraud than the forbidden fruit itself: "fraudulent impostor" (3.692) and "His [Satan's] fraudulent temptation" (9.531).  However, since Satan does not have hands and thus cannot physically offer the forbidden fruit to prelapsarian Eve (like Eve will later offer it to Adam), his agency is somewhat compromised as well.  I do believe that Milton deliberately used "promised" with the mute "false fruit" to stress our postlapsarian tendency not to take personal responsibility for our (in)actions, by blaming our choices on the agency of someone (or something) else.

Post-lapsarian Adam to postlapsarian Eve (9.1069-75):

                                              true in our fall,
False in our promised rising; since our eyes
Opened we find indeed, and find we know
Both good and evil, good lost and evil got.
Bad fruit of knowledge if this be to know,
Which leaves us naked thus, of honour void,
Of innocence, of faith, of purity.

(Notice Milton's word play on the double meaning of the noun "fruit" in this passage: as the "forbidden fruit" and as the "bad result/consequence of knowledge").

Postlapsarian epic narrator about Michael's performing an eye "surgery" on postlapsarian Adam (11.411-14):

                       But to nobler sights
Michael from Adam's eyes the film removed,
Which that false fruit that promised clearer sight
Had bred;

(Also notice Milton's word play on the double meaning of the noun "sight" in this passage: geographical "sights" and Adam's eye "sight")

4.) My earlier post was to demonstrate how Milton's choice of "that fallacious fruit" in the poem was "sufficiently motivated" (to use Greg Machacek's terms) even without its potential sexual punning.  The way Greg Machacek posed his original question implied that the phrase "fallacious fruit " could only be motivated by the sexual pun, so my earlier reply was to show that Milton's use of "fallacious" was sufficient to stand on its own merit.  I do not insist on the visual pun on "fall" here that I had suggested earlier either, but it could emphasize the postlapsarian perspective even more.

5.) Finally, while adjectives "fallacious" and "false" are perfectly interchangeable for Milton, as I have previously demonstrated with clear textual evidence ("false fruit," "false hope"), the same cannot be said of the alleged sexual connotation of "fallacious" in the poem.  If "that fallacious fruit" can be interpreted that way, the fallen angels' "fallacious hope" does not evoke any phallic imagery in my mind.  Considering that Milton used the word "fallacious" as a synonym for "false" only on 2 occasions in the poem, his particular choice of this adjective must have associated in his mind with the same idea and context--the postlapsarian fallacy of self-delusion, self-deceit, and wishful thinking.

I hope this helps! :)


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: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 7:36 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] more on fallacious

"fallacious fruit" though, didn't seem right to me.  Arguments, claims, lines of reasoning--those are the kinds of things that I think of as being describable as "fallacious," even hopes, maybe.  I'm not claiming it has the same meaning as "falsifiable," but I think of it as applicable to the same kinds of things.  And fruits aren't falsifiable (just to illustrate how wrong "fallacious fruit" sounds to my ears).

Here's the interesting thing one discovers when one looks the word up in the OED.  The meaning I'm thinking of is the first given:  "containing a fallacy," and it's witnessed as early as 1509.  Extended meanings (of persons, deceptive; of things, misleading) have their earliest witnesses in the mid seventeenth century.  The OED thinks Milton's use of it in our passage is so much different even from those that it has to supply a special meaning--"that causes disappointment; mocking expectation, delusive"--for which our passage is the earliest witness!  If the OED editors are right, this word would have been, in any application other than to arguments, a relatively new one to Milton's readers and, in the sense in which he uses it, entirely new.  They would have been assigning its meaning from what the context clearly demands.  But we need the kind of meaning the OED gives it because it's not quite true, as Oydin frames it for us, that "it allegedly promised . . ."  It didn't promise anything.  It's name maybe promised something.  Satan promised something about it.  Or, to shift agency, Eve built up expectations about it, that were then disappointed.

But this is a pretty remarkable deviation from, or alteration of, the word's basic meaning because it locates agency differently.  A fallacious argument is itself the thing doing the misleading.  But a fallacious fruit is just failing to deliver the expectations that someone outside of it placed on it; the agency comes from that someone rather than the fruit.  Or, to flip it around, something that deludes only a result of someone else's disappointed expectations is being described with a word that would more normally be applied to something that intrinsically has a deceptive quality.  The chain of near synonyms in Oydin's subject line gets us from fallacious to delusive, but a very important shift has occurred along the way.

Now, if it were Adam and Eve calling the fruit "fallacious," I'd understand:  they'd be shifting the blame from their wrong expectations to the fruit, as having duped them.  But this is the narrator speaking.  He ought to know fruits can't be fallacious.  Why are actual special qualities now being assigned to this fruit that, we know better, was chosen for no special reason?

fellatio-inducing, I still don't know.  But there's more for us to milk from fallacious here.

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College
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