[Milton-L] An antidote . . .

Horace Jeffery Hodges horacejeffery at gmail.com
Sat Apr 19 18:17:51 EDT 2014


Michael Bryson wrote: "Oddly, I'm sure they would find academia a familiar
environment -- at least as grad students. So many authoritative voices, so
many confidently-delivered prescriptions, and all-too-often, so little
actual understanding of the dilemma faced by those prescribed to."

Jeffery Hodges: From the hindsight of experience, I find that I ought to
have listened more to such advice.

Michael Bryson wrote: "The story Milton has told in his epic poem is much
much much more disturbing than the relatively spare account found in
Genesis 3. And the quite-nearly epic attempts to smooth that disturbing
quality away, to 'justify' not the 'ways of God' but the ways of a literary
character called 'God,' simply astound me."

Jeffery Hodges: Any theodicy that gets into details of what requires
justification is going to "set one's teeth on edge" (as I think Carroll
once aptly expressed it), and even come to seem like a 'theo-critique'
(what is the opposite of "theodicy," anyway, "theocrity"?), but is Milton
really one of those Nietzschean men with bloody knives who've murdered God?
Or is Milton's epic a theodicy that failed?

Jeffery Hodges

Ewha Womans University
Seoul, South Korea



On Sun, Apr 20, 2014 at 6:37 AM, Bryson, Michael E
<michael.bryson at csun.edu>wrote:

>  "While Adam does not seem to notice any difference in these postlapsarian
> human relationships, Michael certainly draws the distinction and warns him
> about deceivingly pleasant appearances of 'wickedness.'"
>
>
>
> Michael is an authority on human relationships? Based on what?
>
> I have long thought that Michael is portrayed as a much more severe and
> all-business version of Raphael, but that other than the differences in
> tone and perceived "friendliness," they are much the same in terms of the
> odd, outsider's perspective they bring to the question of what it is to be
> human. They are full of doctrinal advice, thou shalts and thou shalt nots,
> and completely lacking in the experience of being human.
>
> And when I look for advice about a difficult *human* problem, I want the
> voice of experience, not the voice of doctrine.
>
> On what basis does Michael draw a distinction between pre- and
> postlapsarian relationships? Even in the logic of the poem, Michael does
> not see past, present, and future all at once. He is presenting a vision to
> Adam, one that he has no more experience of than does Adam, as he seems to
> be narrating and interpreting the vision (like a movie) as they watch it
> together:  "reveale / To Adam what shall come in future dayes, As I shall
> thee enlighten" (11.113-15). And just as Raphael is of no use whatsoever
> when Adam is almost pleading for advice on how to handle the feelings he
> has for Eve (Raphael responds with a chiding lecture because he has
> absolutely no experiential empathy for Adam's situation), Michael, at least
> as I read it, is giving the by-the-book interpretation of things for which
> he has no experiential basis for claiming any insight.
>
> And the Father (who "enlightens" Michael with the interpretation he is to
> deliver to Adam)? He is the worst of all of them. He sees. He watches. But
> he has no idea what it is like to be one of his own creations, nor does he
> seem to care. It is all about him all the time. His pleasure in being
> obeyed. His indignation at being disobeyed. A loving parent? Give me a
> break. A father like that in the human world--one who forbids something
> basic like knowledge, then watches while a much more experienced tempter
> (whom he has aided and abetted at every stage, to the point of springing
> from an arrest made by his own security guards) achieves the entirely
> predictable result, and then blames the *children* and the tempter for the
> result (but not himself, no...never himself)--would/should have his
> children taken away from him. The children should love and trust that
> father enough to obey? Please, give me another break. A responsible father
> does not put his children in harm's way, having arranged the presence,
> assisted the journey, and even arranged for the jailbreak of a malevolent
> "tempter," and then simply watch the proceedings. The story Milton has told
> in his epic poem is much much much more disturbing than the relatively
> spare account found in Genesis 3. And the quite-nearly epic attempts to
> smooth that disturbing quality away, to "justify" not the "ways of God" but
> the ways of a literary character called "God," simply astound me.
>
> Honestly, sometimes I think that the only character in the poem who even
> bothers to try to understand Adam and Eve, is Satan. And he does it merely
> to destroy them--doing the Father's will without even realizing it. And the
> Son often doesn't seem to care much for human beings either. He seems to
> regard human beings as, at best (in Paradise Lost) a creature the Father
> "for [his] glorie...hast made" (3.164), and at worst (in Paradise
> Regained), as "a herd" (3.49), choosing to describe them with the kind of
> term a misanthrope might find useful when speaking of the species he hates.
>
> I agree and disagree with Empson. Milton's character "God" is monstrous.
> But unlike Empson, I do not see Milton trying to make that "God"
> acceptable. He all but hands "God" a bloody knife and poses him by the
> bodies of the children he has pronounced the sentence of death upon.
> Paradise Lost is one of the greatest glories of all the world's literature.
> But I cannot read it as a paean to angelic wisdom or divine benevolence.
> Its angels are reduced to their etymology as mere messengers delivering
> (wonderfully-written and evocative) talking points, and its "God," while
> one of the most compelling characters in English literature, seems to this
> reader as far removed as can possibly be from the "loving father" so many
> wish to find in him.
>
> His messengers, Raphael and Michael, are really no better. Gabriel,
> Ithuriel, Zephon? Well, at least they tried...but not one of them has the
> slightest idea of what it is to be human, and I really do not think Milton
> expected his readers to fail to notice that. Adam and Eve are alone in a
> crowded and unsympathetic universe--one in which, aside from the animals,
> every other living thing is trying to manipulate them in some way. But they
> have no companions except each other, no one to go to for advice that is
> anything other than prescriptive and removed from actual experience.
>
> Oddly, I'm sure they would find academia a familiar environment--at least
> as grad students. So many authoritative voices, so many
> confidently-delivered prescriptions, and all-too-often, so little actual
> understanding of the dilemma faced by those prescribed to.
>
>
> Michael Bryson
> ________________________________________
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Uzakova, Oydin
> Yashinova [oydin.uzakova at okstate.edu]
> Sent: Saturday, April 19, 2014 12:51 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .
>
> The lines that Louis Schwartz recently referred to stood out to me as
> well, when I was re-reading this section for another thread.  It is worth
> noting that Milton does not use the noun "seal" in this sense anywhere else
> in the poem: he only resorts to it in the sense of the animal "seal(s)."
>  Other than that, Milton uses the word "seal" as a verb on 2 occasions:
> when Gabriel threatens to drag Satan in chains back to Hell and "seal" him
> there to prevent another escape (4.960-64), and when, hurled through chaos
> by the Son, "Sin, and Death, and yawning grave" will "obstruct the mouth of
> Hell/For ever, and seal up his ravenous jaws" (10.633-37).  In both of
> these instances, the seal has negative connotations for those being
> "sealed" against their will (Satan in Hell and Hell's shut jaws), but
> promises a positive outcome for human beings (human redemption and
> immortality).
>
> However, in the case of Adam and Eve, the "seal" has more legal
> connotations, as it binds them in "mutual guilt" and transgression against
> their creator, as well as in their postlapsarian fate: "There they their
> fill of love and love's disport/Took largely, of their mutual guilt the
> seal,/The solace of their sin" (1042-44).  Post-lapsarian sex has sealed
> their mutual crime of disobedience as conspirators of sorts, but also
> promises to provide some comfort to them in their time of trouble and
> uncertainty about their future. Moreover, sex has become such as "solace"
> for Adam and Eve in their postlapsarian state that Eve even considers
> committing suicide as a desirable way out of a potentially sexless marital
> relationship.  While she entertains the well-meaning idea of their
> abstaining from sex in order to prevent condemning the whole human race
> with their original sin, the image of a sexless marriage seems a much more
> frightening option for her than death in Book 10 (lines 973-79):
>
> But if thou judge it hard and difficult,
> Conversing, looking, loving, to abstain
> From love's due rights, nuptial embraces sweet;
> And with desire to languish without hope,
> Before the present object languishing
> With like desire; which would be misery
> And torment less than none of what we dread;
>
> When postlapsarian Adam later contemplates one of the visions that Michael
> presents him with, he becomes relieved and joyful about the tents that
> revealed the continued existence of amorous delights and nuptial rites
> among postlapsarian human beings in Book 11 (lines 580-97):
>
>                                             they on the plain
> Long had not walked, when from the tents, behold,
> A bevy of fair women, richly gay
> In gems and wanton dress; to the harp they sung
> Soft amorous ditties, and in dance came on:
> The men, though grave, eyed them; and let their eyes
> Rove without rein; till, in the amorous net
> Fast caught, they liked; and each his liking chose;
> And now of love they treat, till the evening-star,
> Love’s harbinger, appeared; then, all in heat
> They light the nuptial torch, and bid invoke
> Hymen, then first to marriage rites invoked:
> With feast and music all the tents resound.
> Such happy interview, and fair event
> Of love and youth not lost, songs, garlands, flowers,
> And charming symphonies, attached the heart
> Of Adam, soon inclined to admit delight,
> The bent of nature;
>
> This is another instance of our postlapsarian "roving" with Adam, only to
> be surprised by sin when Michael quickly sobers up happy Adam with an
> opposite moral assessment of the "tents": "Those tents thou sawest so
> pleasant, were the tents/Of wickedness" (11.607-08).  However, what is even
> more curious to me and applicable to our thread on Milton's ideas about sex
> and honorable roles of men and women in a relationship is the passage that
> juxtaposes good respectful women of "domestic honor" and those who are
> "bred only and completed to the taste/Of lustful appetence" (11.618-19):
>
> For that fair female troop thou sawest, that seemed
> Of Goddesses, so blithe, so smooth, so gay,
> Yet empty of all good wherein consists
> Woman's domestic honor and chief praise;
> Bred only and completed to the taste
> Of lustful appetence, to sing, to dance,
> To dress, and troll the tongue, and roll the eye:
>                                                  (11.614-20)
>
> Michael also calls these women "fair atheists" (11.625).  While Adam does
> not seem to notice any difference in these postlapsarian human
> relationships, Michael certainly draws the distinction and warns him about
> deceivingly pleasant appearances of "wickedness."
>
> While Milton was admirably one of the first poets to portray sex as pure
> and unfallen in Eden, he also took pains to ensure that it was part of Adam
> and Eve's nuptial marriage rites.
>
>
> Oydin
>
>
> ________________________________
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> on behalf of Schwartz, Louis <
> lschwart at richmond.edu>
> Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 1:52 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .
>
> And yes to what James Fleming says.  This seems to me the basic value of
> the whole poem.  And it’s not just received ideas about sexuality or
> morality that are interrogated   The whole project of justification itself,
> I think, depends on the challenge to what’s received about it, which is why
> the poem even challenges what we seem to receive from it.  This bit of
> Adamic acuity in cluelessness suggests, very nicely how the poem works,
> inviting thought even as it seems to cut it off:
>
> Apt the Mind or Fancie is to roave
> Uncheckt, and of her roaving is no end….
>
> The poem both checks and unchecks, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence,
> in that light, that what seems like it’s the end of a conversation here
> (with its nice, tidy, lesson learned) turns out to be just prelude to a
> much more complicated and untidy discussion of exactly what has vexed us
> into further discussion once again.  There is nothing more “at hand” than
> the details of Adam’s experience of himself, his first apprehensions of
> life on earth and in Paradise, and finally his loneliness, desires, and
> erotic experience of Eve, which is what he goes on and on about over the
> next several hundred lines, offering us all sorts of complicating contexts
> and pretexts for what happens the next day (not to mention what has already
> happened and what we’ve already heard Eve say about some of the same things
> from her perspective—also the narrator’s earlier account of the love the
> two of them made, ah, the night before).
>
> In the interest of further roving along these lines over into Book 9, I’d
> like to repeat something I brought up the last time Richard Strier invited
> us to consider the issue.  I don’t agree with him entirely that there’s no
> difference between the sex that Adam and Eve have before and after the
> fall, but in a crucial sense the fact that the two acts (or sets of acts)
> are more the same than we might conventionally imagine them or expect them
> to be does make a difference.  Milton’s poising of the two scenes against
> one another is a centrally powerful example of the challenging power of the
> poem.
>
> For me the key and most poetically brilliant touch—and it happens to come
> right before we’re told that the force of the “fallacious Fruit” with its
> “exhilerating vapor bland” is “exhal’d” out of the bodies of Adam and
> Eve—is the way that Milton has the narrator call Adam’s and Eve’s taking
> their “fill of Love and Loves disport” both the “seal” of “thir mutual
> guilt” and “The solace of thir sin [italics mine].”  “Seal” and “solace.”
>  A pact, a union, a broken union, a consolation, isolation, impression;
> “seis’d” and taken largely, nothing loath.  Sole alas, unsavory of itself,
> but also soul, associate soul, one heart one flesh one soul.  It’s a
> striking bit of overdetermination (it starts with the more conventional
> “seal” of guilt and then branches off unchecked from the addition of
> “solace”—and the further roving is supported by a series of puns and
> echoes).
>
> So where does that leave us?  Roving, I hope:  back to the bower, and then
> out of it to the bank and back again, and again.  As long as the heart “be
> still as loving/ And the moon be still as bright.”  Until the heart is
> stilled and we go no more, I suppose.
>
> I’m looking forward to making time soon to read John Savoie’s essay, which
> sounds really interesting to me.
>
> Louis
>
> ===========================
> Louis Schwartz
> Professor of English
> English Department
> University of Richmond
> 28 Westhampton Way
> Richmond, VA  23173
> (804) 289-8315
> lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>
>
>
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of JD Fleming
> Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:08 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .
>
> Yes. The interest of this whole issue, it seems to me, is the intensity of
> the challenge that PL presents to received ideas about sexuality and
> morality--not the way in which it reproduces or conserves them. JD Fleming
> ________________________________
>
>
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