[Milton-L] No antidote

Uzakova, Oydin Yashinova oydin.uzakova at okstate.edu
Mon Apr 21 11:46:26 EDT 2014

Thank you, Carter and Stella Revard, for your kind words and for your interest in our lively discussion.

Having contemplated why this thread on the "seal/solace" dichotomy and the earlier one on "fallacious" have bred some sensitivities in our forum, I realized that our championing of potential puns or innuendos is closely tied up with proving authorial intention.  In other words, if we claim that Milton is punning, then the necessary implication is that he intended such a pun, and since proving authorial intention is always tricky, we are often stuck with the possibility of our ears or eyes' subjectivity as readers (i.e. reader-response approach).  When discussions involve sexual puns or innuendos, the situation can become quite sensitive and even uncomfortable, because if we manage to prove the author's intention in a sexual pun, then it makes us feel like insightful readers who caught Milton's bawdy pun; however, if we "hear" a sexual pun without being able to prove the author's intention in punning, then it can make us feel like readers with bawdy minds.

I vividly remember my own embarrassment when I read and liked some erotic poems on my reading list for comprehensive exams years ago.  Since I had never officially studied (or at least discussed) these poems in undergraduate or graduate classes, I wondered if it was my own bawdy mind that had imbued these poems with strong erotic content (e.g. Donne's "Love's Progress," "Going to Bed," and Carew's "A Rapture").  At the time, it was much easier to admit my own mind's postlapsarian state than to imagine that my respectful professors could possibly intended to put such poems for my reading list. :)

I do respect and often employ reader-response approach in my essays, so perhaps we replace the term "pun" (that strongly implies authorial intention) with another term (an echo?), we can make a better case for our "hearing" of even unintentional puns or innuendos (to use Harold Skulsky's term) in poetry.


From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> on behalf of Stella Revard <srevard at siue.edu>
Sent: Sunday, April 20, 2014 4:30 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] No antidote

Carol, John, Oydin, Louis, Richard--

This has been a very fruitful (and with lots at steak) discussion, surely useful to all who have followed it carefully.  Many thanks.

Carter and Stella

On 04/20/14, "Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM" <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net> wrote:

Louis--and John--just to clarify: I don't disagree that a pun on seal is impossible here, or even that the "sealing" could have a sexual valence (and yes--it's a much better pun than fallacious/fellatious); I just don't see it as necessary here, at arguably the most tragic moment of PL. Eve has "sealed" her doom by eating the Fruit, then coercing (successfully or not) Adam to commit the same forbidden act. Adam has "sealed" his doom by proclaiming his need for the flesh of his flesh to be more compelling than his faith (or trust) in God--and yes, in that sense, he "seals" his damnation with a kiss. They together "seal" their pact by forming a union (the closest union two human beings can experience) against God, a joint separateness from the Unity that is the rest of the cosmos, just as the devils did--but the act of intercourse is not the "seal" of their fate, the disobedience is; it's the symptom, not the cause, if you will.

My response (about it being a "guy thing") may have been more flippant than the argument called for--but it wasn't meant to be dismissive.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

From: Schwartz, Louis <lschwart at richmond.edu>
Sent: Sunday, April 20, 2014 2:26 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] No antidote

“ 'The seal / The solace' occurs at the legally and sexually sealing moment of first transmission. Adam seeks solace with Eve in the very moment that he imprints and oppresses all his future descendants.”

Thank you, John, for this beautifully phrased formulation.  I continue to be puzzled by people’s resistance to hearing the sexual valence of “seal” in this context, and the way the phrasing “seals” the sexual and the legal senses, not to mention the way it seals the solace and the sin.  There’s nothing “low” about the imagery or the conceptual content here.  What I find compelling and moving and intellectually interesting is the mixed affective quality of the language.  It’s one of those moments that makes me think of Thenot’s characterization of Colin’s elegy at the end of Spenser’s “November:”

Ay franke shepheard, how bene thy verses meint
With doolful pleasaunce, so I ne wotte,
Whether rejoice or weepe for great constrainte

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 John K Leonard
Sent: Sunday, April 20, 2014 1:44 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] No antidote

 Dismissing my case for a 'seal' pun, Carol Barton writes 'It must be a guy thing, John'. Oydin Uzakova then chimes in:

I consider the word "seal" here as a legal term of their being mutually bound in the original sin
Of course 'seal' is a legal term. I stated explicitly that the legal sense is primary. The question is whether there is a sexual sense in addition to the legal one (in a context that is clearly sexual). Several posters seem to assume that my point in arguing for a pun is to bring the tone down to a gutter level ('a guy thing, John'). The assumption behind such comments is that the legal and sexual spheres are entirely distinct and can never meet in wordplay that accords with epic decorum. I would certainly agree that the tone of Milton's lines is very different from Donne's elegies (at least the narrator's tone is different). But this moment in the poem is still a meeting of the legal and the sexual. Saint Augustine held that original sin passed from parent to child through the father's semen (a sexually transmitted disease). 'The seal / The solace' occurs at the legally and sexually sealing moment of first transmission. Adam seeks solace with Eve in the very moment that he imprints and oppresses all his future descendants. As he says in the next book:

All that I . . . shall beget
Is propagated curse. O voice once heard
Delightfully, Increase and multiply,
Now death to hear! For what can I increase
Or multiply, but curses on my head?
Who of all ages to succeed, but feeling
The evil on him brought by me, will curse
My head, Ill fare our ancestor impure.

Impure semen is 'a guy thing', but it infects the daughters too.

John Leonard


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