[Milton-L] "Justice for the Serpent" Revived

JD Fleming jfleming at sfu.ca
Mon Feb 10 12:04:56 EST 2014

Michael, I can only repeat what I think I probably said before. In heaven: “Conviction to the serpent none belongs.” Exactly. No conviction (legal) attaches to him because he has no conviction (cognitive). And then, forthwith, he gets convicted on Earth. So--? 

The interesting issue here, in my view, has nothing to do (pace Empson et al) with “punishment of innocents.” Nor (pace Lewis et al) with exquisite attenuations of the divine judgment. In short, nothing to do with the kind of interminable moralistic tug-o-war that characterizes--still!--so much talk about Milton! 

Rather, the interesting issue is the thematic effect that Milton derives from the manifest contradiction between what is said in Heaven and what is said on Earth. (On manifest textual problems, and the limits of explaining them away, one could refer to both Luther's Lectures on Genesis and Milton's CD. I have some stuff on this in the Conclusion of Milton’s Secrecy . ) This contradiction functions, very effectively, as an index of the Fall. In the gap between the Son’s speech in Heaven, and God-the-Son’s speech in the garden, Milton says: “this is what the Fall is. This is what it’s like.” Ditto re: God-the-Son's speech “explaining” the injustice of convicting the serpent, which he has himself just eschewed in Heaven. The text says: “Now things don’t make sense any more. Now you have to listen to bunk like this and nod seriously.” Which is a pretty cool effect, in my opinion. 

But I think we have to accept it, if we are to get it. Best wishes, JDF 

----- Original Message -----

From: "J. Michael Gillum" <mgillum at ret.unca.edu> 
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu> 
Sent: Thursday, 30 January, 2014 08:08:21 
Subject: [Milton-L] "Justice for the Serpent" Revived 

Here is a short article by me that maybe will provoke some argument. It is on the open web. I really enjoyed the discussion that Prof. Shoulson started a couple of years ago. 


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J ames Dougal Fleming 
Associate Professor 
Department of English 
Simon Fraser University 

" Upstairs was a room for travelers. ‘You know, I shall take it for the rest of my life,’ Vasili Ivanovich is reported to have said as soon as he had entered it." 
-- Vladimir Nabokov, Cloud, Castle, Lake 

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