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

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Mon Feb 10 14:17:13 EST 2014


JD Fleming,

Clearly, Milton is up to something in flaunting the contradiction between
the Son's "Conviction to the serpent none belongs" and the narrator's "And
on the Serpent thus his curse let fall." Your reading is a good one and
perhaps more interesting than mine. However, I take the contradiction as a
sort of tease, inviting the reader to think about whether what happens to
the serpent might be something other than a conviction. I imagine Milton
may have done some thinking along those lines as he struggled to make Gen.
3:14-15 morally intelligible to himself. So I have tried to sketch out some
ways in which Milton's text allows us to see God's pronouncement over the
serpent as something other than a conviction of the serpent. Certainly my
argument is not an airtight exoneration of God's justice in the episode. It
is just an attempt to think along with Milton in his process of "teasing
rationality out of the Genesis account." I guess the reason I am not
attracted to your very interesting reading is that I don't think of Milton
as one who would think "It just doesn't make sense."

Changing the subject a bit, an interesting ambiguity in the line "And on
the Serpent thus his curse let fall" is that "his curse" could be God's
curse, or the serpent's curse, or Satan's curse.

. . . God at lastTo Satan, first in sin, his doom applied,Though in
mysterious terms, judged as then best;And on the Serpent thus his curse let
fall. . . .




On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 12:04 PM, JD Fleming <jfleming at sfu.ca> wrote:

> 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
>
>
>
> --
>
> ------------------------------
> *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.
>
> http://pachome.org/wp/postscript/?page_id=1014
>
> Michael
>
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>
> --
> James Dougal Fleming
> Associate Professor
> Department of English
> Simon Fraser University
> 778-782-4713
>
> "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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