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

J. Michael Gillum mgillum at ret.unca.edu
Tue Feb 11 12:25:25 EST 2014


An oops in my previous post. It is of course the narrator and not God who
says "justly then accursed" (because "vitiated"), but the point otherwise
holds.


On Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 10:15 AM, J. Michael Gillum <mgillum at ret.unca.edu>wrote:

> Thinking of "his curse" as "Satan's curse" minimizes or reconciles the
> contradiction. Thinking of "his curse" as "God's curse" heightens the
> contradiction. Also, when God says "justly then accursed," he could mean
> "accursed by me in the following," or he could mean "accursed by Adam, Eve,
> and future humans." Again we have an ambiguity that can be interpreted
> either to heighten or to reconcile the apparent contradiction.
>
>
> On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 5:18 PM, JD Fleming <jfleming at sfu.ca> wrote:
>
>> Thanks Michael. I would point out there is a difference between thinking
>> "it just doesn't make sense" and thinking "what is experienced here is a
>> failure of sense." I'm arguing for a Milton who recognizes and deploys the
>> latter as a significant hermeneutic configuration in its own right.
>> *Unsinn* becomes the sign, or perhaps form, of the fall. Luther,
>> somewhat similarly, seems to consider it exegetically respectable to say,
>> in some cases: "We must admit an inability to understand this scripture."
>> This he prefers to the impulse to make everything intelligible, which leads
>> toward allegory.
>>
>> I like the overdetermined, tripartite uncertainty in the antecedence of
>> "his curse"--but would tie that, too, into the unsatisfactory and painful
>> nature of the fallen judicial scenario. Best wishes, JDF
>>
>> ------------------------------
>> *From: *"Michael Gillum" <mgillum at unca.edu>
>> *To: *"John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>> *Sent: *Monday, 10 February, 2014 11:17:13
>> *Subject: *Re: [Milton-L] "Justice for the Serpent" Revived
>>
>>
>> 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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>>
>>
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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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>> Milton-L mailing list
>> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
>> Manage your list membership and access list archives at
>> http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l
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>> Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/
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>
>
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