[Milton-L] Joan Didion 'remembers' Paradise Lost . . .

Matthew Jordan matthewjorda at gmail.com
Thu Jan 30 16:15:55 EST 2014

I recently read Mary McCarthy's two brilliant LRB essays, fron 1980 or so,
on "Ideas and the Novel," or something (James, Dostoevsky...). Also,
distracted by a change of flat (appartment) from more serious thought, I
have been pondering my own intellectual mode or sensibility. Accordingly,
in a phrase I have intended for some years brazenly to employ, this "speaks
to me."

On 30 January 2014 20:02, Horace Jeffery Hodges <horacejeffery at gmail.com>wrote:

> Yesterday, in "Why I Write" by Joan Didion, I came across her words on *Paradise
> Lost*, which I post here merely for the benefit of those among us who
> like to collect the odd and ends of people's views on Milton and his
> writings:
> "I had trouble graduating from Berkeley, not because of this inability to
> deal with ideas -- I was majoring in English, and I could locate the
> house-and-garden imagery in *The Portrait of a Lady* as well as the next
> person, 'imagery' being by definition the kind of specific that got my
> attention -- but simply because I had neglected to take a course in Milton.
> I did this. For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a degree by the
> end of that summer, and the English department finally agreed, if I would
> come down from Sacramento every Friday and talk about the cosmology of *Paradise
> Lost*, to certify me proficient in Milton. I did this. Some Fridays I
> took the Greyhound bus, other Fridays I caught the Southern Pacific's City
> of San Francisco on the last leg of its transcontinental trip. I can no
> longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of
> his universe in *Paradise Lost*, the central question of at least one
> century and a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can
> still recall the exact rancidity of the butter in the City of San
> Francisco's dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus
> cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and
> obscurely sinister light. In short my attention was always on the
> periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the
> Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a
> very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate
> resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn't think. All I knew then
> was what I couldn't do. All I knew then was what I wasn't, and it took me
> some years to discover what I was." (*New York Times Book Review*,
> December 5, 1976)
> Web Address: http://people.bridgewater.edu/~atrupe/ENG310/Didion.pdf
> Since Ms. Didion was born in 1934, this memory would have been from the
> mid-1950s, some twenty years prior to these published words.
> In hopes that someone might find this useful . . .
> Jeffery Hodges
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