Friday, October 22, 2004

Ok, here's a quote from Fish, regarding the 'drama' of Paradise Regained, which I find interesting placed alongside Grossman's concept of poetry as a model for human interaction:

"[Milton] chooses to regard our natural affinity for language and actions that are concrete and immediately satisfying as a symptom of a radical defect, which, if it is to be extirpated, must first be acknowledged. Accordingly, he deliberately provokes what will, in the context of a reader's predisposed sympathies, be recognized as the wrong response or at least a response that is problematic, and therefore a response we will feel obliged to think about. That is to say, the reader who is discomforted by the Son's behavior will be moved to ask a question--"What can this mean?"--and to the extent that he becomes able to answer the question, the source of his discomfort will be removed."

(A little background: the entire 'plot' of Paradise Regained is Jesus in the wilderness. Satan tries to tempt him to do things which appear on their face good (give hungry people bread, for example) and Jesus' response is to do nothing. Satan gets frustrated and asks "What dost thou in this world?" An earlier sentence by Fish, then I'll continue the long, Grossman-relevant quote: 'No matter what form Satan's temptations take, their thrust is always to get Jesus to substitute his will for God's, to respond to his own sense of crisis, to rely only on remedies which are at hand and in his own control.")

Continuing the quote:

"This suggests a pattern of (possible) progress in our career as readers--from impatience to understanding to approval--which constitutes a subplot in the poem's action. The main plot works itself out in terms of the Son's response to Satan; the reader's plot, in terms of a response to the Son's response to Satan. The son declines to act on the basis of the motives Satan nominates, caring only to do his Father's will; but these are motives which are at least superficially appealing, and it is disconcerting when they are not only scorned but dismissed, as if the issues of tyranny and hunger were fictions. . . . to the extent that understanding involves approval of what the Son does, it involves also discarding the values in which the dignity of the self inheres--wealth, power, fame, charity, statesmanship, language, literature, philosophy, mind--and substituting for them the single and all-inclusive value of obedience to God."

I find interesting (well, lots, but locally this) that if one discards the representational valences of Satan, the Son, God, obedience, these terms fit very well with the understanding of truth other meditation traditions have arrived at. I'll stick to what I find most attractive, Taoism: one wants to move not from one's own impulse, but from the Tao--one wants to understand to a point where, actually, there is no difference. If one takes a Blakean approach to understanding the Son ("God is a man full upright in the noon sun" I believe is the quote) as oneself in full embodiment of the one Self, sort of Stevens' "impossible possible philosopher's man", as an example of one in the fullness of one's absence, boddhisattva-esque, understand Satan and sin less as a malignant adversary (this is less a transformation, I think, than a cutting through an interpretation of the world which acts against our realizing it) than as an aspect of consciousness not necessary for consciousness (there is basis for this even in the radical Protestant tradition of Milton, he makes the point in, I think, Paradise Lost, that evil does not exist in itself, it is only a "debased good"), and God as less the beardy man (or, is it the neoplatonists/cabbalists, or was it earlier, who understood this image less as god's totality than as the totality of the face of god a human could apprehend, the 'demiurge'?) than the total creative impulse of the world (call it Tao), then you have here Milton apprehending and communicating what every contemplative tradition has in its own way for, in my guess, though I could be wrong in my understanding of what a human and of what society is, as long as there have been humans.

I remember in Book 4 of PL Adam seems to have an intuitive sense of what death is (by negation of life/light?), though he has not experienced it:

...Least total darkness should by Night regaine
Her old possession, and extinguish life
In Nature and all things...(4.665-7)

Reading PR after PL was, I must admit, a bit of a letdown. My prof joked that Milton set out to write the most boring epic ever (I forget the stats, but something like a mere 10% of the words in PR are adjectives, and a lot of those are words like "gray"), and I'm not sure he was wrong. :) Jodie
Hey Jodie,

Yeah, I think *PL* might be more fun to think about than to read--Fish acknowledges this in this chapter, saying that's part of the whole 'anti-drama' thing--the desire for something to happen is a fallen one. Understanding, against that desire, which is the same as the logic Satan uses to try and tempt Jesus, what it means to serve god is supposed, I suppose, to substitute for narrative enjoyment.

Go figure.
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