Friday, October 11, 2013

Though I Walk Through the Valley...

Adam and Eve Driven Out of Paradise, by John Martin (1824)
In Surprised by Sin, Stanley Fish proposes that Milton's narrative within Paradise Lost centers around the movement of the reader's consciousness rather than the movement of the plot itself. The story is not so much a story of Satan or God or even of Adam and Eve; rather, it is the story of the reader. It is the story of how how we came to our fallen condition, and at each turn, it invites us to look at the Fall from a different perspective: first from Satan's perspective, then from God's, then from Adam and Eve's, and so forth through a number of iterations. Thus, it invites the reader to examine his own 'fallen condition,' to come to terms with the reality that the hero of the epic--Satan--is really just another manifestation of man, in all his frailty. In short, by walking through hell and the fall, we come to understand what it means to be fallen and what brought us to such a state. It is revealing, then to realize, that Milton's Paradise Regained tells the story of Christ's victory over temptation in the wilderness. It would seem that Milton sees the Fall of man as being founded in ambition/pride and man's redemption, in the victory of Christ, independent of anything that we might do to try to merit salvation. I'll have to look more into Milton's views on salvation, but his denunciation of Antinomians in his political tracts seems to coincide with this idea of salvation by the grace of Christ alone.
A second component of Fish's thesis is that the reader is in constant motion away from rhetoric and toward logic, a transition that is highly reminiscent of Plato's rejection of rhetoric (for those who don't remember, Plato, believing rhetoric leads to social instability, proposed as a pre-condition for utopian society the expulsion of all poets). Paradise Lost begins with the rhetoric of Satan's speeches and ends with Adam and Eve leaving Eden, these having appealed to logic in their decisions to partake of the fruit. I can definitely see where Fish is coming from in proposing such a shift, and I feel like this is something that I'd like to look into more closely in my research. I'll be keeping my eyes for a similar shift in Milton's other writings.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if Milton was writing about his own journey as well throughout Paradise Lost. Just like the reader may go through the different journeys, Milton probably went through his own hell, his own paradise and his own fall. It's an interesting thought. He was known to put an autobiographical flair in his writings.