Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Power of the Feminine and the Power of the Moon: Eastern Thought in Eden

We've talked about the idea of passivity being the superior trait to dominance. This is a hard concept for our minds to grasp and is at the center of many gender debates right now. Passivity often characterized as a very feminine characteristics and is much less desirable than dominance. However, it seems like all the glorified characters in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained are as dominant as they are evil. They dominate the books in regards to time and initiation of events. Satan is active. He makes stuff happen! He fights against God, he traverses Chaos. On the other hand, God and Christ are both very reactive and seem to have very little screen time. The GREATEST STORY OF ALL is Christ's reaction to Satan.

One thing that our culture does to throw a wrench in the works or make this seem contradictory is relate greatness to dominance. If, however, we read using the Eastern theories of power, things are easily reconcilable. Take, for example, some popular quotes from Taoist literature:
“The hard and mighty lie beneath the ground
While the tender and weak dance on the breeze above.”
Lao Tzu
“The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.”
Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony
Probably the most interesting reading I did this week was from the book The Chinese National Character: From Nationhood to Individuality. In it is addressed the idea that since WWII, American men have fought hard against the idea of relativism and passivity because they defined it as feminine. "In America, the immediate postwar era witnessed a censure of relativism, especially cultural relativism in anthropology, and the rise of a more affirmative attitude toward Western values vis-a-vis the totalitarianism of the Eastern Bloc." Other cultures, including the Chinese culture, do not see it that way. "Our Chinese colleagues objected strenuously whenever the word 'passivity' was used in connection with the Chinese preferences for a life of contemplation." In the eyes of the Chinese, it is the "passive" things (or "feminine" as defined by American ideals) that define success. For example, being well-read and scholarly is often in the form of memorizing poetry and learning languages. Good health is defined by eating light, not necessarily working out. Exercise is walking and badminton not lifting weight. In China, these are ideas of power. Perhaps reading Milton as a modern American inhibits our view of him and the real view of power. Power is less like dominion and more like vulnerability. It is the power to feel, the power to influence. It is the power of the feminine and the power of the moon.


  1. I love the Eastern critique of Milton and hope you will extend this further. If the more affirmative attitude you identify in the west came about in part historically (as a reaction to war or to totalitarianism), perhaps this differing of roles (active/passive) is historically contingent. That is to say, certain periods or situations call forth a different response. Or, there is the concept of a "fall" into history: sequential history (the basis of the western intellectual tradition) reflects a separation -- a fall -- (such as the traditional explanation of descending from a golden age, or an Edenic state). This is in contrast to an ahistorical eternal point of view more associated with the orient and with passivity. Great stuff to think through.

  2. I found an article via the Literature Resource Center database via the HBLL website called "Milton's 'Dark Divan' in Paradise Lost" by Hossein Pirnajmuddin which brings in an Eastern perspective, aligning Satanic theatricality to oriental exoticness. Not exactly your topic, but it does show that scholars have entertained the idea of orientalism in Milton.

    1. Thank you for your input! Fascinating! It's been really difficult to find anything in the realm of Milton and the Far East. I feel like there's so much to say and so little research done. Your insights on the fall from a golden age also give a lot of fodder for research and thought, especially considering China's dynastic history and the theory of reincarnation (both patterns of rise and fall) as opposed to western thoughts and history... hmmm...