Monday, December 2, 2013

Social Proof and Preliminary Writing for Paradise Lost

It is interesting to note that in many
depictions of the fall, Satan is depicted
as neither man nor beast but rather as a
cross between the two.
I posted recently on my personal blog about my interaction with Harold Bloom as pertaining to my current research of Satan's humanity in John Milton's Paradise Lost. I had originally contacted Bloom based on some reading that I had done from an article by Paris Kaye, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that he as well had responded to my query as of this last Saturday. I sent a similar email as I had sent Dr. Bloom, and Mr. Kaye sent me a number of different resources to look over as I go about formally drafting my research:
  • Bloom, Harold; Genius; Warner Books, 2002, pp 47-57. 
  • Jung, Carl G.; Answer to Job Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (trans. R.F.C. Hull); Princeton University Press, 2002 
  • Jung, Carl G.; Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1): Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious: 2nd (second) Edition; Princeton Press, 1971.
Mr. Kaye additionally wrote:
Perhaps, some allusion to the Faustian legacy as presented by Christopher Marlowe (A.K.A. Dr. Faustus). Marlowe’s dramatic work is instructive not only because it was accessible to Milton (and arguably influenced Milton) but presents an anthropomorphic perspective in terms of deities ascribed human traits. Jung’s work, especially Answer to Job, delves into the psychology of a benevolent despotic deity and the archetypal duality of the collective unconscious.
It's interesting to me that though Mr. Kaye is not, as far as I can tell, a formal academic, his feedback was much more rigorous and helpful than was that of Dr. Bloom. I think it shows that sometimes our best resources are found in the most unlikely of places.

I posted a working thesis on Facebook not long ago, and I had a pretty good amount of feedback from friends and peers. I wrote about my findings in my annotated bibliography under the heading "Social Graph." I've also gotten lots of good feedback from Jake and from Dr. Burton, who have provided some really keen direction as to how to best approach my argument. The topic is also fairly interwoven with modern scholarly discourse as pertaining to the role of Satan within the work, though I haven't really found anyone who has outright said that we should see the Satan figure as a depiction of human nature.

Aside from posting my experiences with social proof, I wanted to take a minute to bring together some fo the other resources that I've been reading of late and to throw out some of my thinking as to various topics connected to my research. The remainder of this might not end up being extremely unified in terms of theme or flow, but I nonetheless wanted to get some writing and preliminary thinking done on a couple of these ideas.

Recently someone remarked to me that I was perhaps taking too moralistic of a point of view in reading Paradise Lost, and while I definitely see that, I wanted to get some of my thoughts out on why I'm taking such an approach. That Paradise Lost ought to itself be read as a moralistic piece is attested to abundantly within the text itself. Milton declares outright his intention to "justify the ways of God to men" (I.26), and I think it fair to say that when Milton writes to Adam and Eve, in many cases he is speaking directly to the audience--to humanity:
                                        thy death's wound:
Which he, who comes thy Saviour, shall recure,
Not by destroying Satan, but his works
In thee, and in thy seed. (XII.392-95)
Here Milton reaffirms that idea that redemption comes in driving Satan forth from the human heart, an idea that not only confirms the commonality between humanity and the Satan figure but also illuminates the fault within the subject himself and impores him to reform his ways. Interestingly, Satan's language in addressing the devils set up a similar "speaking to the audience" moment where, in some sense, the reader listens alongside Beelzebub and the others as Satan speaks of "the Flower of Heaven, once yours, now lost," a condition that closely mirrors that of fallen man (316). In The Muse's Method, Joseph Summers remarks that Milton is essentially trying to create a "guilty reader" within every member of his audience so as to stir him to a new moral vitality (citation). Stanley Fish likewise attributes to Milton's epic a moralistic purpose, stating its goal as "the piecing together of the shattered image of truth . . . [and] the recovery of the unified moral vision of Edenic innocence" (Surprised by Sin 160). Fish asserts a certain "kinship" (131) between Satan and mankind, citing Adam's words from Book X as an illustration of this point (for more on this, see the final paragraph  of this post):
Thus what thou desir'st
And what thou fear'st alike destroys all hope
Of refuge and concludes thee miserable
Beyond all past example and future—
To Satan only like, both crime and doom. (emphasis mine, X.837-841)
Aside from the direct statement that Adam is "[to] Satan only like," the language preceding this bears a number of similarities to Satan's despairing language, which I explore in this blog post. I think I'll also eventually tie that despairing language to Samson Agonistes, where Samson laments:
To live a life half dead, a living death,And buried; but O yet more miserable!My self, my Sepulcher, a moving Grave,Buried, yet not exempt. (100-103)
In the end, I guess the idea that I'm going at is that the moralistic nature of the epic and the so-called "kinship" between man and Satan complement one another: it is because of this kinship that the moralistic approach is necessary.
Summers, Joseph H. The Muse's Method: An Introduction to Paradise Lost. Cambridge: Harvard U P,         1962. Print.


  1. Have you looked up C.S. Lewis? He's done some commentary on Paradise Lost and he's talked about Satan being a representation of ourselves and human nature.He wrote A Preface to Paradise Lost. I think that might be helpful.

  2. It's been interesting to see all the great responses you've gotten. Thanks for sharing!