Friday, October 04, 2013

Lucifer: Bad Break or Breaking Bad?

My old Ozark friend Pete Hale sent me a link to an intriguing, Milton-themed article by Malcolm Harris, "Who Can Resist Satan?" (NYT, September 30), which opens like this:
In his 1998 book "Surprised by Sin," the scholar and critic Stanley Fish suggested a way to resolve the central debate around John Milton's "Paradise Lost": whether the author was on the side of the angels, or, as William Blake put it, "of the Devil's party without knowing it." Fish said that readers were supposed to fall for the charismatic insurgent Lucifer -- as Eve had before them -- so at the end they could recognize their own share of original sin, the reader's own eagerness to turn away from God and goodness.
Harris then adds:
"Breaking Bad" followed a similar path, letting us root for the underdog genius in his tighty whities until we realize we may have developed sympathies for the Devil.
Now, I still haven't seen the Breaking Bad series, so I don't know if Harris is right about the viewer's sympathies (though I have read elsewhere that the series offers a crypto-Calvinist view of human nature as totally 'depravable'), but I do know Milton, and I also know Fish's book -- Surprised by Sin sits on a shelf about twelve inches to my right as I type these words -- and I realized that I could add a small point about the book's publication date to the discussion going on in the comments:
Actually, Stanley Fish's book was first published way back in 1967, but kudos to Mr. Malcom Harris for calling attention to it and its clever interpretation of Milton's Satan.

Fish's reading has been broadly influential, and not just in academic studies of Milton. I've used Fish's ideas not only in journal articles on Milton but even in a story . . .

I've only recently become aware of "Breaking Bad" -- living in Seoul keeps me somewhat isolated from from American dramas -- but Harris's application of Fish to the Walter White character motivates me to try to find time for the series.
But I guess Harris didn't read my comment, for the 1998 date remained unaltered. As with Walter White, my own genius continues to go unremarked . . .

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