Saturday, January 06, 2007

Milton identifies with Satan...

Satan Unbound
Plate 12: PL 3.739-741
"... toward the coast of Earth beneath,
Down from th' Ecliptic, sped with hop'd success,
Throws his steep flight in many an Aerie wheele,
Nor staid, till on Niphates top he lights."

In the introductory lines to Book 3 of Paradise Lost, Milton addresses the "holy light" (PL 3.1) with these words:

Thee I re-visit now with bolder wing,
Escap't the Stygian Pool, though long detain'd
In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight [ 15 ]
Through utter and through middle darkness borne
With other notes then to th' Orphean Lyre
I sung of Chaos and Eternal Night,
Taught by the heav'nly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to reascend, [ 20 ]
Though hard and rare: (PL 3.13-21)

Milton as narrator refers to himself and his own escape from the "Stygian Pool." According to the note supplied at Dartmouth's Milton Reading Room, by the term "Stygian," Milton is:

Referring to the river Styx, one of the rivers of Hell, found at the entrance to Hades. Also used in general reference to the underworld of classical mythology. Milton's narrator says that he has left the Hell of books 1 and 2, and now ascends to descrption of heaven, as if he were, as Dante imagines making such a journey himself in Purgatorio 1. 1-9.
In making his escape, Milton has flown through "utter and through middle darkness," which means through "Hell and Chaos," precisely the escape and path that Satan took, as Milton has just described in Book 2.

The effect of these lines is to identify Milton with Satan. Why would Milton want to do this?

Stanley Fish, in the opening to Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967, 1997), suggests a direction of thought:

I. Not so much a Teaching as an Intangling: 1. The Defects of Our Hearers.

I would like to suggest something about Paradise Lost that is not new except for the literalness with which the point will be made: (1) the poem's centre of reference is its reader who is also its subject; (2) Milton's purpose is to educate the reader to an awareness of his position and responsibilities as a fallen man, and to a sense of the distance which separates him from the innocence once his; (3) Milton's method is to re-create in the mind of the reader (which is, finally, the poem's scene) the drama of the Fall, to make him fall again exactly as Adam did and with Adam's troubled clarity, that is to say, 'not deceived.'

As is well known, Fish argues that Milton wishes to make us re-experience the fall of Adam by getting us as readers to identify with Satan, a point that Edward T. Oakes explicates clearly in presenting Fish's thesis:

According to his thesis, the reader is supposed to feel drawn to Satan, for from Adam and Eve we have all inherited an inclination to find Satan's sin attractive. Not to feel drawn to the figure of Lucifer means that one is not feeling the tug of original sin, an impossibility in Milton’s theology. But by reading the epic while feeling the undertow of Satan’s mesmerizing defiance of God, the reader also ends up reenacting the Fall, including the chastening experience of finding out, after the fact, how dreary and disappointing evil can be. ("Stanley Fish's Milton," First Things 117 (November 2001): 23-34)

But to get us as readers to identify with Satan, Milton does more than rely on our fallen nature's attraction to sin. He forces us, linguistically -- using the first-person "I" -- to identify with himself as narrator identifying himself with Satan. This linguistic identification in Book 3 reinforces our experience in Book 2 of escaping with Satan from Hell by way of Chaos.

Up until this point, Satan, Milton, and thus we ourselves have been heroic, but things are about to change in the books that follow as we get to know Satan, and ourselves, a little bit better.

Or a little bit worse...


At 12:59 PM, Blogger Snerd Gronk said...

Milton identifies with Satan...

Personally, I always identified Friedman with Satan, with his ' Natural Unemployment so don't help the poor' ... Oooops .... err ... You mean John ... Ahhhh ....

Well ... I am not much of a theologian, but I have never been able to imagine anything occurring 'outside' of God, as it were, Satan 'included'.

Nevertheless, I was take with the idea of Milton wanting the reader to identify with him, identifying with Satan. This is very different from telling someone something. It is more like sharing oneself, disclosing oneself, walking through something together.


At 2:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Took me a moment ... a long moment (I had to get up, fix a coffee, advise my flu-ridden wife to get some rest, and sit down again) ... before I caught your joke.

Good one.

Anyway, on JOHN Milton ... Milton's method is fascinating, in the literal sense of the word, for we become attached to Satan, one of his followers, only to grow disenchanted with his methods, and even his aims, as the story progresses.

Maybe not all of us, of course...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:18 PM, Blogger usinkorea said...

Thought provoking...

This post reminded of some things from long ago... My comment was too long to leave here, so I put a blog post about it.

...And don't feel you have the need to respond to my comments each time here or at my blog (or frankly that you have to even read the blog links if I leave one...)...

I noticed that you seem to respond to each. That's nice, but you don't have to at least with what I write - unless I ask a question or something...

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

USinK, I have looked at you blog entry but only superficially. I'll look again later because it's too late in the evening for me to think clearly.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:50 PM, Blogger usinkorea said...

From my checking back in 1994:

The Pearl Manuscript was mentioned by Thomas Warton in a 1781 vol. of The History of the English Language. He had heard of it from Thomas Percy. As I remember it, the mention of Pearl was a short footnote - quoting part of the poem and describing it briefly...

It was put in as a kind of "this is an interesting manuscript I came across I didn't have time to include in this edition."

It was noted as a poem from an alliterative tradition of northern England.

In the 1790s to early 1800s period, Coleridge was doing all kinds of reading and working on/dreaming of all kinds of projects.

One of them was a collaboration with Robert Southey to do an anthology of native literature to the British Isles - particularly in providing access to works not yet known (or well known). Both were trying to learn Welsh to add works from that region and language.

In a letter, Southey says that Coleridge will be able to "add something from your stores of northern knowledge."

I think the probability that Coleridge sought out the Pearl-manuscript grows into the significant category taking into account these factors. It is a given that - in deciding to write a new anthology with previou little known works included - he would have read previous anthologies. The fact Pearl was noted but skipped over probably would have caught his eye. The fact it came from an area he was particularly interested in raises the probability...

I've always wanted to go back and track down Coleridge's living and travelling in this time period along with the location of the Pearl-manuscript. I did some of that in my research back in the mid-1990s - but I vaguely remember it, and it was a frustrating process trying to gather such information from a small college library...and not knowing the geography of England well...the distances between cities/towns, routes, and so on...

As I remember it, the manuscript was probably in a couple of locations in this time period not far from where Coleridge went to school or lived (he was moving about a good bit then).

Anyway, the heart of the connection to me is in the text of the poems themselves - even with Coleridge's being a fragment. I believe Coleridge was following in the dream vision tradition rather than simply reporting a dream. He follows the dream vision format of the Middle Ages - not of the Bible:

the vision is a dream, not direct communiction from God; the dreamer is troubled and can lay the blame for the vision on his distress and some other worldy cause (Coleridge with medication - Pearl with the overpowering fragrance from the garden) - the dreamer is guided through the dream by a female guide - the landscape is heavenly/other worldly - the guide takes the dreamer to view the heavenly/other worldly city (the discriptions of which are similar)- a powerful/god-like figure is the center of the vision of the city - this powerful figure is somehow connected to the female with much sexual overtone; the poem ends with the dreamer awake telling us the moral of the story...

And Coleridge's is that he would turn away from those who say "avoid the city/vision with holy dread" - and would gladly recreate it and embrace it if he could.

There are a lot of notes in Coleridge's notebooks, lectures/sermons, and poetry from this time period touching on his view that human society was evolving on a Biblical scale as the world watched the French Revolution.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger usinkorea said...

The internet is starting to fulfill the promise I had dreamed of before!

Here the page from the free online 1781 edition of The History of the English Langauge:,M1

You can get more out of the reading than I can since I'm not used to reading these old manuscripts in the original spelling and idiom or whatever.

It mentions the Cotton. Nero. name for the manuscript. I am not sure, but I think it goes on in the footnote on the next page to mention the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight text that was part of the Pearl-manuscript --- which I seem to recall you have posted about that text before...

I have been enjoying this Google ebooks search engine for 3 days now. I've downloaded a load of books from the 1880s-1920s on Korea and East Asia and Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam.......It's wonderful...

Within 10-15 years or so, I believe the publishers and libraries will give up the subscription effort, and getting even more contemporary books (and journals) online will be like reading newspapers online are today....

At 3:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

For readers happening upon this conversation, USinK is commenting upon a comment that I posted on his website:

Now to address USinK directly...

You have some intriguing circumstantial evidence that Coleridge could have been aware of the Cotton Nero manuscript, and it's certainly worth investigating.

I did a quick online search looking for anyone who's connected Coleridge to the Pearl Poet, but except for some superficial remarks about the Medieval Dream Vision, no one seems to have done much on this point.

If there is a substantive connection, no one seems to have noticed it, so the field is open ... though perhaps without the Pearl of Great Price that one would be seeking.

Still one never knows...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:12 AM, Blogger usinkorea said...

I'm too out of literary studies by now. I used to check on it every once in awhile when home from Korea, but I'm happy with what I've done with it. It was a satisfying project, because I got persistent resistence from the 3 profs on my review panel, but the more I dug, which I had to dig more because of the resistence, the more it fit together. I had to go off on several different tracks at the same time to convince them it was a project worth doing.

But, I think just on a close-texted reading, a reader can begin to see the connections, and if they know of Coleridge's religious/political/philosophical thoughts from that time period, it makes more sense.

The main prof on my review board said that if what I had shown in the paper held up under more scrutiny, it should cause a major rethinking of Kubla Khan.

That was a kudo enough for me...

At 6:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, it would be a major rethinking.

My hesitation -- perhaps because I haven't seen your paper -- is that Coleridge seems not to have written about the Pearl Poet despite having written a good deal of literary criticism. If he had read the Pearl Poet's works, why would he remain silent about a great Medieval Poet who had been unjustly neglected?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:16 AM, Blogger usinkorea said...

That's a good point. I'll have to give it some thought. I'm not up enough on Coleridge's criticism really to know though...

He wrote much, but he never got around to doing the anthology (just as he never got around to many of his many, many ideas.)

Off the top of my head, I'm thinking about the timeline. The probable time period in which Kubla Khan was written was a transitionary period for Coleridge where he was moving toward what would become his relationship with Wordsworth (if my memory serves correct) and then onto Germany where he became influenced by the Germany Romantics, and it was this which became the focul point of the rest of his career....

I haven't read enough of Coleridge's non-fiction writing to make that claim, but I think that is a fair rehashing of what I can remember from what others said about Coleridge's career.

It would be interesting to know how much attention later in life he gave to that spirit that had him so gung-ho for the history of English literature and writing an anthology (to include Welsh even).

We do know that his (and Wordsworths and many in their ciricle's) enthusiasm for the French Revolution and the dawning of a new day in world civilization on a Biblical scale faded very rapidly in the Kubla Khan period, and Coleridge distanced himself later in life from the religious and social thoughts he had in that time period.

He didn't publish Kubla Khan for many years though I seem to remember friends had encouraged him to.

He still could have mentioned Pearl or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or the manuscript as a whole without getting into a theological discussion about it....?

That is why I ultimately offer a comparison of the two poems as a way to look at Kubla Khan as a religious poem, in the dream vision tradition, that contains what was Coleridge's religious/social thought at that time of his young adulthood (and the spirit of that age). I think the comparison can hold up well enough without the direct contact being established.

I know of one professional essay that argued the poem was religious and the Khan was a Christ-ficture. It was by a European and written after I had graduated (1994) - which is why I hadn't run across it when I was doing the research - but I can't remember anything about the source. It wasn't in one of the well-known literary journals... I might try to dig it up if I go near the college campus...

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm guessing that Coleridge probably wrote nothing on the Pearl Poet, for if he had done so, then some literary critic would already have made a career off the writing.

I don't quite see the Khan as a Christ figure, but I'm not beyond convincing since I see Beowulf as a Christ figure.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:35 PM, Blogger usinkorea said...

It would be more proper to call him a Jesus figure - because at the turn of the century, Coleridge was denying the Trinity and viewed Jesus as man who thought the ability of man to be more god-like if he cultivated himself by shaping himself and his environment.

I dug up one of his journal entries: "Millennium, an History of, as brought about by a progression in natural philosophy-particularly, meteorology or science of airs & winds- Quaere-might not a commentary of the Revelations be written from late philosophical discovereies?"

This was still the time of the Rights of Man and the euphoria over the potential of the French Revolution, and a time when Coleridge was still a young man endulging in radicalism he would later distance himself from.

I think picking the khan as a Jesus -figure was a way to show the changes Coleridge had in mind for the Christ-figure - bringing him back down to earth as he saw it, but still empowering him.

And as he said in the poem, he expected to jolt people with it - and make them shout in holy dread - which is, actually, what he (we) could have seen in the story of the trial and cruxifiction of Jesus by leaders in his community...

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't really know much about Coleridge -- you've gone beyond my depth.

Just a note, though: "Christ" is a title that could be attached to a non-divine figure, such as a king or a priest, so it doesn't have to imply divinity.

Jeffery Hodges

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