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Closing Comments on Paradise Lost

#61: Jan. - Mar. 2009 (Fiction)
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DWill
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It might not be time yet to close up shop. I hope for some more action on the later books. But if there's not, that's fine. Maybe someone has thoughts on the experience of reading PL, whether the complete thing or not. If you did read (or perhaps listen to) all of it, CONGRATULATIONS! You are a member of a very select group. You have struck a blow for the finer things, regardless of how you feel about Milton's achievement.

So, let's hear your reactions.

My own thoughts are tending toward considering the myths, so briefly told in Genesis and Revelation, that are the kernel of Milton's masterpiece (I think we can call it that, even if we might find some of it repulsive, as I do). I wonder what accounts for the the myth of Eden becoming such a huge influence over all of Western culture. It seems to have become a myth on steroids, compared to, say, any Greek myth that we know of, myths that seemed to have a much more limited use and reference for their cultures. Did monotheism provide the impetus for the transformation of the myth into foundational history? And how would we assess the influence of the Eden myth (positive or negative)? Comment if you choose to, or about anything else that interests you.
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Robert Tulip
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Christ, Bill, PL is scheduled for February and March. Surely we are just getting into stride??
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Thomas Hood
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DWill wrote:Maybe someone has thoughts on the experience of reading PL, whether the complete thing or not.
Paradise Lost is unreadable for me because I lack the classical education needed to understand its allusions. For example, in Book III Satan alights on Mount Niphates. Where is Mount Niphates? What is Milton's source for the mountain? I spent half an hour on this allusion, and was unable to resolve it.

The mountain is in Asia Minor, apparently west of Lake Van. The Internet does not provide coordinates or a picture. Is Mount Niphates in contrast to Mount Ararat to the east of Lake Van and on which Noah's ark alighted? Is Mount Niphates somehow a place of evil? Without resolving such questions, Paradise Lost can be scanned but not read.

Tom
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DWill
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Thomas Hood wrote:
DWill wrote: Paradise Lost is unreadable for me because I lack the classical education needed to understand its allusions. For example, in Book III Satan alights on Mount Niphates. Where is Mount Niphates? What is Milton's source for the mountain? I spent half an hour on this allusion, and was unable to resolve it.Tom
If you think you lack the classical education to handle PL, just think how I feel...but the premise of this reading was that we would be (in your terms) superficial. We would be encountering the work as a dramatic epic and evaluating it as such. I still insist this is quite feasible for any reader, and it is a good approach to use with "live" literature. Allusion can be an important part of the meaning, but in my view is it not the main carrier of the meaning. It all depends on what one values most in reading and what one has time for.
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DWill
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Robert Tulip wrote:Christ, Bill, PL is scheduled for February and March. Surely we are just getting into stride??
That gave me a laugh. I am an impatient sort, I guess, wanting to be on to the next thing. But as the book is still open, by all means, keep up the discussion and I will try to participate. I say "try" because my interest and abilities may not allow me to get into what you and Tom are most concerned with.
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Thomas Hood
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DWill wrote: Allusion can be an important part of the meaning, but in my view is it not the main carrier of the meaning.
Well, this is a judgment as to what is important. I think that in literature allusion is more important than literal meaning because allusion conveys values, not just facts. In the case of Niphates, for example, Niphates is apparently associated with the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians waged war by terror: captives would be staked out on the ground and slowed flayed alive in front of resisting cities. I think Milton meant to convey that Satan alighted on earth in a place of horror and thus alluding to the horror that Satan would bring and perhaps to the torture executions of the regicides.

Tom
Last edited by Thomas Hood on Sun Mar 01, 2009 4:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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DWill
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Thomas Hood wrote:Well, this is a judgment as to what is important.
Granted.
I think that in literature allusion is more important than literal meaning because allusion conveys values, not just facts.
I don't think of allusion as always conveying figurative meaning. It is often an association meant to enrich meaning, either literally or figuratively. The problem with allusion, as I see it, is that it can allow the reader to run away from the theme of the work, chase the allusion down a rabbit hole and lose sight of the work. I saw recently an analysis of Rbt. Frost's poem "Directive," which toward the end likens a cup to the grail and also mentions St. Paul. To the reader, the poem then became about the church, and I think this is just wrong.
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Thomas Hood
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DWill wrote:The problem with allusion, as I see it, is that it can allow the reader to run away from the theme of the work, chase the allusion down a rabbit hole and lose sight of the work
The problem with allusion is that it requires an effort that many will not make. In my opinion, what a person values is the point of his/her existence. To be human is to intend, but since we are shy, we express our intentions indirectly:

Mary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go. . .

This classic poem was held up to me by the head of the department of English at N.C. State as an example of the absurdity of 'symbolic' interpretation:

Mary = the Mother of God
Lamb = Christ
fleece white as snow = his sinless nature
etc.

In fact, the poem is immemorial because of this symbol resonance which discloses the values and cultural context of its author.

I'm not looking for converts, but I think your emphasis on literalism misses much.

Tom
Last edited by Thomas Hood on Wed Mar 04, 2009 8:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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DWill
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Thomas Hood wrote:[I'm not looking for converts, but I think your emphasis on literalism misses much.Tom
Okay, I understand you're having your say, but I do strongly object to your characterization of moderation and balance in interpreting literature as literalism. It is not that. It sometimes strikes me that you see nothing a writer has to say as said in passing. This is not to say that allusion is unimportant certainly, only could it be that it has more of the nature of an accessory than you are willing to give it? Thanks.

DWill
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seespotrun2008
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DWill said:
I wonder what accounts for the the myth of Eden becoming such a huge influence over all of Western culture. It seems to have become a myth on steroids, compared to, say, any Greek myth that we know of, myths that seemed to have a much more limited use and reference for their cultures. Did monotheism provide the impetus for the transformation of the myth into foundational history? And how would we assess the influence of the Eden myth (positive or negative)?
I think this is such a good question and certainly something that one could write an entire book on. I think that, at least in our time, there is a lot of political capital in saying that this story is factual and irrefutable. Modern interpretations of this story, possibly thanks to Milton but perhaps going back further than that, explain why women’s oppression is their own fault and why they have to obey their husbands, and men in general. It justifies dominion over and oppression of other living creatures on earth. It also justifies hierarchy and pecking orders. Uggg. By the end of PL I was feeling really irritated and feeling that it is pretty unfortunate that this book has had so much influence over Western society.
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DWill
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seespotrun2008 wrote: I think this is such a good question and certainly something that one could write an entire book on. I think that, at least in our time, there is a lot of political capital in saying that this story is factual and irrefutable. Modern interpretations of this story, possibly thanks to Milton but perhaps going back further than that, explain why women’s oppression is their own fault and why they have to obey their husbands, and men in general. It justifies dominion over and oppression of other living creatures on earth. It also justifies hierarchy and pecking orders. Uggg. By the end of PL I was feeling really irritated and feeling that it is pretty unfortunate that this book has had so much influence over Western society.
Good to hear from you again, seespotrun. So you did make it through to the end? It was a marathon. I feel a sense of oppressiveness in the poem as well, at some points, especially when I have to contemplate God's grand scheming, also called omniscience.

It's interesting that you lay the blame on modern interpretations of the Eden story. That emphasis does remind us that in itself, the Eden story in Genesis doesn't contain all that much by way of woman's subservience, though we might assume that this view of woman would be strongest the further back in time we go. Maybe this isn't quite so. Maybe the need to define woman's place was actually stronger later on.

I was thinking after I wrote the question about Eden: maybe the best way to explain how the myth got so big is that it happened by accident. I mean, in a historical sense, was it purely an accident that the Eden story became scripturized? There have been other cultures whose myths have disappeared without a trace. Christopher Hitchens makes this point in God is not Great. This all brings in some vexing questions that I guess I'd like to avoid for now!
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Thomas Hood
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DWill wrote:It sometimes strikes me that you see nothing a writer has to say as said in passing.
"Strikes" :) Sorry to be so annoying. But you are right: in my opinion there is no such thing as "in passing." Everything a person does is expressive of psychological forces of which he is unaware. That is, a cigar is never just a cigar, and if Freud had been logically consistent and unafraid to follow his theories where they led, he never would have said it.

Tom
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DWill
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Well, then I would say, in the words of the Sheryl Crow song, "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad." This type of thing is obviously what you're meant to be doing, and you're damn good at it.
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