Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Dangerous Gift of Free-Will

Since Book 9 is 25 pages long when printed out from online, I'm not going to lie that my focus drifted a little bit. However, I found the section when Adam attempts to sway Eve to abandon her efforts to find out more about the Tree of Knowledge extremely interesting. (From about line 342 to 375). We mentioned in class that Eve manipulates Reason to fulfill her purpose, and Adam recognizes this by saying "She dictate false, and misinforme the Will / To do what God expresly hath forbid" (355-356). Adam counterargues, and I feel like this next phrase is a key component that dictates the entire retelling of the Bible in Paradise Lost, and it is the fact that God gave humans free will. The quote is longer than just 2 lines so I'll space it to make it easier to read.

"...within himself/ The danger lies, yet lies within his power:/Against his will he can receave no harme./ But God left free the Will, for what obeyes Reason, is free, and Reason he made right/ But bid her well beware..." (348-353)

I think the most interesting part of this quote is the very beginning, when Adam talks about how humans are not impervious to sinning, saying that inside them there is danger, but the "power" humans have is free-will, the ability to make a choice between right and wrong.
However, since the wording is 17th-18th century old English, there could be another interpretation of "within himself/The danger lies," meaning that the power to grant free-will remains within God. "The danger lies, yet lies within his power," could also open up the controversial question that within God resides evil, for after all, he created the angel Lucifer, who fell from grace to become Satan. If anyone has an idea about whether Milton is referring to man or to God being the one who "within himself/The danger lies," that would be really helpful and much appreciated!
In conclusion, it is free-will that dictates our actions, (and the actions of Satan, Eve, and Adam,) but in using "Reason," God warns Adam and Eve to "beware." Reason is the knowledge that God gave to Adam and Eve to choose right from wrong, and "Reason he made right," (352) so God never created evil. According to Adam, God "Nothing imperfet or deficient left/ Of all that he Created, much less Man" (345-346). God gave humans the responsibility of free-will, which as we all know, when mistreated had pretty disastrous consequences for the rest of human kind.

Eve's Coyness

We had only started talking about gender roles in Paradise Lost towards the end of Thursday's discussion; I wish we could have discussed it further! I find the role of gender to be among the most compelling themes in the text. As we were saying, the manipulative rhetoric Eve uses to sway Adam is clearly a comment from Milton on how women obtain power in their relationships. I found another passage in book four that seems to support the idea that Milton's portrayal of women via Eve is a cunning, coy and hardly doe-eyed one. When she and Adam have their first sexual encounter, Eve is not described as a damsel, but as a woman who deliberately uses her charm to affect gentleness and gentility. Milton uses phrases like "coy submission", "modest pride" and "sweet reluctance"to describe her, all of which fit into a portrait of women that is anything but innocent (IV, 308-310). Earlier in this very passage, Milton writes that Eve was meant to glorify Adam, but to me it seems that she is expert in manipulating him with her feminie wiles. What does this say about the nature of women in their romantic relationships with men? To me it seems that Milton attributes a great deal of power to women despite the societal rules and conventions that keep them technically as the inferior sex, and this power is to manipulate and corrupt.

Satan Within Us?

I know we talked about this extensively in class, but it absolutely fascinated me, so I'm continuing my thoughts here. Most of the class agreed that Milton's intention was for the reader to not only sympathize with Satan, but identify with his character. While this is somewhat disturbing (especially being a religious reader), I think it is interesting how I can undeniably find several of Satan's characteristics (mostly his flaws) in myself. Undoubtedly, we as humans are inherently ambitious and unwilling to admit when we are wrong. While Satan is obviously the extreme embodiment of human's most flawed characteristics, it is strikingly easier to identify with his flawed personality than the flawlessness of God. Milton shows God as a somewhat boring character (his presence is hardly even seen in the Books that we read). However, Satan is meant to be the hero (?) of the story - and, by definition, a hero is one with whom we must be able to identify and see within ourselves. During such a religiously and politically conflicted time, Milton makes us question not only an absolute monarchy, but also what we as humans think of ourselves and our character as a flawed race of people.

Soul vs. Body

The competition in Marvell's, "Dialogue between the Soul and Body," the two sides offer points and counterpoints on which of the sides has the power. However, who actually wins the debate is entirely left for the reader to decide. Did Marvel have a winner in mind when he wrote, or did he intentionally leave the answer for interpretation?

The soul begins its argument by determining that what gives the body knowledge only helps to constrain the soul. While the soul is destined for an afterlife in heaven, the body, which is made from the earth, tries desperately to stay alive, preventing the soul from achieving it's inevitable freedom. The soul uses morality and reason to constrain the body's intentions for pleasure, and is the seat of emotions from which the body feels pain. This struggle for control is the key to life according to Marvell.

In Marvell's poem, the body gets the last word in the argument. Could this indicate that Marvell believes that the body prevails in the argument? While the soul is using the body as a temporary vessel on its way towards heaven, the body stays apart of the earth, like the tree analogy he uses in the final stanza. Or could the soul be the key ingredient allowing for the tree to stand straight and remain beautiful?

Paradise Within

We discussed briefly at the end of class that Milton believed in a "paradise within." We speculated that perhaps the fall was not a loss of heaven but rather a change in the method of attainment. When Milton writes "Paradise Regained" he asserts that humans can reach paradise without being allowed back into the Garden of Eden. Ok, so this all seems logical, the discrepancy I have found is in Satan's support of "paradise within" but his inability to find it even as a "heavenly" being. Satan belittles his condemnation to Hell by theorizing that "The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n" (254-55). This seems to support Milton's belief because Satan thinks that with a positive attitude, he can find heaven in hell. We see Satan struggle for the rest of the poem with his inability to be happy or content; he mellows as he watches Adam and Eve but is overcome with anger shortly thereafter. He consistently laments his hubris and wishes he had never fallen from heaven. His emotional distress implies that he has not found heaven in hell. Does provide evidence against Milton's belief in a "paradise within"? Is this an inherent contradiction in Milton's argument or must we define "heaven" by different standards?

Imprisonment, Sickness, and the Binary Nature of Existence in Marvell

The images of torture and imprisonment are very strong in the Souls first appeal to the Body in Marvell's "Dialogue". This decision by the author to immediately immerse the reader into very violent imagery is an interesting one and one that commands attention. This imagery makes a lot of sense in that it draws a parallel between the physical limitation that a body places on a soul and the physical limitations a prison places on a person. Marvell uses very violent language throughout the poem when either speaker characterizes its opposition. Later on in the piece the two parts that speak on "sickness" are equally evocative, showing that both Body and Soul consider that normal reactions and functions of the other as a plague that is unable to find appropriate resolution but simply continues to pester. Obviously in this poem the most defining decision made by the author is to split up the poem into parts, seemingly giving Body and Soul opportunities for soliloquy. This serves the nature of the poem greatly because it makes the piece a back and forth battle of wits, which highlights the binary nature of the poem.

Satan: A Hellish Body and Soul

As Sarah mentions in her post, we’ve discussed binaries quite a bit in class during this past week, and I would like to point out another one that I found in Paradise Lost. Satan mentions the following more than once: “Me miserable! which way I flie / Infinite wrauth, and infinite despair? / Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell” (4.73-75). In this statement I see a relationship between soul and body akin to the one in Marvell’s poem. In Marvell, the soul and body feel trapped by the other and desires to escape the other. They, of course, cannot because they are fused together into one—their “self” is the other in a certain sense and they cannot “flie” away. Satan, in the same way is “bodily” trapped in hell the place and desires to escape; yet when he does leave, he realizes that hell has followed him because hell is written into his “soul” and he has become the embodiment of hell: his “self” is hell. Thus, I see a similarity between Marvell’s body and soul union and Satan’s inability to “flie” from the repercussions of the physical place of hell because it is fused into his being/his soul.

The Space between Two States

The poems we've considered in class, as well as our reading of Paradise Lost, have repeatedly sparked discussions about the way in which these authors break down binaries. In dealing with seeming dichotomous states such as "body/soul," "God/Satan," or "male/female." The pervading sense is, however, that as the authors magnify these binaries, the seemingly stark dividing lines between them become increasingly blurred, allowing that one can pass from one state to another, as in "The Waterfall," which traces the path from the binaries of life to death, or Paradis Lost's following of the path from heaven to hell. These poems suggest that, in any binary, what seems to be the given and what seems to be the absence are not stably constructed, but have to be constructed in relation to each other. In Marvell's "A Dialogue between the Soul and Body," we have the clearest distinction between two seemingly opposed states. The associations that each of these states links to itself at first continue to reinforce this binary (the same could be said regarding Milton's characters of Satan and the characterization of God), but the associations become muddled, eventually resulting in a switch of identities within these binaries, a deconstruction that questions our underlying conceptions regarding their actual difference. The question that interests me, then, is what happens at the crossing of the dividing line between these states. Milton's description of Satan's move from heaven to hell hints at the process, creating a liminal space through which one must pass before entering into the other side of the binary. Does the same space exist for Marvell between soul and body or Vaughan between life and death?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Paradise Lost

To me, one of the most interesting things about Milton's Paradise Lost is his depiction of the loneliness of God, and what this loneliness in turn comes to mean for humans. I kept thinking about God's creation of the garden of Eden, and all of the animals he placed there, and then, one day, his desire to create Adam and Eve in likeness of himself, so that they might worship him.

To me it seemed like the lonely kid who wanders out into the backyard, picks out a rock, and then washes it and names it decides it will be his best friend forever and ever. The same kid who gets mad when it ignores him.

The devil is quite like God in his attachment to humans. When he first enters Paradise, he watches them "with wonder, and could love [them], so lovely shines/in them Divine resemblance" (363-4). But, because he knows they will never join him in hell, he decides he must at least tempt them to the fall. If they cannot join him physically, they will at least join him as outcasts.

So, that brings up a whole different question. Is the whole meaning of life to be an interactive pet rock?

"The Imperfect Enjoyment"

I could not help but laugh and wonder how John Wilmot, the Earle of Rochester's perverse and obscene poem, "The Imperfect Enjoyment" got paired up with Marvell's "A Dialogue between the Soul and Body" and Vaughan's "The Waterfall," which seem to be more concerned with the relationship between the Body and the Soul. Unlike the latter poems mentioned, Rochester's "The Imperfect Enjoyment" is only worried about the pleasures of the body and creating a pleasurable bond with the woman he claims he loves. However, I want to argue that beyond the rather pornographic images in the poem, there is more to this narrative poem that explains his experiences with women: in fact, Rochester is questioning Love and his own physical manifestation of the love he feels for the woman of his dreams. In this poem, Rochester is exemplifying a distress similar to that between the Body and the Soul: although the speaker of the poem has achieved the mental state of Love, he cannot perform it physically. The speaker cannot synchronize his emotions with his physical being: But I, the most forlorn, lost man alive,/
To show my wished obedience vainly strive:/I sigh, alas! and kiss, but cannot swive" (lines 25-27). Because Rochester feels so strongly for this woman, and cant fully fulfill her sexually; he is asserting the same kind of contradictory relationship that exists between the Body and the Soul in Marvell's poem. But, hey, maybe I am reading to deep into lol. I was just attempting to bring the three poems together in a way that they would all make sense. They were all assigned on the day so I figured that perhaps they were somehow supposed to be related in subject matter. hehe

Theme of Knowledge in Paradise Lost

I am very interested in the theme of knowledge in Milton's Paradise Lost. It used to bother me that God would forbid Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because the idea of living in ignorance seems undesirable. I agreed when Satan says, "To happier life, knowledge of Good and Evil" (697). Milton answers this complaint by showing how the initial state of Eden was not ignorant bliss- Adam and Eve, aware of Satan's treachery, know that evil exists. However, it does not yet exist within them. At the fall, Adam and Even gain the knowledge of evil by experiencing it. Rather than keeping them low and ignorant (704), God's command to not eat the fruit was to protect their original happiness. In this scene, Milton truly reveals the Satan's distortion of the truth and the reversal of reason, convincing Eve that God is an envious liar by forbidding them wisdom (729). It seems that Milton is showing how humanity is easily inclined to fall into such temptations.

Maybe not Impossible, but definitely Strange.

At first I was going to write about how completely strange John Wilmot's poem, "The Imperfect Enjoyment," turned out to be. And I want to make myself clear that I still definitely hold this opinion. But after thinking about it some more, I've come to a new sense of appreciation for his originality and courage that are evident in this work.

When thinking on the poem, I was reminded of that old joke where if you add the words "in bed" to the end of virtually any sentence it either becomes funny or is seen in an entirely new light (or both). In a sense, that's what Wilmot did with "The Imperfect Enjoyment." The history of literature of any given culture is riddled with tragic heroes and men who often times fail to meet their heart's desire of love. Wilmot adds the "in bed" to this classic construction.

I'm fairly certain this is the first time I've ever heard a man talk in length about failing to please a woman, even in person, and yet here Wilmot is declaring to the entire country, "I'm impotent!" Now that takes balls (albeit not necessarily effective ones). I'm honestly curious about how serious he was when writing this poem. He had just obtained a position of power and is essentially destroying a large portion of respect people may have had for him.

The entire situation boggles me. Why write this? Why write it in a bragging manner? Why get it PUBLISHED? I thought absurdism was a 20th century deal, but apparently Wilmot got the ball rolling early (Pun intended).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Question about "The Waterfall"

As I was reading "The Waterfall" by Henry Vaughn, I had a couple questions about the third stanza. We discussed in class that the speaker is describing the process of life and death and the structure of the poem mimicks a waterfall. In the third stanza, he talks about sublime truths and wholesome themes but I couldn't understand what he meant? Is he talking about the truths and themes of life and death? I think he is saying they are out of our reach until the Spirit leads our mind to them. I just can completely understand the details of these ideas.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bodies and Souls

Interregnum and Restoration poetry (1650-1680) ranges in mode and form, but in this generic variety the conflict of physical/material vs. spiritual/emotional crops up again and again. The OED defines the soul as "an entity distinct from the body; the spiritual part of man in contrast to the purely physical" (2a), but these poems repeatedly complicate this seemingly clear distinction. Souls appear to have physical attributes, and bodies suffer from emotional disorders. If we began the course talking about the epistemological uncertainties confronted and propagated by the new empirical science of the early 17th century, these poems confess a preoccupation with the ontological. Epistemological problems (how can we know something? what does it mean to know?) flip over into ontological questions (what does in mean to be in the world? what is existence? what is reality?) when people encounter aspects of their lives that defy knowledge. In this period, England faced deeply fraught issues (can you kill a king who rules by divine right? what do you do when people start falling dead all around you and you don't know why?) that did precisely this. Unlike in earlier periods, ontology was not an easy fix for epistemological conundrums: it was less clear than it had been if God existed, and if so, if our existence on earth was merely a passage into Heaven. Once the basic structure of religious belief had been weakened (by the Civil War as much as by New Science), the question of existence became as fraught as the question of knowing.

As an aside, you can post on big questions like this, but close reading of a passage or discussions of the meaning of one word can be equally productive and interesting, if not more so. Talk about what interests you, but make sure to ground your comments in the text or in relation to class discussion. Also, feel free to add links to your post (as I did in my first post, last week).