Satan's Trouble With Eve

Friday, March 16, 2007

Milton's God, Milton's Satan, & the Atheist Fallacy

Critical responses to Paradise Lost change in emphases over time, but interpretative attention to Milton's God & Milton's Satan is seemingly perennial.

I especially appreciate the clarifying work of scholar David Renaker on the history of Paradise Lost criticism at his Atheist Seventeenth Century Website. Reading through his praiseworthy blog stimulated my own engagement with the issues around Milton's God & Milton's Satan and much sharpened my understanding, for which I am grateful.

Dr. Renaker states the issue, pertinent to our engagement, with perfect succinctness, thus:

1. Satan, in Books I and II, is magnificent.
2. God, judging man in Book III, is detestable.

He further makes a most helpful binary classification -- with which I quibble -- of Milton's vast supporting "Army of Davids" into (i.) "poet-sacrificers" who argue that [1.] and [2.] are caused by poetic failure in Milton, and (ii.) "poem-sacrificers" who, Renaker says, assert that [1.] and [2.] are failures of judgement by Milton's readers.

Dr. Renaker is to be lauded for offering a distinction -- but not for the categories themselves. Specifically, his designation of poem sacrificers is tendentious. This is evident in his definition of this group, who, he says,

....give up the poem, twisting and wrenching it unmercifully to throw a veneer of justice on God and of viciousness on Satan, Adam, and Eve, or for the like purposes.

Clearly, this is mere partisanship, for the only "poem" that is "given up" is Dr. Renaker's anti-theistic reading of Paradise Lost; and what is his "twisting & wrenching unmercifully" is another's straightening aright. To be clear, this is not concern with the personal set of dogma which the estimable Dr. Renaker -- or any other Miltonist, for the matter of that -- happens to presently confess. Rather, it is that Dr. Renaker has constructed a peculiar "poem" by ordinary process of dogmatics from a primum principium, which he states with creditable publicity, here:

That the God presented in the Bible, and proposed by the churches for the belief of Europe, is morally ugly....

So, we can thank Dr. Renaker for making a distinction, while objecting that poem-sacrificers is a factional formulation of what might be better termed poet-supporters. The Principle of Humility, or Ogden's balm, states:

The greater the quality of artistic genius, the greater the likelihood that accusuations are failures of critical perception.

There is, then, in the present case a non-sacrificial way of reading [1.] & [2.] that neatly avoids the bellicosely atheistic approach to Paradise Lost in favour of a respectful interpretation that harmonises Milton's art with his beliefs & intentions.

Observe that Dr. Renaker has fallen into what I term the Atheist Fallacy: to wit, condemning Milton’s God on external terms while praising Milton’s Satan on Milton’s Satan’s terms. "Atheist" not from a fallacy of atheism but the fallacy that a prosletysing atheist may, as it seems, make.

Thus, Milton's Satan protests that God "reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven," (I,124) .... and Dr. Redaker declares God Tyrannical and Satan oppressed. Of himself, Milton's Satan praises "courage" (I,108), where "mind and spirit remains/ Invincible (I,139-140) .... and Dr. Renaker interprets a Homeric hero. In short, Milton's Satan is "magnificent" because Milton's Satan declares his own magnificence.

Not so for Milton's God. He declaims His perfect lack of guilt (III, 96-7), His absolute committment to Justice (III,210) and, more, of His Divine humility that "Love hath abounded more than Glory abounds" (III,313) -- and Dr. Renaker pronounces Him "detestable." (Note, of a care, that this is said here of Milton's God solely, not any other category of Divinity.) Again in short, Milton's God is evil because standards and materials extraneous to Paradise Lost are applied: the Atheist Seventeenth Century Website is voluptuous on Supralapsarians, Sublapsarians, Arminians, Calvinists, and other historical, theological and rationalist minutae.

This inconsistency, then, falls into the atheist fallacy: fallacious condemnation of Milton's God & praise of Milton's Satan. (It is, of course, possible to non-fallaciously condemn Milton's God and praise Milton's Satan. This would require nothing more than an external standard applied equally to both, or an internal standard applied equally to both.) The specific contradiction is evident in an obvious reductio: on the atheist fallacy, Milton's God is exactly Milton's Satan, triumphant. In other words, if (per impossible) Milton's Satan -- who is praised -- were to triumph in his War for Heaven, he would become, ad optim, a ruler like Milton's God -- who is condemned.

The atheist fallacy reduces to this plain remark, that Milton failed. Books I & II of Paradise Lost fail by making Satan magnificent and Book III fails by making God detestable. Surely stating this is almost its own refutation.

In answer, Ogden's balm accords Milton sufficient artistic power, and sense, to match his intent to his creation. Call this perhaps the lay validity. First, to the magnificence of Satan in Book I & II. Lay -- that is, non-atheistic -- readers credit the magificent artistic creature Satan to its magnificent artistic creator, Milton. The poet's task was to make "the Adversary of God and Man" seductively attractive to the highest degree of his art: else where is Satan's power to tempt humanity away from God? A weak and contemptible Temptor means accordingly not only a weak & contemptible Tempted -- mankind -- but more disasterously for the poet, a God who is Himself no more appealing. Milton's success in creating an original Satan of towering appeal -- success established by critics of even Dr. Renaker's excellence falling prostrate seduced -- redounds to the power both of Eve, his protagonist, and the overmatching Brilliance of Paradise Lost's God. Milton's artistry in drawing the Satan of Books I & II is double-credited by the contrast it then allows for the descent and diminishment, moral & existential, of Satan through the rest of the poem: from hero to cherub to unclean fowl to lecher toad then eternal snake. As much as we are compelled by Satan in the first two books of Paradise Lost so much does Milton confront us with our demonic weaknesses: for the lure of the form of heroism without attention to its moral content; for the rousing attraction of command shouted from podia; for the cultivated indulgence of "sence of injur'd merit;" and, above all, for the appeal of power its own sake. Such is Satan; such his admirers.

On to the portrayal of God in Book III. Among Milton's uncountable sources consider here one only: an attribution to Anslem of Canterbury, published in 1639 and translated from the Latin as "Man in Glory" by Henry Vaughan in his 1652 Mount of Olives. Once Milton had made (from, as I believe, classicist motive) the choice to represent God as a character in his epic poem, his course was prescribed. Here is Anselm.

.... those delections or pleasures which in the world to come shall be poured out upon the righteous are everlasting and rational. And for this cause I do not see how it is possible to expresse them so, as to make them intelligible, or subject to our understanding in this life, especially because we cannot find in the pleasures of this life any example or similitude which hath in it any collation with them, or can give us the least light or manifestation of them....

Mortal portrait of God whatsoever the genius is necessarily inadequate from the fact that in a fallen world no example of heavenly experience is available. Satan, on the other side, is easily -- too, too easily -- drawn (as C.S. Lewis remarks in his Preface to Paradise Lost) by simply extending in imagination our constant and frequently immediate experience of pain, hate, betrayal, spite, failure, deprivation and misery. Milton's method of portraying God reverses this double-sided difficulty into advantage.

"Man in Glory" tabulates the "state of man:"

Two blessed and two miserable states of man we know to be, the greater and the lesser. His great or perfect state of blisse is in the Kingdom of God; his lesser is that which Adam forfeited, the joy of Paradise .... Now it is clear, that no man in this life (after Adam) did ever taste of either of those two states of blisse .... Wherefore seeing the pleasure we speak of, is a branch or portion of that greater state of blisse, I cannot conceive of any possibility to expresse it, unless we may do it by some similitudes that are quite contrary to the greater state of misery, and drawn from the lesser....

Though there is an experiencial analogy to Hell in the present, fallen, world, there is no corresponding experience possible of the "lesser state of blisse" in Paradise by which Heaven, the "greater state of blisse," can be analogised. There is, however, available to art -- and taken by Milton -- analogy to Heaven by similitude from its contrary state: the "greater state of misery:" Hell. So, consider an extreme case of this world's misery (Anselm selects "....a naked man with hot and flaming irons thrust into the very apples of his eyes"); now expand that to eternity for a sense of Hell; and then, holding that intense image, imagine the inverse intensity of pleasure and blisse: that is Heaven, analogised. Milton, realising a Christian readership, designed, with customary magnificence, a Satanic state to reinforce by inverse effect to his portrait of Heaven.

Furthermore, if not a fallacy, certainly a mistake the atheist critic of Paradise Lost is prone to make is neglecting general Christian beliefs uniting Milton and his assumed readership. The Divine actions Dr. Renaker finds deplorable the Christian understands nothing more than inscrutable.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55, 8-9. "Great the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness unsearchable." Psalm145:3

Quaint to the modern agnostic; disgusting to the atheist: yet so far from a sign of artistic failure in Paradise Lost as to be a proof of supreme success. The atheist critic is further disposed to miss the Trinitarian nature of God in Book III (however uncertain Milton's private trinitarian committment, his character of the Son is orthodox co-equal: " him all his Father shone/ Substantially express'd; and in his face Divine compassion visibly appear'd,/ Love without end, and without measure grace" III,103-5). [Emphasis mine.] The objections are to God the Father, notably to His Judicial absolutism. Dr. Renaker writes of Book III:

....let me quote one line only: "He with his whole posterity must die." Many people believe a sentence of death can be justified; but to put a man to death along with all his children? Milton with all his genius multiplied by ten could never make that line part of a becoming speech.

To which the non-atheist can immediately reply; Milton, with his genius multiplied by no more than one, could .... and did. God the Father is understood to, is expected to, is fearfully implored to, maintain Justice with absolute fidelity. "He with his whole posterity must die"? Well, sir, Christian Milton in persona Dei sobering reminds, "Die hee or justice must." (III,210). Should the sin of Adam and Eve be once allowed to sever from its exact just consequence, then all subsequent evil -- torture, rape, incest -- rightly claims like exemption, thus flourishing.

God the Father, however, is not Milton's "God." That "God," on point of Christian orthodoxy, is joined in Trinity with God the Son and with God the Holy Spirit. Thus, when "God" in Paradise Lost sentences humanity to death, that same "God" -- in the Person of the Son -- Himself serves the sentence -- agony and death. Our atheist critic may not like -- he certainly will not believe -- this doctrine. He must, nonetheless, accept it ex hypothesi when reading, and writing critical analysis of, Milton's art.

Justification of Milton's portrait of God is available from manifold sources. The majority of the readers of Paradise Lost, agnotics and believers united, need not "with wand'ring steps" take the atheists' accusatory way. Plato, for one, by his ".... real judgement of the life of the just and unjust" in the Republic establishes that, in the eyes of the fallen world, perfect Goodness will always appear Evil. As Socrates explains the certain fate of the just man to Glaucon:
....scourged, racked, bound--will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, will be crucified.

When it is put that way, it is plainly understandable why Milton today should be "suffering every kind of evil" for the very Goodness of his portrait of God and Satan....

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Class Film Night(s)

"V for Vendetta" will be an excellent topic for discussion next week's seminar: in many ways, Guy Fawkes -- the model & mask-portrait for the character "V" - is the exemplary figure of the violent, conflict-ridden 17th Century.

In addition to Guy Fawkes night held every November the 5th & the attendant rhyme "Remember, remember, the 5th of November/ Gunpowder, treason, & plot," we used to say (in fact, I still have a card with the slogan) that "Guy Fawkes was the only man to enter parliament with honest intentions."

The phrase that is used as the ad slogan for "V for Vendetta" -- "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people" -- is an expression of the central truth in Hobbes' "Leviathan": politics are fear and power, that's all. And another phrase from "V" -- "Blowing up a building can change the world" -- is a paraphrase of Satan in "Paradise Lost, Bk XIII :

126: Nor hope to be my self less miserable
127: By what I seek, but others to make such
128: As I though thereby worse to me redound:
129: For onely in destroying I finde ease

134: In wo then; that destruction wide may range:

Thus the film validates our understanding that "Leviathan" _is_ a literary work: here, it is reworked into a screenplay.Of course, the film takes on ominous meaning after the London bombings last year of course.

"V for Vendetta" is left-wing agitprop, of course, but, natheless, it is intensely relevant to our studies. As some of you know already, agitprop & didacticism are my bane in art. I simply detest being beaten over the head with one political or social position or the other: on the other hand, I absolutely adore heteroglossia - the dialogic play between competing positions; the opportunity to see both sides fairly represented & unresolved is almost an absolute criterion for Art - in my opinion, that is.

To illustrate why I condemn agitprop, here are series of quotations from a *left-wing* exemplar -- Lenin -- which are practically dialogue from the *right-wing* character of the political leader in "V for Vendetta."

  1. "It is necessary secretly -and urgently-to prepare for terror. And on Tuesday we will decide whether it will be through the SNK or otherwise."
  2. "It is necessary secretly -and urgently-to prepare for terror. And on Tuesday we will decide whether it will be through the SNK or otherwise."
  3. "It is true that liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed."
  4. "Comrades! The revolt by the five kulak volost's must be suppressed without mercy. The interest of the entire revolution demands this, because we have now before us our final decisive battle "with the kulaks." We need to set an example.
    1) You need to hang (hang without fail, so that the public sees) at least 100 notorious kulaks, the rich, and the bloodsuckers.
    2) Publish their names.
    3) Take away all of their grain.
    4) Execute the hostages - in accordance with yesterday's telegram.
    This needs to be accomplished in such a way, that people for hundreds of miles around will see, tremble, know and scream out: let's choke and strangle those blood-sucking kulaks.
    Telegraph us acknowledging receipt and execution of this. Yours, Lenin
    P.S. Use your toughest people for this."

[Quotations taken from "Wikiquote" advisedly (then verfied independently against a reputable source) as a ready means to invoke your likely authority ....]

How much better for art -- how much better for its effect & longevity-- had the film followed Orwell's example in "1984" & left the transitory orientation of the party in power a matter indifferent.

Update 1: Thanks to all who participated. We'll talk about The Libertine now this coming week.

Update 2: Please read this supreme work of film criticism comparing V for Vendetta unfavourably to Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The author, Matt Feeney -- to whom I tug my forelock as critical nobility -- complements my objection to V for Vendetta's agitprop by showing, with succinct devastation, how Gilliam's film is superior by its subtlety and its recognition that tyranny is a system and a process. Remember: Hobbes states clearly that Leviathan is not the person or the party who happen to be in power, but rather the system of laws and letters which the person or persons in the offices encoded therein merely administer. To give two citations establishing this, first, "Of Commonwealth, Chapter XXII:

In a body politic, if the representative be one man, whatsoever he does in the person of the body which is not warranted in his letters, nor by the laws, is his own act, and not the act of the body, nor of any other member thereof besides himself: because further than his letters or the laws limit, he representeth no man's person, but his own.

Or this, from "Of Commonwealth" Chapter XIX:

Of all these forms of government, the matter being mortal, so that not only monarchs, but also whole assemblies die, it is necessary for the conservation of the peace of men that as there was order taken for an artificial man, so there be order also taken for an artificial eternity of life; without which men that are governed by an assembly should return into the condition of war in every age; and they that are governed by one man, as soon as their governor dieth. This artificial eternity is that which men call the right of succession.

Here is a sample of Mr. Feeney's prosaic and witty brilliance:

Now the Wachowski brothers have taken V for Vendetta, Allan Moore's mad-at-Margaret Thatcher graphic novel, and updated it to express their present political rage. The Wachowskis are very angry at George W. Bush, but still, for some reason, it's Britain's Parliament that gets blown up.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Review of "V for Vendetta"

Classfellow Iain brought this review of V for Vendetta by an Office Hour. He was captivated, as I became also, by the audacity of these closing lines:

Will audiences follow him, cheering the implicit detonation of America's institutions? Or will they find it all a bit...jejune? Coming out of V for Vendetta, a friend of mine called it ''radical'' and ''subversive.'' He was awestruck with disbelief that a film with a harlequin terrorist as its hero could actually be released by a major American studio. I was awestruck at his naïveté in a world where fight-the-power anarchy is now marketed as a fashionable identity statement — by the corporations that helped raise a generation on bands like Rage Against the Machine, by the armchair-leftist
bloggers who flog the same righteousness day after day. V for Vendetta has a playful-demon vitality, but it's designed to let political adolescents of every age congratulate themselves. It's rage against the machine by the machine.
Notwithstanding, of course, the Hobbsean characteristic of the film, & its modern personification of the Seventeenth Century's famous son, Guy Fawkes, makes it more than worth our viewing of it.
(With a tug of the forelock to the Presentation from wednesday's seminar that traces the Milton-Metaphysicals Love theme through the film.)

Class at "The Libertine"?

I've heard that several of our class are going to see The Libertine this coming Wednesday, April 5th at Station Square Cinema in Metrotown at 7:05. Were the Instructor to attend it would be an unnofficial class get-together, following our end-of-term seminar. Please continue your good attendance this term in the final week: the wrap-up will be enjoyable - remember your own assignment for the last class & I'll remember the pigeon pie ....

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hobbes in Current American Politics & Pop Lit

That one is on a productive course of study is confirmed when illustrations of the central intellectual theme pop up in accidental encouters.

In today's Los Angeles Times, the Secretary of State during Bill Clinton's presidency, Madeleine Albright, has an article attacking the current American president, George W. Bush. The point of the polemic blames Mr. Bush for not applying the principles of Leviathan to his foreign policy.
But hope is not a policy. In the short term, we must recognize that the region will be shaped primarily by fairly ruthless power politics in which the clash between good and evil will be swamped by differences between Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Persian, Arab and Kurd, Kurd and Turk, Hashemite and Saudi, secular and religious and, of course, Arab and Jew.
Note that this anti-Bush article, from a prominent Clinton cabinet member, begins here by saying, in effect, that Paradise Lost's values make bad foreign policy, and goes on, once again, to attack George W. Bush for not being Hobbsean.
Update: for a (pop) literary -- or, at least, artistic -- version of Albright's polemical position, consider this Doonesbury cartoon from G.B. Trudeau.

Mr. Trudeau is here referencing this influential article in the left-leaning Washinton Post mocking President Bush's second inaugural address: mocking him, in effect, for letting Miltonian idealism, rather than Hobbesian realpolitik, guide his approach to international affairs.
Here again, the Seventeenth Century dialectic between Love and Power is a stimulus to an artistic response. Does this conclude, then, that a progressive modern socialist politic is Hobbsean?

N.b. To be very clear here on the partisan politics, G.B. Trudeau is self-declared as a progressive -- i.e. Left Wing -- in his political views: he strongly opposes the coalition war in Iraq and the Death Penalty; and actively supports Homosexual marriage and abortion on demand. Moreover, Mr. Trudeau -- a vigourous supporter of Bill Clinton -- has a extremely strong and publically expressed antipathy to the Bush family: stemming, as I understand matters, from the Bushes and the Trudeaus belonging to rival fraternities at Yale University.

Counter-View to my Fear-Power Scale

I especially enjoy dialectic with fellow-scholars on the course material. Here is one class-fellow who emailed me his:
.... thoughts about Hobbes' representation of power and fear having an inverse
relationship. I disagree with this view and it is actually contadictory according to Hobbes' own axioms. Instead of those with power having less fear, they would and should and more fear because with power comes advantages and in turn the desires of others to have what you posess. Since everybody is seeking to fulfill their
own desires their is a natural "war" as everyone tries to get to top. Everyone is a position of power has to constantly worry about those below them that are trying to get what they have. In turn they have more to fear than the ones at the bottom, who possess nothing that anybody desires so therefore they have nothing to fear.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Final Paper: Criteria & Revised Due Date

First off, as compensation for Wednesday's folder malfunction I am revising the due date for the Term paper to Friday April 14th. I will add an upate this effect to the syllabus: all other requirements are absolutely unchanged.

The topic for the paper is open, within the context of the primary texts, to allow you to engage with any particular aspect of the material that has captured your keenest interest. If you find yourself with several aspects of the material having equal claims on your interest, or if you are uncertain about the level of thesis suitable to an upper-division course, you might consider the topics following:

  1. Detail the characteristics of Seventeenth Century literature which give it a claim to uniqueness -- as you have come to understand it through our course engagement with the primary material. Use the summaries that I have posted here of the Century's literary features to guide your paper.
  2. Both Leviathan and Paradise Lost are absolutist literary texts: both are themed to capture the reader's affirmation entirely. Characteristically of the present century, many of you judge both texts' absolutisms to be discomfortable exclusion, yet are satisfied with elements of both texts. Argue, then, for a new literary whole that (a.) contains the parts of Leviathan or Paradise Lost with which you agree but (b.) cannot be contradicted by any of the remaining parts of your chosen text which you leave out of your whole.

By all means see me well ahead of the (now extended) deadline to confirm the suitability of your paper topic or to discuss an outline or draught of a thesis paragraph.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Second Group Project Workshop

A reminder that we have time set aside for a final Group Project workshop in our second hour today.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mid-Term Paper Grading

I have enjoyed reading and grading your mid-term papers very much. I will hand them back and discuss them in seminar this week, as promised. I learned a great deal, I received many fresh ideas and intriguing perspectives, and was very satisfied with the general ability to transmute into literary analysis the ideas which are the primary & defining characteristic of literature in the seventeenth century.

Friday, March 10, 2006

"The Libertine" - Ebert Review

Roger Ebert gives a customarily engaging and well-written -- & in this case, favourable -- review of The Libertine, here.

Update: the film is rated 18A. I suggest that we discuss in seminar this week the issues that this fact raises. Even Ebert, who charts very high on the permissivity index, writes of Wilmot that "The earl composes poetry of startling obscenity."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

17th Century: Literature of Rhetoric & Ideas

In seminar this week I put in graphical form the main elements of our course and their inter-relationship.
  1. Our overarching purpose is to gain a comprehensive understanding of literature as it was formed and operated in the Seventeenth Century.
  2. We have three primary authors, supplemented by selections of poetry from the Metaphysicals: John Milton and Paradise Lost; Thomas Hobbes and Leviathan; and His Majesty Charles I and Eikon Basilike.
  3. These three major authors represent three primary forms of literature in the Seventeenth Century: Milton, the poetic; Hobbes the dialectic; Charles the pamphleteering. (The dialectical mode continues the immensely popular tradition of, among others, Boethius' Consolatio Philosophiæ and Thomas à Kempis' De Imitatio Christi. Nb: I include for present purpose the devotional under the dialectical mode.)
  4. Though different in form, all three writers are united by their use of, and supreme excellence in, the genus rhetoric, and by their intense engagement with ideas.
  5. Furthermore, all three writers use the same rhetorical species, that being polemic. Seventeenth Century literature, is, in this view, a Battle of the Books (to use Jonathan Swift's title.)
  6. By way of understanding, if the relationship between these three writers is looked at from the perspective of Paradise Lost, Milton is seen to be fighting a two-front war. Accordingly, to the degree which he attacks one side, he supports the other -- in the way that Third Reich Germany was effectively supporting England's war aims against it by diverting resources and attention from the Western to the Eastern front.
  7. In Milton's case, the aspects of Paradise Lost aimed at countering Eikon Basilike's appeal to (a.) tradition & (b.) institution are de facto support for the Leviathan's basis in atomism and egalitarianism. And, of course, vice versa.
  8. Note that, although the vulgar understanding has Leviathan as an argument for absolute rule and the supremacy of established authority, deeper attention shows that Hobbes founded his work of literature on a story of perfectly equal human beings each with absolute self-authority and individually-valid claim to absolutely everything. The Leviathan does indeed have infinite (in two senses of that word) power: but that only as a consequence of Hobbes' basic story of ethernally warring monads. By contrast, in the story that Eikon Basilike tells, the institution of Monarchy is founded in the nature of things, the Person of the Monarch is elevated by nature, and tradition is an independent, living, active proof.
  9. In order to fight this two front polemic, this battle of the books, this biblio-war, Milton wrote Paradise Lost with epic literary design around two foundational principles: Free Will and Natural Kind, both detailed in lecture.
  10. The unfashionable sound of these two principles to modern ears suggests that, on the historical view and in the social & political dimensions, Leviathan was the victor and Eikon Basilike & Paradise Lost the losers.
  11. On the literary view, however, one may argue that it is Paradise Lost which claims the laurels ....

Attendance Thanks

My thanks for the good efforts in class participation. With the exception of this past Monday's lecture, attendance has been admirable -- even for seminar today under a variety of difficulties. Effort both noted & appreciated.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

SFU student excellence: case # 097945

In the debate set up in seminar this past week between Milton's God and Milton's Satan, I noted several statements that revealed a strong engagement with the competing literary positions of our course authors. Here is an representative encapsulation of the opposing positions sent to me my email from from one of the seminar groups.

  1. [Milton] "The virtue of choosing good is contingent upon temptation and rejection of evil."
  2. [Hobbes] "Free will does not exist because we are always inclined to the good/beneficial. Since no one would freely choose a self-harming action, choice is simply a word associated with the related events that follow a given pattern of thought."

"The Libertine" - Class Movie Night(s)

The movie, mentioned earlier , on John Wilmot -- The Libertine -- is set for limited release next Friday.
As I read the list of weeknights we have available individually, Wednesday works best for the majority. We could have a Tuesday & a Wednesday class movie night if that works for a much larger number. We'll talk more in seminar next week.
Looks great!

Friday, March 03, 2006

SFU student excellence: case # 097931

Customary excellence from SFU's students exemplified in the "comments" to the previous post.
For any of us looking for a clearer understanding of the status of ideas in literature -- more immediately, how to read seventeenth century literature -- we could do far worse than to read these comments.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Reading Hobbes as Literature (Reminder)

This early post back in mid-January explained that our reading of Hobbes' Leviathan is a literary, not a philosophical, reading, and gave a sense of how a literary reading will proceed. Topic number one in our mid-term assignment directed just such a reading.

In response to hearing from a class-fellow who recounted past experience with professors who have advised a literary reading but then required a philosophical, I can say clearly that a "philosophical" reading is not in our purview.

To recapitulate, in a course, such as ours, designed to teach as full an understanding as possible of literature in the seventeenth century, an understanding of Leviathan is realistically indispensable. Hobbes practically personifies the essential polemical, intellectual, and political character of the seventeenth century and its writers: indeed, Hobbes would stand supreme among the century's literati, were it not for a rival writer who was equally polemical, intellectual and political .... being, of course, John Milton.

As we have learned, Hobbes' was widely read among seventeenth century literary public. Now to us, Hobbes may seem "philososphical." But that is simply because we have (without asking the writer himself) imprisoned Hobbes in a tiny area restrictively called "Philosophy Departments" where Leviathan is only read for the mechanics of it Ideas.

This is not, however, how Leviathan was read by ordinary seventeenth century readers. They read it -- as we are strongly advised to be reading it -- as literature: for its rhetoric, its humour, its characterisations, its plot, for what it might reveal of the person of its writer and his social context.

The thematic elements of Leviathan that do contain important ideas -- exactly as Paradise Lost or the poetry, say, of Henry Vaughan, contain important ideas -- will be detailed in lecture. Put directly, during your reading of Leviathan you do not need to worry in any way if the ideas may not be clear: nor will you be judged or disadvantaged in this course in any way should you not successfully engage the ideas in your reading of Leviathan.

The intention is for you to finish the course with a literary appreciation for, and understanding of, the Leviathan: as, I assume, is required of scholars of the century.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Arminianism, from ....

.... the theological writings of Dutchman Jacobus Arminius.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Free Will and "Freewill"

A Latin tag (summing up Tully's On the Laws, and thus likely to have appealed to the Humanist Milton) pertinent to contributions that several of you made to lecture today regarding Milton's treatment of free will in book III of Paradise Lost, goes:
legum servi sumus ut liberi esse possimus: "we serve the law in order to be free."
Additionally, the lyric from Rush that came to mind in our class discussion today is Freewill, written by Neal Peart. Perhaps ironically, it is a secular -- indeed, a dogmatically anti-religious, version of the defense of absolute free will given by God the Father in Book III of Paradise Lost. As always, comments welcome.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Important Upcoming Events for SFU English

Two upcoming events, arranged by our estimable Department, will be of interest to students of English & well worth your attending.

  1. Honours Information Session
    Thursday, Feb. 23rd, 11:30 am
    AQ 6093
  2. English Career Panel, or, What to Do with Your English Degree
    Monday, March 6th, 3:30 pm
    Maggie Benston Centre, Rooms 2290-2292

Reading Break

I hope your reading break is productive. By all means stop by for discussion, answers, or review of essay outlines & draughts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Group Project: urls

Please add the url of your group blog to this post in a comment, the better to exchange ideas between classfellows.

Expanded Office Hours at Reading Week

During the reading week I will be keeping all my regular office hours, but I will also be having office hours during the scheduled class times. So, next week I will be available for drop-in as follows:
Monday: 9:30-15:30
Tuesday: 11:30-15:00
Wednesday: 9:30-15:00
Thursday: 13:30-15:00.
Friday: by appointment.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Monday's Lecture

Monday, we will continue with a second successive week of concentration on Paradise Lost in lecture. As two or three of you have suggested, the reading break the week following will be a good opportunity for all the class to compleat Eikon Basilike ahead of its lecture.

Earl of Rochester: "A Satyr Against Reason ...."

As promised: "A Satyr against Reason and Mankind by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester." The link is to an excellent version, "edited and annotated by Jack Lynch."
We will discuss & enjoy together in an upcoming seminar.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dinosaur MSM perceives Blogs, but Dimly

Typical ponderous MSM giant BBC has this sensation of "blog" passed up its length of nerves to its brain-stem. One bit of sense, though tiny:
I regard the blogosphere as a source of criticism that must be listened to and as a source of information that can be used.

The MSM doesn't get blogging, obviously; as dinosaurs always lack the perceptive & cognitive faculties to adapt to the smarter, faster, better new species which have already marked them for extinction. But here, one dinosaur at least sees its nemesis.

Update: The Old Order stirs, notices the rise of blogging, & responds rather peevishly ....

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Intriguing Student Remark

In seminar today, I demurred from giving the name of a certain major public figure of recent memory embodying the anti-Hobbesean view represented in the Metaphysical poetry & Milton's Paradise Lost. At the close of the class, one classfellow gave a name, which was so shocking that it has now stimulated me to follow up one particular faint memory that I have. I shall do that probably this weekend & see if I can make an even more interesting -- & alarming -- effect that I otherwise would have....
My thanks to L.W.

Hobbes-Metaphysicals Polarity: New Affirmation

From today's Arts & Letters Daily, is a very readable article on a new book that continues in the tradition of Hobbes' anti-metaphysical (& anti-theistic) polemic: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett. In the article, written by Adam Kirsch, is a very helpful application of our course thesis, & the following quotation is a précis of it:

For the best atheists agree with the best defenders of faith on one crucial
point: that the choice to believe or disbelieve is existentially the most important choice of all. It shapes one's whole understanding of human life and purpose, because it is a choice that each of us must make for him or herself. To impress on a man the urgency of that choice, Kierkegaard wrote, it would be useful to "get him seated on a horse and the horse made to take fright and gallop wildly ... this is what existence is like if one is to become consciously aware of it."

Mr. Dennett would have benefited from a ride on Kierkegaard's horse. For what dooms his book, not just in literary but in logical terms, is his complete failure to recognize the existential demand of religion. "I decided some time ago," he writes, "that diminishing returns had set in on the arguments about God's existence," and so he leaves God out of his argument entirely .... Mr. Dennett proceeds to analyze religion anthropologically, as a behavior, an institution, and an aesthetic taste. But .... the definition so completely misses the actual substance of religious experience....

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mid-term Essay: Topics

Write on any one of these three topics, according to the criteria in the syllabus.

1.] Book I of Hobbes’s Leviathan gives an account of what man is. Accepting that Leviathan is a creative work of seventeenth century literature, give an evaluative analysis of Hobbes’ creation of the literary character he names “Man”; in the same way that, in a different course, you would give an evaluative literary analysis of, say, Charles Dickens’ charaterisation of Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist. In addition to the specific details of character that the text contains, you will further elaborate and judge Hobbes’ portrait of “Man” using your choice of some associated literary elements, such as the plot of Leviathan, salient facts of the author’s biography, the social context in which the book was published, or any other characterisations -- historical or contemporary -- to which “Man” may be associated artistically.

2.] Milton’s Paradise Lost contains what may appear to be an internal stress, evident in its opening determination to “…assert Eternal Providence/ And justifie the ways of God to man.” [I,xxv-xxvi.) Asserting that Divinity’s attributes are eternal and provident is safely orthodox; however, not only declaring that Omnipotence requires advocacy but then arguing a legal brief as His barrister threatens heresy. This charge is heightened in many readers’ minds by the intensely appealing characterisation (not, carefully note, the character) of Satan. Drinking yourself, then, from the cup of the Lady of Christ’s perhaps damning presumptuousness, write a paper in which you “….assert Paradise Lost’s orthodoxy/ And justify the ways of Milton to man.” Specifically, concentrate on the characterisation of Satan in Books I-II, and argue that every single statement that “th’ Apostate Angel” (I,cxvx) makes is a Lie, by selecting some choice lines and explicating them in reference to the inner logic and content of Milton’s epic poem.

3.] From our Penguin edition of The Metaphysical Poets, choose from among the poets listed on our course syllabus any two poems which have not been explicated in our seminar time, and give a close reading of each in relation to Henry Vaughan’s translation of Boethius’ metrum IV,vi from The Consolation of Philosophy, as treated in our week two.

Betty Lambert Memorial Prize

The English Department requests submissions for the Betty Lambert Memorial Prize. The prize is awarded annually to the best unpublished play written by an undergraduate SFU student who is enrolled in at least 9 credit hours at SFU.

The prize will be equal in value to the interest accrued from the endowment fund established in Ms. Lambert's memory. Submissions will be adjudicated by a panel named by the English Department's Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. The closing date for this prize is March 1, 2006.

Address submissions to:

Betty Lambert Memorial Prize
c/o Department of English
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C. V5A 1S6

If there are further questions, please contact the English Department.

Satan with humour

Classfellow Sarah helpfully sends along this charateristically modern representation of Satan as a source of humour.
An observant woman died one day, and found herself waiting in the long line for judgment. As she stood there, she noticed that some souls were allowed to march right through the pearly gates into heaven. Others, though, were led over to Satan, who threw them into the burning pit.
But every so often, instead of hurling a poor soul into the fire, Satan would toss a soul into a small pile off to one side. After watching Satan do this several times, the woman's curiosity got the best of her. So she strolled over to find out what the devil he was doing.
"Excuse me, Prince of Darkness," she said. "I'm waiting my turn for judgment, but I couldn't help wondering, why are you tossing those people aside instead of flinging them into the fires of hell with the others?"
"Ah, those..." Satan said with a groan. "They're all from Vancouver,
they're too wet to burn!"

Engaging with the course

As you progress in the course, you might find that your personal interests and affinities are taking you toward a vector of engagement to seventeenth century literature that is different than the direction the lectures are taking. Should this be the case, come to an office hour and discuss it with me. English 314 is designated as course on seventeenth century literature; accodringly, so long as that is demonstrably what you are improving your knowledge in and understanding of, then your instructor can have no principled objection.
That being said, the course approach to the literature -- the dialectic between Hobbesean materialism and the transcendent Love that the poetry of Milton & the Metaphysicals argues for and delights in -- is a ready and effective means of comprehending the literature widely and in detail.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Group Project: Criteria & Detail

Here are the post-seminar details & criteria for our Group project.

You have now been assigned to a Group, & the Monday seminar has had a Blogger tutorial: Wednesday seminar this coming week.

The Group project is designed to be straightforward, enjoyable, and beneficial. Each group will create and maintain a Web Log that engages internally the dialectic that defined the seventeenth century literary mode. Specifically, each group member will take a position for either Love -- represented by Milton's Eve and any of the Metaphysical poets -- or Power -- represented by Hobbes Leviathan and Milton's Satan -- and throughout the term will add posts to your blog polemically in defense of your position and polemically against your opponents'. The blog, therefore, offers you an easy way to continue yourselves the dialectic which characterised the seventeenth century.

The manner of approach to, and treatment of, the course texts is entirely for your Group to decide. You need not be constrained in your engagement with the literary materials by the interpretation argued in lecture. This assignment offers you the opportunity to enhance, challenge or re-invent the specific focus of both the lectures and your seminar discussions.

The grading criteria are the scope, originality, inventiveness and literary insight of the accumulated blog entries. Technical proficiency will not be graded, but of course you are free to use any mechanical technique you wish. I will publish all the Groups' blog addesses on the Course blog and you are encouraged to solicit advice & criticism from the whole class throughout the course of the semester. Open collaboration is one great strength of blogging: some scholars, for instance, post parts of articles or even books in the blogosphere for criticism and correction before publication.

Of course, I am available for expert consultation: in person during Office Hours, and online most times.

Because this is a Group project, you will find that synergy will soon animate and enlived the assignment. I offer the suggestion that each Group assign responsibilities to members based on individual proficiencies and preferences. For instance, in principle, only one member need do the mechanics of posting the collaborative entries. There will be one group grade for all members.

I will take a snapshot of your blog on the day of the last seminar of the term and use that for grading: however I will look in regularly throughout the term as a means to, shall we say, encourage you not to leave the whole enterprise until the last minute. The experience of blogging regularly for a couple of months will, I believe, be its own benefit to you down the years.

Here is a link or three to some blogging of mine on How to Blog Effectively.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Polemic & Propaganda

One of the (characteristically good) questions from seminar Monday sought to refine the definition of polemic by asking about its distinction from propaganda. Looking, as I customarily do, to etymology as the first step in understanding concepts, “polemic” is, as you know from lecture, from the Greek word for “war,” polemos. Therefore, polemic is that species of rhetoric characterised by a metaphorical equivalence to conduct in war. We know from our Leviathan that “….force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues,” meaning that polemical writing will be conspicuously forceful and conspicuously fraudulent.

Propaganda” is from the title of an historical Office within the Roman Catholic Church: the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide – the Congregation for Propagating the Faith. Thus, propaganda is a method of evangelisation; a means of converting people to your point of view.

In this strict sense, therefore, propaganda may be, but is not necessarily, polemical in design. In practice, however, “propaganda” is one of those irregular verbs:
I present my position publically; you propagandise; she spreads disinformation by agitprop.”
I believe that there is a meaningful difference between propaganda and polemic, and I should like to illustrate my claim by example.

Before I do, however, I will pre-emptively exculpate myself from partisan charges. I am purposely presenting examples that (a) balance opposing polemical sides; (b) show polemical antagonists in each of the two categories; (c) are, almost by definition, engaging, and (d) will be objectionable only to extremist partisans on either side. [N.b. My caution reveals that I have been at modern university for some while.]

Of propaganda, I have seen two cases, published side-by-side, here at SFU recently. On your way toward the AQ from the Bennett Library on the Mall level, just outside the doors to the James Douglas Cafeteria, is a bank of bulletin boards. In one is a pair of posters set out by the union representing our University staff, CUPE. In another is a pair of posters from one of the religiously-based student clubs on campus. Both sets of posters show pictures of, and concise quotations by, real and current members of their respective organizations, being sincere personal testimonies in open and honest intent to propagate their identifying points of view. Thus, propaganda.

Of polemic, I offer the case of the now-infamous television advertisement by Canada’s federal Liberal Party during our just-completed national election that portrayed the leader of their main rival Party, Stephen Harper, as a Big Brother personification, with the explicit charge that he would introduce soldiers with guns into Canadian cities; a charge stated in a manner designed to invoke equivalence with thuggish military dictatorships, such as Pinochet’s Chile or the Hussein’s Iraq. Likewise, in a previous Canadian election, the Progressive Conservative Party had used an equivalent type of advertisement, when then-Prime Minister Kim Campbell televised a cruel portrayal of the leader of their main rival Party, Jean Chretien, that showed a mild facial paralysis suffered by Mr. Chretien at a distorting and exaggerated angle.

In the first of these two cases, the Liberal Party based their advertisements (the colloquial term for the type – “Attack ads” – declares their polemical identity) on a fact: that the leader of their opponent Party had stated that the Canadian military should be deployed to cities. The context, however, was the need for rapid order, direction and relief after a disaster – such as happened in the United States this past year during the hurricane devastation in the State of Florida. In the second case, the Progressive Conservative Party advertisement was also based on a fact: that Mr. Chretien has an (inconsequential) facial handicap. The text accompanying the advertisement, however, declared that Mr. Chretien’s visage would be seen internationally as a poor reflection of the nation: a statement that is both morally reprehensible and unempirical.

Both of these political advertisements, then, are polemics: using Hobbes definition, they are forceful and fraudulent. It is notable that the arena is the political: war being, according to Karl von Clauswitz, “….the continuation of politics by other means.” The question of effectiveness is an open one. In both examples given here, the specific polemics failed to result in a victory for the side that employed them: yet of course the polemical mode could be highly effective if a more effective strategy for their deployment were devised.

Though battles be lost; changes in tactics can still win a war.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

What "cause" means for Hobbes

I have a explanation of the four pre-Hobbes causes online here: helpfully and accessibly (I hope) set in terms of the cause of the First World War.

We saw last lecture that one of the many rhetorical tours de force that Hobbes achieves in Leviathan is the offhand manner in which he presents what can only be described as an explosionary change in the history of ideas: to wit, the collapsing of formal and final cause into material & efficient.
In addition to any philosophical merit in Hobbes' eliminativism, his rhetoric successfully "eliminates" two vast territories of thought wherein an ordinary reader of Leviathan might launch an intellectual counter-attack to Hobbes' materialist dialectic.

(Even More) Wikipedia Unreliability

In the United States, staff members for a congressman in Howard Dean's Democrat party, Martin Meehan, have re-written Wikipedia to make their boss look better.
Wikipedia is thus only as reliable as the blogosphere is vigilant.....

Update I:
Contra the use of Wikipedia for scholarly research, read this NYT article on "Rewriting History: Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar."

Update II:
(Even more) problems with wiki-(scowl)-pedia detailed here. The Encyclopedia Brittanica was good enough for Sherlock Holmes .....

Update III:
It gets outright rotten.

Naomi Wolf

One challenge that I was aware of when I conceived this course was making the Milton & Metaphysicals side of the Seventeenth-Century dialectic seem plausible to you – the students of the new millenium.

As I have stated in lecture, Hobbes and his advocacy of naked power won the debate. Will to power is the default belief for all our social, political & private discourse. The Metaphysicals’ default assumption that All You Need is Love is, to anyone not in generational synch with The Beatles, total laughable crap: impossibly quaint and contemptibly archaic.

In our just-completed election, did any of our would-be leaders declare that the solution to murder, theft, poverty, drug abuse and separatism is Love? Do any university lectures beg for more Love to solve the problems between men and women, employer and worker, or pray for more Love between Wal-Mart and its enemies? (Did I, for the matter of that, write my course syllabus so that the greater love receives the greater final grade?) Have any social advocates that you have heard implore families to Love each other more?
Answer: No! All these issues are framed in terms of pure power-politics. And of course this is likely for the best. Hobbes’ world is the real world.

However, to my utter surprise, and to the serendipitous benefit of our course, Naomi Wolf – of whose feminist tract The Beauty Myth über-feminist author Germaine Greer and author of The Female Eunuch wrote “'the most important feminist publication since The Female Eunuch” – has just declared herself a Christian after a mystical experience of Jesus. Her credo now puts her solidly on the love side of our course dialectic.
I absolutely believe in divine providence now, absolutely believe God totally cares about every single one of us intimately, that we’re not alone, that we’re surrounded by love. That everything is OK.
Wolf is now in effect harmonious with the Metaphysicals - she rejects the claim that power is alone realism and affirms instead that Love is ontologically Real, is Personal, and is the Answer.

Polemically speaking, Providence could not have shined on our course any brighter!

There is a completely fascinating -- fascinating for our course -- debate between Wolf & Greer on BBC Radio4's Woman's Hour which you can listen to online here.
The essential exchange for our purposes has Greer arguing that in the world as it is, all mentor relationships -- including father & daughter -- are forms of "seduction" - that is, sexual and predatory ("we are caught up in a sadistic scenario" she insists), and Wolf replying -- with fastidious respect bordering on obsequiousness -- that Greer is ".... sexualising inappropriately what is an intellectual relationship intergenerationally."
Setting aside for our present purposes the question of who is right, we simply observe that these are precisely the dialectical positions definded in the seventeenth century and by our course's two literary opposites: Power versus Love; Hobbes versus Milton & the Metaphysicals. However, insofar as we were to judge Greer to be expressing the correct view, we would be declaring ourselves Hobbesians: all human (and, in Hobbes' disciple Darwin, all animal) arrangements are reducible to mere exercise of power, with win, loss, or (more rarely) draw the three iron results possible.
Wolf herself draws the fact of dichotomy explicity: saying to Greer that "we are talking from completely different experience bases ...."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Henry Vaughan, Boethius & English Civil War

My scholarly article looking in detail at the matters addressed in the previous post on Henry Vaughan's translations from Boethius is available online in portable document format through our most effective Reserves system, here.

Books on Course Reserve

As promised, I am adding books to Course Reserve as the term progresses. Follow the link here. If you have questions arising from lecture, encounter ideas that excite or infuriate you, or require material for any of your term work, return to the link for some helpful material from our excellent Library's stacks.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Boethius "Naked"

Here is the source of Henry Vaughan's translation of metrum IV vi from the Consolatio Philosophiæ by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius: in the Latin original and in a naked English translation. When you compare this to the Vaughan translation, you will find that the Silurist has reworked the language to give a subtle Royalist import to the verse.
The opening couplet, for instance -- Who would unclouded see the laws / Of the supreme, eternal cause -- suggests an inference of the Divine Right monarchy that Charles I claimed in his own defense; as we shall see as we read Eikon Basilike

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Reading Hobbes in our Course

In our opening lecturing I recommended that we read Hobbes’ Leviathan as literature. My justification for this was that, by and large, this is how Leviathan was read by Hobbes’ contemporaries. Well into the nineteenth century (wherein for the general literary public Origin of the Species was drawing-room and bed-time reading) books that are now categorised as philosophy texts were simply read. There is this caveat, of course, that Hobbes and Darwin had the (lately rare) ability – genius, even – to write in an engaging and accessible style which invited wide lay readership.

It is, morevoer, still the case today that diverse students read such books in their different ways. Students of philosophy read Leviathan for its ideas; of politics for its prescription for Commonwealth; of theology for what is in effect atheism; of psychology for its view of the mind; of literature for …. well, for its many literary qualities.

Read as literature, Leviathan is a superbly engaging book. For a start, one does not need to minutely analyse the detailed argumentation in order to receive literary benefit. All Hobbes' ideas pertinent to our course will be highlighted and explained in lecture and discussed in seminar. So, again, let me encourage you to read Leviathan for fun and profit.
  • Look for his characterisations: how his inventive portrait of "man" anticipates modern science fiction conceptions of a human machine; how Hobbes creates an idealised character of the person of ..... Thomas Hobbes, author; how, indeed, he draws the awesome titular monster, "Leviathan."
  • Study his rhetorical strategy closely. My statement in lecture that "Hobbes is a cunning bastard" was significantly meant. I have outlined in seminar some important rhetorical concepts helpful for reading Leviathan. Since Hobbes has obviously structured a dialectic on a recognisable form and styled an immediate rhetoric of logos, you will enjoy noting how he makes pathos work by disguise, and how his dialectic is a blind designed to effectively launch polemical strikes. Note, for instance, how incessantly he uses "nothing but" when defining his concepts
  • Enjoy the conflicts and the proto-Gothic in the book. Note how dark, deadly and disturbing is the setting that Hobbes creates in his story, and how tragic -- and Poe-esque -- is the tale's ending.
  • Look for paradoxes and riddles: for example, how man is both the measure of everything and everything's helpless victim.

I will continue to give examples and make suggestions week-to-week in lecture; and as the term progresses, I have every hope that you will quickly develop a literary taste & a fascination for the Leviatian.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rhetoric & Æsthetics

Á propos our discussion today on the idea that æsthetics is plausibly an independent type of rhetorical appeal, this article linked on today's Arts & Letters Daily effectively puts æsthetics into Hobbes' category of "PASSIONS":
Our aesthetic psychology is still unchanged since the first cities and the advent of writing 10,000 years ago. The Iliad remains a good read...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Course Syllabus

Course Texts and Reading Schedule:
Nb: Poets named are from the Penguin Classics edition of Metaphysical Poets unless otherwise noted.
Week One: January 9th

Leviathan - Ch.1
Eikon Basilike - Sec. 1-3
John Donne

Week Two: January 16th
Leviathan - Ch.2-16
Eikon Basilike - Sec. 4-6
Paradise Lost - Book I
Henry Vaughan - Trans. of Boethius Consolation. (Blogged.)
Week Three: January 23rd
Leviathan - Ch.17-19
Eikon Basilike - Sec. 7-9
Paradise Lost - Book II

Thomas Traherne
Week Four: January 30th
Leviathan - Ch.20-25
Eikon Basilike - Sec. 10-15
Paradise Lost - Book III
John Wilmot

Week Five: February 6th
Leviathan - Ch.26-31
Eikon Basilike - Sec. 16-17
Paradise Lost - Book IV
Robert Southwell
Week Six: February 13th
Leviathan - Ch.32-36
Eikon Basilike - Sec. 18-27
Paradise Lost - Book V
John Cleveland

Week Eight: February 27th
Leviathan - Ch.37-39
Eikon Basilike - Regal Miscellania.
Paradise Lost - Book VI-VIII
Sir John Suckling

Week Nine: March 6th
Leviathan - Ch.40-43
Eikon Basilike - Eikonoklastes.
Paradise Lost - Book IX
George Herbert

Week Ten: March 13th
Leviathan - Ch.44-47
Paradise Lost - Book X
Sir Richard Fanshawe

Thomas Carew
Week Eleven: March 20th
Paradise Lost - Book XI-XII
Andrew Marvell

Week Twelve: March 27th
Henry Vaughan

Richard Cranshaw
Sir William Davenant
Ben Jonson
Week Thirteen: April 2rd
Review & Summation.

See support material available on Library Reserve.

Assignment Deadlines.

Nb: There is a 3% per day late penalty for assignments -- documented medical or bereavement leave excepted -- and all assignments must be placed in the Instructor's mailbox outside the English Department Office.

1. Mid term paper, twenty-five hundred words: due midnight February 24th. Assignment sheet with suggested topics will be blogged on February 6th. Criteria include literary analysis, engagement with course themes and writing mechanics.
2. Group e-text project: in collaboration with the Course Instructor, create a web log dedicated to a distinct topic the works from the course reading list. Groups set & assignment sheet handed out January 30th. Seminar time will be set aside throughout the term to work with the Instructor on this project
3. Individual class presentation: schedule and assignment sheet handed out in seminar. An oral presentation of no more than ten minutes will argue polemically either for or against one side or the other in the dialectic between Hobbes and the Metaphysicals. The presentation will refer to one text from both sides of the dialectic and will also include reference to & detail about some aspect of Seventeenth Century life, thought, politics, religion, or person. Each presentation will be designed to add to the class' understanding of the course material and to lay out a hopeful research direction for your Final Paper.
4. Final Paper, thirty-five hundred words: [due at midnight April 7th.] Update: revised deadline for Final Paper: Midnight April 14th

Course Approach
It is hoped that students will engage the material critically, test the hypothesis fairly and present a detailed, reasoned and rigorously researched essay expressing their individual analysis and response to the course of study.

As the reading schedule indicates, we will be following our major texts in calm sequence with embellishment from selected poetic greats. This method is most congenial to a study and understanding of one of the supreme qualities of Seventeenth Century literature that particularly benefits twenty-first century intellectuals: the multiform potency of its applied rhetoric.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Course participation
10% Seminar presentation
20% Group e-Text project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 2500 words)
40% Final Paper (approx. 3500 words)

Nb: “Participation requires both participation in seminar and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar."

Instructor Contact:
Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Monday 11:30-13:30; Tuesday 13:30-15:00; Wednesday, 11:30–15:00; Thursday 13:30-15:00. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to will be received from campus e-mail accounts only, & will be replied to within fourty-eight hours. The URL for this course blog is
In emergencies, I can be reached on my cellular phone ay 604-250-9432.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Poem For Week Two

Setting up, as we have, and we will further do, Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, as the manifesto of the eliminative materialist side of a crucial seventeenth century dialectic, we need an manifesto from the opposite side -- what I call the "League of Love." (I had this in mind, but not quite.)

Here is a poem -- an interpretive translation, in fact -- from one of the so-called Metaphysical poets, which I believe sums up the counter-Leviathan position to succinct artistic perfection.

Please read this, if you have the chance, in advance of Monday's lecture.

Henry Vaughan:
Translation of Boethius:
Consolation of Philosophy IV vi

Who would unclouded see the laws
Of the supreme, eternal cause,
Let him with careful thoughts and eyes
Observe the high and spacious skies.
There in one league of love the stars
Keep their old peace, and show our wars.
The sun, though flaming still and hot,
The cold, pale moon annoyeth not.
Arcturus with his sons (though they
See other stars go a far way,
And out of sight,) yet still are found
Near the north-pole, their noted bound.
Bright Hesper (at set times) delights
To usher in the dusky nights:
And in the east again attends
To warn us, when the day ascends,
So alternate love supplies
Eternal courses still, and vies
Mutual kindness; that no jars
Nor discord can disturb the stars.
The same sweet concord here below
Makes the fierce elements to flow
And circle without quarrel still,
Thought tempered diversely; thus will
The hot assist the cold: the dry
Is a friend to humidity.
And by the law of kindness they
The like relief to them repay.
The fire, which active is bright,
Tends upward, and from thence gives light.
The earth allows it all that space
And makes choice of the lower place;
For things of weight haste to the centre
A fall to them is no adventure.
From these kind turns and circulation
Seasons proceed and generation.
This makes the spring to yield us flowers,
And melts the clouds to gentle showers.
The summer thus matures all seeds
And ripens both the corn and weeds.
This brings on autumn, which recruits
Our old, spent store with new fresh fruits.
And the cold winter’s blustering season
Hath snow and storms for the same reason.
This temper and wise mixture breed
And bring forth every living seed.
And when their strength and substance spend
(For while they live, they drive and tend
Still to change,) it takes them hence
And shifts their dress; and to our sense
Their course is over, as their birth:
And hid from us, they turn to earth.
But all this while the Prince of life
Sits without loss, or change, or strife:
Holding the reins, by which all move;
(And those his wisdom, power, love
And justice are;) and still what he
The first life bids, that needs must be,
And live on for a time; that done
He calls it back, merely to shun
The mischief, which his creature might
Run into by a further flight.
For if this dear and tender sense
Of his preventing providence
Did not restrain and call things back:
Both heaven and earth would go to wrack.
And from their great preserver part,
As blood let out forsakes the heart
And perisheth; but what returns
With fresh and brighter spirits burns.
This is the cause why every living
Creature affects and endless being.
A grain of this bright love each thing
Had given at first by their great King;
And still they creep (drawn on by this:)
And look back toward their first bliss.
For otherwise, it is most sure,
Nothing that liveth could endure:
Unless its love turned retrograde
Sought that first life, which all things made.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Our Story so Far

Update: Engl-314 students are encouraged to use this post as a "suggestion box" for comments -- anonoymous or otherwise -- on how the course may be improved as it goes on. (20/01/06)

So, after the opening week we have an effective broad outline of a dialectic through the British seventeenth century between positions represented by Thomas Hobbes on the one side and the Metaphysicals on the other -- with John Milton kept as an "excluded middle" for the time being. The nature of the dialectic, as I am describing it, is between Power, on the Hobbes side, and Love, on the Metaphysicals'.

For Hobbes & Power-with-a-capital-P, read, for example Ch. X of Leviathan. But let us just say this: compared to Hobbes' attitude toward power, Tom Cruise mildly approves of scientology; theatre actors don't really mind audience approval; Rick Mercer somewhat leans toward self-promotion; Ted Kennedy would, on the whole, perhaps care for another cocktail; and Paul Martin is comme ci, comme ca about re-election. And as for the Metaphysicals and Love? Well, let George Herbert be exemplar with his triptych Love. (Of the three, I specially prefer the third.)

Of the dialectical opposition, we saw John Donne, in the poem, Satyre III, studied in seminar, declare this attitude to power:

That thou mayest rightly obey power, her bounds know;
Those past, her nature and name is chang'd; to be
Then humble to her is idolatry.
As streams are, power is; those blest flowers that dwell
At the rough stream's calm head, thrive and do well,
But having left their roots, and themselves given
To the stream's tyrannous rage, alas, are driven
Through mills, and rocks, and woods, and at last, almost
Consum'd in going, in the sea are lost.

"That thou mayest rightly obey power, her bounds know." A more counter-Hobbesean position on Power could not possibly be taken.

As for the nature of the two sides of the dialectic, Power is to be explained as the advancement of Self; where Love is the advancement of another. Power considers Self first, where Love considers Others above one's own wants & desires. The Metaphysicals drew this, of course, from the Golden Rule.

Why Big Media is Dying: exhibit John Ibbitson

On the rise of blogging to soon-to-be-predominance causing, as it certainly has has, the soon-to-be-death of Big Media (newspapers and network TV news mainly), consider please the dinosaur exhibit -- case John Ibbitson from the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The species -- the newspaper -- itself is revealing its death rattle: stupidly hiding its content (i.e. the only thing anyone wants from it) behind a firewall which they expect people to get through by paying them actual money (!) when content is absolutely free on blogs by the million. By such lumbering refusal to adapt is ever extinction caused.

One can further witness individuals within that species performing mal-adaptive behavior. Here is Ibbitson not only becoming extinct but even doggedly declaring his stubborn & self-destructive refusal to adapt.

Asked in an pre-screened interview this question about our federal election:
John, as the campaign goes on, I am finding that blogs are having a greater and greater impact. Although I would argue that the Conservative bloggers are winning the day, that is a different issue entirely. I am really curious to know whether you read any blogs and whether you think they have the capability of becoming even more important in Canadian political reporting.

the dinoasaur replies:
I don't read blogs. I read books.

Dude: newsflash -- the evolutionary survivors are doing both!