Satan's Trouble With Eve

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.


  • Did you mean Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise on this one? :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:50 PM  

  • You're right! Thanks a bunch: now edited ....

    By Blogger Dr. S.A. Ogden, at 12:26 AM  

  • I have a suggestion:

    We should have a place on the blog to post our polemical presentations so that the entire class can have a chance to supprt or refute the arguments made.

    By Blogger Sarah, at 2:01 PM  

  • Dear Sarah:

    Good idea: I'll add a post for that.

    By Blogger Dr. S.A. Ogden, at 2:07 PM  

  • Hello,

    I thought I'd try to make up for my absence on Monday by sharing a little something I found interesting. In his article "Interpreting the Variorum" Stanley Fish offers a reading of Milton that presents an argument that seems to convincingly disagree with Blake’s statement that Milton was siding with the devil in Paradise Lost. In his article Fish argues that the ambiguities in Milton’s writing (he is examining his poetry) “are not meant to be solved, but to be experienced” (Fish 977). It is in this ambiguous experience of Milton that Fish believes we find meaning. Fish stipulates that by leaving the text opaque Milton forces us to choose the correct answer:
    [we] come away from the poem not with a statement, but with a responsibility . . . . This transferring of responsibility from the text to its readers is . . . the essence of their experience—and in my terms it is therefore what the lines mean. (Fish 978)
    Fish’s method of reading Milton defends Paradise Lost against Blake’s slanderous claim, for it is in our struggle as readers to decipher the ambiguities in the text—the valorization and condemnation of Satan—that we must choose and our experience is the meaning. The meaning in Paradise Lost is not, as Blake would believe, found in the hero-devil but in the conscious choice of salvation.

    Fish, Stanley. “Interpreting the Variorum.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and
    Contemporary Trends. 2nd Edition. Ed. David H. Richter. Bedford Books, New York: 1998.

    By Blogger Terra, at 11:21 AM  

  • Dear Terra:

    A most helpful comment - in a sense, then, Milton's text is structured rhetorically at an opposite pole from Hobbes': the monster of Malsbury's being iron-clad statement

    Fish is very very great when he is "on" -- he will be remembered as one of the giants, for works like the one you cite -- as well as "Surprised by Sin" on course reserve.

    By Blogger Dr. S.A. Ogden, at 5:03 PM  

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