Mary Kline

Doctor Martin

English 3210, Section 301

23 Nov 04

The Dualistic Genesis of Paradise Lost

In The Role of the Reader, Umberto Eco points out that ideological bias can lead a reader to interpretations employing codes not envisaged by the sender. The task, then, is to affirm one's bias clearly at the beginning, and then infer away. In this paper the Fall of Man in Paradise Lost is filtered and interpreted through two matrices not intended by John Milton; that of Semiotics, and that of Buddhist psychology. This paper, therefore, is a humble attempt to see if this interpretation will yield new insight into the human condition in its pre- and post-lapsarian state. Eco (1984), citing the classical definition of a sign, aliquid stat pro aliquo, points out that the correlation by which the sign stands for the signified can be of diverse forms. This paper will primarily have as focus the; "sign [that] is a manifest indication from which inferences can be made about something latent" (Eco, 1984:15); an example of which being footprints as sign of a person's passage. Linguistic “signs” may also take part in this relationship. In Paradise Lost, JohnMilton, retelling the tale of Genesis, posits a number of characters, places and objects: God, Satan, Heaven, Hell, Eden, Adam, Eve, two trees of intense significance, and a sweet fruit with a bitter aftertaste, amongst many others. To what extent is it valid to view these literary entities as signs of something else? Has the reader a warranted right in interpreting them differently than Milton would have?

 Isabel MacCaffery, in Paradise Lost as Myth, claims Milton would have "insisted . . . on the validity of its [Paradise Lost] literal 'appearances' as he presented them" (1959:21). But she also points out that "Milton . . . would have laid stress on the 'spiritual' significance of his story . . ." (ibid.), and further comments on his "insistence . . . on seeing the external world permeated with value and meaning" (ibid., p. 147). The second would hold particularly correct for actions mentioned in the Old Testament, as Milton was the progeny of a long standing practice of interpreting these stories as allegoria in factis, having a dual reality both as factual historical events and as messages sent to civilization by God (Eco 1990:11-17). Further, O'Keefe comments on how; “The imagery of sound and music in Milton's poem possesses ethical nuances when depicting places, characters, and situations; thus Chaos, hell, Satan, the battle in heaven, Adam and Eve immediately after the Fall . . . are characterized by discord, while heaven, Eden before the Fall, the Son, heaven . . . are typified by metaphoric harmony”. (1982:313)

 While Milton, as progeny of the medieval tradition of exegesis, would have believed his text to speak on allegorical, spiritual, and literal levels, he would also have believed it to have been univocal in its import, in that all of these levels spoke with one message (Eco 1990). These uses always amalgamate into one meaning-- in the subversive angels fall into Hell. Contemporary readers, prejudiced by a good three hundred years of scientific inquiry and discovery since Milton, find out that it is much more complicated now than in Milton’s time to take these stories literally. If they are not literally true, then their claim to univocallity is greatly destabilized, for this claim has as basis the discernment that these events were, so to speak, God's handwriting in the world, of which He had discovered the proper construal. Will these signs, these characters and places, then yield new meaning to an audience approaching them from a different perspective? Eco brings hope that this may be so; “If a myth is a tale, then it is a text, and this text--as Bachofen said--is the exegesis of a symbol. . . . A text is a place where the irreducible polysemy of symbols is in fact reduced because in a text symbols are anchored to their context . . . To recognize this principle does not mean to support the "repressive" idea that a text has a unique meaning, guaranteed by some interpretive authority. It means, on the contrary, that any act of interpretation is a dialectic between openness and form, initiative on the part of the interpreter and contextual pressure.” (1990:20-21)

 The two prevailing figures in Paradise Lost are those of God and Satan. Aside from being the two main characters in the poem, and spiritual entities, what else could   these figures be signs of? Their depiction are signs of state of mind of the depictor, and, as John Milton's consideration can be taken as a supercilious summit standing out in a major strain of Christian theology, the Pauline tradition (O'Keefe 1982). Then, they are also signs whose analysis may shed light on a stage in the maturity of the Western mind. To take these signs as such does not entail thinking of them as  psychological, or that they correspond to no metaphysical entities. As Jung puts it in “Aion”; “There is no question (in a psychological interpretation) of any intrusion into the sphere of metaphysics, i.e., of faith. The images of God and Christ (and, he would agree, of Satan) which man's religious fantasy projects cannot avoid being anthropomorphic and are admitted to be so; hence they are capable of psychological interpretation like any other symbol.” (57)

Milton begins Paradise Lost with his famous program to "justifie the wayes of God to men" (i. 26). It will be established that the need for this agenda is the consequence of a scrupulous derivation of the Divine, and that both are closely tied to the figure of Satan as drawn in the poem. A crucial difficulty for Christian thought in the Middle Ages until (one might argue) the time of Milton was that of why evil existed (Danielson 1982). Danielson, quoting Lactantius quoting Epicurus, states the problem in one of its; "oldest and most famous formulations . . . :" God . . . either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious . . . if . . . neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble . . . if He is both willing and able, which is alone suitable to God, from what source then are evils? or why does He not remove them?” (Ibid., p. 2-3) This quandary led unswervingly to the formulation of the principle of privatio boni, which held that "Evil therefore is nothing but privation of good" (Jung 1958:47), or, as Shoaf has it: “. . . good and evil, Milton implies, are an experiential confusion . . . and, in one sense anyway, an illusion. This is basically the Augustinian sense in which evil is considered to be a corruption or deficiency of the good. (1985:36).”

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Both Shoaf and Danielson go to vast length to illustrate that Milton has solved Epicurus' dilemma throughout his inspired use of this dogma, illustrating; "that God is omnipotent, that he is wholly good, (despite the fact) . . . that evil exists in the world" (Danielson 1982:7). They use dissimilar judgment to accomplish this agenda; the venture; "remains a euphemistic petitio principii no matter whether evil is regarded as a lesser good or as an effect of the finiteness and limitedness of created things. The false conclusion necessarily follows from the premise Deus=Summum Bonum,' since it is doubtful that the ...

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