Notes on Milton Pt. 2

On repeated readings of Paradise Lost, an edge emerges, one of internal contradiction- by including apostrophes to classical antiquity, and its pagan Gods and heroes, Milton creates a space for himself in his own text less comfortable and more contradictory than is usually supposed by readers and scholars. This space, its darkling hint of distance and alienation, renders suspect aspects of the text, such as Milton's misogyny, more open to interpretation and less "owned" on a first-person narrative level as Milton's own. Milton's misogyny, in fact, may not be what it appears to be at all- merely a faithful representation of something imparted to him, rather than a closely guarded thematic shibboleth of a more ideal state of human affairs (Eden, the Edenic). How Milton is willing to posit himself- both as an aggregate of textual traditions and representative of an occupied middle space or ground- takes the Biblical myth of Eden and Man's fall and regularly, at intervals, destabilizes it, placed among other myths, other histories, other modes of narrative, textual, and, within textual, formal-thematic awareness. Once we view Paradise Lost as a destabilizing agent, we are prepared to acknowledge that the parallelism between Milton, behind his text, and Milton's Satan within his text, is very acute, and both Milton and Milton's Satan employ direct and indirect rhetoric to destabilize conventions and the enactment and non-enactment of "obedience," in both general and specific senses.

The profanity of pagan Gods, both their exploits and the manner in which they are worshiped- Milton's quest for an aesthetic ideal, "ideal textuality," necessitates that he include apostrophes in their direction. The implicit suggestion is that Milton's aesthetic quest is, and must be, commensurate with his quest both to represent, and embody within the confines of textual creation, spiritual purity. Paradise Lost is thus aligned with both an art-aesthetic history and a strictly spiritual, or spiritualized, one- and Milton prefigures Keats by the exercise of Negative Capability within this duality. Milton knows, of course, that his eventual audience will be more artists than spiritualists, and that he will receive his verified ranking as an artist, rather than as a sage- so that the dissolution of his constitutive subjectivity into unresolved binaries, hewn together by dedicated force and aesthetic intent, delivers him into a textual consummation whose opacity is, and must be, irretrievable, against the hermeneutic impulse to valorize Milton as a purity-signifier, which he is not. The sense of bifurcated intentionality is very prevalent in Paradise Lost- as is the irony that one literal, concrete "paradise lost" by the author is the paradise of fulfilling singular intentions in a singular (as in not multiple) fashion.