The Hidden Habits of Gender

It always astounds me how progressive Milton is — I’m not sure if I’m just giving him a biased reading because I want to like him, but the way he allows Adam and Eve to float between their individual gender’s roles strikes me as exceptional.

I also wonder if there are certain behaviors that were considered male and female at the time, that have reversed over time. In the same way that it used to be common for males to wear heels and read literary erotica and then over time they became socially accepted as female behavior — I wonder if there are more instances of Milton switching gender roles that I’m just unable to identify because of when it was written. I should do more research on the gender roles of the times.

Homework for me!

One Story

I remember in my fiction class we talked about how many authors subscribed to this belief that we, as writers and as people, only really have one story. That every work we do just contributes to that greater single story that we’re trying to tell.

I feel like Milton’s works support this — we see similar arguments from all his works coalescing and conversing in Paradise Lost. That’s what I was thinking about when Professor Campbell said that we saw the same argument from the divorce tracts arise again in Book 8. I do wonder if Milton thought the same thing and that’s why he spent his whole life trying to write Paradise Lost — because he knew that was his “story.” The one story that all of the other treatises and poems were aspiring toward.

Paradise Lost directed by … Dick Wolf?

Reading one of my classmates posts, I’m not only realizing how truly cinematic Paradise Lost is, but how deeply influential it has been in cinema! It’s shocking that it hasn’t been made into a movie yet (I know there was a brief moment where Bradley Cooper was in talks to produce the movie and play Satan, but it fell through). I know it’s been adapted into a play, but there are so many moments that make me feel like it could become instant classic.

The moments of God’s torrential power, Satan’s descending madness, the love between Adam & Eve — it has all the elements! I’m not sure if it would be too long, and that’s why it hasn’t yet been made — or if the sheer task of trying to encapsulate Milton in a 2-3 hour journey is too daunting for most directors to take on. Perhaps adapting the dialogue of Milton (because… how could you cut it?) is the most intimidating aspect of it all.

I think it would be great as an HBO show. Can’t you imagine it? You could have a season of Game of Throne-length episodes, and explore the narrative from different perspectives without being limited by time (or, if it were to be produced by HBO, money). In fact, I can see it almost perfectly…

 

who’s wants to pitch it to execs? I know a guy.

 

 

Also, just to be clear, I definitely do not think Dick Wolf should direct Paradise Lost. 

The Luxury of Art

I’m in a production of Sense and Sensibility right now and a part of the process has been learning the etiquette, behaviors, and hobbies of the noble/upper class. I’ve been struck, in this process, by how much free time upperclass Englishmen had. Obviously Milton had an exceptional gift for poetry — but when I thought about how advanced he was at 23, I couldn’t help but think “Well, it makes sense given how much time he spent developing it.”

It’s strange that writing and acting aren’t considered “crafts” in the same way that music and physical art-forms are. People often think that you don’t need to develop them in the same way, with the same diligence or drive — they think it’s a matter of talent. However, the best writers and actors I know have some of the best work ethics too.

Not to bring it back to comedy, but Seinfeld (who may not be my favorite comic, but deserves kudos for his work obviously) writes for two hours every day when he wakes up. Look at where it’s gotten him.

Neither here nor there, Milton, nowhere!

I keep thinking about the way Milton writes morality into such an ambiguous space — sex is not necessarily sinful, indulgence of beauty (even beauty of self) does not have to be vain — and I just really appreciate it. I think with epics, especially ancient epics, I have this idea that good and evil are going to be easy to parse out, and by the end I’ll have some gleaned some lesson or aphorism that I can quote to friends over dinner. (Now that I’m typing it out, I’m realizing this is more the rule with fables… not epics).

With Milton, I’m not sure there is ever one solid lesson to glean. The only one that seems vaguely clear-cut is the idea of “fugitive encloistered virtue”: moral choice can only exist with the option of choice. But even that situates the actor in a liminal position where they have the option to sin or not — and most people constantly exist in that space before. The moment prior to action. Simply… ready. Liminal spaces intrigue me. They’re limitless.

 

I wonder if Milton found a certain liminality to blindness. I think he must have if the last line of Sonnet 23 was any indication (“I wak’d, she fled, and day brought back my night.). Awake, but asleep. Living in perpetual night, even during the day. He existed in the in between.

Sorry my thoughts keep wandering, but the space right before a person sins… that represents something in-between. When Eve is looking at the fruit, when Sin is born in Heaven, before Satan does evil — that’s an interesting liminality, isn’t it? Does it have a name?

 

Holy liminality!

do we stan satan?

Satan S(a)tan

Please note that the title was to be read ironically. Please.

The more I think about it, the more astounded I am by how sympathetic a character Satan truly is. I often think that if he were the protagonist of a movie or television show made today, he’d probably be played by a Jake Gyllenhaal-type and you’d undoubtedly have hundreds of little Satan stan accounts (I’m deeply sorry I even typed this) running around on Twitter and Tumblr talking about how hot and tortured he is. Seriously, the way the Satan thinks through issues isn’t unlike characters like Bojack from Bojack Horseman or Don Draper from Mad Men.

I think Don Draper is self-destructive in a different way than Satan. Definitely still self-destructive, but I think more often than Satan he wants to believe he’s a good man and the actions he’s doing aren’t inherently bad. Bojack, on the other hand, frequently does things for his own pleasure though he knows they are bad and has quotes such as, “I come from poison, I have poison inside me, I destroy everything I touch. That’s my legacy” Which, if you look at it at its core, isn’t so different from the description of Satan in Book IV: “… stir the Hell within him, for within him Hell He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell one step no more then from himself can fly by change of place” (20-23).

 

Satan isn’t a man without conscience — in Book IV, it says: “Now conscience wakes despair that slumberd, wakes the bitter memorie of what he was, what is, and what must be.” This idea that he’s plagued by the “what must be,” the role he’s created for himself, is incredibly relatable. It, actually, so frequently torments the aforementioned characters that it’s usually their downfall. Bojack says in Season 3 episode 12, “I don’t know how to be. It doesn’t get better, it doesn’t get easier. I can’t keep lying to myself saying I’m gonna change.” But it’s actually that mentality that causes him to be so self-destructive — his inability to accept that he can change. Instead of grasping onto something empowering, he grasps on to all he knows, the “what must be” — which is this idea that he is poison.

I think charismatic, self-destructive antiheroes can be very attractive to young readers because of their relatability — we relate to the flaws. We like the idea of  the not so perfect somebody who can still win at the end of the day — antiheroes are just a different kind of underdog. Just off the top of my head,  I can think of several antiheroes in pop-culture — Don Draper, Thomas Shelby, Sherlock Holmes, Deadpool, and Bojack — that have garnered largely sympathetic & romantically interested fan bases. And so I just wonder (from a very ACADEMIC PERSPECTIVE!), based on how Milton wrote Satan, if a modern audience would have received the character in the way Milton intended… or

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if we would have had Satan stans running around Comic Con.

 

 

 

 

God’s Fulfilling Will

I’ve talked a lot about self-fulfilling cycles on my blog, simply because they fascinate me. God as a complete entity fascinates me. I once read an essay that argued that any monotheistic God relies on an incredibly dependent relationship with his people, as when they stop speaking of him and believing in him, his existence in the world becomes exponentially smaller. Thus, God was not complete in and of himself, and only existed as long as people believed in him (many faithful people have said in response that God would exist independent of beliefs, kind of like a law of science). Unlike with a polytheistic religion, which has a network of divine beings unknown to people — with a monotheistic religion, there exists a singular, transcendent (is “singularly transcendent” an oxymoron?), reciprocal relationship between the God and the devotee.

However, Milton’s God seems to exist independent of people’s beliefs (is this a byproduct of his own faith?) . He says:

“God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best [ 10 ]

Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State

Is Kingly.”

He does not need even his own gifts — he exists to be served. A king.

 

I also find the phrase “milde yoak” interesting — it implies a bondage or burden, but not a heavy one. It helps paint what the ideal relationship between God and his people should be in Milton’s cosmos — but I’m not entirely sure what that ideal relationship is yet. I imagine as I continue to read Paradise Lost, it will become clearer.

Love as Light

Like many other students, I couldn’t stop thinking about the last few lines of Sonnet 23 after I went home:

But Oh! as to embrace me she inclin’d, I wak’d, she fled, and day brought back my night.

 I can’t help but think about the evil in the absence of things: absence is not always inherently bad (we know Milton loves his gray areas) but I think it’s interesting that here day & night are both respectively associated with love (his wife’s presence) and the lack thereof (her fleeing). I know we’ve talked alot about Milton’s reaction to his own blindness, but I guess I just wonder if Milton saw it as a lack of love from God? And if he saw living a loveless life as similar to a sinful one?

The Killing of Innocents

I was wondering, when we were talking in class about Satan’s plan — to kill innocent people in retribution of God’s punishment — what is so appealing to God about the killing of innocents? On a superficial level, obviously God would not want those who have not done wrong to suffer — but also, God kills innocent people all the time in the Old Testament. I am not only referring to the Egyptians in Exodus, because I think they are implicated in the Jews’ slavery (though, were they all as implicated as God’s punishment would seem to imply? Not sure) — but also others, like Job’s children. They were killed in example to show that God is not as predictable as the scales of good and bad — that goodness & faith do not necessarily preclude extreme tragedy. I’m sure Milton became well aware of that as he lost his own sight.

So, I guess I’m just wondering why Satan believes so ardently that that would somehow compel God into great sorrow? I guess there’s not really a need to explain it, because as shown in the text, Satan is somewhat delusional in his perception of the world — but that’s just what happens when you get stuck in a negative self-feeding cycle.

I’m more familiar with the Old Testament than the New Testament, so I think I very rarely characterize God as compassionate — I’m more likely to characterize him as magnanimous. However, in the New Testament, as Jesus, he very much is compassionate — and Paradise Lost is likely written with a much more New Testament lens, so I think I just need to keep that in mind as I keep reading.

God’s Ambisexuality

I was really intrigued by the characterization of God in Book I, specifically in lines 20-24. Milton imbues God with the qualities of woman, comparing him to a mother hen “brooding on the vast Abyss” that was the universe, and then saying he also “mad’st it pregnant” (comparing him to the rooster). In this characterization, God becomes  a self-fulfilling, whole entity, in and of himself. I think this portrayal aligns with the ambiguity of much of Milton’s ideology. As evil cannot be easily separated from good, man can also not be easily separated from woman.

I never really thought about it because God is so often characterized as male, but if man and woman were made in God’s image, there has to be a femininity to God, doesn’t there? Both have to somehow exist within him. I mean, everything exists within him — so I guess I probably should have inferred that earlier, but I just never had.

 

Anyway… to imbue God with female characteristics also indicates a (somewhat consistent) respect toward women that I’m not sure other authors of the time displayed. I think with the character of Sin, he expresses a deep sympathy toward the labors of childbearing. By making Eve the poet of the epic, he places an infinity inside of her in addition to the capacity to infinity given to those who are able to create new life (and thus “live on).

 

I’m so interested to see how his characterization of women & God develop moving forward!