Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book X and the Nature of Paradise Lost

A recent reading of the tenth book of Paradise Lost has embellished my understanding of the nature of the poem.

Book X as an expression of a distinct mytho-analytic problem: Milton is dilating on lines 842-844:
O Conscience, into what Abyss of fears
And horrors hast thou driv'n
me; out of which
I find no way, from deep to deeper plung'd
His analysis of this theme is necessarily forced through the context of the plot and the terms of the characters and language he has to work with, but the entire book seems to be a response to 842-844.

A "reader" can pursue other avenues, but to do so is to mistake the particular character of the poem, and to go astray--and so generate various
het readings, if I may deploy a little Hebrew here.

That is, PL is not an exercise in Biblical exegesis or a celebration of the coarse associations produced by commonplace poetical mechanics, but is rather a sophisticated modern poem bringing to bear the remarkably protean tool of "mythical-epic" language to express a manifold of analytic procedures. It represents modern analyses of modern problems. The Biblical stuff, the story, the characters, the music, the emotional content--all are points of departure, and to some extent the vehicles, but not the destination.

Another way to figure this: The appropriate cover for PL should not
be a sharply-drawn realistic illustration by Dore or Durer, but more properly a well-theorized abstraction by Kandinsky or Tanguy printed on thin translucent paper, and which turns over to reveal a closely-controlled dreamscape by Dali--and vice-versa, if you will.

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