Thursday, July 21, 2016

Paradise Lost and the analysis of intellectual mythology, very brief

Myth is not fiction: it consists of facts that are continually repeated and can be observed over and over again. It is something that happens to man, and men have mythical fates just as much as the Greek heroes do.
                                           ~ Carl Jung, CW 11, §648.
Milton would disagree, I think, as Jung's formulation attributes a kind of logical, scientific legitimacy to emotional experience. It's like Jung is saying the experience of a headache is the same as a scientific understanding of headaches. By way of explanation, let's dilate upon a definition of poetry and myth, and then clarify their relationship to each other.

I use the words interchangeably: myth is poetry, poetry is myth, and it--poetry/myth--is either in some sense accurate, or in some sense deceptive. Compare Wittgenstein: "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language" (PI §109). In Paradise Lost, Milton is using the poem to analyze this very bewitchment, and as such it can be read as an anthropological exposition of the emergence of analytic philosophy and clear(er) understanding. In Milton, the language of religion and religious myth becomes the vehicle for the emergence of this clearer understanding: the transcendence of misunderstanding and deception (lies/Satan) is realized metaphorically in the victory of the Son, who is the clarification of philosophical credulousness that is rooted in conceptual confusion and the misuse of language.

Milton begins with religious language because of our historical circumstance. We are forced to use this language, but over time the discussion produces various heterodoxies that allow us to view the linguistic-stream-of-life confluence in toto--or rather in context--thus enabling us to gain a clear overview of the parts, the whole, and their relations to each other.

Hester and Dimmesdale go through this in The Scarlet Letter: the context of their Calvinist orthodoxy gives them the linguistic tools they use to transcend that same orthodoxy. In working this out, Hawthorne suggests a two-phase Calvinist experience, and places the "post-Calvinist" phase at the center of American political and philosophical understanding. Compare Melville in Moby-Dick, and Mark Twain in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Nabokov plays on this string producing marvelous effects in Pale Fire. The plot and theme of these novels is suggested by Wittgenstein:
  What is your aim in philosophy? - To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.

                                         ~  Ludwig Wittgenstein, PI §309
I would argue, too, that this post-Calvinist worldview compares very closely to core aspects of Judaism, and also sets forth the outlines of the modern worldview we associate with Ockham, Bacon, Locke, and Jefferson--whose originality chiefly rests in his ability to clarify these ideas in memorable and effective political language. 

Milton--returning once more--shows that poetry is the vehicle par excellence for examining the phenomenon and realizing Wittgenstein's aim. 

No comments: