Professor John Rogers: We've been looking for the
last few lectures at the ethics and the theology that have
throughout Paradise Lost been produced -- at least,
this has been my argument -- been produced and sanctioned by
Milton's narrator. We learned, for example,
both from the narrator and also from Raphael that Eve is
inferior to Adam. On the authority of the
narrator and of Raphael, the social hierarchy of Eden is
established as what we can think of as -- this is what also I
have been arguing -- as the dominant discourse of the poem.
We can think of this as the poem's official doctrine,
if a poem can be said to have an official doctrine.
But there's obviously so much more to Paradise Lost
than the official discourses of Raphael and the narrator.
The poem seems continually -- and this is also what I've been
arguing -- continually to be opening up spaces for ideas
other than the official, sanctioned language of the
narrator. The angel Raphael,
you'll remember, was eager to assert the
hierarchical worldview when the narrator was speaking about Adam
and Eve, but as we saw last time,
Raphael was willing to loosen the constraints of the notion of
hierarchy when he was pondering the subject of astronomy.
Raphael's astronomy was marked really wonderfully by a lot of
doubt and uncertainty, and he refused to determine
whether Ptolemy was right or whether Copernicus was right.
There's a way in which the poem's doubt about one kind of
hierarchy seemed to bleed over into the other forms of
hierarchy with which the poem was also concerned.
This is essentially a little recap of the last
lecture.Now so far in Paradise Lost,
the tension between the poem's official line and what we
can think of as its more subversive strains -- this
tension has surfaced in Paradise Lost in a kind
of contrapuntal fashion. One position is simply
juxtaposed without comment with another, but the poem itself
never seems explicitly in any way to acknowledge the presence
of the conflict or the presence of the contradiction;
that is, the poem doesn't seem to acknowledge the presence of
the conflict or contradiction until now -- until Book Nine.
Book Nine, which is the book of the Fall, is structured by,
I think, a far more explicit opposition of that official,
dominant discourse, on the one hand,
and the much more open-ended critique of that discourse,
on the other. The stark opposition between
these two competing positions is manifest explicitly,
for me, in the argument between Adam and Eve on the morning of
the Fall before their separation.Before we
actually look at the content of that absolutely remarkable
argument, it's worth musing on the fact
that Adam and Eve are having an argument at all.
It's amazing, for that matter,
that they're actually conversing.
In the conversation between Adam and Eve before Eve's
departure to work alone, we have what,
I think, has to be the first conversation on earth:
the first genuine dialogue, a conversation -- well,
there may be a very brief exception in Book Five,
but we'll set that aside -- that involves two individuals
who do not already have in mind the content of the other's
speech; a conversation (and of course,
I'm thinking of all of the conversations that we have,
or that you have, with one another) that
possesses at least some element of epistemological uncertainty,
an element of surprise, or the inability to know
exactly what the other person is going to say before he says
it.Now Milton up to this point hasn't been able to
represent anything like the genuine dialogue.
There are some exceptions. Maybe the dialogue between
Satan and Abdiel during the war in heaven, but on earth it's not
so clear. Before this moment,
all language is more or less ceremonial or ritualistic
utterance. Let's think of the Father and
the Son in the dialogue in heaven in Book Three.
The Father's omniscience, the fact that he knows
everything, makes dialogue absolutely impossible.
He always knows in advance what the Son is going to say.
Even with Adam and Eve before Book Nine -- Adam and Eve seem
to know in advance, in some way,
the content of the other's speech;
and so Adam will begin a speech (and this happens all the time)
with some variation of this little formula:
"Well thou knowest Eve that blah blah blah" -- in other
words, of course you know this,
Eve, but I'm going to say it anyway.
Eve will tell Adam, "That day I oft remember," and
then she will proceed to tell him something presumably that
she's already told him a number of times before.
Conversation before this point has been ritualistic,
it's been ceremonial, and it is essentially
unnecessary in these early parts of the poem.The dialogue
between Adam and Eve at the scene of their separation is
really different from these ceremonial utterances.
For the first time, they're speaking speeches from
alien perspectives with purposes and intentions that are foreign
to one another. They seem to us familiar -- we
recognize these people, and in this conversation,
and it's actually an argument as much as it is a conversation,
Milton is giving us an emblem, finally I think,
of what this poem has been doing all along:
this poem has been arguing with itself.
The dominant official language of hierarchy has been pitting
itself against the questioning, subversive language of
equality, and here in this conversation Milton gives a
dramatic shape to what has been heretofore the abstract,
intellectual conflicts that had so textured so many of the
earlier books. And so here in Book Nine at the
moment of the separation between Adam and Eve,
we can see these two world views, these two enormous ways
in which Paradise Lost thinks,
separate almost to the point of absolute incompatibility.
Whether this divergence will be nearly a separation or whether
it will be an actual divorce, I think, is an open
question.Now you can think of Milton assigning faces here
in Book Nine to a lot of these positions that have heretofore
been abstract. Adam represents in this
dialogue the nervous voice of the poem's orthodoxy,
and Eve represents the questioning voice,
the voice that questions and critiques that orthodoxy.
To his credit -- and Milton's not often given credit for this
-- he goes out of his way to lend a certain authority to
Eve's critique, and he does so by structuring
her argument as something like a retrospective of his own career
as a radical polemicist: so Eve takes up the role of the
radical Milton in this, it seems.
She's put in the strange and utterly fascinating position of
quoting the younger Milton, and you have something like a
recap in the speeches of Eve here, in this discussion with
Adam, of the great moments in this
writer's work.Now, the first subject of their
discussion involves the topic that has been absolutely
central, and we know this,
to Milton throughout his career, and this is the subject
of work or labor -- essentially, the value of human activity.
The ostensible premise for the separation of Adam and Eve on
the morning of the Fall is Eve's desire to work separately from
Adam. Eve is arguing that they will
be more productive if they divide their labors.
Think of the ways in which this resonates for us.
Milton has been juxtaposing for years the two accounts of the
value of labor that he had found in the New Testament,
the parable of the workers in the vineyard and the parable of
the talents. As early as Sonnet Seven,
written when Milton was twenty-three or twenty-four,
he was depicting scenarios in which those two parables could
be seen to argue with one another on just this question:
on the value and the importance of labor.
While the parable of the talents seemed to be chiding
Milton for not working hard enough and not working fast
enough, the parable of the workers in
the vineyard seemed to assure him in some way that he
didn't need to work quite so hard,
that God didn't require his incessant and laborious efforts.
It's a measure of just how difficult Milton wants it to be
for us to adjudicate between Adam and Eve in this book that
he casts their argument in just this language,
the language of political economy and work.
It's an argument that involves all of the implications,
I think, of what are for Milton those two highly charged
parables.Now I think it's almost impossible for us to come
to this scene without some assumption that Eve is wrong.
We assume -- and it's understandable -- that because
Eve will, as we know, go on to disobey the
prohibition of the fruit, she must therefore at this
point on some level be wrong or certainly, in some way,
mistaken during this conversation.
But Milton takes some amazingly interesting steps,
I think, to counter what he knows will be our immediate
assumptions. He attempts to counter our
assumptions by allowing Eve to voice that position in a
dialogue that most closely resembles the parable of the
talents. So look at page 383 in the
Hughes. This is Book Nine, line 201.
First of all, it's the narrator here who's
opening the subject of work. This is line 201.
He's discussing the topic of conversation between Adam and
Eve at the beginning of their day: "They cómmune how
that day they best may ply / Their growing work:
for much thir work outgrew / The hands' dispatch of two
Gard'ning so wide."So we learn from the official
perspective of the narrator here that Eve will have children.
This is incredibly consequential information that
she was to have children even before the Fall.
We learn that even before they have children,
this garden demands an extraordinary amount of work
from Adam and Eve and that the garden seems in some way to be
actually spinning out of control.
This is a nightmare landscape from the perspective of a house
owner! I think this passage is
important because it's the narrator here who validates
Eve's initial position in this first speech.So Eve suggests
that when Adam and Eve work together,
their affectionate looks, their absolutely adorable
smiles, distract each other from their labor.
This is line 223 of Book Nine. So all of those intervening
looks and smiles, she argues, "intermits / Our
day's work brought to little, though begun / Early,
and th' hour of Supper comes unearn'd."
Eve has clearly embraced the Protestant work ethic,
and she displays an intuitive grasp of the importance of the
parable of the talents: God only rewards those who
exert themselves or who invest their talent in an activity.
It's impossible not to ascribe to Eve at least some of the
authority that's attached to the parable of the talents
here.Now Adam counters Eve with some version of the parable
of the workers in the vineyard, claiming that there's more to
work than simple productivity. This is line 242.
Adam's talking: "For not to irksome toil,
but to delight / He made us, and delight to Reason join'd."
For Adam, one is still serving God when one takes pleasure in
one's work. The importance lies more in the
willingness to serve and not in the actual amount of work that's
been accomplished or in the amount of stuff that's been
produced. Milton himself was obviously
always wanting to take Adam's side in this debate,
but he seems to have been continually fearful -- at least
this is my assumption -- that Eve was right:
that God requires our continual labor.You can also hear
Milton making a distinction between Eve's zeal for labor and
his own efforts in writing this very poem.
Milton's poem, we remember,
had been "long choosing but beginning late."
Like the workers in the vineyard, Milton doesn't get
around to writing the poem until late in his literary career.
Eve's labor is begun early, and there's even a sense here
that beginning early isn't good enough for Eve;
she seems to be pushing to get up even earlier and to work even
harder. Eve is the modern voice of
workplace efficiency. She supplies the voice of
conscience that chides not only Adam but the voice of conscience
that seems always to be chiding the poet himself.Now surely
Adam is right -- we have to hand it to him -- in arguing that
they are not in a position to earn their supper as if they
were merely wage laborers. That's not how Milton's Eden
works. None of their labor actually
goes into the harvesting or the production of food.
They're fed plenty, but that's because the fruits
simply land in their hands. The work that they perform is
all entirely ornamental -- it's ornamental gardening:
pruning, cutting back, propping up.
It's never productive in any kind of economic sense or
quasi-economic sense. Their gardening is merely a
virtuous activity that is entirely divorced from the
demands of productivity or the demands of nourishment.
So Adam is right; but while Adam is right,
in a certain sense he doesn't address directly the problem
that the narrator himself has already acknowledged,
and that's the problem that the garden [laughs]
seems to be growing at a faster rate than Adam and Eve are able
to manage. This is amazing.
Look at line 205. This is where Eve notes how
excessive [laughs] the growth patterns seem to be
in paradise. So, Eve to Adam:
Adam, well may we labour still to dress
This Garden, still to tend Plant,
Herb, and Flow'r, Our pleasant task enjoin'd;
but, till more hands Aid us, the work under our
labor grows, Luxurious by restraint;
what we by day Lop overgrown,
or prune, or prop, or bind
One night or two with wanton growth derides
Tending to wild. I think Eve here makes an
absolutely central argument. It's not an argument that Adam
counters, and I think it's not an argument that Adam would even
be capable of countering: and that's the idea that the
garden is on some level growing out of control,
that the vegetation is literally here "tending to
wild." It's "tending to wild" because
Adam and Eve are continually cutting it back -- that's their
"pleasant task enjoin'd": "the work under our labor
grows, / Luxurious by
restraint…" So Eve isn't simply describing
natural growth patterns in the garden: she's examining the
effects on nature of the imposition of culture.We're
reminded here of the etymological origin of our
notion of culture, which involves the cultivation
of the land -- it's an agricultural metaphor.
In this respect, Eve can be seen to articulate
something like a theory of culture,
and her theory has everything to do with our understanding of
the Fall not as a theological problem,
but our understanding of the Fall as a cultural problem.
According to Eve, the garden is wilding,
it's growing disobedient; but it's not growing
disobedient out of any natural necessity but because of Adam
and Eve's cultural imposition of restraining.
It's that pruning and propping and lopping and binding.
If left to itself, for all we know -- who knows?
I think this is a perfectly reasonable scenario -- the
garden might actually grow at a reasonable, moderate,
and orderly pace. This new disorderliness in the
garden, this wildness, seems to be the result of the
unnatural, cultural attempt to restrain
that natural order.So think of what this is.
God's command to Adam and Eve to restrain the garden is on
some level the miniature version of his much more consequential
commandment to refrain from eating the fruit from the Tree
of Knowledge. I think that Eve in this speech
presents us with a reading of the significance of the more
important commandment; but of course,
this is a reading that is incredibly subversive,
and that's why we rely so much on Eve when we read this poem.
She is so magnificently the voice of the subversive.
If I'm reading Eve correctly here, the imposition of law
doesn't control disorder: it produces disorder.
There's a sense in which the arbitrary interdiction of the
fruit sets in motion an inexorable process whereby the
interdiction has to be broken.This is obviously a
sense of the Fall that Milton cannot permit within the
official parameters of the poem's dominant doctrine even
though this theory, Eve's subversive theory,
does come actually rather close to a number of Paul's statements
in the Epistle to the Romans -- but officially in the
poem, the Fall is an act of free will.
It's a freely undertaken choice, but according to Eve's
embedded prophesy of the Fall, which is what I take this to
be, there's no such thing really as free will.
The Father's prohibition seems to necessitate in some way their
disobedience in the same way that pruning a tree -- and we
know this to be a fact -- pruning a tree forces or
necessitates new growth. It's almost as if Eve were
suggesting that there was something like an organic,
natural necessity to the Fall.Now I think that's one
way in which Milton looks back at his former interest in work
-- at his former interest in the interaction of those two
parables, and he's bending their
implications and their meanings in an entirely new way here;
but there's another way in which the separation dialogue
looks back at and essentially uses the essential material from
Milton's earlier career. This is Eve's staggeringly
brilliant deployment of the central argument from
Areopagitica, the 1644 anti-licensing
tract. Look at line 320 of Book Nine.
This is page 386 in the Hughes. Now Adam has
claimed that they can best pass the trial of Satan's temptation
if they're together -- a perfectly reasonable position.
If Adam is there to guide Eve and to protect her,
the Fall is less likely to happen;
but to Eve -- and this is Eve's argument -- this sounds as if
Adam were attempting to censor her environment,
as if he were trying to protect her from the potentially
dangerous speech of the tempter. Of course, that is what he's
trying to do, and so she responds to what she
hears to be Adam's paternal solicitude.
This is Eve at line 322: If this be our condition,
thus to dwell In narrow circuit strait'n'd by
a Foe, Subtle or violent, we not endu'd
Single with like defense, wherever met;
How are we happy, still in fear of harm?
This is a devastating question. Eve issues a powerful critique
of what she takes to be Adam's act of censorship.
When she suggests that she is living in an increasingly
"narrow circuit straight'n'd by a Foe,"
it's almost as if she's alluding to Milton's declaration
in Areopagitica; you remember these lines:
"I cannot praise a fugitive in cloistered virtue,
unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees
her adversary." "What is virtue?"
Milton had asked in Areopagitica.
What is it if it's never tested?
What is virtuous resistance if there's nothing there actually
to resist, if the information one is being given is
continually being licensed and censored and controlled?
Eve refuses to accept the idea that Eden might be structured
like an authoritarian state, like the Stuart monarchy.At
line 337 she lets loose. This is a searing criticism of
a paradise in which an individual cannot be relied upon
to choose freely her own actions,
line 337: "Let us not then suspect our happy State / Left
so imperfect by the Maker wise, / As not secure to single or
combin'd." Now the syntax is a little
difficult there. She's saying,
"Let's not imagine that we're unsafe here.
Let's not doubt that the maker created us secure," by which she
means "safe," "whether we're on our own or whether we're
together." Then she continues:
"Frail is our happiness, if this be so,
/ And Eden were no Eden thus expos'd."
Eve here is exposing an ideological contradiction at the
heart of Milton's Eden. At the center of her argument
is a powerful alternative to the official line of Milton's poem.
Eve is pronouncing -- this is the structure of a theological
argument, this is a theodicy: she's justifying the ways of
God to men as she sees them. This is the logic,
I take it, of what she's just said: "If I am not free to
resist temptation alone, then this is not a justifiable
world. If I am not free to resist
temptation alone, God is not a justifiable God.
Eden were no Eden, thus exposed. Therefore," she concludes,
"I must be free to resist temptation alone."
That's her logical conclusion.Now Eve's claim
for the true state of Eden is a lot like Milton's claim some
twenty years earlier in Areopagitica for the true
state of England. There is at base a state of
equality among human individuals, and the individual
himself, singly and not combined,
should be empowered to resist temptation alone.
The poem has gone to great lengths to make the official
case for God's -- how could it not?
this is a version of Genesis -- for God's imposition of an
arbitrary set of hierarchical distinctions and for God's
ability to impose arbitrary law. Milton is supporting that
throughout the poem; but Paradise Lost is
also willing to identify just those arbitrary hierarchies as
something like the source for Eden's imperfection,
and he does that even as he celebrates God's ability to
impose these arbitrary distinctions.
It's this exposure of Eden's structural flaws,
I think, that best helps us understand the internal dynamics
of the temptation scene. When Satan tempts Eve,
he invariably tempts her with some version of all of those
desires and all of those aspirations that Eden's
hierarchical culture has struggled,
and struggled mightily, to suppress.Look at the top
of page 391. This is line 538 of Book Nine.
Our first encounter with Eve involved, you'll remember,
the suppression of her admiration of that beautiful
image that she saw in the pool -- or the suppression of what
came later to be interpreted as something like her narcissism.
Eve was created with what seemed to be a natural,
beautiful, and instinctive admiration for the image that
she found in the pool. That admiration was,
of course, entirely innocent because Eve had no way of
knowing that that was her own image;
but with the onset of that mysterious warning voice,
Eve was turned away from that image of herself,
and her behavior became branded as narcissism thereafter.
It wasn't, of course, true narcissism,
but the imposition of that new restraint upon her seems to have
produced in Eve, or created in her,
something like a true narcissism.
It's this culturally produced -- this is a character flaw that
we can identify as a culturally produced one,
and it's one that Satan is able to exploit with utter ingenuity
at the temptation scene. So this is Satan at line 538 to
Eve: Fairest resemblance of
thy Maker fair,Thee all living things gaze on,
all things thineBy gift, and thy Celestial Beauty
adoreWith ravishment beheld, there best beheldWhere
universally admir'd. So Eve's affection for a
responsive image, for a sympathetic gaze --
that's all she was getting out of the pool -- was denied her at
the pool. This restraint seems to have
produced in her something like a self-love, a self-love that has
grown luxurious by restraint, and Satan knows that.
The tendency to narcissism was only one component of her
character that was exposed in the scene at the poolside.
The pleasure that Eve was deriving from the answering
smiles, those beautiful, sympathetic looks in the pool
-- that pleasure is akin in many ways to the pleasure that a lot
of infants derive from the first moments of their existence.
I'm thinking of the infant's pleasure in its initial
interaction with the mother. This shouldn't be surprising:
one of the things that Milton tries to accomplish in the
narrative of Eve's development is something like a larger
theory of human development in general.But of course,
unlike all the rest of us, Eve doesn't have a mother.
It's the role of the mother both in culture and in nature
that has been systemically excluded,
necessarily but nonetheless systematically excluded,
from Paradise Lost. Whatever experience of a
kind of maternal affection that Eve may have felt in the
answering looks and the sympathetic smiles is summarily
cut off with the warning voice. Just as he did with her
narcissism, Satan tempts Eve with precisely that natural
phenomenon, that natural instinct that's been denied her.
Look at Satan, line 578. He describes his first glance
at the "goodly Tree far distant to behold," and we,
of course, know what that goodly tree is.
The serpent says: I nearer drew to
gaze;When from the boughs a savory odor blown,Grateful
to appetite, more pleas'd my sense
Than smell of sweetest Fennel, or the TeatsOf Ewe or Goat
dropping with Milk at Ev'n,Unsuckt of Lamb or Kid,
that tend thir play. Surely we all agree that this
is a surprising [laughs] and a strange simile here.
In comparing the smell of the forbidden fruit to mother's
milk, Satan is offering Eve an embedded image of the mother,
and by placing the scene in the evening or what he calls "Ev'n,"
Satan is able to insert Eve's actual name into the expression
of a natural desire to suckle at the mother's breast.But
what's at stake here isn't simply Eve's longing for the
mother that she never had. The situation is a lot more
radical than that because at the scene at the pool,
in so many ways, Eve was actually mothering
herself. At least on an experiential
level, Eve seemed to have been -- this is the way she must have
felt it subjectively: she was the source of her own
creation much as Satan claimed that he had raised himself by
his own quickening power. Eve had represented the
possibility for the poem of something like an absolute
self-possession and an absolute self-containment.
You'll remember that Adam had informed Raphael in Book Eight
(this was at line 547 of Book Eight) that he had been struck
by this incredible air of self-contained-ness that Eve
had. He tells Raphael,
"[W]hen I approach / Her loveliness, so absolute she
seems / And in herself complete,"
and Raphael, of course, hastened to warn
Adam against the attraction to female self-sufficiency.
There's a sense in which Eve is absolutely independent.
She's mother and daughter united in one self-determining
being, and it is just this maternal self-sufficiency that
the law of the garden has denied Eve -- and so like clockwork it
returns here in Satan's temptation.
The third element of Satan's temptation involves the taboo
that was established by Raphael -- this is the taboo of
speculation. Raphael had told Adam,
"Don't concern yourself and don't worry so much about
speculating about the cosmos because the structure of the
cosmos simply doesn't concern you."
"Be lowly wise," Raphael told Adam, and "know to know no
more." How on earth could Milton,
the author of Areopagitica, put those words in the
mouth of the archangel? It's too troubling even to
speculate about. But look down at line 602 of
Book Nine. (This is page 392.) The serpent
argues that one of the effects of the fruit was the awakening
(and of course, he's lying) in him of the power
of reason, wakening in him his capacity for speculation.
Thenceforth to Speculations high or deepI
turn'd my thoughts, and with capacious
mindConsider'd all things visible in Heav'n,
Or Earth, or Middle, all things fair and
good... No form of speculation has been
licensed or censored for the serpent, according to Satan.
He gets to think whatever he wants.
This is exactly the vision of the liberal, Miltonic universe
represented so majestically and so compellingly in
Areopagitica. Again the temptation to
speculate is intimately linked with this cultural law against
speculation and the restraint of speculation.Finally and most
importantly, Eve is tempted with just that
aspect of her status that this poem has most vigorously denied
her and that's the possibility -- and I take this very
seriously -- that she's actually,
at least on a natural and ontological level,
Adam's equal. The possibility of the
fundamental or natural egalitarianism of Eden,
rather, is one of the principal objects
of cultural suppression in Raphael's long discourse with
Adam. Raphael's denial of their
equality really fills the pages of Book Eight,
and so naturally the desire for equality surfaces one of the
principal motives for Eve's transgression.
By eating the fruit, Eve perhaps -- this is
unspeakably heartbreaking -- can produce in herself an equality
with Adam. That's the fantasy,
and the speaking serpent provides the best evidence
imaginable of the alleged ability of the fruit to function
as a kind of chemical equalizer. It's like a testosterone-laced
cocktail that offers the false hope of equality.
Look at line 687, Satan to Eve: [L]ook on mee,Mee who
have touch'd and tasted, yet both live,And life more
perfet have attain'd than FateMeant mee,
by vent'ring higher then my Lot.
In other words, "Eat this fruit and you will
become greater than you have, up to this point,
been allowed to be. Eat this fruit and you will
become greater than your lot in life permits."
Now this has to be one of the most powerful inducements.
As a political philosopher, Milton knows better than anyone
the power of the desire for equality.It's just this
promise of equality that is most important to Eve after she has
eaten the fruit. This is after the Fall.
This is line 816 of Book Nine. This is the middle of page 397.
Eve is musing to herself: But to Adam in what
sortShall I appear? shall I to him make knownAs
yet my change, and give him to partakeFull
happiness with mee, or rather not.
But keep the odds of Knowledge in my powerWithout
Copartner? so to add what wantsIn
Female Sex, the more to draw his Love [and I love this],
And render me more equal, and perhaps,A thing not
for inferior who is free? There is an unspeakable pathos
charging these lines because it becomes clear that one of the
primary reasons that Eve has fallen in the first place
involves a structural problem inherent in the Miltonic
paradise: and that's the official insistence on a social
hierarchy. Of course, the poem is
continually arguing that social inferiority does not impinge
upon human freedom. Just because Eve is inferior to
Adam doesn't mean that she isn't free.
That's the official line, but Milton knows perfectly well
that the radical type of freedom for which he had argued in his
early career as a polemicist had been founded upon an assumption
of equality. In Areopagitica Milton
had implied that we're all free to read whatever we want because
we are all equally endowed with reason.
That's at least implicitly his argument, yet Paradise Lost
had instituted at the heart of its body politic a distinctly
hierarchical society. There may be a natural instinct
for equality. There's a natural instinct for
equality that we feel both with Adam and with Eve,
but the official culture of Eden has labored to suppress
that instinct; and at the moment of the
temptation, the tremendous cost of that suppression is
measured.Now, from the doctrinal point of
view, Eve is clearly wrong here to question her divinely
sanctioned place in the order of things.
We have to see her as wrong, but there is a voice that
counters the poem's doctrine, and it argues that the
imposition of such an arbitrary law of hierarchy can only
produce a corresponding desire to subvert that hierarchy.
You'll note here the further point that the denial of
equality doesn't merely precipitate a desire for
equality. I think it pushes us even
further to a desire -- it's really wild.
The denial of equality actually pushes us even further to a
desire for superiority. Eve entertains the lovely
thought of being -- and isn't this a wonderful phrase!
-- "sometime / Superior," as if Adam and Eve could assume
different positions on the hierarchical ladder at will --
as if Adam and Eve could "either rung assume" or both,
just as Milton's angels can "either sex assume."
The suppression of equality even pushes Eve to that
perfectly illogical but completely understandable
formulation: she'd like to be "more equal,"
as if equality could be quantified in some way;
as if equality weren't a relational phenomenon,
a structural phenomenon, but one that could be assumed
entirely by oneself and one that could be hoarded and kept within
the self in quantity.Now, according to the official
doctrine of the poem, the moment of Eve's eating of
the fruit is the origin of the original human condition of
fallen-ness. Man lived until this time in a
state of paradisal perfection, and it's out of an absolutely
free will that man chooses to disobey the divine command.
But the narrative that Milton employs to illustrate this
official doctrine seems continually to be questioning
just that assumption. Milton's poetry seems to
counter this belief in Edenic perfection and counter this
belief, even, in Edenic freedom before the
Fall. There's a sense in Paradise
Lost that Adam and Eve -- and I know this is heretical --
were never completely free in Eden.
They were always burdened by a set of cultural constraints of
which the prohibition of the fruit was simply the most
outrageous, but certainly not the only,
one.Look at page 402. This is another important
moment after the Fall, line 1051.
This is the moment in which Adam and Eve wake up after their
first act of sexual intercourse after the Fall.
This is their first attempt at fallen sleep which,
of course, doesn't turn out to be that pleasant.
So: [U]p they roseAs from unrest, and each the other
viewing,Soon found thir Eyes how op'nd, and thir mindsHow
dark'n'd; innocence, that as a
veilHad shadow'd them from knowing ill, was gone,Just
confidence, and native
righteousness,And honor from about them, naked leftTo
guilty shame... So this is Milton's version of
the Genesis text. This is what Genesis tells us:
"he eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were
naked..." They've awakened to a new form
of consciousness, but Milton wants us to know
that this new form of knowledge, this new self-consciousness,
isn't an enlightenment: it's a darkening.
"hir minds / How dark'n'd," Milton explains.But it's so
much more complicated than that. No sooner has Milton depicted
the Fall as a darkening than he does something incredibly
strange. He describes the Fall from
innocence as if the Fall were in itself something like an
that as a veil / Had shadow'd them from knowing ill,
was gone…" There's an incredibly
complicated but wonderfully contradictory interplay of
lightening and darkening, and the imagery here begins to
deconstruct itself. On the one hand,
the Fall darkens their minds, and on the other hand,
they're enlightened as the shadowy veil is lifted.It's
at this moment that the poem seems to expose the fictional
status of its representation of something like a perfect,
unfallen innocence. Surely we expected Milton to
say something completely different.
Surely we expected Milton to say that innocence was the
natural, naked Adam and Eve, and that this innocent
nakedness is now being covered with a veil, a veil of guilt or
a veil of shame -- but Milton's doing,
of course, exactly the opposite. What does he say?
Innocence was itself the veil. The very idea of their perfect,
unfallen state was the veil; the very notion that Adam and
Eve ever lived in a free paradise was a veil.
It was a fiction, it was a false covering -- a
veil thrown over the Edenic society that was always and
already a product of fallen cultural constraints.Now,
I don't need to remind you of this because I know this is what
you're thinking. We have, of course,
run into the image of the veil before in Paradise Lost.
An image of the veil appeared in the description in
the length of Eve's hair, and remember that was a fact of
culture that was being mistaken by the narrator as a fact of
nature. In Book Four,
line 304, the narrator -- and you don't need to move there
because you remember these lines -- the narrator tells us that
Eve: [A]s a veil down to the
slender waistHer unadorned golden tresses wore
Disshevell'd, but in wanton ringlets wav'd
As the Vine curles her tendrils, which impli'd
Subjection... Our first understanding of
Eve's subjection to Adam was derived from the length of Eve's
hair, which she wore as a veil. A veil, of course,
is only worn to hide something. It's a covering of a source of
shame that in this case may have seemed to be Eve's nakedness,
but that equation of Eve's hair with a veil took place -- think
of it. It took place before the Fall,
before nakedness was shameful. The poem seemed to raise the
possibility that there was actually never a moment at which
Adam and Eve were entirely free from the kinds of constraints
and the kinds of prohibitions that we associate with fallen
culture, with culture after the breaking
of the prohibition.It's, of course, no accident that the
image of the veil occurs in Book Nine in the context of our
introduction to Edenic hierarchy and to the fact of Eve's
subordinate status, because the Fall itself seems
in so many ways, I think, to be one of the
cultural consequences of this fact of sexual subordination.
Milton's strange image of the veil of innocence in Book Nine
-- what is this? This is a paradox,
a rhetorical paradox, and this paradox announces what
is essentially the paradoxical construction of Eden,
of Milton's Eden. On the official,
on the doctrinal, level of the poem,
the falling of this veil of innocence exposes Adam's and
Eve's nakedness. It's a sign of their new fallen
consciousness of their shame. That's how we're supposed to be
reading, presumably, this image;
but this paradoxical image also works on that other level,
on the much more subversive level of the poem.
It exposes a structural flaw at the heart of Milton's paradise.
Milton lets the doctrinal veil fall from the poem,
and he exposes his own alliance here -- and I really believe
this -- with Eve's critique of Eden's arbitrary hierarchy.
It's as if Milton had torn the veil of dogma from his poem and
he's begun to realize what Eve has known all along:
"Eden were no Eden thus expos'd."Okay.