Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Rest of the Paradise Lost NotesOld notes--hell, nobody's looking, why not call them pensees?--from May of 1995, when I had an energy for and touching faith in the deep and life-enhancing importance of such efforts. They make for pretty but illusory reading now, typical of all doomed youth.

--Trouble has its origins in the imagination--

--'Pleasant' in Milton normally indicates (something) bad--

--Each of these truths ("pleasing light", "nature's desire", "all things joy, with ravishment") craftily diverts the mind from the holy, whence springs the font of trouble--

--Why can the innocent not recognize evil?--

--It seems and yet not seems man's place. However God's wishes are much clearer to them than to a modern; yet Satan can overpower them. What chance do we have?--

--I am jealous of Satan's sensuality--

--She is highly confused about her passions, which makes a girl impious--

--It is bizarre that man, who can conceive of music, harmony and order, is the only being capable of destroying them--

--Our hero is being so overwhelmed by immortals how can he have confidence in his free will?

--True goodness and happiness could never be exhausted--

--This is quite a preparation: indicative in so many lines of the work required to lead the good life--

--I find this ('Eve undecked') rather titillating, and I sense the author does too--

--Eve will beget something more numerous than God has done? ('shall fill the world more numerous with thy sons/Than with the various fruits the trees of God/Have heaped this table')--

--Eve is too pleasing and her nudity too sensual for an 'innocent' holy portrait--

--They are pressured from the thoughts I and John (Milton) must have--

--This sums up much of Western Civilization in three lines ('though what if earth/Be but the shadow of heav'n, and things therein/Each to each other like, more than on earth is thought?')--

--Is not every day a holy day in heaven?--

--Idea of music connected to the stars; I marvel that no one brings this to our attention any more (I assume I meant that it was not a commonplace way of thinking about the matter; obviously the connection still pops up often enough if one is paying attention)--

--Satan is unable to adapt to change, as immortals would be--

--Jesus and Satan seem like brothers in Milton--

--Omnipotence is hard to describe but (it is here) done subtly and continually ('Innmerable as the satrs of night/Or stars of morning, dewdrops, which the sun/Impearls on every leaf and every flower")--

--The jealous has to imitate the genuine--

--There is a need to preserve free will, if one has it; clearly this is where grace is os important, in the direction and capacity for any contentment in the will--

--There is a question of whether the angels need Christ if He was not there before--

--This, without divine authority, is probably true ('Flatly unjust, to bind with laws the free/And equal over equals to let reign')--

--Why is God not as real to us as to these men?! (I actually did write this--at age 25!--but I might have done so in the spirit of 'how could these geniuses'--and literary genius is a genuine, and perhaps especially rare, genius--'of the past have felt the powers of these stories so intensely?')--

--The pious always do sound like wimps in Christian books--

--Satan does not see Jesus, obviously, as a guy he needs to respect--

--Dogmatic bullying; it makes sense to us but a 17th century man would immediately see the fallacies and shallowness of the argument (re Satan's repudiation of the angel Abdiel's assertion of the familiar creation story, i.e., that God made everything)--

--Satan is Godlike in his knowledge and he does control the Third part of the angels--

--He shall be humble and let God handle this--

--Faithfulness is a quality that is 'found' or 'discovered'--

What really could ever have been done with me? It is becoming increasingly popular to suggest that people like me who are evidently not cut out for serious academic work should be trained, or re-trained, in the honest trades, as mechanics, electricians, plumbers, and the like, the perception being at present that there is a great shortage of these skills (though like everything else this perception is also the result of a decline in the rigor of such training for these professions as still exists compared to fifty years ago; but this is a whole other argument). I can't see myself having ever become the kind of plumber these advocates seem to be looking for either. The talents and potential of vast swathes of male humanity is either in a state of serious decline, or the standards of adequacy have now been raised to a point that is impossible for at least 50% of men to reach even giving the best that is in them to the effort. Neither of these possibilities seems exactly accurate to me, though the disappointment and disgust the able increasingly express with regard to the unable seems genuinely heartfelt and real, almost even to a boiling point. The issue I think is really one of work ethic. If the failing people were perceived to be working extremely hard and expending nearly all their reserves of energy in the service of their employers/teachers/commanders/societal leaders or in self-improvement with an eye towards pleasing the same I suspect their shortcomings of capacity would be more easily forgiven. But they are not perceived as doing this, and in reality most are not doing this.

At several points in my notes I compared Milton's vision of heaven with that of Dante's Paradiso, which I had evidently also read recently at that time, these being the early days of my reading list when I was clearing most of the super-classics out of the way. I felt that Milton had made a mistake by having God adopt any persona, and that here was where the Florentine most clearly mastered him. Of course I was imagining this mastery, because my reading of Dante was in a prose English translation, albeit one that at least had the original, or those accepted as the authentic, lines on the opposite page and encouraged a strong application of the imagination. But he is rapidly becoming another great lost poet (and a really great one at that), because people like me, who could have actually understood religion and art and poetry and love and beauty and evil and sin, are no longer being developed so as to read him properly.

Of course I am kidding. I know that people like me were never vital, nor anything but a hindrance, to cultural life or its progress. I am exercising my fantastical faculties here, for purposes of my own pleasure. And I know that there are thousands of people alive who appreciate and have absorbed the significance of the genius of Dante in a perfectly adequate degree, and live in consequence that much more beautifully and intelligently than I am able to do. I live to pretend to be a person of this kind of class, which is quite sick really. I should not indulge this urge, though I am getting better at it, I think, as I grow older. Obviously the discussion of Milton and Dante together was too much, and aroused the nostalgia of my former pretensions. I put them away now.

No comments: