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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

03/02/10

I have a rather unsettling matter to attend to.

In my junior year of college, I laid out an argument against Satan as the hero of Milton's epic poem. I did so by examining both of the most recent Humanist Manifestos and seeing whether Satan measured up. He didn't, of course, and I was able to pass him off as the effete dictator that I then believed him to be.

Well, I'm not of this persuasion any longer. Milton, no doubt, intended Satan as the villain. After all, he is the foul deceiver of the Genesis narrative, and this is Milton's stage. But he got away from Milton. Satan became something more than a villain, he became emblematic of the human condition. It's exceedingly hard to resist his charms the more you read the poem. In the face of total devastation, he continues to lambaste Hell's acrid landscape with his cries of revolt. His delusions are as magnificent as those envisioned by Cervantes.

As I see it, and I'm making a considerable claim here, all literary criticism proceeds from a psycho-analytic standpoint. This may be our "cross to bear" in a post-Freudian age, but I think it's an intrinsic quality of the discipline. We engage with great works to engage with great minds, to touch genius as Nabokov once stated. Our analysis of a given text hinges on our perceptions of an author's given motives however opaque they may be. In the case of Shakespeare, we've come to an overwhelming black hole where only speculation is possible. Milton, on the other hand, left a slew of conflicts behind for us to absorb. But his epic is filled with Satan's voluminous personality which is impossible to discard. God, however, is his greatest failure in the poem, and is a lifeless piece of truncated doctrine. As a Christian myself, these are difficult facts to acknowledge, but I find it intolerable to lie to myself on the subject of Milton's literary hedonism.

So, there you have it, I think Satan emerges as the hero of Paradise Lost because of Milton's own short-comings.

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