Monday, July 14, 2008

Stanley Fish On the Beauty and Relevance of Milton's "Paradise Lost"

I found this commentary by Stanley Fish on the depth and virtues of Milton's Paradise Lost interesting.

Paradise Lost raises all the big questions, as noted by Fish:

How did the world begin?

Why were men and women created in the first place?

How did evil come into the world?

What were the causes of Adam’s and Eve’s Fall?

If they could fall, were they not already fallen and isn’t God the cause?

If God is the cause, and we are the heirs of the original sin, are we not absolved of the responsibility for the sins we commit?

Can there be free will in a world presided over by an omniscient creator?

Is the moral deck stacked?

Is Satan a hero? A rebel? An apostate? An instrument of a Machiavellian and manipulative deity?

Are women weaker and more vulnerable than men?

Is Adam right to prefer Eve to God? What would you have done in his place?

Fish writes: "Wherever you step in the poetry, you will meet with something that asks you to take a stand, and when you do (you can’t help it) you will be enmeshed in the issues that are being dramatized."

And how good is Milton's poetry? Fish again: "Nigel Smith of Princeton, whose published work is more historical than literary, set the tone when he told me, “It’s the beauty of the thing; the poetry is just gorgeous; it makes me want to cry.” John Leonard of the University of Western Ontario seconded him: “It’s the way he works with words; what keeps me coming back is the sheer sound of the poetry, ‘simple, sensuous, and passionate.’”"