Applying a Deconstructive critical approach to Milton, and ascribing to Paradise Lost a certain opacity, takes from Milton what is almost invariably attributed to him- the textual rectitude of a "true Englishman," whose earnest directness and moral-ethical fortitude behind earnest textuality does not preclude complexity and nuance. Involving Milton in a French sensibility, its perversity around issues of formal-thematic side-winding and general destabilization, is in many ways a more interesting theoretical approach to an artist too long left parochial now that the twenty-first century is underway. The Aughts did not, to my knowledge, include a convincing apostrophe of Milton from the avant-garde elite; a perceived parochialism, both in Milton and in his entrenched critics, may have been the reason. The Aughts, in a general sense, were Edenic for many of us; we had leave to cherish our Satanic voices (Silliman, Bernstein, and the rest) as foils, forcing us to sharpen our rhetorical wedges and employ them in the most dramatic possible contexts to highlight our own aesthetic rectitude within innovation, its perpetual upheavals, and the meta-narratives of the time we developed, in the comprehensive manner of Raphael and Michael.
The level flatness of the Teens is richer terrain from which to begin a new approach to Milton. What we had of Paradise has been lost- the avant-garde has no real momentum left to progress in any coherent direction, many of its leading Aughts lights are missing in action, and to light a textual candle in the direction of possible momentum now is to be left stranded and derelict. To Frenchify Milton- to point out seams which show in Milton's staunch textual rectitude- is an act loomed over by a zeitgeist which takes for granted that a drastic recession will force seams to show, both in present moments and in interactions with the English-language canon, willly-nilly. Our Satanic mentors (again, Bernstein, Silliman, etc) scoffed as they plummeted from the Heaven of historical awareness and consonance, and not only subjected canonicity to radical interrogations but adopted rhetorical positions against the canon and canonicity in (as is the case with Milton's Satan) face disfiguring fashion. We listened; and one reason I, personally, did not believe is that (as I intuited) the canon is the only rock to fall back on when a zeitgeist party ends. I would challenge the notion that any serious student of literature could fall back on a Bernstein or a Silliman text in 2014; and the Stygian Council of Language and New York School poets will only live forever beneath the proverbial earth. The Frenchification of Milton is more than a mere pasttime- it takes the aggregate of our Aughts theoretical influences and places them within the rich textual history of seduction, salvation, and damnation. By forcing friction, against a zeitgeist stalemated between venues and impulses, it may take us into a realm (again) of ferment-within-destabilization, so that we might again fight the Heavenly battles which were, and remain, our due in the avant-garde.
On repeated readings of Paradise Lost, an edge emerges, one of internal contradiction- by including apostrophes to classical antiquity, and its pagan Gods and heroes, Milton creates a space for himself in his own text less comfortable and more contradictory than is usually supposed by readers and scholars. This space, its darkling hint of distance and alienation, renders suspect aspects of the text, such as Milton's misogyny, more open to interpretation and less "owned" on a first-person narrative level as Milton's own. Milton's misogyny, in fact, may not be what it appears to be at all- merely a faithful representation of something imparted to him, rather than a closely guarded thematic shibboleth of a more ideal state of human affairs (Eden, the Edenic). How Milton is willing to posit himself- both as an aggregate of textual traditions and representative of an occupied middle space or ground- takes the Biblical myth of Eden and Man's fall and regularly, at intervals, destabilizes it, placed among other myths, other histories, other modes of narrative, textual, and, within textual, formal-thematic awareness. Once we view Paradise Lost as a destabilizing agent, we are prepared to acknowledge that the parallelism between Milton, behind his text, and Milton's Satan within his text, is very acute, and both Milton and Milton's Satan employ direct and indirect rhetoric to destabilize conventions and the enactment and non-enactment of "obedience," in both general and specific senses.
The profanity of pagan Gods, both their exploits and the manner in which they are worshiped- Milton's quest for an aesthetic ideal, "ideal textuality," necessitates that he include apostrophes in their direction. The implicit suggestion is that Milton's aesthetic quest is, and must be, commensurate with his quest both to represent, and embody within the confines of textual creation, spiritual purity. Paradise Lost is thus aligned with both an art-aesthetic history and a strictly spiritual, or spiritualized, one- and Milton prefigures Keats by the exercise of Negative Capability within this duality. Milton knows, of course, that his eventual audience will be more artists than spiritualists, and that he will receive his verified ranking as an artist, rather than as a sage- so that the dissolution of his constitutive subjectivity into unresolved binaries, hewn together by dedicated force and aesthetic intent, delivers him into a textual consummation whose opacity is, and must be, irretrievable, against the hermeneutic impulse to valorize Milton as a purity-signifier, which he is not. The sense of bifurcated intentionality is very prevalent in Paradise Lost- as is the irony that one literal, concrete "paradise lost" by the author is the paradise of fulfilling singular intentions in a singular (as in not multiple) fashion.
There exists for me an amusing connection and chiasmus between Milton’s Satan, Stygian Council and the remainder of his infernal crew and the malignant forces in twentieth century America which have propelled us off a precipice into this drastic recession. What light Lucifer carries with him into Chaos and beneath renders him, perhaps, still one third angel; thus, the efficacy of his rhetoric and its subtle variations, stratagem, and twists. What Satans twentieth century America produced were bimbos in comparison, sans “angelic third,” also producing rhetoric and strategies but in so crass, reductive, and barbaric a fashion that we in the twenty-first century could laugh, if not forced to bear the weight of the collective forgeries and mutilations. Since we have not lost Paradise but the simulacrum of Paradise, our task is to begin the construction of an Edenic space for ourselves (as artists, as dialecticians) from the ruins of a now-revealed, quite totalized charnel ground; whatever Angelic Third now remains in America’s inhabitants needs to find a manner and means of developing, extending, and exercising itself; a tall order, and the work of several decades, at least.
That both Milton’s Heaven and his Hell are overrun with bureaucrats and red-tape protocols is also a source of wry amusement to me. As is not often pointed out, God develops his own strategies in the tasks he delegates in different directions; and his omniscience must be balanced by the imperative to exist in the same time/space coordinates that everyone else does. This impossible existence-within-omniscience makes of Milton’s God as beleaguered a presence, in some ways, as his Satan. Milton’s God is a suffering God, an immaculate artist forced into reckoning the free will and imperfections of his creations. Undercurrents in Paradise Lost suggest that God is cognizant almost upon his creation that Man must fall, and thus Satan partially triumph over him; and God, with the help of his son, scrambles to make plans accordingly. Procedures with bureaucracy and red tape shield him from the direct, painful glare of his own failure as creator, ruler, and sustainer.
One wonders: what culmination would attend the spectacle of Adam refusing to taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge once Eve eats, and falls? Would God “take Eve out,” and replace her with a new Eve? Would he create a palimpsest over Woman generally? Perhaps, Eve remaining, God would be forced to configure a plan of action around half-fallen Man; a race then granted partial access to Eden, requiring the half-intervention of God’s Son, and mired in the half-life of the half-disobedient. A story with this resolution (the Choose Your Own Adventure of Milton, as it were) would make for an interesting half-epic; less sturm und drang, less pathos, more banality and even a hinge to the drollery and insouciance of Swift and Swiftean satire.