18 October 2006

Standing on my head

I've been reading Milton for my Early British Literature class lately. Paradise Lost, to be more specific. It's a bit frustrating to read, let me tell you. It's turned ideas on their head for me.

For those of you who don't regularly read old English literature, the premise (of the first part of Paradise Lost, anyway), is describing the fall of Satan from Satan's perspective. It's interesting. CS Lewis does it in a way in Screwtape Letters, which I love, so the idea isn't new to me. What was frustrating was the way Satan is described as a fallen hero. This semester I have read an *insane* amount of old texts and they've all started to blend together because Satan is described in virtually the same terms as many other fallen heroes in Greek lit and Roman lit and even American lit. He is described as a man (well, man-ish), who was suppressed by an angry monarch for using his words against the power of that monarch.

Isn't that pretty much what America did to gain independence? Comparing Satan to a fallen hero bothers me because, from a literary standpoint, he is. Something in my psyche really wants to argue against that, but I can't do it.

In reference to this, we talked in class about the quality different actions or feelings. Milton believed quite firmly that in order to know good, you must know evil. Mormons understand this. Most of the people in Milton's time didn't quite get it. (Heck, lots of people now don't get it as evidenced by all the "Adam and Eve are evil" backlash). The way Milton saw it, a quality has a good side, and a bad side. The bad side isn't the opposite of the good side, necessarily. For instance, the quality of generosity. The bad quality of generosity isn't selfishness, it's giving so much that you have no time for yourself. It's giving so much that you spend more than you make. It's giving for the recognition. You're still giving in all of these, but for bad reasons. Milton believed that the most dangerous form of evil wasn't exactly pure evil or even just the absence of good: it is the perverse version of an otherwise virtuous quality. The thing that seduces someone the most is being faced with the dark side of something virtuous. Look at the religious zealots, for example, who see the dark side of faith. Or what about the good side of lust? Aren't we supposed to be physically attracted to the people we marry? I know I want to be. I don't think I could spend the rest of my life (not to mention eternity) with someone I didn't find attractive.

This professor is always going on about how she wants us to be scholars and not just students and today I feel like a scholar. This is definitely something to think about.

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