On Milton's Paradise Lost
Milton invokes the Muse at the start of his journey to inspire him to justify the ways of God to men. Paradise Lost, therefore, has something to tell us about the will of God on behalf of Milton. The primary focal point of the story is Satan’s attempt to reach higher than God and as consequence relaying the tale of his Fall from Heaven and inspiration to curse all mankind. The God of Paradise Lost embodies a kingly prowess as is often seen in the Old Testament and is reasonable given Milton’s life in 1677 during the rule of Charles II in England. After transgressing against his will, Milton’s God, despite loving his inspired creation of Man and Women, casts them out into the barren world beyond Paradise Eden.
What is interesting to us as a reader is the reiteration of the Bible story in polemic by Milton. This fulcrum extends the force of Paradise Lost immensely, as it is our understanding of the story, evil and tempting nature of Satan that empowers Milton to cast a character that fools even the astute reader onto the side of Satan. What is meant by this is, Satan is given philosophical motives to challenge and question the ultimate reality of God and therefore falls from heaven – which in turn too catches the reader in his reading of Paradise Lost.
In providing Satan a philosophical stance, Milton births a political agenda from his character to rule /beyond/ God which in a way is what the reader does by even starting to read Paradise Lost (to seek beyond the Word is a demonstration that the reader may have already sided with Satan). This is what Blake may have intended in saying Milton was really, “the Devil’s Man”.
Said differently, the psychological similarity of Milton’s masterful Satan to the reader is akin to being given a basket with a glowing orb within and told, “this the fundamental reality of all, the origin complete”. While some would accept this basket and have their questioning extinguished, by the Fall Milton argues, Adam & Eve’s rational facilities have been impaired, causing the individual to fundamentally doubt and continue to question. That is, such humans wonder, like Satan, what is beyond the glowing orb.
Milton’s effort is perhaps encapsulating how the ultimate figurehead of God in his Paradise Lost represents, what is believed to be, a necessary stopping point to the incessant questions of the mind – an all too important topic in Watts’ Age of Anxiety. This leads to three primary reflections along the way: the question of fundamental impairment of rational faculties, the fatherly ordinance of God in the story, and the question of the ultimate reality of Milton’s God.
Through tasting Good & Evil the father and mother of mankind, Milton argues, embeds a flaw in human facilities of rationality. That is the human mind is inherently “ill”, what is sometimes felt as malady of existence and further reinforced as the worthlessness of the individual as sinner, in its inability to accept an ultimate truth as a stopping point.
/We are lost and will never find our way because we are sick./ This is perhaps one of the more eerie components of Milton’s Paradise Lost and prompts the same spine crawling sensation one gets when reading Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. The mind as “ill” is the first view into the recounting of this Biblical passage of the Fall as a psychological conflict that demonstrates one’s fundamental role in that passage.
The principle we must learn from this intrinsic “sickness” of the mind is that virtue proclaimed throughout the Christian methos. That is, “One must humble themselves to the almighty”, meaning, that the inherit limitations of the mind give no course of action but to surrender to an idea that one does not understand. To draw a modern analog, Milton is telling us that the patient loosing touch with reality must yield to the doctor outside his/her own own reality. Trusting that through the doctor, and their authority, the patient will be cured of their pain and suffering – but only through submission. Put in a more naturalistic philosophy through Lao Tzu: “/Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know”/. That is the mind is physically and metaphysically incapable of transcending its limitation and accessing the totality: therefore it must surrender to /something/ at /some point/ in order to find peace (heaven).
This surrendering and humility is found by Adam & Eve in their renouncement of themselves as small and insignificant transgressors before the Paradise they have lost. The psychological metaphor is more poignant now when Adam describes how even in their puniness to the totality they may still take the responsibility to bear the burden of Good & Evil. Here again it seems Milton is leading with a bread crumb trail for the reader to consider what her or she can take back from this tale. The kingly personification of Milton’s God and his anger towards the Fall, despite his infatuation and love of his creation, is an adjacent, yet, altogether different question. The King archetype itself is the “ruler” of a dominion or land, his “kingdom”. As the King he is tasked with keeping order. Satan’s personality flaw is his inability to see, through common sense, why one should not question a King. Obviously, this questioning of authoritative figure inevitably leads to casting out and exile from the land of his ruling, but we should try to dig deeper into this Kingly persona and ask why that is?
Primarily, a King does not want to have his decisions questioned so as not to upset his rule or relinquish power to another. However, this is where we begin trodding on rougher ground. Despite aristocrats of Milton’s time likely being absorbed and inherently flawed, one is given the “Ultimate King”, in Milton’s God. The issue is not in questioning Milton’s character’s authority and kingship as we have already established that we need to accept a stopping point of authority on reality in order to reason. Rather our question lies in why an ultimate ideology of pure, loving, blissful King, would be so punishing. As individuals in Milton’s time, there must have been acceptance of the need for an aristocrat despite his flaws, but, a promise for a day wherein the Ultimate King would provide the same virtues /without/ the flaws. However, this is not found in Milton’s God. Instead the reader finds a grander and more menacing figure. Regardless of the obvious parallels to Milton’s time – the chief question of curiosity is why is Milton’s God so upset with the Fall?
Given Milton’s God’s omniscient purview of all things and ultimate truth, surely it is a question (and it is important to realize that we are asking now as “the Devil’s Man” ourselves from the perspective of “impaired rationality” – which is Milton’s parry to this question’s thrust), why the Fall was such a transgression besides “because Adam was warned not to”. For such an answer immediately fills readers with skepticism of an anxious parent without an answer or the desire to relay all things at this time. What the question really entails is: is the role of divine authority to provide a bounding box to the chaos without? Therefore, like a father to a child: “because I said so” is enough until the child grows older to understand. Herein, we get a direct view into the parent-child dichotomy of Milton’s God and the role of culture as the divine outline of modern civilization. That is: the parental ordering figure (Milton’s God) takes form in what we call “culture” or “civilization” that creates order and prevents humans from dissociating into unquenchable violence (chaos).
However, our question of Milton’s God’s role in the story implicitly assumes that there is something beyond him, be it chaos, or what have you. We assume there is something beyond Good & Evil, and that the anxious answer from Milton’s character is hiding it. However, this is Milton’s principle argument of how the Fall has impaired the rational facilities. The reader would not question the divine rule if he had not fallen into Good & Evil himself. This too is the similar cultural conflict of the revolutionary perspective that looks beyond the “status quo” into an ideology of their making. To disagree with the parental ordering figure (Culture, Milton’s God), entails the Fall and the loss of order’s calming Paradise. To see the world anew is to never again see it with the same eyes.
We are left then to question the validity of Milton’s God as ultimate reality. This is an important question but cannot be answered because man’s mind is “sick”, according to Milton. One asks why give free will, why plant the forbidden tree, why sow the seed of woe and vice if the parental figure is all that may be. Surely, the ultimate reality could project outward and into the future consequence of this action especially to an audience of subjects it claims to love so much. But herein we find a disturbing question about the nature of Evil itself. The parental metaphor to draw here is, to paraphrase Jung, Paradise as the infantile consciousness and the Fall as the development into individual, awareness of consciousness and capacity for choice. A parent with a baby loves their baby for its innocence and incorruptibility, but grows to resent it as the world around pollutes its perfection. This metaphor breaks down at the outskirts of metaphysical contemplation, because while we can understand the inherent flaws in humans and realism of a child developing in ways unpredicted, we ideologically are unable to compute that an infallible reality purporting to expound pure Good purposely plans Evil along side it. This is perhaps the greatest obstacle for all the Christian methos and Milton.
The question of the contradictory placement of Evil from a figure that claims Good, leads to a terrifying ponderance of Milton’s God as both Good & Evil. At this point the level of contradiction to handle becomes overwhelming and so we must reach into our toolbox of mythology to re-anchor ourselves. In doing so we discover the underbelly of a, perhaps unintended, psychological metaphor emerging from Milton’s tale. Milton’s God, when viewed from the lens of mythology and the individual psyche, is a deification of the individual as King, as a God, and most importantly as the divine balancer of Good & Evil in the world around them. Credit must be provided to Dr. Peterson in this regard as originator from his book Maps of Meaning of the notion that/reality is the ultimate/ /plain for action;/ meaning: the mythological landscape is the setting for an individual’s reality under which he/she must bear the weight of decision between Good & Evil.
Interestingly, this collapse in Milton’s Paradise Lost from the furthest edges of metaphysics into the internal psychological abstraction of self and totality, reflects the phenomena of the collapsing of a wave function from a superposition in quantum mechanics. While it may feel one is walking in a Penrose triangle this is perhaps the Christian Biblical stories, and mythology’s greatest gift. That is: it represents the perspective of totality cast in the light of one’s internal psychological conflicts.
In closing, Milton’s Paradise Lost prompts one to ask if, as “the Devil’s Man”, one is sufficiently convinced of warning from belief beyond Milton’s ultimate reality. The warning being Phaethon who flew too close to the sun and the remedy being to accept the inherit incapacity of reasoning facilities – the consequence of the Fall – and the world as it stands without question.
Allegorically, again, we uncover the idea that peace from questioning is delivered when one submits to the totality and accepts the burden of Good & Evil, as Adam & Eve submitted and accepted their burden of banishment from Paradise. Seeing this is perhaps religion and mythological tales’ fruit. When viewed through the psychological metaphor: heaven comes onto earth and peace from the questioning is delivered when one stops seeking an answer beyond what is in front of one. Adam is later revealed the fate of his progeny and their saviour by the angel Raphael, as Milton prepares to inform us of how Paradise can be regained in his next work.
At base, while he who crosses Milton is given what seems a one-sided choice, we must remember that he who embarks to find the reason for Paradise’s loss was warned from the start of the master’s intent: Milton, the “Devil’s man”, to justify the ways of God to men.