1. Radicalism and the English revolution
3. The Church of England in the eighteenth century
5. Rediscovering radicalism in the British Isles and Ireland in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries
Cromohs Virtual Seminars
Satanic Individualism, Divine Omnipotence and Chaos in John Milton’s Paradise Lost: Post-Restoration Ontology and Politics of Uncertainty
Yaakov A. Mascetti
Mascetti, "Satanic Individualism, Divine
and Chaos in John Milton’s Paradise
Lost: Post-Restoration Ontology and
Politics of Uncertainty", in M. Caricchio, G. Tarantino, eds., Cromohs Virtual Seminars. Recent historiographical trends of the British Studies (17th-18th Centuries), 2006-2007: 1-7
1. Paradise Lost in Context: the Politics of Milton's Theodicy
When John Milton addressed, with a speech to the Parliament of England, the matter of freedom of the individual to express personal ideas and yearning, whether political or theological, even when these can come in stark opposition to the established consensus of the context he lives in, his conception of the ideal political architecture of a country in ferment was that of Solomon's temple. The social structure of Milton's Reformed England was a "spirituall architecture" which had to engage and justify for the incontrollable spawn of "schismaticks and sectaries," where the tension between the individual and the whole had come, according to some of his contemporaries, to a break, and thus required some form of overarching political and cultural hegemony. Milton's speech in favor of unlicensed printing thus proposed an alternative model rooted in the allegory of Solomon's temple, where, though there were "many dissections in the quarry" before "the house of God" could be built, those very sectarian differences "among men" which threatened to atomize the whole into a mist of individuals were to be considered as a necessary stage in the construction of the temple. For, continued Milton, the "perfection" of that spiritual structure "consists in this":
If critics of individualism and particularism in pre-Cromwellian England feared the possible anarchic consequences of extreme differences within the social texture, Milton saw in "brotherly dissimilitues that are not vastly disproportional" the source of an enlightened and "gracefull" society. Where all citizens are enlightened individuals, elaborated Milton, "not only our sev'nty Elders" are to be considered as those who share in Divine truth and are empowered to cognize the harmony of a "spirituall architecture," but "all the Lords people are become Prophets." As opposed to those who "fret, and out of their own weakness are in agony, lest these divisions and subdivisions will undoe us," the Reformed England Milton conceived in 1644 established its "goodly and graceful symmetry" specifically by and through those "brotherly dissimilitudes," with what William Kolbrener has called the mediation and the preservation of differences between individuals, acknowledging and accommodating them.
The model Milton proposed in his Paradise Lost was, I wish to claim, a more complex and disillusioned one than that of pre-Revolution Areopagitica, rooted in the acknowledgment of both sectarianism and monarchic absolutism, of both Satan's extreme individualism and God's omnipotent absolutism. The Miltonic accommodation of two irreconcilable models is exemplified by the unaccommodated nature of a third realm: Chaos. This third side in the apparently Manichean strife between, to use Theodore W. Adorno's words, the "pre-established disharmony" of Satanic individualism and the "pre-established harmony" of God, has constituted something of a theological conundrum for Milton readers, inducing them, again and again, to demonstrate how Chaos is either on God's side, and therefore good, or on Satan's side, and thus destructive and evil. This essay intends to demonstrate how the Chaos of Milton's Paradise Lost represented, in its allegorical framework, the inherent uncertainty of Milton's ontological and political conceptions, conceived during the Restoration and following the obliteration of his idea of an enlightened nation in which each individual is not an independent splinter (Satan) but a Divinely empowered Prophet (Abdiel). Milton's Chaos is, I wish to argue, the sole realm in which contraries coexist, though perpetually at war, and in which the reader searching for a solution to the tension between unity and individuality sees nothing but a vivid representation of his own yearnings. If the Restoration and the return of the king had disproved Milton's dream for a Temple-like nation of different, though brotherly, individuals, the Cromwellian and Interregnum stages following the beheading of Charles I had exemplified the political and social confusion of what Thomas Hobbes had called "civil war," where no trace of mediation between opposing forces was to be found. Chaos was neither one, nor the other, and because of its undetermined ontological and political state, has forced readers to fashion it into a representation of either front. Disillusioned, Milton left in Paradise Lost the choice of a social and political direction suspended in his Chaos, forcing the reader to engage the temptation of a choice.
“The Devil is not
the Prince of Matter;
-- Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
2. Evil and the Arrogance of Spirit
The last diatribe between William of Baskerville and Jorge of Burgos at the end of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose revolves around two different conceptions of good and evil, of religious certainty and skeptical doubt. Jorge’s stance is one of absolute certainty, and conceives history as “the plan of God,” in which the rebellion of the “Prince of Darkness was necessary… to make the glory of God shine more radiantly” (Eco 476). William’s stance is, on the other hand, one that contemplates, with humbled admiration, the “infinite whirl of possible things” created by God in this world. William perceives the Divine in multiplicity and difference, while for Jorge God is truth and undeniable certainty. Jorge’s Satan is skeptical, humoristic and chaotic, with an urge to uproot the certainty of sacred things: “…one day someone could say (and be heard), ‘I laugh at the incarnation’” (Eco 476-7). William’s Satanic sinfulness is, on the other hand, represented by his very interlocutor. Closing the scholastic discussion between the two, William’s words, used as the epigraph to this paper, delineate an “arrogance of the spirit, [a] faith without a smile, truth never seized by doubt” and see in it the very exemplification of a devilish religious stance. Satan is, thus, “grim because he knows where he is going and, in moving, he always returns whence he came.” The absolute certainty of the mind that knows what it is looking for, where it must look, and where it came from is, from this perspective, a sinful deviation from the humbled effort of the human mind to understand the infinite reality created by God.
This diatribe between Jorge and William sheds light, I think, on the ways in which Milton criticism has dealt with Chaos in Paradise Lost. Faced with a realm of ontological and epistemological indeterminacy, scholars have tended to react with the intellectual rigidity of Jorge, either dismissing it as an ontological conundrum, or enlisting it in the rows of Satan’s rebellion. In the last ten years critics like John Rumrich have claimed with more and more emphasis that there is a close relationship between “Chaos” the realm and Milton’s narrative strategies. As the pre-creational realm is disorderly and indeterminate, rejecting all attempts to reduce it to the univocal and permanent, so Milton’s narrative, fashioned in after the return of the monarchy to England and after a disastrous period of political confusion, resists critical certainties and inevitably reduces them to hermeneutical fallacies. The “indeterminacy springing from Chaos” is, for Rumrich, a “pervasive” characteristic of Milton’s epic (1036). There is, concludes Rumrich, an “awareness of ironic indeterminacy implicit throughout Paradise Lost” which exemplifies Milton’s acknowledgment that “identity and otherness are always mixed.”
The “on-going” and “irreconcilable oppositions” that Milton’s epic seems to “invite and even attract” among scholars, are, according to Kolbrener, the proof of “Milton’s resistance to those oppositions” (58). Milton’s narrative is characterized, in Kolbrener’s opinion, by the constant oscillation and opposition between the “contiguous” theological and ontological perspectives of the epic’s protagonists. The text presents the reader with one perspective only to undo it, and present the opposite view. This representational methodology typifies Milton’s narrative, and was conceived, I argue, as a foundation for the “contiguous” extremes of Chaos (PL VII 272-3). The “fierce” and “loud misrule” provoked by the perpetual clash of these extremes in the hubbub of chaos, are stilled into the orderly frame of creation by the Divine and “Omnific Word” of God. Milton’s poetic narrative encloses indeterminacy as his Creation enwraps the extremes of chaos, keeping them “farr remov’d” within the same framework. Objective of these opposites is to surprise the reader in “sinful,” though inevitable, hermeneutical choices of one of these poles, of one reading versus another, in the search for an interpretational haven. The reader in Paradise Lost, certain of his path, relates to the text as Satan relates to chaos, suppressing indeterminacy, enforcing a univocal reading, and paving a way of certainty through confusion. This hermeneutical tyrant searches for the stability of “the neerest coast” on the borders of a textual chaos, eager to rest from an exhausting disorder that obliges him to proceed “half on foot, half flying.” The suppression of ontological indeterminacy operated by Satan, Sin or Death, represents the tyrannous interpretations of those critics who, uneager to wrestle with Milton’s chaotic narrative, simplify it and deny the inherent mobility and multiplicity of chaos, supporting a univocal reading of the whole epic.
The critic’s approach to Chaos is indicative of his or her perspective on Milton’s hermeneutic indeterminacy, and the connotations given to the former reveal one’s understanding of the latter. The “impressive scholarly excavation” done on the subject of Chaos has wrestled with Milton’s different descriptions of pre-creational matter found in De Doctrina Christiana and in Paradise Lost (Schwartz 339). While in De Doctrina Milton postulates that “original matter was not an evil thing,” nor “to be thought of as worthless,” and focuses on the fact that “it was good,” and that “it contained the seeds of all subsequent good,” in the epic poem he presents the reader with a destructive and evil entity, eager to undo God’s good creation and to foster Satan’s evil enterprise (6:398). In Paradise Lost itself the text oscillates between a monist narrative, in which chaos is filled by the presence of the Father and all events are orchestrated by his will, and a dualist narrative in which “chaos has no boundaries, no circumscribing form,” and when faced with Satan’s perversion can even decide to revolt against the tyrannical will of the Father.
dissonance between Milton’s theological statement and his poetic work, and
between the different perspectives within Paradise Lost itself, Rumrich
has been one of the very few critics to argue, on the contrary, that “as the
realm of the good first matter, chaos should not appear to be God’s enemy”
(1038). This of course entails the assumption that “Milton’s theology of matter” as delineated in his Christian Doctrine must have a bearing on Paradise Lost. Undermining the connection between Milton and the authorship of De Doctrina has in fact allowed William Hunter to argue in favor of an evil chaos, with
destructive intents and to overcome the obstacle of contradiction. Similarly
A.B. Chambers wrote that Chaos is an enemy of God, “opposed to him only less
than hell itself” (69). Schwartz has been the first to systematize, with an
article and a book-long study, the theory of an evil chaos, which she calls the
“destructive, threatening region described in the poem” (340). If A.S.P.
Woodhouse’s argued, about six decades ago, that from Milton’s descriptions of
Chaos in Paradise Lost it is “difficult to escape the inference… that
this disorder is, or at all events has some affinity with, evil,” Schwartz
posits the evil nature of Chaos as a certainty “so difficult to escape that it
is not worth trying” (Woodhouse 229, Schwartz 340). This paper intends to argue
that it is worth trying, and that the supposed evil Chaos is nothing but a
projection of Satan’s fallen mind, the illusion of univocal truth springing out
of the reader’s sinful mind when confronted with what William of Baskerville
calls the “infinite whirl of possible things” of Chaos. Neither siding for
Divine omnipotence nor for the extreme individualism of Satan’s intellectual
revolt, Milton’s Chaos is an uncertain, undetermined and
amorphous statement that forces either position to face its fallacies, leaving
the reader to hover between the two warring sides. Safely hidden in his
ontological and political chaos, the author thus eludes all univocal readings
of the text, resisting the Godly absolutist key, and the one which should have
represented Satan as the allegory of tolerance, freedom of conscience and of
religious expression. Chaos is, ultimately, neither and both at the same time.
3. Fertile and Destructive Chaos
The Word of God creates, in Book VII, “Another world,” imposing limits and borders on the “boundless Deep” of pre-creational Chaos. As the gates of Heaven “op’n’d wide,” God’s Word stands on the brim of “heav’nly ground” and from the “shore” of its supernal realm contemplates the “vast immeasurable Abyss” (VII:205, 210-1). But while the semantic creative act of Book I is represented as an up-bound movement, from darkness to light, and where the depth of Chaos is fertile, what the epic narrator presents in Book VII is destructive, confused and assaulting the heights of Heaven:
This realm is apparently not as cooperative with the Divine “Omnific” word as we might have expected. If in Book I the narrator describes creation as a natural motion from a dark uncreated bottom to an enlightened structure, here chaos is swept by winds that turn the bottom up, plunging the top to the bottom, as the “surging waves” caused by the wasteful and wild winds appear, in their menacing magnitude, to be prone to “assault / Heav’ns highth.” The abyss appears to the Heavenly spectators as a destructive dimension, in which the “Center” may be mixed with the “Pole.” In the midst of the confusion and the uproar of clashing extremes, God’s imperative imposes silence and order:
The apparently imminent destruction following the opening of Heaven’s gates, the menacing confusion which seemed to be about to take over the harmonious structure of God’s supernal realm, and the surging waves and wasteful winds which were about to mix the two geometric points of reference, are frozen by his imperative. God’s “golden Compasses” carve out the circular bounds of Heaven and of Earth, and delimit into finitude the immeasurable realm encountered in Book I.
Milton’s genesis is a process of formation, refinement and division operated by God’s word on the unformed matter of a realm with boundaries cut out of chaos. What the reader meets at the very beginning of the epic, therefore, is not the Chaos this paper is interested in delving into, but a direct result of God’s initial stages in his creative work, in which the basic stuff of existence is enveloped by a “watrie calm” which precedes the infusion of “vital vertue” and “warmth.”
Against the background of fertility and
creation, the sole dissonant element is the moment in which the “black
tartareous cold infernal dregs / Adverse to life” are purged “downward” and out
of the creational realm. This passage has usually provided a textual basis for
the argument in favor of a destructive and, thus, evil chaos. As John Rogers
has noted, the cold infernal dregs are not merely a dissonant aspect of
pre-creational matter, but literally a “recalcitrant residue” which “demands
interpretation” (134). As opposed to what Rogers claims, it appears to me that the presence of matter adverse to life
within the very process of creation forces the reader to avoid interpretation,
and to accept the Miltonic understanding of chaotic complexity. Dark and
wasteful chaos is not the “watrie calm” necessary insemination of matter. Acknowledging
the difference between the two allows us to address the question regarding the
either fertile or destructive character of Milton’s chaos, avoiding Rogers’s misleading request to “account for the
intractable presence in the Miltonic universe of these material dregs.” The
problem, as Schwartz, Rogers and others have correctly noted, emerges from the
contrast between the description of chaotic matter in his theological treatise
and the ambiguously destructive elements included in the poetic description of
chaos. In De Doctrina Christiana Milton, or so we suppose, postulated that
Chaotic multiplicity mixes Godly omnipotence and omnipresence, Divine absence and freedom of choice. Chaos represents the complexity of Milton's text within the confusion of a perpetually mutable ontological dimension, in which the "Center" is mixed with the "Pole." The yoking together of these two geometrical points exemplifies the complexity of Milton's cosmos. Within the same narrative the author includes two conflicting versions of Chaos, the fertile versus the destructive: the infernal dregs are necessary elements for chaos to be absolutely contradictory and ultimately indeterminate. Similarly to his God, who "remains at all times transcendent" despite the "monistic assertion" of his immanence, Milton's Chaos is both placed on a continuum and distinct from it, both fertile and destructive.
Chaos is the void and boundless "Deep" without limits or boundaries out of which God imparts his Word to create heaven and earth. It is infinite, explains God to his "begotten Son," specifically because he "fill[s]" it. And although Milton's God affirms so directly and clearly his immanence in its confused matter, "nor vacuous the space," he accompanies such an objective truth with its contrary, stating that he is both "uncircumscrib'd" and, paradoxically, "retire[d]." It appears therefore that Milton considered chaos as the fulcrum for his conceptual "perspectivism," as the material correlative of God's mysterious paradox combining both immanence and transcendence. Within its confusion, the creative Word finds both the fertile elements necessary for the creation of worlds, and the destructive elements for their annihilation, both the "matter unform'd" to impregnate with his "vertue" and "vital warmth," and the "infernal dregs / Adverse to life" to be "downward purg'd." It is the coexistence of annihilation and creation, of presence and absence, immanence and transcendence, that tempt even the most careful of readers into what I consider to be a process of erroneous chaos-fashioning. Facing both fertile matter and infernal dregs the reader is tempted to choose, between either a dualist, independent cosmos or a monist, Godly continuum. And in choosing, the lapsed reader simplifies indeterminacy, just as Satan is "truth that is never seized by a doubt."
4. Infernal Confusion: Re-reading Evil Chaos
The encounter and dialogue of Satan with Chaos points, so we have been led to think, to the evil character of the latter. As Chaos aids a Satan in distress, clueless of the geography of the uncreated realm or of the direction of the newly created world, the reader is left to inquire on the sudden personification of Chaos, and on the theological conundrum this constitutes. This riddle, that is, leads us to wonder on the presence, in God's monist reality, of a antagonistic and infinite entity called Chaos, with it's own ruler and it's own will to destroy and sow havoc and spoil contrarily to God's will. Chaos is no longer solely a state of pre-creational matter: it is now a character, an agent with a voice and a will of its own.
This passage, unorthodox or outright heretical, has consistently led Milton's readers to see Chaos as a character with an independent will, and who can support Satan's desperate endeavor. If in God's description Chaos is boundless, from the perspective of creatures (whether angelic or not) chaotic matter is nothing but confused and wasteful, while the "Deep" can be nothing more than the "pregnant causes" of either existence or destruction. Facing Chaos, Satan should perceive, therefore, nothing more than the ever-warring dark materials of being and non-being, mixed in an eternal and fruitless war.
Nevertheless, when in Book II Milton's Satan glances beyond the opening gates of Hell, the text does not convey the perception of mere matter, nor the sole "pregnant causes" of being, but a realm of confusion and havoc, in the midst of which is a "dark Pavilion spread / Wide on the wasteful Deep" (960-1). Upon the pavilion sit the eternal monarchs of that realm, Chaos, Night, Orcus, Ades, Rumor, Chance, Tumult, Confusion and Discord. What Satan perceives is a monarchic system of "power" and control exerted over a chaotic realm of warring matter, in which the rulers (note the plural) manifest not only agency and will, but also the independent power of subjective entities. Instead of a boundless "deep" filled with the presence of an immanent God, what we encounter through the eyes of Satan is an independent system, opposed to the omnipotent control of God. Outside the gates of Hell, Satan meets what he wants to meet: a reflection of his hunger for power and his thirst for revenge and spiteful rebellion.
As William B. Hunter has pertinently
argued, while in De Doctrina Milton "says unequivocally"
that the matter of chaos "was good," Paradise Lost presents its ruler,
Chaos, as "certainly not good" (122). Not only is chaos a realm of "total
disorder" which both forces upon the Fiend a voyage of "unremitting violence"
and "welcomes the evil visitor and helps him go on to Earth," but also one that
opposes "God's earlier creation of Hell, then of Heaven and Earth" (Hunter
123). One may not understand the relationship between Satan's self-fashioning
evil and the confused matter of Chaos without engaging the traits of Satan's
intellectual revolt. To this end it will be necessary to understand how Satan
perceives reality and what the direct and indirect consequences of this are. Milton focuses on the indeterminacy of Chaos and on the
Fiend's incapacity to perceive indeterminacy. Evil chaos is not an objective
agency embedded, by virtue of God's imponderable will, in the loud misrule of a
pre-creational dimension, but rather a projection of the Satanic mind. For what
Satan sees in Chaos is nothing but himself.
5. "his own rebellious head": Satanic subjectivity and self-centered Perception.
Primary objective of the angelic dispute represented in Book V between the neo-lapsed Satan and the champion of submission to Divine will, Abdiel, is the narrator's elucidation of the angelic heresy. In an allegorical representation of contemporary clashes between the monarchic absolutism of the restored royal family, and the extreme forms of republicanism in favor of the freedom of conscience and of religious belief which had characterized the sectarianism in Cromwellian and Interregnum England, this dispute confronts irreconcilable conceptions of authority and individuality. Satan's self-creationism, focus of this section of my paper, is the Fiend's primary argument from which unwinds "his whole predicament" (Lewis 97). At the outbreak of war in Heaven, Satan justifies and expands the reasons motivating his noncompliance with the birth and Divine anointment of the Son, stating that angels are not, as God put it, first "Progenie of Light" and then "Thrones, Dominations, [.] Powers," but quite simply "Thrones, Dominations, [.] Powers" (V 600-1, 772). Satan's angels were not created, and cannot be the "progenie" of the "Light" of Divine emanation, but gave birth to themselves by means of their "own quick'ning power." Whether created or born, whether formed or begotten from Divine light, the birth represents for Satan the fulcrum of what is from his perspective a just rebellion.
Inquiring into Abdiel's "strange point and new," the "false Arch-Angel" (V 694) dismisses the official narrative of creation, refusing to believe that "the mighty Father made / All things, ev'n thee, and all the Spirits of Heav'n" (V 836-7). Satanic ideology, clearly not merely a theological issue but also a political one rooted in the traumatic events that had characterized Milton's lifetime, is, as Rogers argues, constructed around concepts of "self-possession" and "self-authorization," laying a clear defiance of the Creator's role and authority with his "affirmation of creaturely autonomy" (126). Glory and power are thus attributed virtues, crowns granted by the Creator, and not inherent qualities with which angels were born. But from Satan's firmly subjective perspective, life begins from the "I," and existence is "self-begot" and "self-rais'd." The stuff of Heaven, ethereal matter out of which all heavenly things were made and formed, is thus said to possess an inherent life, an independent "quick'ning power" which brought angels to life as the result of a self-generated act of will. In the Satanic re-reading of cosmic history, there is no "Progenie of Light": only "Ethereal Sons."
Within the fabric of the epic's plot, Satan's lapse into this conception of ontological independence, and of political "possessive individualism," is a rightful and necessary reaction to God's anointment of the Son as sole "Vice-gerent" of his "Reign" (Macpherson 263).
Embedded in God's incomprehensible combination of mediation and union, of rank and unity, is the fall of those who cannot bring themselves to accept a conception of individuality rooted both in their own self-conscious soul and in the collective "one individual soul." God's establishment of a "mediatorial agency" elicits in Satan an instinctive refusal to comply with the Divine order to "abide" (Kolbrener 149). Angelic individuality, under the Son's "Vice-gerent Reign," is significant only in function of the harmonic and cohesive social entity it generates. This notion of collective happiness is contrasted by the individualistic self-definition of the one "who disobeys."
Satan's sin of angelic disobedience unwillingness to accept the direct mediation of the Father in the Son, or to understand the role of the Son in making God's might "effectual" (III:170). For, explains the narrator, he who disobeys the "radiant image," (III:63) disobeys the source. The consequences of this refusal seem, for a moment, to have disruptive effects on heavenly harmony, as the union is broken and punishment ensues. But the disarray is nowhere to be seen, and the consequences are rather mechanical, resulting solely and swiftly in the sinner's immediate fall from Divine blessedness, with the inevitable casting of his rebellious head "into utter darkness" (III:614).
Upon the anointment of the Son, the Father declares that the punishment for refusing to "abide" to a harmonic collective of angels is a swift fall into the darkness of a damned vision. Satan and his followers immediately transgress the Father's ruling, and the consequences of their sin are visually evident. Their darkening and disfigurement, followed by the war in Heaven and the inglorious flight to Hell, delineate a process of descent from glorious splendor to deformed dejection. From the perspective of the Father's monism, Sin is not merely an ideological divergence, but a process of transformation which invests the angel's whole being. Just as angels eat with appetite and concoct the matter of food into angelic thoughts, so sin affects every aspect of the angel's physical and mental spheres. As Fallon argues, in Paradise Lost "moral choices" have "implications about where one wishes to be placed along the continuum of the one first matter" (202). The "devil's sin" has an "ontological dimension" which he denies and dismisses as fruit of Divine illusion. The sin, together with its consequence, lays in Satan's violent separation of the mental and the physical. From the rebel's perspective, the mind is turned into a realm detached from the harmonic collective, and from God's decisions.
There is, according to Satan, a "better counsel," a better state of mind that will allow the intellects of the rebellious angels to erect themselves above the supine crowd and to cast off the yoke of Divine rule, while attaining the full understanding that the individual mind is a free entity.
Delineating the traits of what he calls Satan's "infernal Cartesianism," Fallon quotes Descartes' argument on the capacity possessed by any thinking individual to "distinguish without difficulty what belongs to itself, i.e. to an intellectual nature, from what belongs to the body" (203). The Cartesian distinction between the res cogitans of the mind and the res extensa of the body sheds light on Satan's dissociation of mind from body, its motivating factors, and ultimately its inevitable effects. From the pitch black darkness of his infernal dungeon Satan adamantly challenges both God's curse and cosmos, denying the connection between what he considers as the "inner and the outer" and defying the effects of the punishment relegating them to the outer physical sphere (203). Speaking out of the confusion of defeat and damnation, in Book I Satan proudly states that the mind is the fulcrum of his angelic existence, for "though chang'd in outward luster" (angelic body), his "fixt mind" remains focused on his "fierce contention" of the "Potent Victor" (I:97). Gathering his strength to overcome the "affliction and dismay" (I:57) following the fall, the "Arch-Enemy" speaks to Beelzebub and immediately begins a process of ontological re-education, stressing the separation between the mind, moved by the "high-disdain" of "contention," and the body, disfigured and deformed. Satan's first reaction to the dejected state he finds himself in upon awaking after the battle in heaven, is in fact to lift his "Head" up above the wave of the Infernal lake, conveying with a physical gesture the primacy of his mind in the continuation of the war against "he who now is Sovran" (I:246, my italics).
The Satanic distinction between mind and body, though, goes well beyond the mere Cartesian dualism posited by Fallon as a possible source of the Fiend's new intellectual stance. What Satan is doing in book I is to fashion a new kind of epistemological perspective, in which the conscience is the sole dimension of the individual, sole realm of action and impregnable fortress of intention. It is not only that he posits an irremediable distance between his mind and his body: Satan affirms that his new life as the "Possessor" of Hell will be lived solely in the mind. His reality is, to use an overtly modern philosophical term, simply that of his subjectivity, and sees in the objective sphere nothing but a side effect of the subjective. Reality is the mind, and the mind is reality.
The final detachment from the original beatitude of heavenly "Joy" takes place when Satan realizes the nature of the transition following his fall. While angels "dwell" in the "happy Fields" of Heaven, and rejoice in the contemplation of Divine light, the "horrours" of the newfound "Infernal world" are possessed, internal, intestine.
Hell is devoured by the subjectivity of a new "Possessor," whose mind observes the new reality from its own independent stance, defined as a locus detached from both time and place. But Satan, I think, is eager to take a step beyond the mere separation of the subjectivity from the objectivity of the known. His mind "is its own place," a locus detached from the contingency of external events, and capable of fashioning events (as opposed to the sole perception of events) in an independent intellectual dimension. The mind is, so to speak, beyond the reach of God's punitive action, and the sole locus of Satan's rebellion. It is in his mind that the disobedience takes place. It is his mind that recovers first from the ruinous fall to Hell after the defeat in Heaven. And it is in his mind that the disruption of heavenly harmony takes place.
In the words of God in Book III the emphasis on Satan's "head" sheds light on the role played by the Fiend's intellectual subjectivity:
Satan's perspective is irreconcilable with that of God. As they contemplate Satan scrambling out of his infernal dungeon, his breaking through the "barrs of Hell" and desperate passage through the "interrupt[ion]" of the wide "Abyss," God shows the power of his rebellious "head" in all its desperate firmness and self-centeredness. From Satan's head originates the desperate strength to fight God and to obtain revenge, and unto Satan's head will "redound" all the consequences of his actions. The adversary's rebellion is, so to speak, a rebellion of the head and in the head, and despite his desperate efforts, it never goes beyond the strictly subjective realm of what God labels as "his own rebellious head."
Satanic subjectivity, in its own
self-fashioned independence, models contextual reality in the illusion of an
interaction with external powers, although all it does and all it perceives is
but a chimera, a projection of itself and a mirror image of itself. In this
prison, the mind is intoxicated by the illusion of its own centrality,
invigorated by the distance from the rest of material creation, and desperately
motivated to pursue its revenge on Divine tyranny. Milton's reader is repeatedly tempted into believing that the various
projections of Satanic subjectivity are objective reality, and to argue that
instead of being constructed on perspectivism and on a confusing mingling of monism
and dualism, Paradise Lost univocally propounds a dualist opposition
between Satanic and Divine individuality.
6. “Out of thy head I sprung”: Satan's fertile intellect.
While angels maintain their "ontological integrity" throughout the epic, Sin and Death are, as Fallon argues, a "vexed issue," two "insubstantial beings" and extended allegories which interact with non-allegorical characters (168). This, he concludes, is a "breach in the metaphysical decorum" of the epic. This interpretation of the "substance of allegory" is rooted in Samuel Johnson's criticism of Milton's confusing mingling of ontological spheres in his narrative (I:129). Dr Johnson's rigid ontological sensibility was evidently disturbed by the "operation of immaterial agents" in Paradise Lost; but even less understandable to him was the way in which Milton "invest[ed] abstract ideas with form and animate[d them] with activity." When he ascribed "material agency" to these allegorical figures, concluded Dr Johnson, Milton enforced an ontological change, making them "allegorical no longer." The effect of this was that the poet "shock[ed] the mind [of the reader] by ascribing effects to non-entity." Milton's allegory is therefore "undoubtedly faulty" for it brings together the jarring categories of "real" and "unreal." The "natural office" of the allegorical character is, for Johnson, the expression within the realistic framework of the narrative of a quality or a concept: performance of actions beyond this, into the realm of "real employment" entails a breach in the literary device, and a senseless pursuit of confusing incongruities.
As Fallon has argued following Johnson's reasoning, Milton's fashioning of Sin and Death in book II as two real-albeit-allegorical personae extends the formal conception of allegory and its use in texts, while it appears to "breach" the "metaphysical decorum" of the epic poem. This reading of Satan's encounter with Sin and Death is, I think, unnecessary, and ignores or denies the role of Satan's subjectivity. The scene is set against the background of Satan's struggle to leave Hell, and to revenge his defeat by confusing and disturbing God's creational plans with the temptation of man. His plan is, quite simply, to convince himself and the reader that dualism is possible, and that it can be enforced on history. His objective is, quite simply, to disprove God's omnipotence.
In these lines Milton is careful to represent Satan's state of mind, and to define him as he defines himself: the "Adversary of God and Man." Satan thoughts are, though, not lucidly focused on how to escape the prison he has been hurled into by his opponent. His mind is "inflam'd" by thoughts of "highest design," and his intellectual lucidity is blurred by a fierce hunger for revenge. His flight is the physical expression of a psychological movement from the distress of defeat to the success of revenge, and is defined as "solitary" as he spreads out the wings of freedom and of spiteful revenge. It is through Satan's inflamed eyes that the reader then perceives the gates of Hell, and it is through his eyes that we see Sin and Death for the first time.
As Satan stands before the gates' nine strata, wondering at the "circling fire" burning them while they stand "unconsum'd," two "formidable shape[s]" reveal themselves to him. The shapes are Sin and Death, and from the description Milton provides at this point, they are anything but formidable. Curiously Satan does not perceive their terrifying appearance, but their power, their grandeur, and fierce shape. The Adversary, who fears no one but God and his Son, undauntedly stands as Death charges him, while struck by admiration for such power and magnitude. As the two face each other and prepare for battle, aiming at each other's head their deadly strike, Sin's sudden outcry is heard as she comes between them.
In this mock re-elaboration of the Father-Son relationship, the Father does not recognize his own offspring, and the Son is ready to strike the Father's "Head." The emphasis on Satan's head is repeated in these lines at the end of book 2 and, we shall see, at the beginning of book 3, in order to shift the attention of the reader from a literal interpretation of this confrontation, to a more allegorical and psychological one.
The missed clash between Death and Satan and the dialogue with Sin, do not take place in space and time, nor are Sin and Death simply "morally evil characters" or "embodiments of metaphysical evil" (Fallon 183). And these two monstrous figures conversing with Satan are not, as Philip J. Gallagher has claimed, "consistently real (i.e., physical and historical) throughout Milton's major epic" (317). While Milton critics struggle to understand if Sin and Death are "something less than [or equal to] pure res," I wish to argue that all we see and hear at this stage in the epic takes place within Satan's fallen subjectivity, fruit of what the Father will call "his rebellious Head."
Has Satan, we ask echoing Sin's words, forgotten his own sin, and its origin? And why seems she / it "so foul" in his eyes now, when once she was so fair? What Satan has forgotten is the very event that can justify the ontological differentiation necessary for this very dialogue to take place. Satan appears to have forgotten, furthermore, how he managed to see his sin and the death that ensued from it as two separate ontological entities, and two external phenomena. As Anne Ferry has compellingly argued, Milton's use of allegory represents a "fallen epistemology," a lapse into the illusion of a distinction between internal and external phenomena (118). Allegory is, in this sense, the symptom of a sinful epistemology, the indication of a lapsed mind. Sin and Death are not "res," nor can we argue that they do not exist: their existence is true and real, but cannot be justified by a distinction between the subjective and the objective. Sin and Death exist in Satan's "fix'd mind," and nowhere else.
Sin appears to Satan as a foul and deformed being specifically because he perceives her now as an interlocutor, as an external being She is the offspring of Satan's rebellious thoughts, having sprung out of his head when he was orchestrating his "bold conspiracy against Heav'ns King." She is, furthermore, a perfect reflection of Satan, of his thoughts, of his aspirations. The apparently incestuous intercourse between the two represents Satan's lustful attraction for himself, for his own subjectivity, for mental independence from God's tyrannous and monistic cosmos. Sin is, for Satan, the proof of dualism, the embodiment of difference. Satan became "enamour'd" with her when he contemplated his perfect image in her, and thus took "such joy" with her "in secret," in the illusion that he could fashion a self-centered and independent individuality.
Provided that Satan's encounter with Sin is an encounter that takes place in his own psyche and with his own aspirations, the opening of the gates of Hell exemplifies the fulfillment of his own dreams, and the accomplishment of his intellectual rebellion against God. As he endeavors to convince Sin to open the gates, and to allow him to escape the infernal prison, Sin responds with an ideal declaration of allegiance not to "Heavn's all-powerful King," but to her "Father" and "Author." The exclusion of God from the picture is, from Satan's perspective, ideal and just.
As the "infernal dores" open, and the "hinges grate" with "Harsh Thunder," Satan contemplates the fulfillment of his spiteful defiance of Divine will: even though God imparted on Sin not to open the Gates, and commanded Death to interpose its dart "against all force," he is now standing before "the secrets of the hoarie deep," contemplating the "dark / Illimitable Ocean without bound."
This spiteful rebellion against God's will is then represented from a perspective that contradicts Satan's assumptions on free will and determined destiny, re-elaborating the entire narrative from the point of view of the Father and the Son. Once Sin confirms the dualism of Satan's ontological conception, the first eighty lines in book 3 re-elaborate the narrative from a Divine perspective. In God's "now" are perceived Satan's misfits as the events are taking place in Hell, for, says the "Almighty Father," He contemplates from "above" his creation and creatures, and beholding "past, present, [and] future" says to the Son:
Rage motivates the "adversarie," making him apparently invincible. Against such rage, such anger clouding his thoughts and understanding of the cosmos, all the restraints imposed by Divine decree seem to be merely useless. All Satan's plan will accomplish, though, will be to bring upon his "rebellious head" the proportionate punishments for this further rebellion. Just as he is "bent" on "desperate revenge," so will God force upon his head the consequences of his spite and anger. Milton's conception of Divine decree is a perfect and unchangeable equilibrium in which Satan's actions are limited within the personal sphere of his rebellious head, the outcome of which is nothing but an illusive dualism (Anne Ferry's distinction between internal and external phenomena). This illusion inexorably evaporates when exposed to the light of Divine clarity and truth, turning into the suffering of his acknowledgment of God's will.
God's perspective on Satan's escape from Hell excludes, furthermore, the two central personae of the fugitive's narration of events: Sin and Death. All the reader will perceive through the eyes of God is "bounds," "barrs" and "chains" of Hell, and the "Abyss / Wide" of Chaos. When we behold Satan in Hell from God's perspective, we see no "Snakie Sorceress" nor any hideous shape "that shape had none:" all we see is the adversary's anger and hunger for revenge. The Father's emphasis on his "rebellious head" sheds light on the fact that Satan encounters no one in front of the gates of Hell, and that the allegorical personae need not be res to interact with him: Satan lives and thinks within his head, in his inescapable individualism. The "rebellious head" is the locus classicus of Satanic lapse. His mind is a pregnant womb out of which sprung Sin, and in which he fashions his independence, ignoring the fact that it is but a prison. All that Sin can be is the illusion, seen through Satan's inflamed thoughts of dualistic existence, of allegorical materiality, and a perfect reflection of his thoughts. The sexual intercourse with Sin is due to the adversary's burning lust for himself, for his own image which he sees in her, and ensues a fertile impregnation limited within the closed system of Satan's mind: Death is the fruit of his intellectual womb.
The encounter between Satan's imprisoned psyche and the ontological and epistemological indeterminacy of chaos creates further sinful illusions, both in Satan and in the reader. As in the case of Sin and Death, chaos cannot be read as a persona, it must not be turned into a persona, and it's good or evil essence must not become the object of discussion among critics. Chaos, intended as a character of Paradise Lost, whether allegorical or not, is a product of Satan's mind. Just as Sin apparently defies the inescapable will of the Father, so Chaos talks with Satan, and supports his cause and reasons. But both are nothing but illusions, nothing but fruit of the fertile intellectual womb of the adversary, and both will "redound / Upon his own rebellious head." For, as Satan himself cries out, whichever way he may fly, "infinite wrauth, and infinite despair" will always grip his conscience:
7. Facing the "visage incompos'd" of Chaos: Satanic subjectivity vis-ą-vis chaotic uncertainty.
Upon the opening of Hell's gates, the horrendous spectacle of a "hoarie deep" and the "darke / Illimitable ocean without bound" presents itself to the rebellious Satan. The "fiend" had warned his fellow fallen angels against the dangers an escape from Hell would entail, describing Chaos as a "void profound / Of unessential Night," an "abortive gulf" in which one would need to plunge and thus face the "utter loss of being" (II:438-441). Chaos, presented in book II (ll. 890ff) through Satan's eyes, lacks dimension, time and place, and is described as the "place" where "Eternal Anarchie" perpetuates confusion and "endlesse warrs." It is "into this wild Abyss," into the "Womb of nature, and perhaps her Grave" where the "darke materials to create more worlds" are mixed and confused, that Satan "looked for a while / Pondering his Voyage." Satan is in fact "warie" as he stands on the "brink of Hell," about to abandon the fixity of certainty for the chaotic conflicts of confusion and uncertainty. The Fiend's voyage through Chaos entails not only a physical ordel, but also a psychological and epistemological one, through mutable thoughts and doubts. And if Satan's decisions stiffen complexity into univocal truth, the "decision" of "Chaos Umpire. imbroils the fray by which he reigns" (II 908-910). Decision, certainty, and fixity of mind are in Chaos nothing but further blurring and confusion.
Together with Chaos, Satan also perceives "Chance" as a second source of power, another "high Arbiter" that rules events and phenomena in the abyss, opposing the Divine reminder that events take place and thoughts are conceived as part of God's "absolute Decree" and "high foreknowledge" (III:115-16). When "at last" Satan overcomes his uncertainties and fears, he spreads his wings, and begins his flight. The very decision to fly and travel through Chaos represents the contrast between Satan's perspective and that of the realm he is entering:
Accompanied by the smoke of Hell and of infernal certainties, Satan ascends "many a League" in his cloudy throne, wrapped in the audaciousness of his sinful consciousness. The encounter with Chaos immediately undermines the solidity of his determination, making it irrelevant, redundant and senseless: the "Chair" made of smoke that accompanied him in his initial ascent into Abyss disappears in a dimension without dimension, in a place without space or time, and plunges into a "vast vacuitie" of nothingness. As Satan helplessly disappears in this void, the narrator tells us that the fall would have been eternal and unavoidable, if, "by ill chance" a "strong rebuff of som tumultuous cloud" hadn't brought him back onto a path of "crude consistence." The Fiend desperately searches for some traces of solidity, for any spot of fixity, and by his inevitable frustration. The "vast vacuitie" he plunges into forces Satan to realize that he is no longer in Hell, and that he is now flying through a realm whose ontological and epistemological foundations are utterly inexistent.
Satan's voyage through Chaos is a desperate struggle to escape uncertainty. In a rather grotesque scene Milton portrays him treading wearily "half on foot, half flying" the uncertain terrain of Chaos. The sole thing that pushes him to keep moving is his eagerness to attain revenge and his spiteful need to confuse God's plans. He uses his "head, hands, wings, or feet" in order to pursue his way, swimming, sinking or wades, crawling or flying through the "universal hubbub wilde." It is in this context that Satan undauntedly searches for "what ever power / Or Spirit" might direct his uncertain paces to the "neerest coast. bordering on light." Satan, that is, "plyes" through confusion and uncertainty, and desperately searches for something familiar to him: an authority, a source of power, of individuality in the midst of the tumultuousness of doubts. And power is what he finds:
Satan, lives in the illusion of dualism and projects onto the external sphere his yearnings and fears. As with Sin, the "throne of Chaos" suddenly appears in front of him as a result of his expectations: what he wants to see is power, and what he sees is a throne. To this hallucination, fruit of his expectations, Satan addresses his respectful greeting, saluting the "Powers" and "Spirits of this nethermost Abyss." The infinite realm lacking space, time and dimension is once again turned, in his words, into a "spacious Empire" with length, width and borders. He informs his interlocutor of his search for the "readiest path" leading to the boundary between Chaos's gloomy realm and the light of heaven. Out of Chaos Satan fashions a realm which "confines with Heav'n," or with boundaries which have been recently violated by God's creation of the cosmos. The rhetoric of territorial usurpation which Satan chooses to use at this point appears almost grotesque in its effort to fashion the uncertainty and inert materiality of pre-creational chaos into something similar to his aspirations. Satan is, quite simply, trying to tempt Chaos, his "incompos'd" interlocutor, to take his side and become a powerful ally.
To this rhetorical seduction, Chaos answers exactly the way Satan expects him to. In his answer he refers to his "Frontieres" and his "residence," while lamenting the "little which is left. to defend" after God's usurping hand has used great regions of his chaotic territory to make Hell and the Earth. Chaos thunders against God as the encroacher who has weakened the "Scepter of Old Night," and then ultimately shows Satan the way to Earth.
Much has been written and discussed on these last three verses, but never has it been noticed how Chaos, in the midst of his dimensionless "realm" suddenly defines distances ("you have not farr") and refers to directions and intentions ("if that way be your walk"). The statement in favor of "havoc, and spoil and ruin" is one which merely echoes what Satan just promised Chaos, and should be read, I argue, as yet another reflection of Satan's raging expectations, a projection of his yearnings.
As soon as Satan gets the answer he was waiting for, he promptly flies away, leaving Chaos in silence. And as he labors to reach the borders of Earth, Sin and Death re-appear in the narrative, busily paving a "broad and beat'n way / Over the dark Abyss." Again, the allegorical characters must not be considered to be physically intent in building a road joining Earth to Hell, but as the representation of a quality inherent in Satan's actions. The Fiend's evil intents, inflamed thoughts, inescapable subjectivity and illusory distinction of the subjective and the objective, all impose dimension, shape and time on Chaos, reducing, to use John Rumrich's words, "the different and the changing to the identical and the permanent" (1036). His sinful subjectivity has, in other words, a solidifying effect on the mobility and indeterminacy of Chaos, which passively gets fashioned into whatever the imposed force desires. Chaos is not evil, nor can it be inherently supportive, but is shaped by the agent's will. Satan sees in it, though, a powerful ally, as he does also in Sin and Death. But his is merely an illusion.
While in book II Satan sees Chaos "tamely" enduring this bridge "of wondrous length," as if willingly cooperating with his misfits, in book 10 we learn that the same bridge was built over a "vexd Abyss." But neither version of the same event, the vexed abyss nor the tamely enduring chaos is similar to the silent acquiescence found in book VII (ll. 216ff), where Chaos hears God's "Omnific Word" and mechanically obeys. Milton's Chaos, like Sin, was conceived as an illusory mirror in which Satan sees himself and dialogues with his evil intentions, and with himself. When Robert Adams argued that Chaos is "neutral, as between good and evil," it appears to me that he only addresses a minor part of Milton's conception of chaos in Paradise Lost, for it posits the existence of a realm with an independent agency, free to be tempted, fed with answers it knows not, or wants not. Milton's Chaos, pace Adams, can have no inclination, neither to disorder nor to evil or to good.
Satan's facing the "incompos'd" visage of Chaos is not only an allegory of a reader's hermeneutical engagement with textual complexity, but also of the political and social changes which had taken place in the two decades preceding the first edition of Paradise Lost. If Milton's Satan clearly blooms out seventeenth-century arguments in favor of individualism, freedom of thought and of religious belief that had characterized one side of the political debate before and after the Revolution, Milton's God leaves little space to the individual to express a self-fashioned particularity. And between these two fronts, the complexities of Milton's chaotic narrative tempt the reader to choose either one or the other front. This paper has, nevertheless, argued in favor of an alternative stance, one in which Milton endeavors to accommodate the two irreconcilable models in the hubbub of his Chaos. To view his Chaos as good, evil or neutral means, in an extended sense, to force it and Milton's narrative and social conception into a fixed mode, to take sides in the "endless warrs" between the Satanic and the Divine fronts. The narrative of Milton's Paradise Lost is a realm of indeterminacy which elicits from the reader a choice of some kind. The theological and political conundrum of Milton's chaos is not to be resolved, but appreciated in its mutable complexity.
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 Throughout the paper, I will refer to “Chaos” as the character involved in books 2 and 3. I shall refer to “chaos” as the state of confusion prior to God’s creation of the world.
 All passages quoted from Milton’s Paradise Lost are taken from John Shawcross’s edition, The Complete Poetry of John Milton. New York: Doubleday, 1971. References will be followed by book number in roman numerals and line number.
 I use the term “sinful” here as a reference to Stanley Fish, Surprised by Sin: the Reader in Paradise Lost. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.
 All references from Milton’s Christian Doctrine are taken from The Complete Prose Works of John Milton. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973. Passages are followed by volume and page numbers.
 The “ill chance” that saves Satan is a turning point in epic in that it materializes the clash between the devil’s dualism and God’s monism. In Satan’s cosmos, the rebuff of that cloud is fruit of chance, of mere coincidence. In God’s cosmos, the rebuff is fateful. Satan will not admit that he is part of that same fate that saved him, for there are only coincidences and random events in his reality, while God’s enforcement of destiny is tyrannical.