Schedule

Complimentary Welcome Continental Breakfast, 8:00-8:45 AM

Panel #1: Doctrines and Disciplines, 8:45-10:15 a.m.
Linda Gregerson ~ University of Michigan
Samson and the Scattered Nation

Two decades ago, in what is still an indispensable book on Samson Agonistes, Joseph Wittreich argued that Milton's dramatic poem is the story of moral backsliding rather than redemption, and furthermore that in this pessimistic trajectory it conforms to the original intent of the Book of Judges. In other words, far from celebrating a personal and national triumph, the Samson story in both biblical and Miltonic instantiations takes as its central theme "the ruin of a whole people" as figured in the ruin of an individual. Despite the counter-arguments of the so-called redemptionist criticsm, Wittreich's analysis seems to me to have stood the test of time very well. I would only propose we alter our angle of vision by a degree or two and consider the underlying Samson plot to be not, or not only, the tragedy of a chosen nation and a representative hero repeatedly falling away from their God, but the tragedy of two nations fighting over a single geographical place. The drama's challenge to interpretation lies not in the fact, pace Fish, that it escapes moral evaluation altogether but rather in the bluntness with which it reveals how utterly moral evaluation depends upon place, otherwise known as point of view. From within a certain nationalist perspective, the destruction of the Philistine temple is a triumph. From outside that perspective, it is monstrous. The point is neither that Milton's hero ought to be construed by an anachronistic and inflammatory epithet (the "terrorism" agitation of a few seasons ago), nor that he ought to be reclaimed by right reading for the history of faith, but that the "common humanity" to which one critic appeals for guidance (John Carey), and to which we must all eventually refer ourselves, may chillingly withdraw itself from the realm of self-evidence.

Edward Jones ~ Oklahoma State University
From the Unknown to the Known: Why the Anonymous Life of Milton is no longer Anonymous

While scholars may still be unable to date what is most likely the earliest "life" of Milton, extant documentary evidence can remove the tag "anonymous" from its title. The seventeenth-century biographical narrative, conjectured to be the creation of one of Milton's students, turns out to be the work not of his nephew, John Phillips, but of his student and friend Cyriack Skinner. Two autograph letters by Skinner housed in the City Record Office of Hull (BRL 794 and 795), dated 9 March and 23 March 1668/69 respectively, demonstrate paleographical as well as distinct editing practices identical with those found in Bodleain MS Wood A.4 (the unsigned manuscript Life). A comparison of the manuscript with the letters (the centerpiece of this discussion) can finally settle this matter, which was initially proposed by William Riley Parker in the TLS in 1957 on the basis of a photostatic copy of one of the letters but questioned by R. W. Hunt in the same publication later that year. A close examination of both letters with the Bodley manuscript takes away virtually all doubt. Perhaps as importantly, once the account is assigned to Skinner, scholars gain the advantage of considering not just the details included in his life but the implications of his selections. For example, was Skinner's account of Milton's first marriage impacted by the fact that he was one of the students who spent time in the Milton household in the 1640s? In the 1650s, when Skinner became Milton's neighbor, do his remarks on his former teacher's growing reputation (marked by visits from foreign dignitaries and scholars) sound like those of an eyewitness? These are just two of many questions that can prove fertile for future biographical discoveries now that the attribution of the Anonymous Life can be assigned confidently to Skinner.

Kim Maxwell ~ Stanford
The Terror of Paradise Within, Happier Far. A Reading of the Christian Doctrine

Milton's Christian Doctrine may be seen as exploratory, in part to justify its uniqueness and internal problems, in part to account for its discrepancies with Paradise Lost. This paper will argue that its explorations often amount to simply bad theology. Milton's positions on the Godhead, the divinity of Christ, the Creation, election, faith and works, and perserverance, as examples, start from a sense of offense at the paradoxes of orthodox positions, but then refuse to engage the maze of new contradictions his own positions entail. For example, Milton rejects Creation ex nihilo as confounding our sense of reason, but then fails to explain how he can reconcile Creation ex deo with divine transcendence, divine judgment, and human free will, all features of the universe he elsewhere vigorously defends. He trades one paradox for another, the second with more pernicious theological implications than the first. This paper explores a few critical positions in this respect by way of suggesting the Christian Doctrine is best seen as a site of enormous religious anxiety between the visible and invisible churches, between the inherent solipsism of the inner light and the possibility of any rational defense of public Christian faith. If one must read the Christian Doctrine onto Paradise Lost, it should be read this way, that "their solitary way" is not to "paradise within, happier far" through "deeds to thy knowledge answerable," but through the personal agony of faith that knows no words. If one must position Milton historically, it would be more to anticipate the collapse of doctrine in the age of reason generally than recapitulate or augment the long theological tradition he inherited.


Respondent: John Leonard ~ University of Western Ontario

Panel #2: Consequential Inconsequential Matters, 10:30 a.m. - noon

Denise Albanese ~ George Mason University
Milton's Motes

Of the scholarly attention that has recently been devoted to the representation of Chaos in Paradise Lost, John Leonard's argument for the influence of Lucretius' poem De rerum natura on Milton is particularly suggestive. Lucretius' text was the object of great interest in England from the middle of the seventeenth century onwards, having been translated in whole or in part by figures as disparate as Lucy Hutchinson and John Dryden. Like vitalism, it too held some purchase on revolutionary consciousness, as Reid Barbour has argued. But of course Lucretius also came into prominence in England as a result of the emergence of natural philosophy, which despite the growing influence of the Royal Society had not yet consolidated the priority of experimental over textualized ways of knowing (Bono; Shapin and Shaffer). Hence the importance of taking atoms as signs as well as physical entities. In keeping with recent work both on Milton and corpuscular theory (e.g., John Rogers) and on readings of Chaos in Book 2 of Paradise Lost, I argue for the relationship of Milton's poem to a textualized scientific practice. More particularly, I want to consider how Milton's depiction of the reserve matter of the universe constitutes what Lorraine Daston has deemed the "biography" of a scientific object lost to history.

David Goldstein ~ York University
Manuring the World: Satan and the Ends of Paradise Lost

Critics have long noted that Paradise Lost employs digestive rhetoric in a variety of ways, especially to describe Satan, Hell, and Chaos in the first two books of the poem. Yet the question remains how Satan -- and more broadly, evil -- is to be viewed within the poem's broader digestive framework. Satan's full digestive role within the poem, I will argue, is more paradoxical. Rather than becoming locked in a cycle of devourment as Michael Lieb has observed, or banished to the poetic economy's outer limits as Denise Gigante has argued, Satan moves throughout the book into a position of centrality from both the narrative and theological perspectives of Paradise Lost. Indeed, Satan's closest analogue in the poem is the forbidden fruit itself--easy to digest, difficult to expel, both vanishing from the narrative in Book 10. This is not because either has been banished, but because both have been absorbed. If Satan's narrative journey is one of serial expulsion, his progression through the poem's infrastructure is marked by increasing incorporation into its central thematic concerns. He begins the poem a character, but he ends it a principle. According to the logic of concoction, Satan, sin, and the forbidden fruit have been turned into metaphorical manure by the poem's end. By the same token, one of the poem's ends is to demonstrate how Satan became absorbed into the world, and to suggest that the earth will only be purified again only through what the morality play Mankind terms the "blissyde lavatorye" of Christ.


Amy Tigner ~ University of Texas ~ Arlington
Eating with Eve: Horticulture and Harvest in Eden

As with the seventeenth-century agricultural reformers Ralph Austen, who argued for a fruit tree planting campaign to solve England's economic problems, and John Beale and Anthony Lawrence, who saw such orchards as a way to produce cider locally and thereby to reduce dependence on foreign imported wines, John Milton creates his Garden of Eden most notably as a garden of fruit trees that enables a complete, enclosed, and self-sustaining system for Adam and Eve and their future progeny. From the garden to the table, Eve controls the alimentary economy and the entire circumstances of eating in Eden: in the two examples of consuming the Garden's produce, the dinner party with Raphael in Book 5 and the eating of the Tree of Knowledge in Book 9. In the first instance, the model hostess Eve harvests the choicest produce and then strives to prepare the finest food. In as much as Raphael appreciates Eve's earthly repast and tells her that "God hath here/Varied his bounty so with new delights/ As may compare with Heaven," he temptingly describes celestial fare that slyly outstrips what Eve has prepared, speaking of "ambrosial fruitage," "mellifluous Dews," and "pearly grain" (5. 430-31, 427, 429, 430). With these heavenly comestible ideas in mind, Eve - the lowest of the rational creatures - seeks to better herself and eventually Adam with eating - the very activity, from harvesting to preparation to serving, that falls within her domestic sphere from the time of her creation. This paper explores the language of horticulture and food in Paradise Lost through the lens of seventeenth-century texts on agriculture, gardening, and cooking to investigate the particularly gendered circumstances of the fall - and why eating with Eve is both delightful and dangerous.


Respondent: Lowell Gallagher ~ University of California ~ Los Angeles

Lunch break - Stanford Faculty Club - noon-1:45 p.m.

Panel #3: Milton's and Others' Texts, 1:45-3:15 p.m.

Elizabeth Pentland ~ York University
Milton for Young Atheists: His Dark Materials and the End of Authority

"We have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are, because for us there is no elsewhere" (Amber Spyglass 363). This paper will examine very briefly the representation of literary and religious Authority in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, a fantasy trilogy for children that radically rewrites Milton's Paradise Lost. Pullman's work came under intense scrutiny last year in the months leading up to the release of The Golden Compass, a motion picture based on the first volume in the series. News of the film sparked protests from religious groups and caused some school boards in Canada and the US to pull the books from their shelves pending a review of their contents. Indeed, The Golden Compass ranked fourth on the American Library Association's list of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2007. At issue were Pullman's religious views and his criticism of institutional religion-at least one critic referred to him as a "militant English atheist" and to his books as "Atheism for kids." My own reading will consider Pullman's complex and controversial work as both an extension and a critique of Milton's project.

Kerry MacLennan ~ Independent scholar
John Milton's Contract for Paradise Lost: A New Reading

Conventional biographical treatments of John Milton refer, often obliquely, to a few financial transactions to which he was a party, and interpret Milton's lifetime financial standing from them. Since Milton's death in 1674, an unchallenged sequence of inferences has yielded two theories: first, undistracted by the quotidien, Milton flourished in the comfortable subsidy of inherited wealth. Alternatively, Milton languished in poverty as an unrewarded genius. A fresh investigation of the remarkable body of preserved legal documentation suggests that both heuristics are invalid. Instead, Milton was inducted into the nascent capitalistic landscape by his father, a prosperous London scrivener. And not only did Milton actively, and expertly, navigate sophisticated, profit-motivated investments throughout his adult life, his commercial fluency informs his poetry. The business aspects of Milton's arguably finest aesthetic achievement are memorialized in its governing legal agreement, the publishing contract for Paradise Lost. A close reading of the document reveals a virtuoso mercantile intelligence that claims the unprecedented right by authors to control the retail exploitation of their intellectual property.

Todd Sammons ~ University of Hawai'i at Mānoa
Some Notes Toward a Rhetorical Reading of the Companion Poems

I take the central critical question about the companion poems "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" to be "How are the two poems related?" Unsurprisingly, the two main critical camps seem to be what I term the "dichotomists," who see the poems as two different poems, and the "sequentialists," who see the poems as one single poem, more or less. Among the dichtomists, we can situate E. M. W. Tillyard and Rosemond Tuve; in the sequential camp, Cleanth Brooks, Nan Carpenter, and Don Cameron Allen. Both camps are each half-right. I offer, then, as something of a compromise, a rhetorical reading of the poems, based on the Progymnasmata of the fourth-century rhetorician Aphthonius. Specifically, I see Milton using the penultimate progymnasmatic exercise--thesis (logical examination of any matter under inspection)--as the crux of the matter (so Tillyard is right to see the relevance of Milton's First Prolusion, "Whether Day or Night is the More Excellent," to the companion poems); and I wind up agreeing with Allen that the companion poems, signaled especially by the coda at the end of "Il Penseroso," wind up privileging Night over Day, arguing, that is, that Milton prefers the Thoughtful Person to the Mirthful Person. As in Paradise Lost, then, Milton argues well in utramque partem ("on both sides of the question"), but his true allegiance is not far to seek.


Respondent: Richard Preiss ~ University of Utah

Panel #4: Religious Urgency, 3:30-5:00 p.m.

David Loewenstein ~ University of Wisconsin - Madison
Milton's Double-Edged Volume: Religious Politics in the 1671 Poems

This paper elaborates upon a point briefly made at the very end of my Representing Revolution in Milton and His Contemporaries: that by publishing Paradise Regained together with Samson Agonistes, Milton created a doubled-edged volume that could function like a "two-handed engine" during the Restoration. I want to modify the use of that term "indeterminacy" that I used in my book and stress instead the calculated ambiguity of the 1671 volume and its religious politics. One influential line of criticism has stressed that Samson the old-fashioned, active, military hero is superseded by the Jesus of Paradise Regained whose method (as Michael Wilding put it in Dragon's Teeth: Literature of the English Revolution) is "patience and heroic martyrdom, suffering for truth's sake instead of killing." But this polarized view of the 1671 volume--which valorizes Jesus's pacifism and rejects Samson's Old Testament militarism--diminishes the power of the volume's calculated ambiguity. It aligns the Restoration radical Puritan poet unequivocally with pacifism when Milton's position remains more complex, ambiguous, and open-ended than this view allows. And by treating Samson as basically a negative model, this polarized reading of the 1671 volume must diminish the reader's sympathy for Samson's acute anguish, which Milton dramatizes so graphically. I want to examine instead how Milton's political and religious radicalism after the Restoration should be left open ended: it need not be aligned with one prophetic poem and its heroic vision more closely than with the other. Simply put, in one poem, he envisioned what it might be like to repudiate all temporal kings and powers and establish the inward kingdom of Jesus through humble actions, the power of the Spirit, and "winning words"; in the other poem, he envisioned what it might be like, in a spectacular act of holy violence, to destroy the idols and theater of Dagon.

Margaret Oakes ~ Furman University
Comus and Satan: Familiar Faces of Vice

How are we supposed to recognize evil, especially when it comes in disguise? Both Eve and the Lady have exceptional abilities to withstand the dangers about which they overtly have been warned; although Eve's prelapsarian nature may make her more susceptible to being deceived, she has been warned to expect it. And the Lady, wise beyond her years in a postlapsarian world, knows the dangers of intemperarance and a lack of vigilance. Thus, to try to achieve their goal of the corruption of their victims, Comus and Satan approach their victims as innocent creatures of nature, using disguises based on the nature of their victims and with the nature of their particular form of vice. The Lady and Eve are initially beguiled by faces that appear part of a familiar, even domesticated, landscape. Comus appears to the Lady, his young mistress on the family estate, as a shepherd whom she believes she even recognizes: someone who is to watch over and tend the sheep rather than corrupt those in his care. Satan's sophistic nature and smooth words are embodied in the double-tongued snake, who is also seen by Eve as a member of the animal kingdom who shares her home in Eden. The fact that Satan is able to trick his victim into the first sin, and that Comus escapes to wreak more havoc on other victims, highlights Milton's emphasis on the need for both an understanding of sin and for an ever-watchful eye that looks for false faces speaking false words.

Regina Schwartz ~ Northwestern University
Milton and Idolatry

Milton was preoccupied with idolatry from the beginning of his literary career, from the "Nativity Ode" to its end, in Samson Agonistes, and throughout his political and religious prose, he inveighed against idolaters for enslaving the mind, the will, and nation. For him, regicide was justified because the idolatrous King enslaved his subjects. But Milton also authored the great tract on free speech, Areopagitica, that was to become one of the cornerstones of the U.S. First Amendment's commitment to liberty and toleration. As spokesman for liberty, he seems embarrassingly bigoted when he inveighs against Catholics. As such, Milton brings a contemporary question into clear focus: is idolatry only the name we give to our enemies, a mystification for intolerance? Or is there some concept of enslavement, of error, of falsehood, that is still a legitimate category for evaluation? If so, how do we know idolaters when we see them?

Respondent: Dennis Danielson ~ University of British Columbia

Concluding Plenary 5:15-6:00 p.m.

Angelica Duran ~ Purdue University
Premeditated Verse: Oral Readings of Paradise Lost

Unique among other major post-classical works, Paradise Lost is an oral poem. Because of his blindness, Milton was required to recite portions of his 10,565-line long masterwork to amanuenses. Since then, other oral readings of the epic have taken on many forms, all echoing the originary telling: the Romantics in small groups, teachers and religious folk in groups ranging from a dozen to over a hundred, performers who have memorized the entire book to impressed public audiences. I take the occasion of having just completed our own 10-hour "Marathon Reading" to reflect on the causes and consequences of such readings. Primarily, I share the insights from colleagues who regularly coordinate such readings in Canada, the U.K., the U.S.A., and other predominantly Anglo countries to demonstrate how the form of the readings (big or small, consecutive or broken up, public or private, etc.) shape results for individual readers, as well as reflect the coordinators' creativity and resources. Some basic pedagogical rationales include ensuring that students read the entire text and fostering group cohesion among students assigned to enliven individual books. Both within and outside of academic settings, the overarching impetus is promoting appreciation of literature and by extension the humanities: readings stimulate curiosity about this "hard" poem, impress the public with students' memorization skills, and even provide occasion for listeners to experience a theodicy. I conclude with my own reflections, back to my earliest reading when I used Paradise Lost as one of the base texts to improve my English pronunciation, of all things; to the echoes I heard but had never read; to whatever new insights this latest reading provides me and, I hope, others.


Closing Remarks: Jennifer Summit ~ Stanford University