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Satan's Poetry

Fallenness and Poetic Tradition in <i>Paradise Lost</i>

by Danielle A. St. Hilaire

Publication Year: 2012

Readers of Paradise Lost have long been struck by two prominent—and seemingly unrelated—aspects of the poem: its compelling depiction of Satan and its deep engagement with its literary (and specifically epic) tradition. Satan’s Poetry brings these two issues together to provide a bold, provocative, and fresh reading of the poem—one that responds to the resurgent interest in Milton’s Satan by examining the origins of conflict and ambiguity in Paradise Lost. Without needing to resolve whether Satan is the hero or the villain, a mastermind or fool, Satan’s Poetry examines the more fundamental role of Satan as the origin of the fallen world, the entity that initiates the poem—perhaps, indeed, that initiates poetry itself. Paradise Lost, like all else in our fallen human existence, is permeated by Satan’s evil, which alters human life in ways that cannot be remedied within the course of human history, but Milton’s epic demonstrates that this generative evil does not ultimately determine what fallen creatures can do with that life. The whole point of the poem, then, can be seen as an attempt to understand what Satan’s fall means for us, the poem’s fallen readers, and only by achieving that understanding and working within our fallenness can our fallen state be resolved in the promise of redemption. Drawing on the philosophical frameworks of Hegel and Adorno, Satan’s Poetry argues that satanic creation, although fundamentally negative, nevertheless exists positively in Milton’s universe by virtue of its dialectical relation to God’s creation. Qualitatively different from God’s creation, producing only fragments, satanic creation is essential for Milton because it is the only mode of creation available to fallen consciousness, and therefore the only kind available to the poem seeking to create itself. So it is unnecessary, St. Hilaire concludes, to assume that sympathy for the devil means implicit agreement with the devil, or that Milton’s narrator must dissociate himself from Satan in order to justify God’s ways. Paradise Lost is Satan’s poetry because it participates in a form of existence that is in need of redemption; it is by embracing this fact that it renders itself fit for redemptive reading.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Series: Medieval & Renaissance Literary Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

Over the seven years I spent working on this project, I was supported and assisted by more people than I can name here, all of whom have my gratitude, whether mentioned here or not. This book began as a dissertation overseen by Pete...

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pp. 1-20

Paradise Lost is a fallen poem. In telling the story of the Fall of humankind as something that has happened, that is past, Milton’s great epic situates itself in a moment in time after that Fall, within the postlapsarian world whose genesis the poem...

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1. Satan and the Poetics of Creation

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pp. 21-51

It was Harold Bloom who, in his Anxiety of Influence, found in Milton’s Satan the beginning of all modern poetry. As an allegory of the “strong poet,” Satan in Bloom’s thinking “shadows forth gigantically a trouble at the core of” poetry from...

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2. Fallen Language and Paradise Lost’s Allusions

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pp. 53-97

Bloom identifies Satan as the inception of modern poetry in order to describe how poems within a tradition relate to one another. I would like to argue in the next two chapters that, because Satan is, in fact, the inception of all poetry, at least according...

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3. The Particular, the New, and the Tradition

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pp. 99-143

When Satan sets in motion Eve’s and then Adam’s self-creation by presenting them with a negative possibility — the potential to choose difference instead of God’s sameness — he creates a world in which poetry is possible. When he establishes that...

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4. Justifying the Ways of God to Men

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pp. 145-208

The previous chapters have demonstrated the intimate link between Satan’s development in the poem and Paradise Lost’s self-conscious construction as a poem, both in its own right and as a work necessarily situated within a tradition. As the first to fall...


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pp. 209-240


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pp. 241-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705866
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704562

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Medieval & Renaissance Literary Studies