The Ethics of Allegory in /Paradise Lost/
Vasileiou, Margaret Rice
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This dissertation reframes the debate about whether Paradise Lost is an allegorical poem by focusing on Milton's assertion that all language is allegorical because it reflects the difference-from-Himself that God has inscribed into language and built into human ontology. Milton emphasizes this allegorical difference in two ways in Paradise Lost. First, he points out the difference between the logic of language and the landscape by which we try to describe and apprehend it, even ascribing the fall to Eve's decision to ignore this difference and to embrace the logic of language as if it captured truth. Second, he forces the allegorical figures of Sin and Death to contend with and participate in Christian history, thereby destabilizing their figurations as representations of abstract ideas, and displaying the impossibility of fusing word and thing (i.e., of collapsing allegorical difference) in the historical context of pre-apocalyptic time. This dissertation argues that Milton uses both of these strategies to oppose the universal language ideology of the late seventeenth century, whose proponents promised to speak the world exactly as it is, to fuse word and thing. From Milton's perspective, these proponents threatened to write over God's truth with a language that reflected their desire for intellectual domination of the world more than it reflected the natural world they supposedly sought to describe. Thus, Paradise Lost reminds us that word and thing cannot be fused, that other-speaking not only reflects human ontology--that is, humankind's suspension in a state of difference from and similarity to God--but also represents the only kind of speaking that refers to God. Language that does not admit its difference from truth, in contrast, writes over the sublime truth with a verbal idol that purports to embody what it can only allegorically represent.