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Tarrying with Chaos: John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Ethics of Psychoanalysis

  • Paul Cefalu
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Abstract

One would have expected that Slavoj Žižek would at some point turn his gaze on Milton’s Paradise Lost. The above epigraphs, taken from Ž ižek’s The Plague of Fantasies, are concerned with some of the cruxes of Paradise Lost: whether Adam did indeed have sexual relations with that helpmeet, Eve, in Eden, and whether Satan’s diabolical evil is distinct from radical evil in that Satan establishes an all-purpose maxim to pursue evil against the moral law as such. Unfortunately, Ž ižek does not develop these potentially rich notions in relation to Paradise Lost—notions that might have resurfaced in Ž ižek’s later systematic assessments of Christianity: On Belief, The Fragile Absolute, and The Puppet and the Dwarf.3 The following pages offer a reading of Paradise Lost that Ž ižek might have offered had he returned to Paradise Lost in the context of his recent inquiries into God’s fragile absolutism. In his later work, Ž ižek returns again and again to the notion that the Christian God is Other to himself (a subject alienated from the real like any creaturely subject), but breaks through the boundaries of his imaginary “ego” by incarnating himself as Christ.

Keywords

Moral Evil Paradise Lost Mirror Stage Radical Evil Primary Narcissism 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Slavoj Ž ižek, The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso, 1997), 15.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., 234.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Slavoj Ž ižek, The Fragile Absolute, or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For (London: Verso, 2000), 92–107; On Belief (London: Routledge, 2001), esp. 79–105; and The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2003), esp. passim ch. 3.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Slavoj Ž ižek, The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters (London: Verso, 1996), passim ch. 1.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Alenka Zupančič, Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan (London: Verso, 2000).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Gordon Teskey (New York: W. W. and Norton, 2005), 163, 168–73.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    All quotes from Paradise Lost are taken from John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Macmillan, 1957).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Margaret Bailey, Milton and Jakob Boehme (New York: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 1914).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Ibid., 64–65.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Ibid., 135.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Ibid., 137–69.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Other Miltonists have tended to acknowledge but circle around Boehme’s possible influence on Milton. George M. Conklin argued, for example, that Milton’s position on the creation, “despite the similarities of Plato, Lucretius, Philo, Eriugena, Servetus, Gerson, Ibn Ezra, Fludd, Bohme, and others is uniquely his and was independently derived from his exegetical conclusions alone.” George M. Conklin, Biblical Criticism and Heresy in Milton (New York: 1949), cited in J. H. Adamson, “The Creation,” in Bright Essence: Studies in Milton’s Theology, by W. B. Hunter, C. A. Patrides, and J. H. Adamson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1971), 92. See also Adamson, “Creation,” 101.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    This summary is largely based on the account given in David Walsh, The Mysticism of Innerworldly Fulfillment: A Study of Jacob Boehme (Gainsville: University Presses of Florida, 1983), 60–62.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Jacob Boehme, Personal Christianity: The Doctrines of Jacob Boehme, intro. Franz Hartmann (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1958), 108.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Ibid., 109.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Ibid., 106.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Jacob Boehme, The Aurora, trans. John Sparrow, eds., C. J. B. and D. H. S. (London: John M. Watkins, 1960), 701.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Still one of the most thorough accounts of Milton’s chaos can be found in Walter Clyde Curry, Milton’s Ontology, Cosmology, and Physics (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1957). Yet, given some of these close resemblances between Boehme’s and Milton’s accounts of first matter, Curry perhaps too quickly concludes that, although Milton’s conception of chaos was influenced by Du Bartas and Hermes Trismegistus, “Milton is unusually original in his conception of chaos” (87).Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Ages of the World, trans. Judith Norman, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 169.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    Ibid., 179.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    Slavoj Zižek, The Abyss of Freedom (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 6.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    Ibid., 21.Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    Frank Allen Patterson, ed., The Works of John Milton, 14.40–1. In this particular sense, Paradise Lost departs from De Doctrina Christiana, which does offer a gloss on the Hebrew “Ehi,” “I am what I am,” or “will be.” The distance between De Doctrina and Paradise Lost regarding divine self-naming is passed over in Maurice Kelley’s survey of parallels between the two texts, which focuses on eternity, immutability, incorruptibility, omnipotence, etc., but not on the tautologies of Exodus 3:14. Kelly does draw a correspondence between the two texts regarding God’s “unity,” but the parallel seems forced: Kelly suggests that in Paradise Lost, God’s remark, “I am alone/From all eternitie,/For none I know/Second to mee or like, equal much less” (8.405–7), seems to echo De Doctrina’s, “And through all numbers absolute, though One” (8.421). Note, though, that God’s comments in Paradise Lost do not suggest that he is “one” or unified; he states only that he is alone, hierarchically speaking, in power and rank. See Maurice Kelley, This Great Argument: A Study of Milton’s De Doctrina Christian as a Gloss upon Paradise Lost (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1962), 74–75.Google Scholar
  24. 26.
    Lacan understandably approaches the divine tautology with skepticism. In his commentary on Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, Lacan observes that Moses the Midianite “claims to have heard the decisive word emerge from the burning bush, the word that cannot be eluded, as Freud eludes it: ‘I am,’ not as the whole Christian gnosis has attempted to interpret it, ‘he who is,’—thereby exposing us to difficulties relative to the concept of being that are far from over, and which have perhaps contributed to compromising exegesis—but ‘I am what I am.’ Or, in other words, a God who introduces himself as an essentially hidden God.” The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959–1960: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Porter (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 173.Google Scholar
  25. 27.
    This is to say that God always “will have been” in relation to his performatives throughout the text. For a good discussion of Lacan’s use of the future perfect and related linguistic distinction between the subject of the statement and the subject of enunciation, see Samuel Weber, Return to Freud: Jacques Lacan’s Dislocation of Psychoanalysis, trans. Michael Levine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 110–19.Google Scholar
  26. 28.
    Frank Allen Patterson, ed., The Works of John Milton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1953), vol. 15, 21.Google Scholar
  27. 29.
    Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, trans. Theodore M. Greene (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1960), 27–28.Google Scholar
  28. 30.
    See Gordon Michalson Jr., Fallen Freedom: Kant on Radical Evil and Moral Regeneration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 30.Google Scholar
  29. 32.
    Ibid., 37. For an excellent discussion of Kantian maxim-making in relation to radical evil, see Richard J. Bernstein, Radical Evil: A Philosophical Interrogation (Cambridge: Polity, 2002), passim ch. 1.Google Scholar
  30. 33.
    Kant, Religion Within the Limits, 30. For a Lacanian assessment of Kant’s distinction between radical and diabolical evil, see Slavoj Ž ižek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 95–100.Google Scholar
  31. 40.
    Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function,” in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), 6. For a further account of the “anarchic” quality of the pre-symbolic body, see Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954–1955, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991), 166.Google Scholar
  32. 42.
    Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism: An Introduction,” in General Psychological Theory: Papers on Metapsychology, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Collier Books, 1963), 74.Google Scholar
  33. 43.
  34. 44.
    Ibid. On Freud’s use of the terms ideal ego and ego-ideal, see also Sigmund Freud, The Complete Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton, 1966), 428–29, 528–30.Google Scholar
  35. 46.
    Jacques Lacan, “Ego-Ideal and Ideal Ego,” in The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book I, Freud’s Papers on Technique, 1953–1954, ed. Jacques AlainMiller, trans. John Forrester (London: W. W. Norton, 1988), 141. The two egos referenced here describe Lacan’s notion of “two narcissisms,” famously illustrated in his “schema of two mirrors,” itself an enhancement of his earlier use of the example of the inverted bouquet to illustrate imaginary captation. Lacan imagines a scenario in which the subject stands with her back to a concave mirror, immediately in front of which is a box with inverted vase on top of which is a bouquet. Just in front of the box and bouquet is another mirror, this time a plane, rather than concave mirror. When the subject looks beyond the inverted box and bouquet into the plane mirror, she sees a virtual image in which the box has been turned right side up. The image is virtual because the real image appears in the concave mirror behind the subject, which simply reflects into the plane mirror the virtual image. By looking into the plane mirror, the subject essentially sees a reflection of a reflection originally produced in the concave mirror. For Lacan, the inverted box and the bouquet stand for the subject’s actual or experiential body. The correction of the image by the concave mirror represents primary narcissism and the ideal ego of the imaginary. The reflection in the plane mirror, which stands for the Other, represents secondary narcissism and the ego-ideal of the symbolic. Lacan’s presentation of the inverted bouquet can be found in The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I: Freud’s Papers on Technique, 1953–1954, 77–78. His refinement of the bouquet experiment in order to illustrate the “two narcissisms” can be found in the same volume, 123–26. If we were to describe Adam’s interruption of Eve at the lake in terms of Lacan’s schema of the two mirrors, we should say that Adam prevents the primary, concave mirror to produced a unified, improved imaginary ego, as if the plane mirror does not reflect orGoogle Scholar
  36. slightly refract a more primary reflection as much as stand in for that reflection entirely.Google Scholar
  37. 47.
    See, for example, Christine Froula, “When Eve Reads Milton: Undoing the Canonical Economy,” in Canons, ed. Robert von Hallberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984). For a more recent Lacanian interpretation of the scene, one that responds directly to Froula’s essay, see Linda Gregerson, The Reformation of the Subject: Spenser, Milton, and the English Protestant Epic (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 148–63.Google Scholar
  38. 50.
    Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), 103. For a reasonably comprehensive survey of Lacan’s changing use of the concept objet a, see Richard Boothby, Freud as Philosopher: Metapsychology After Lacan (New York: Routledge, 2001), passim chapter 5. Ž ižek, of course, employs the concept throughout his own work, the clearest elaboration of which is Slavoj Ž ižek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1992), 3–8.Google Scholar
  39. 51.
    John Rumrich, Milton Unbound: Controversy and Reinterpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 144.Google Scholar
  40. 57.
    Lacan, Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 54. See also Lacan’s “The Freudian Thing,” in Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002), 107–37.Google Scholar
  41. 58.
    Ibid., 55.Google Scholar
  42. 59.
    Ibid., 58.Google Scholar
  43. 60.
    Ibid., 56.Google Scholar
  44. 61.
    Ibid., 58–59.Google Scholar
  45. 65.
    See Rumrich, Milton Unbound, 144–146; and Regina Schwartz, Remembering and Repeating: On Milton’s Theology and Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 35.Google Scholar
  46. 66.
    Catherine Gimelli Martin, “Forum,” PMLA 111, no. 3 (1996): 49.Google Scholar
  47. 67.
    Catherine Gimelli Martin, “Fire, Ice, and Epic Entropy: The Physics and Metaphysics of Milton’s Reformed Chaos,” Milton Studies 35 (1997): 73–113.Google Scholar
  48. 70.
    Ibid., 163. On sublimation and courtly love, see also Slavoj Zižek, The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality (London: Verso, 1994), passim chapter 4.Google Scholar
  49. 71.
    Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, 217–18, See also Lacan, Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 57–58. For an assessment of the distinction between representative and representation, see Boothby, Freud as Philosopher, 216–17; and Joan Copjec, Imagine There’s No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2002), 34–40.Google Scholar
  50. 76.
    For Ž ižek’s most sustained assessment of the distinction between desire and drive see Ž ižek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Onology (London: Verso, 1999), 290–306.Google Scholar
  51. 77.
    Renata Salecl, (Per)versions of Love and Hate (London: Verso, 1998), 52.Google Scholar
  52. 78.
    Ibid., 25.Google Scholar
  53. 79.
    Ibid., 49–50.Google Scholar
  54. 80.
    Lacan, Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 263. For more on literary characters like Oedipus, Synge, Lear, and Antigone who undergo comparable “limitexperiences,” see Ž ižek, The Ticklish Subject, 160–61.Google Scholar

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