Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Paradise Lost Teaching Chronicles, Part II

Is this more likely to happen in the South? I wonder if any one else has had a similar reaction:

Today we began with Satan out of Hell and approaching Eden, the beginning of Book IV.

A lot of students were really moved by his opening speech, where he seems to have come to some pretty profound self knowledge and is aware of his mistake and his eternal burden. It's the one where Hell is redefined as something Satan carries with him, as well as his distance from God (similar to Mephistophelis' definition of Hell in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus).

We began to talk about how Satan becomes more human, more sympathetic in this book, and how we begin to appreciate the view from his perspective.

I had one student who resisted sympathizing with Satan.

This student contended that, as pure evil, Satan is just deceiving us, getting us on his side so that he can win; his remorse is false. An interesting perspective, I acknowledged, and since Milton's text loves reversals, this seems like a possibility. But when I asked her to support this idea with textual evidence from the passage, she faltered, even though she's an excellent reader, very good at using the text to back her claims.

And yet she refused to see it any other way. So in response I stressed that perhaps as PL is a prequel to both Genesis and Christianity, it's also a prequel to the creation of Good and Evil, and that it might be a narrative about how Satan becomes the Prince of Lies, rather than assumes that he's always embodied some essential evil quality. The student seemed unwilling to accept this interpretation too.

I can't quite figure out why this student kept insisting that Satan's grief and remorse were false, but I could tell that she was struggling to resist the urge to sympathize with him, and I liked that she wanted to try to see things a different way. And then I wondered if maybe it had something to do with fundamentalist or evangelical christian belief. In other words, I wondered whether my student was afraid to weep with Satan, that the devil might make an entrance if she did.

And and then I became afraid-- that I'm stereotyping my devout Christian students too much.

Maybe she was just trying to get on top of the reading which is already full of reversals. Maybe she was just trying to play "devil's advocate" with the devil's advocate. And in this sense, she was probably thinking more like Milton than anyone else.

No comments: