It was 100 Fahrenheit at my apartment to-day which is usually ten degrees cooler than most places in San Diego. So I've exiled myself from that plane to-day and met my mother for lunch and am now at Barnes and Noble. Expelled from--I don't know whether to call it heaven or hell. But it's a relatively good segue into discussing John Milton about whom there's some news to-day, sort of:
That's Ridley Scott being adamant that his upcoming sequel to Prometheus is going to be called Alien: Paradise Lost and confirming the title indeed comes from the great Milton poem. A blogger at Live Journal named Cavalorn, who wrote a detailed and interesting analysis of Prometheus when it came out, has posted some extensive speculation on how the Prometheus sequel might be influenced by Milton's work. He focuses on the war in heaven portions of Paradise Lost which would indeed seem the most immediately applicable plot for the Prometheus/Alien series. He talks also about the Xenomorphs as being the angels who exact God's vengeance on the Egyptians, something that does not factor into Paradise Lost though it would be fascinating if the next movie also worked out to be a sequel to Scott's Exodus. Alien versus Pharaoh?
2015 has been the year of Milton for me. Before this year, I'd only read Paradise Lost. This year, I've read all of Milton's poetry and his major pamphlets and his History of Britain and now I'm taking a university class on Milton and am rereading things I read earlier this year. My Professor, Herman, who says he's drawing on the analyses written by a man named Stanley Fish, has given some interesting lectures largely focusing on contradictions woven throughout Milton's writings. I particularly appreciated his examination of a masque Milton wrote commonly referred to as Comus, observing the work contains a criticism of untested virtue which would be explored at greater length in prose in Milton's famous pamphlet on the topic of free publishing, Areopagitica.
I cannot praise a fugitive and cloister'd vertue, unexercis'd & unbreath'd, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortall garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.
This provoked a debate in class over the usefulness of trigger warnings and the professor was justly delighted that Milton's work was suddenly of quite obvious relevance to the students. But he observed some contradictions even in what might otherwise seem to be a straight forward prose argument like Areopagitica in which Milton simultaneously argues that Parliament ought to have the right to repress certain books because books have incredible power and, drawing from Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians, "To the pure, all things are pure." That the power of books cannot change the kind of person the reader is.
Although I hadn't consciously spotted the contradictions in Milton's earlier poetry and I saw the argument in Areopagitica not so much as a contradiction as alternate conditions based on context--that Milton felt compelled to maintain some support for censorship to not be branded as too radical for his argument to be heeded but felt ready to be more forthright when quoting scripture--the overall impression I received from the massive, rush dose of Milton I took this year was of a deeply conflicted man. Of a man especially conflicted for his steadfast belief in the purity of his own vision. I really don't think, for most of his life at least, Milton understood the fascinating and troubling weirdness of his best poetry came from a thorn in his psyche. It's remarkable that he understood well enough not to repress his weirdness but despite a contemporary belief in the inherent beauty of virtue he refers to the story of Osiris in Areopagitica;
virgin Truth, hewd her lovely form into a thousand peeces, and scatter'd them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the carefull search that Isis made for the mangl'd body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall doe, till her Masters second comming; he shall bring together every joynt and member, and shall mould them into an immortall feature of lovelines and perfection. Suffer not these licencing prohibitions to stand at every place of opportunity forbidding and disturbing them that continue seeking, that continue to do our obsequies to the torn body of our martyr'd Saint. We boast our light; but if we look not wisely on the Sun it self, it smites us into darknes. Who can discern those planets that are oft Combust, and those stars of brightest magnitude that rise and set with the Sun, untill the opposite motion of their orbs bring them to such a place in the firmament, where they may be seen evning or morning. The light which we have gain'd, was giv'n us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge
An image not unlike the Engineer in the opening of Prometheus allowing his body to crumble to fertilise a lifeless world.
I think that by the time Milton wrote his final great work, though, Samson Agonistes, he was beginning to feel a greater horror about himself and the universe. Did he consciously identify with Satan in Paradise Lost? That's the big question. It seems abundantly obvious he identified with Samson, the blinded hero brought low in the land of his enemies, just as Milton, blind in his old age, found himself in Restoration England where Charles II was reversing the course of the country under Cromwell's Commonwealth that Milton was such a vocal supporter of and also prominent participant in. I wonder if, like in the David Bowie song, Milton might have been asking himself, "Is there life on Mars?" He must have felt quite the alien himself.