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Posts Tagged ‘Paradise Lost’

The Epigraph

February 1, 2012 | by

Milton wasn’t working.

The aspiring novelist had already written the perfect dedication (“For my friends”), and he’d long had a list of possible titles, yet he still had no epigraph, the mysterious but meaningful quotation he’d seen at the beginning of every great book. He’d been holding John Milton in reserve for this very situation.

When contemplating the epigraph for his debut novel, the writer had always been confident that if all else failed, he could find inspiration in Shakespeare or Milton. For his part, the Bard hadn’t cooperated.

A line like “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” might work for a paperback legal thriller, but nothing Shakespeare wrote seemed appropriate for the “Borges meets Zola, if Zola had somehow been influenced by Nabokov” collection of loosely related vignettes set in a fictional megalopolis in an indeterminate near-future the writer hoped to get published by next fall. Read More »

3 COMMENTS

Satanic Seduction; Dufus Casanovas

January 20, 2012 | by

Dear The Paris Review,

Last week’s question on the topic of books you should read when young got me thinking: Can you provide a warning, or cautionary note, to attach to any books that may prove to be catastrophic when read at too young an age?

Thank you for your help.

All the best,
Daniel Davies

Fifteen years ago the late Roger Shattuck published a long attack on the writings of the Marquis de Sade, arguing that they were overrated as art and dangerous as pornography, especially to young readers. Being a young reader, I sneered at the time. But for all I know Shattuck was right. Kids are mean enough as it is, and too apt to treat each other like crash-test dummies, even without some lunatic marquis egging them on. I might also keep Larry Clark’s books on a high shelf. Drugs are sexy, sure, but the kids don’t need to know that. I sometimes wonder if I should have read Kafka Was the Rage in high school or the memoirs of Andy Warhol, or Edie, or quite so much Martin Amis. I’m not sure The Changing Light at Sandover was such a good idea, either. (Better precious than semiprecious, James Merrill liked to say—but surely there are limits.)

Do teenage boys still need to be warned off Kerouac? A friend of mine, currently in the second grade, has memorized The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and is in the habit of quoting it at length. It seems to me that this could turn into a problem. I remember the poet Peter Taylor complaining that he was taught To the Lighthouse in high school, when he was too young to know what was going on, or even to know that he didn’t know. Maybe the best you can do is to read once in boredom and incomprehension, then go back in protosenility and read everything again.

I am juggling lovers, which is no easy task. What are, in your opinion, the great literary love triangles? Which books will guide me in my complicated amorous pursuits?

Here at The Paris Review, we are of the Liz Lemon school: the word lovers bums us out unless it comes between “meat” and “pizza.” Anyway, how could we choose a favorite triangle? Pretty much every great novel contains one. That said, I’d probably vote for the ur-triangle of Satan, Adam, and Eve in Paradise Lost. In Book Four, Satan stands there and watches Adam and Eve having paradisical sex, until he can’t stand it anymore and turns away—like Warhol, running out of the room during a porn shoot: “I'm going to have an organza!” (See “cautionary note,” above.) That’s when Satan cooks up the plan to seduce Eve and ruin things in Eden.

What’s great about the passage—what makes Satan Satan—is the argument that he’s going to do all of this for Adam and Eve’s own good:

... Aside the Devil turnd
For envie, yet with jealous leer maligne
Ey'd them askance, and to himself thus plaind [i.e. complained].

Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two
Imparadis't in one anothers arms
The happier Eden, shall enjoy thir fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust,
Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire,
Among our other torments not the least,
Still unfulfill'd with pain of longing pines;
Yet let me not forget what I have gain'd
From thir own mouths; all is not theirs it seems:
One fatal Tree there stands of Knowledge call'd,
Forbidden them to taste: Knowledge forbidd'n?
Suspicious, reasonless. Why should thir Lord
Envie them that? can it be sin to know,
Can it be death? and do they onely stand
By Ignorance, is that thir happie state,
The proof of thir obedience and thir faith?
O fair foundation laid whereon to build
Thir ruine! Hence I will excite thir minds
With more desire to know, and to reject
Envious commands, invented with designe
To keep them low whom knowledge might exalt
Equal with Gods ...

If you ask me, that comes pretty close to a triangulator’s credo. Who in a bad mood hasn’t suspected that so-called happy couples “stand/By ignorance”? And who hasn’t been seduced by “more desire to know, and to reject / Envious commands”? Read More »

11 COMMENTS

Adaptation; Fall Reading

August 12, 2011 | by

You may have heard by now that there’s a Paradise Lost movie in the works, starring Bradley Cooper as the Devil—WTF?! Do you think film adaptation is a good or bad thing for books, particularly ones with wide recognition to begin with? —Liesel

WTF indeed. The two most famous complaints about Paradise Lost are that it’s really, really long (Edgar Allan Poe) and that it’s weak on visuals (T. S. Eliot). If ever a blind poet needed the magic touch of Ridley Scott, that poet was John Milton. But I’m the wrong person to ask—I’ve been holding out for the movie version ever since tenth grade.

Are there any books coming out this fall that you’re particularly excited about? —Leo

Lots—and the stack keeps growing. Two days ago, for example, my sister gave me the galleys of a first novel, Various Positions, by the young Canadian writer Martha Schabas, all about the sexual awakening of a ballerina. Anna tells me I’m going to love it (no matter that I skipped Black Swan) ... But sticking just to novels that I’ve actually read: in these pages I’ve already mentioned Chad Harbach’s debut, The Art of Fielding, Nicholson Baker’s sweet-natured book of smut, House of Holes, and Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s novella The Truth About Marie. Readers of The Paris Review proper know Ben Lerner as a poet; his first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, is about ... well, it’s about a young poet on a fellowship in Madrid, but I enjoyed it so much I read it twice (and laughed out loud both times). I keep going back to Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon, which is fascinating and only sort of a novel; it veers from fiction into biographical essay, into essay on the art of fiction. Last night I stayed up late—much later than I meant to—reading Spring, an addictively earnest novel about English yuppies in love, by David Szalay. Finally, Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel The Marriage Plot has what must be the most seductive first sentences of the season (seductive, anyway, to a certain micro-demo, which I suspect may include certain readers of the Daily):

To start with, look at all the books. There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but by date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Bronte sisters. There were the Colette novels she read on the sly. There was the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeline had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot. There was, in short, this mid-sized but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeline had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn’t trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth. And then you waited for the result, hoping for “Artistic,” or “Passionate,” thinking you could live with “Sensitive,” secretly fearing “Narcissistic” and “Domestic,” but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating: “Incurably Romantic.”

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On the Shelf

July 20, 2011 | by

Jane Austen

A cultural news roundup.

  • An unfinished Jane Austen novel sells at auction for $1.6 million.
  • The end of Borders.
  • Sigmund Freud, cokehead.
  • California schoolbooks add the LGBT community.
  • So do Archie comics.
  • The rock memoir is huge: can the Thin White Duke (or for that matter Ziggy Stardust) be far behind? Bowie becomes publishers’ “top target.”
  • “We insist that students touch and smell and shine light through items, and investigate them to understand the book in history, and understand the book as history.
  • Entering the publishing world in the digital age.
  • Longshot Magazine is back.
  • A Harry Potter plagiarism case bites the dust.
  • Frederick Seidel on a time before air-conditioning.
  • A brief history of Pendleton.
  • Alan Bennett: “I have always been happy in libraries, though without ever being entirely at ease there.”
  • How to undress a Victorian lady.
  • If the Paradise Lost adaptation is hell for Milton lovers, call Bradley Cooper the devil.
  • The NewsCorp scandal: (almost) stranger than fiction.
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