Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And now for something completely different...

Scatology and the Sacred in Milton's Paradise Lost



In his classic study, The Dialectics of Creation, Michael Lieb foregrounds the myriad ways in which Milton uses scatology throughout Paradise Lost to describe the depravity of the devil. But Satan is not the only character in the epic to be associated with excretion. Milton's angels and Milton's God are also implicated in the operations of the lower bodily stratum. In these instances, however, allusions to the evacuative functions attest to an exalted divinity rather than a disgusting diabolism. Evacuation in Paradise Lost is thus a highly complex signifier. Not simply a pejorative pointing inevitably at a damnable degradation, scatology can also signal a sublime goodness. This essay draws upon humoral theory and socio-cultural studies of manners to both emphasize and account for the richly multivalent meaning of evacuation in Milton's epic.