I started planning this book, which became my PhD Thesis, about 5 years ago.
It didn’t turn out to be exactly what I expected – it’s a mashup of Paradise Lost scholarship and a comparative history of the influence Milton’s Satan had on politics, art, literature, revolution and social progress over several centuries.
It’s a response to the bizarrely conservative academic readings of Paradise Lost that continue to be taught in many universities.
It’s a summary of historical and contemporary depictions of the devil, and an argument that Milton’s tragic figure is more hero than villain. It’s that and much, much more. I put it up for preorder and will make the print book available soon.
If you’re interested in these topic – satanism, comparative religion, freedom and revolutionary politics, Milton and Paradise Lost, modernism and literary theory – and are willing to post a review, sign up to my newsletter and I’ll send you a free review copy.
Originally I was going to use the title “Satan is my Hero” but I’ve learned people will take my research more seriously if it’s less deliberately inflammatory.
SURPRISING QUOTES FROM FAMOUS PEOPLE
I’ve picked out a few of the less common quotes I discovered while researching this book. I had to dig deep for these, so enjoy!
“A sin is anything one does or thinks which causes one to be unhappy!” —Napoleon Hill
“I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance. Of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee.” —Herman Melville
“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.” —Oscar Wilde
“With Satan I have struck my deal, He chalks the signs, beats time for me, I play the death march fast and free.” —Karl Marx
“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.” —Thoreau
“Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil. Milton’s Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God, as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments.” —Percy Blythe Shelley
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment… Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself… Go forward and make your dreams come true… Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it… Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant… Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” —John Stuart Mill
“There is nothing. That there is no God and no universe; that there is only empty space, and in it a lost and homeless and wandering and companionless and indestructible Thought. And I am that thought. And God, and The Universe, and Time, and Life, and Death, and Joy and Sorrow and Pain only a grotesque and brutal dream, evolved from the frantic imagination of that insane Thought.” —Mark Twain
“In you there is much to be laughed at, and especially your fear of what hath hitherto been called “the devil.” So alien are you in your souls to what is great, that to you the Superman would be frightful in his goodness. Ye highest men who have come within my ken! This is my doubt of you, and my secret laughter: I suspect that you would call my Superman—a devil!” —Friedrich Nietzsche
“Limitation is the true devil.” —William R. Alger
“My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a nonconformist. Although I am not a Communist, I refused to fall in line by hating them… Secondly I was opposed to the Committee on Un-American Activities–a dishonest phrase to begin with, elastic enough to wrap around the throat and strangle the voice of any American citizen whose honest opinion is a minority one.” —Charlie Chaplin
“The big problems are still unsettled. It is an intellectual hell, layer upon layer of it, with everything fitfully gleaming and pulsating; and the outline of Lucifer-Amor coming into sight at the darkest centre.” —Sigmund Freud
“I am the courage that creates resolution in man. I am the source that provokes originality of thought. I am the hand that moves man’s hands. I am Satan everlasting. I am Satan whom people fight in order to keep themselves alive. If they cease struggling against me, slothfulness will deaden their minds and hearts and souls, in accordance with the weird penalties of their tremendous myth.” —Kahlil Gibran
A history of fallen angels, pirates, revolutionaries and other daring insurgents who liberated humanity and founded the modern world.
Paradise Lost is a unique text in that responses to Milton’s epic have not evolved in line with trends in literary theory, and instead rehash the three hundred year old disagreement on whether Milton’s Satan is, in any sense, either by accident or deliberation, the hero of the story. This dialogue, like the biblical story of the Garden of Eden on which the epic is based, centers on the theme of temptation: in Paradise LostSatan’s deliberate and malicious destruction of Adam and Eve seems to guarantee his guilt, yet it is hard not to sympathize with the heroic passion of Satan’s daring odyssey. Many modern critics read this as exactly the genius of Paradise Lost, that it is a seductive text, and that Milton’s Satan must be resisted.
On the other hand, it’s easy to argue that this orthodox reading is medieval–a duty towards obedience to inherited wisdom and the strict containment of your own passionate tendencies; and that this reading is also completely at odds with the liberal, Faustian values of contemporary society. In this thesis, after exploring the orthodox response to Paradise Lost (and the reaction it generates), I’ll demonstrate how Milton’s writings are symptomatic of an ethical inversion in Western culture, which first caused Satan to be celebrated (as a symbol for revolutionary politics) and later condemned (as humanity confronted the depths of its unrestrained depravity). After tracing how responses to the character of Satan have evolved in literature and entertainment in line with political sympathies, my original contribution to knowledge will be a comparative reading of Paradise Lost through the lens of postmodern thought and existentialism as Satan’s over-proximity with the Real (the abyss of freedom creates anxiety which demands action).
Satan’s crisis of identity can be divided into three major shifts: the development of subjectivity through a crisis of alienation; his resistance to a totalizing power discourse that defines his being; and his ultimate failure to exempt himself from the systemic order that relied on his transgression. The aim of this book will be to show how universally modern thinkers agree on the concept of evil as a negation of what is, in favor of anything else but this–a negation that is paradoxically the source of all human liberty and creativity (which nevertheless leads to death); and also to demonstrate how the silencing of so-called satanic elements allows and perpetuates social injustice and the marginalization of minority voices.
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