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 Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus

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PostSubject: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Sat Apr 06, 2013 7:10 pm

Excerpts from Peter Thorslev's, The Byronic Hero:

In appearance the Gothic Villain is always striking, and fre­quently handsome. Of about middle age or somewhat younger, he has a tall, manly, stalwart physique, with dark hair and brows fre­quently set off by a pale and ascetic complexion. Aside from this, the most noticeable of his physical characteristics are his eyes; Schedoni, for instance, has

"large melancholy eyes" which "were so piercing that they seemed to penetrate, at a single glance, into the hearts of men, and to read their most secret thoughts; few persons could support their scrutiny, or even endure to meet them twice."

By birth the Gothic Villain was always of the aristocracy, partly for the sense of power which his nobility confers, and partly for the air of the fallen angel, the air of Satanic greatness perverted. Fre­ quently, also, there is some mystery connected with his birth or his upbringing.
The sense of mystery is apparent not only in the origins and in the general appearance of the Gothic Villain, but in his entire person­ ality. An air of mystery is his dominant trait, and characteristic of all his acts. Frequently it is increased by an aura of past secret sins: either family sins, as is the case with Walpole's Manfred, or more frequently, personal sins, as is the case with Schedoni, who, we eventually discover, has committed fratricide and seduced his wid­ owed sister-in-law before the novel opens.

...the close connection between the appearance and mys­tery of the Gothic Villain and of the Noble Outlaw. First Mrs. Rad­cliffe's Schedoni:

the livid paleness of his face . . .There was something in his physi­ognomy extremely singular, and that cannot easily be defined. It bore the traces of many passions, which seemed to have fixed the features they no longer animated. . . . His eyes were so piercing, that they seemed to penetrate, at a single glance, into the hearts of men, and to read their most secret thoughts.

And then Lara:

That brow in furrow'd lines had fix'd at last, And spoke of passions, but of passions past: The pride, but not the fire, of early days, Coldness of mien, and carelessness of praise; A high demeanour, and a glance that took Their thoughts from others by a single look . And some deep feeling it were vain to trace At moments lighten'd o'er his livid face.

De Montfort has many of the characteristics of the typical Gothic villain:

Th' indignant risings of abhorrent nature; The stern contraction of . . . scowling brows,
That like the plant whose closing leaves do shrink At hostile touch, still knit at [ his enemy's ] approach;
The crooked curving lip, by instinct taught,
In imitation of disgustful things,
To pout and swell . . .

Gloomy, haughtily reserved, and inordinately proud, he is given to "tossing his arms," clenching his fists, and gnashing his teeth in a half-suppressed rage which he relieves in near-apoplectic solilo­ quies.
Yet he has also many of the characteristics of the Man of Feel­ing. Even his enemy, the unfortunate victim of his "ruling passion," supposes that de Montfort was always

formed with such antipathy, by nature,
To all affiiction of corporeal pain,
To wounding life, e'en to the sight of blood (IV, i)

that he could never bring himself to murder, even if he would (al­ though this of course turns out to be tragic irony, since eventually de Montfort does murder his enemy, in a Gothic forest near a fune­ real convent chapel). Although he often abuses his servants quite unreasonably, still, as one of them testifies, he has

with all his faults . . .
Such bursts of natural goodness from his heart, As might engage a harder churl than I
To serve him still. (1, i)

Finally, he is as much moved by remorse as by hatred (as Professor Evans remarks) , and when he has commit­ted his villainous murder his agony knows no bounds:

Come, madness! come to me, senseless death! I cannot suffer thus ! Here, rocky wall, Scatter these brains, or dull them!
[Runs furiously, and dashing his head against the wall, falls upon the floor.] (V,ii)


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Sat Apr 06, 2013 7:11 pm

"The Romantic hero types, on the other hand - the Noble Out­law, Faust, Cain or Ahasuerus, Satan or Prometheus - are invariably solitaries, and are fundamentally and heroically rebellious, at first against society only, and later against the natural universe or against God himself.

They are solitaries in the sense that the eighteenth-century types are - by birth, by nature, or by breeding; because of the acuteness of their minds and sensibilities - but most of them are solitaries also because of conscious moral choice, and this fateful decision, with Faust, Cain, Satan, or Prometheus, is dramatized as the climactic event of their tragedies. In any case, adjustment to society as it ex­ ists, is impossible for them; they either go down to glorious defeat, cursing God and dying, or they commit their lives to transforming the world.

Finally, it is important to note that most of these heroes are in one sense transformed eighteenth-century villains: the Gothic Villain becomes sentimental or becomes the sympathetic Noble Outlaw; the Cain of biblical story or of Gessner's drama becomes the hero of Byron's tragedy; the Satan of Milton's epic is transformed into a Prometheus figure in the works of Blake and Shelley. This transfor­mation characterizes the basic shift of values in the Romantic Move­ ment: from conformism in large social patterns of conduct or thought, to radical individualism; from humble right reason, com­ mon sense, and the proper study of mankind, to a thirst to know and experience all things, to encompass infinities; from acquiescence be­ fore God and the social order, to heroism and hubris.

...the characteristics of the Noble Outlaw... In physical appearance he is fearful enough, with his face darkened by the Indian sun, his "sable hair," his "lip of pride" and his "eye of flame I . . . that seemed to scorn the world" and that "knew not pain or woe" (I, viii) . He also shares with Schedoni and Lara the peculiarly Byronic traces of burnt-out passions: it is said of his "swart brow and callous face" that "Evil passions cherished long I Had ploughed them with impressions strong" (I, ix) ."


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Sat Apr 06, 2013 7:11 pm

"Faust even in this earliest manifesta­tion can be seen to stand for the aggressive, analytic side of man's nature, the eternal thirst for knowledge which will not stop at hu­ bris, and which is perhaps for that reason essentially and inevitably antireligious. Since the authors of the early Faust books and the au­ dience for whom they were written were quite pious, Faust is there­ fore depicted as a fearful villain at "best," and at his lowest, as something of a criminal buffoon.

It was Marlowe who raised Faust's stature to that of a tragic hero. His motives are clarified and his character ennobled, and the seem­ ing injustice of an eternal punishment for a temporal and very hu­ man failing gives the tragedy the proper elements for a classical catharsis. This transformation of the hero is seen most clearly in the Helen episode, which in its new form is Marlowe's most important addition to the story. In the Faust books the hero's desire for Helen was a degrading lust for an unattractive demon; in Marlowe's trag­ edy this desire becomes symbolic of the Renaissance obsession with beauty in its purest, most attractive, and most human form. In gen­ eral, perhaps nothing shows more clearly the basic similarity be­ tween the spirit of the Renaissance and the spirit of the Romantic Movement than this comparison: Faust in Marlowe's drama is a Renaissance hero struggling out from under the repression of me­ dieval orthodoxy; and Faust in Goethe's drama is a Romantic hero emerging from the dead certainties of the eighteenth-century en­lightenment.

After his incarnation in Marlowe's drama at the very height of the English Renaissance, Faust went into a decline from which he was not to revive for almost two hundred years. Both in England and in Germany he survived largely as a popular folk figure in sub­ literary puppet dramas. These were no longer intellectual tragedies, to be sure, but they nevertheless kept something of the poetic force of the popular concern with the sin of magic from which the Ur­ faust had sprung. On the literary level, however, the degradation was complete, and Faust became a clown, an object of ridicule along with the magic he represented; the true tragedy of epistemology
was was disregarded.

For his resurrection Faust had to wait for the German Sturm und Drang, the period of "Great Men" par excellence, and the age which gave rise also to Gotz and to Karl Moor.

To return then for another look at the Hero of Sensibility as seen in this light: he is always isolated, set off from the rest of mankind; he is essentially passive, since uncommitted; he is egocentric and self-consciously introspective, sometimes passionately, sometimes even morbidly aware of his own identity in a world of ever shifting and ever amorphous values.
When he is so defined, one can easily trace his development in the heroes of the Romantic Movement and beyond. First there is Yo­ rick, with his Patior, ergo sum, but with a largely esthetic attitude toward sorrows and sensibility. In Werther the suffering takes on cosmic overtones, and eventually it becomes too much to bear. Wordsworth's Oswald tells us that

Action is transitory - a step, a blow,
The motion of a muscle - this way or that - 'Tis done, and in the after-vacancy
We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed; Suffering is pennanent, obscure and dark, And shares the nature of infinity.
(The Borderers, III, 1539-44)

Faust is already from the beginning of the drama disillusioned with the abstract studies in which he has spent his life searching for truth; he makes great fun of the self-certainties of the Enlightenment in the figure of his pupil Wagner. But when Mephistopheles finally tempts him to indulge his sensual appetites, he spurns the sugges­ tion: it is not vulgar sensual pleasure that interests him:
But thou hast heard, 'tis not of joy we're talking.

I take the wildering whirl, enjoyment's keenest pain, Enamoured hate, exhilarant disdain.
My bosom, of its thirst for knowledge sated,
Shall not, henceforth, from any pang be wrested,
And all of life for all mankind created
Shall be within mine inmost being tested:
The highest, lowest fonns my soul shall borrow,
Shall heap upon itself their bliss and sorrow,
And thus, my own sole self to all their selves expanded, I too, at last, shall with them all be stranded.

It is the same passionate self-assertion which motivates Byron to write that "the great object of life is sensation - to feel that we ex­ ist, even though in pain;" this is also essentially the doctrine with which Childe Harold closes, and it is the final position of Manfred and of Cain. It is this same passionate and uncommitted Hero of Sensibility who continues through the Victorian age: in the person of Teufelsdrockh before his baptism of fire and his commitment to a conception of an organic universe, borrowed from German ideal­ ism; in the person of Arnold's Empedocles, with his isolation and his impassioned skepticism; or Clough's Dipsychus, the "little Victo­ rian Faust," who finds commitment to any principle outside himself impossible."


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Sat Apr 06, 2013 7:12 pm

"Faust, like Manfred, was also a solitary from birth, and largely for the same reasons - because of his great powers of imagination and sensibility. Moreover he had become a Titan in literature even be­fore Goethe turned to him, and he had become that because of his superior sensibility, because he was an aristocrat of suffering. He could have said with Manfred: "I can bear . . .I In life what others could not brook to dream, I But perish in their slumber" (II, i, 76- 79) .

There is a more distinctive parallel in the way in which the two heroes have so far spent their lives. Faust opens his drama with a lament for the uselessness of his long life of study - of philosophy, law, medicine, and theology. Manfred also admits that "Philosophy and science, and the springs I Of Wonder, and the wisdom of the World, / 1 have essayed . . . / But they avail not" (I, i, 1 3-17). That this unbridled search for knowledge is "sinful" both Faust and Manfred implicitly acknowledge, but that is not why they have left off. They have forsaken the search because they have both come to the same sad conclusion, that science is "But an exchange of ignorance for that I Which is another kind of ignorance" (II,iv,61-63).

They are both too skeptical and too proud and self-assertive to sub­mit to those truths others have found absolute. In other words, in the search for truth they are victims of that same Weltschmerz which becomes the plague of the Hero of Sensibility. They long for some sort of truth to which they can commit themselves, for in that commitment only can they find "Oblivion - self-oblivion! I Can not ye wring from out the hidden realms I Ye offer so profusely ­ what I ask?" (1, i, 145-147). Finally, in the frustration of their search and in the desperation of their longing, they turn from their books to direct communion with demons and spirits. Faust calls up the Earth-Spirit, and then meets Mephistopheles himself. Manfred calls up natural spirits and destinies, and finally meets their chief, Arimanes.

But here, of course, the themes diverge. Faust, in desperation, to be sure, but nevertheless willingly, makes a pact with the Prince of Darkness; this Manfred disdains to do. This difference caused Georg Brandes to say that Manfred exhibits a higher conception of man than does Faust. For Manfred is too proud to submit to anyone; although twice tempted to do so, both by the Spirits and by the Witch of the Alps, he refuses disdainfully. In this respect he bears a resemblance to the last two of the Romantic heroes: Satan and Prometheus.
It was in regard to Manfred that Byron wrote: "The Prometheus, if not exactly in my plan, has always been so much in my head, that I can easily conceive its influence over all or any thing that I have written" (LJ, IV, 174)."


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

*Become clean, my friends.*
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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Sat Apr 06, 2013 7:12 pm

"In one important respect Lucifer is much unlike Prometheus, however, and this I believe forms the crux of the drama. Lucifer stands for defiance, for reason, and the thirst for knowledge, but he cannot love, and this gives the play its dramatic conflict. This is the only point in their long arguments on which Cain gets the best of his princely antagonist. Lucifer tries several evasive subterfuges, but Cain continually recurs to the questions: "Dost thou love nothing?" \Vhen Lucifer tries to tum the issue on Cain with his "I pity thee who lovest what must perish," Cain replies, "And I thee who lov'st nothing" (II, ii, 337-338). In other words, Lucifer is in most re­ spects a typical Byronic Hero, in his courage and in his skeptical self-assertion, but he lacks that softness, that sensibility, which the true Byronic Hero is never without. In this respect the tragedy of Cain shows a definite advance on the theme of Manfred."


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

*Become clean, my friends.*
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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Sat Apr 06, 2013 7:12 pm

"One gets a better understanding of heroic virtue from the famous description of the "magnanimous" man in the Ethics, for here Aristotle notes that magnanimity (often translated "pride") is the "crown of all virtues." The magnanimous man is "not given to admiration, for nothing to him is great" ; he seeks honors only from equals; he is generous only from a sense of strength, not from a sense of duty; and above all, he knows his own worth, and he is sure of himself because he does. The hero's basic virtue, in other words, is close to what Nietzsche in the Genealogy of Morals calls "self­ respect," and it is very distant indeed from any ideal of Christian meekness, or even of ordinary modesty."


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

*Become clean, my friends.*
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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:16 pm

Linked from:

Mo wrote:

Lyssa wrote:
Wherefore thy passion so excite
And thus thine eloquence inflame?
A scrap is for our compact good.
Thou under-signest merely with a drop of blood.
Blood is a juice of very special kind.

I've been thinking...

Goethe’s Mephistopheles offers his submission to Faust, and that’s how he tries to capture his soul...

Here, an unwearied slave. I’ll wear thy tether,
And to thine every nod obedient be:
When There again we come together,
Then shalt though do the same for me.

When Faust has the service of his power, Mephistopheles can see who Faust is, because he can see what Faust goes for---what motivates him. (Those are the values that reveal his soul).

Faust wanted knowledge, of course---but that wish was empty of content. There was still nothing in particular he ended up wanting (to last). IOW, Faust wanted to know whether he really wanted nothing, after all. (He was contemplating suicide before the devil came, right?)

Here's a thought I had...

Do you think that Faust was saved because his soul was dead to begin with? He lacked passion for his experiences. Mephistopheles was more filled with longing than Faust, (for Faust), and so, wasn't the devil also more human? (And could that have been why Faust was one of God's favorites? --Faust was divorced from life.)

The woe, the rapture, so ensnare me,
That from her gaze I cannot tear me!
And, strange! Around her fairest throat
A single scarlet band is gleaming,
No broader than a knife-blade seeming!

That’s Faust speaking, but he’s describing a lifeless eidolon who only magically appears as whatever Faust’s (the looker’s) love is...
(And she looks like death).

Lyssa wrote:
I'll have to address Faust more properly later

David Hawkes' excellent book 'The Faust Myth', traces the historical Faust back to Manicheanism and situates the soul and magic dialogues in the context of money and hyper-reality where signs - words, wealth, women lose all referents and become an ends in itself.

Manicheanism begins as an internal quarrel with J.-Xt., positing the Devil as the artist who animates idols and icons as an independent creator, while the J.-Xt. God as the 'evil' who keeps his creatures enslaved within morality; whereas the Devil as the true God promises true Godhood to man and unlimited powers by 'setting free' the material powers like modern day credit is 'set free' from tangible gold and holds unlimited purchase power.  
Goethe's Faust was trying to address the Baudrillardian simulacra that had already begun since Plato.

What did Goethe and the history of Faust he builds on, mean by 'selling the soul'?

A quick brief of Hawkes' book:

Quote :
"One of the soul’s basic properties is its inconvertibility. It is a unique essence, and so cannot legitimately be exchanged with anything else. It can, however, be made artificially equivalent to other things by a sin- ful act of human thought, and this process has conventionally been described as “selling” the soul. The idea that the soul must not be “sold” emerges almost simultaneously with the concept of the soul itself. In the Biblical phrase, the soul must not be “made merchandise,”11 or conceived of as equivalent to anything other than itself. Any act of exchange assumes an equivalence between the objects being exchanged, and to posit such equivalence between essence and appearance in the case of the soul threatens its very existence, since the soul is defined precisely as essence distinct from appearance. To sell the soul is to kill it and, as the idea of soul as substance blended with the notion of soul as spirit, the sale of the soul was often figured as an act of objectification.

Elsewhere, Socrates attacks the Sophists for commodifying their teaching, and claims that the fact that they sell their art for money produces in them the view that truth is not rational but rhetorical.
The Faust Myth wisdom is said to pollute the soul.

Historically, the taboo on selling the soul appears to reflect a deep rooted fear of slavery, which was a constant threat to the peoples of the ancient middle east. In slavery, the essence of an individual is indeed sold. The Israelites’ experience of bondage in Egypt and Babylon became their definitive trope for describing the condition of “sin,” and the association between slavery and sin is fundamental to both Hebrew and Greek conceptions of the alienated soul. To be a slave is to have one’s nephesh translated into financial terms, as in Exodus 21:21, where a master is allowed to inflict a fatal beating on a slave on the grounds that “he is his money (keceph).” The slave is not an independent essence but an externalized part of his master’s identity: a property. The ancient world understood that a human being’s essential nature is violated when he is “made merchandise.” The Hebrews and the Greeks concurred that to be made merchandise was to be objectified, and classical thought constantly connects slavery to corporeality.

The religion of Augustine’s Hermes consists in giving life to images, making them active agents in the world, and this is done by the “art” which can make demons inhabit them. Such an animation of images is presented here as the essence of magic. Augustine insists that the use of signs to achieve practical effects necessarily involves, or actually constitutes, a pact with the devil: “All the arrangements made by men for the making and worshipping of idols are superstitious, pertaining as they do either to the worship of what is created or of some part of it as God, or to consultations and arrangements about signs and leagues with devils, such, for example, as are employed in the magical arts . . .” (2.20.30). Augustine suggests that the “demons” are able to enter into idols because the idols have been built by men. It is the human tendency to adore our own creations that facilitates demonic access to our minds. The cardinal error of magic and idolatry is to prefer the products of our labor to “man himself.” By this last phrase, Augustine intends our essence, the part of us that is made in God’s image, and the loss of which makes us purely carnal and thus “comparable to the beasts.” Magic and idolatry, by this logic, indicate and perpetuate an alienation of the soul, which consists in mistaking it for the “works of men’s hands.”

Luther introduced an explicitly economic element into the traditional critique of the magical sign. The recognition that a translation of priestly and penitential labor into financial terms constituted the sale, the alienation, and thus the death of the soul was the primary impetus behind his protest against the ecclesiastical market of Rome. As Norman O. Brown observed, “Luther sees the final coming to power in this world of Satan in the coming to power of capitalism. The structure of the entire kingdom of Satan is essentially capitalistic: we are the Devil’s property.” Luther perceived that the pragmatic alliance between the Pope and the Fuggers, which led to the exploitative marketing of fetishized indulgences, bespoke a shared ideological commitment to idolatry. The autonomous power of money reflects the same psychic error as the adoration of an image. In such tracts as On the Babylonian Captivity he describes the degeneration of the church into a marketplace, where the sacraments are sacrilegiously exchanged for financial signs, which are efficacious only by virtue of the supersti- tious idolatry of human beings. He found such signs to be soul- destroying, for a performative sign does not depend upon the speaker’s subjective intention for its efficacy. Hence the Babylonian Captivity’s contention that the Papist approach to the sacraments eliminates the unitary rational subject, or soul, by assuming that the subjective inten- tions of both priest and communicant are irrelevant to the efficacy of the mass. According to the Roman church, a sacramental sign is performative, so that participation does not merely signify but causes the advent of grace in the soul of the participant. Luther demurs, arguing rather that God’s promise of redemption must be rationally understood by the communicant if the ceremony is to be efficacious:

Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the sacraments a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the “signs” of efficacious grace. . . . if a sacrament were to give me grace just because I receive that sacrament, then surely I should obtain the grace, not by faith, but by my works. I should not gain the promise in the sacrament, but only [the] sign instituted and commanded by God.

The reduction of the sacramental sign to a performative constitutes, for Luther, its alienation or “Babylonian captivity.” Catholic doctrine held that the mass was efficacious ex opere operato, “by virtue of the action,” so that the efficacious power of the sacramental sign did not depend on the psychological condition of either the priest or the communicant. The Roman position was that the ultimate cause of the sacrament’s efficacy was God’s will, but Luther pointed out that eccle- siastical practice was consistent with the magical view that it was the ritual itself that produced grace. The ceremonial actions of the priest were fetishized as a “finished work,” an opus operatum, that could be—and frequently was—sold on the market like any other piece of commodified labor so that, as Luther puts it, “this sacred testament of God has been forced into the service of an impious greed for gain . . .” (284).

Luther defends the sacrament against such “abuse” by insisting on a strong distinction between sign and referent. To borrow the terminology of modern linguistics, Luther would happily concede, with Saussure, that human beings can only know the signified through the signifier but he would resist Derrida’s reduction of the signified to the signifier. He makes this clear in The Babylonian Captivity’s discussion of the practice of administering communion to the laity in one kind only:

Why withhold the visible sign [from the laity], when all agree that they receive the content of the sacrament without that sign? If they grant them the content, the more important part, why do they not grant the sign, which is the less important? In every sacrament the merely outward sign is incomparably less important than the thing signified . . . this monstrous state of affairs arose at the time when, contrary to Christian love, we began, in our folly, to pursue worldly wealth. God showed it by that terrible sign, namely, that we preferred the outer signs rather than the things themselves. (260–611)

The Roman mass is idolatrous because it attributes efficacy to the sign itself. The Catholics denied this allegation, pointing out that they regard the ceremony as only the instrumental and not the principal cause of grace, but Luther believed this defense was refuted by their practice of not administering the sign of the wine to the laity. This reveals, he claims, that they actually believe the sign to be the most important element, else they would not so jealously guard the exclusively priestly access to it. The Roman view of the sacrament, according to Luther, is indistinguishable from a magical ritual performed by a restricted circle of illuminati. The Latin mass is experienced by the laity as “secret words,” and even the priests conceive of their utterances as magical and efficacious. The replacement of a denotative sign (whereby the mass is an external promise or testament of interior faith) by a performative one (whereby the mass is effica- cious ex opere operato) facilitates the ecclesiastical market economy which provoked the Reformation, and in Luther’s view, the church’s commodification of salvation has obscured mankind’s instinctive awareness of the immortality of the soul. We are now in a position to appreciate how the Lutheran argument that belief in performative signs constituted a demonically inspired alienation, or “sale,” of the soul inspired the earliest versions of the Faust myth.

The historical Johann Faust was a marginal, albeit intriguing, figure, but his boasting, clowning, and sexual misbehavior fitted him to fill a particular void in anti-magical discourse. He represents the overweening sorcerer, whose pride in his art convinces him that he can control the devil, and the initial collections of his exploits were intended to expose the falsity of this conceit. An ambiguous figure emerges from the few documentary references we have to him, but on one thing almost all the sources agree: he was an incorrigible braggart, who lost no opportunity to proclaim the extent of his learning and power. He is reported to have posed as the spiritual heir of Simon Magus, the archetypal magician: the rival magician Tritheim’s letter on Faust claims that he styled himself “the second magus.” The Faust myth originates as part of a project to unmask such figures as ordinary witches—that is, mere servants of Satan, and not the master- ful commanders of the dark powers that they claimed to be. It marks an important stage in the progressive identification of magic with Satanism.

The original Faust-book takes a consistently Lutheran attitude toward semiotic issues. To that end, it defines magic as the belief in the efficacy of per- formative signs, and it attempts to demonstrate that such a belief nec- essarily involves an agreement with Satan. The Historia collects tales that were first told of various sorcerers, including the historical Faust, but also Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, and Agrippa. Two internationally famous magicians who had been accused of necromancy, John Dee and Giordano Bruno, were both in Saxony in 1586, the year before the Historia’s publication, and the book’s propagandist mission is to establish that the magic practiced by such learned men falls under the category of witchcraft. That is to say, Spies argues that all magic is witchcraft, whether the witch inhabits the court or the hedgerow. The character of Faust functions as an archetypal and representative magi- cian, and as a synecdoche for magic in general. Accordingly, the Historia emphasizes that the antihero’s obsession with magical signs and figures is the cause of his damnation:
. . . using figures, characters, conjurations, incantations, with many other ceremonies belonging to these infernal arts, as necromancy, charms, sooth- saying, witchcraft, enchantment, being delighted with their . . . words and names so well, that he studied day and night therein . . . his Speculation was so wonderfull, being expert in using his Vocabula, Figures, Characters, Conjurations, and other Ceremoniall actions, that in all haste hee put in practise to bring the Divell before him."

It is the kind of thinking that gave rise to the doctrines of purgatory and indulgences: x amount of sin = y amount of grace = z amount of money.

The magician attempts to render his soul equivalent to a determinate amount of power through a performative speech act: “Faustus gives to thee his soul” (2.1.67). Mephistopheles is careful to ensure that Faustus understands that these words are efficacious “deeds”: “thou must write it in manner of a deed of gift . . . Do you deliver this as your deed?” (2.1.60–61, 112). But nature rebels against this violation, and Faustus’s blood congeals, drawing from him the protest: “Why shouldst thou not? Is not thy soul thine own?” (2.1.68). It is a good question, which dramatizes the tension between the notion of the soul as an interior, and thus inalienable, core of personal identity, and the proto-Lockean understanding of subjective activity, or “labor power,” as a saleable commodity. As Richard Halpern observes:

In order to become a commodity, soul must not only supply a use value to the purchaser but it must be alienable by the seller. It must, that is, be a form of property. In declaring ownership of his soul, and thereby the right to alienate it, Faustus expresses a primitive form of what C. B. Macpherson calls “possessive individualism.”

We can detect in this tension the initial stirrings of a seismic historical rupture. For most English people until the mid-seventeenth century, the fact that one’s soul belonged to oneself meant precisely that it must never be sold—Esau’s sale of his birthright provided the Biblical text most often used to establish this point. For political economists of the late seventeenth century, on the other hand, the fact that one’s subjec- tive activity was one’s own “property” meant that one was entirely free to sell it—in the form of “labor”—to the highest bidder. It is the difference between conceiving of oneself as an integral, unitary, and indivisible being, and the conception that imagines it is possible for one part of the self to alienate, or sell, another. The latter notion must inevitably conceive of the part of the self that is sold as a thing, a commodity, and it is this process of alienation and objectification that Doctor Faustus condemns.

One function of money is to store labor-power in symbolic form. To possess money is to possess stored-up, efficacious power. Milton gives his infernal gold this magical force to unleash labor-power, and he contrasts the supernatural work done by the devils’ gold with the relatively ineffectual physical labor of pre-capitalist societies:

. . . And here let those
Who boast in mortal things, and wond’ring tell
Of Babel, and the works of Memphian Kings,
Learn how their greatest Monuments of Fame,
And strength and art are easily outdone
By spirits reprobate, and in an hour
What in an age they with incessant toil
And hands innumerable scarce perform. (1.692–699)

The gold is magical, it embodies labor-power in concentrated form, and because of this it is more potent than the actual labor that pro- duced the pyramids. As Sin later comments to Satan, “thy virtue hath won/ What thy hands builded not” (10.372–373). When giving coun- sel in Pandemonium, Mammon recommends that the devils put gold to work, along with their “art,” in order to create an unnatural mundus inversus that will stand in opposition to God’s creation:

. . . cannot we his light
Imitate when we please? This desert soil
Wants not her hidden lustre, gems and gold;
Nor want we skill or art from whence to raise Magnificence; and what can heav’n show more? (269–273)

In contrast to this supernaturally active, fetishistically valuable gold, Eden contains “potable Gold” (3:608) and “vegetable Gold” grows on the tree of life (4.220). This is the “philosophers’ gold” of alchemy— that is, gold in its natural aspect as the qualitative perfection of met- als—as opposed to the Satanic view of gold as idolatrously embodying quantitative value. As Forsyth (132–133) points out, the description of Satan’s first view of Eden as displaying “[i]n narrow room Natures whole wealth” (4.207) gestures toward Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, where Barabas refers to “infinite riches in a little room.”(1.1.37)

Only by translating labor-power into representation can value be stored without regard to its physical, natural manifestation. Both lines allude, in turn, to the incarnation, and thus ironically reveal the blasphemous inversion that defines the villains’ financial mode of evaluation. The incarnation and money are mirror images, one being a divine and the other a demonic mode of fusing the spiritual with matter. This dialectical opposition between logos and efficacious rep- resentation is given figurative expression in early modern Christianity as a conflict between God and Satan, and Milton’s epic is the most intricate analysis of this contradiction.

Satan’s view of value is both cause and consequence of his fall. He thinks of the distinction between Creator and creature as quantitative, not qualitative, and presumes that it can be expressed in financial terms. This is what leads him to conceive the absurd notion of challenging the force that brought him into existence. He fails to understand the concept of redemption in terms other than financial until it is, as he convinces himself, too late:

I ‘sdeind subjection, and thought one step higher Would set me highest, and in a moment quit
The debt immense of endless gratitude,
So burthensome, still paying, still to owe; Forgetful what from him I still receiv’d,

And understood not that a grateful mind
By owing owes not, but still pays, at once
Indebted and discharg’d; what burden then? (4.50–57)

The assumption that money and magic are homologous forms of objectified labor-power, fetishized as autonomous representation, and existing in a hostile relationship to both humanity and nature is so deeply embedded in Paradise Lost that the precise mode of connection between them is sometimes hard to discern.

The objectification of the subject (carnality) and the subjectification of the object (idolatry) are different aspects of one process which Milton, like later philosophers, calls “alienation.” Satan is described as “Alien from Heav’n” (4.571) and “alienate from God” (5.877). The effect of the Fall is to reduce the world to the same “alienated” (9.9) condition, and Satan considers God “alienated” (10.378) from creation, thus leaving it prey to “the dark Idolatries / Of alienated Judah” (1.456–457). Alienation results in the inability, or the refusal, to recognize the presence of deity in the created universe, which is to say, in the Manichean, Satanic, and Faustian perspective.
While both Debord and Baudrillard trace a direct link between the spectacle and the imposition of imaginary exchange-value on an object, Debord emphasizes the fact that exchange-value is objectified labor-power, and this give his critique a moralistic tone that has largely disappeared from postmodernist accounts of the hyper-real.

The theoretical foundation of Debord’s work is Georg Lukacs’s extrapolation of Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism into the all- encompassing notion of “reification,” a phenomenon that is simulta- neously psychological and economic.1 In Debord, as in Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and Susan Sontag’s On Photography, the twentieth century’s fetishiza- tion of images is shown to develop organically from the root of commodity fetishism. As Sontag puts it:

A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. The camera’s twin capacities to subjectivize reality and to objectify it ideally serve these needs and strengthen them. The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images.

Hans-Christophe Binswanger, points out that interest-bearing capital is a continuation of alchemy by other means:

. . . the attempts to produce artificial gold were abandoned not because they were futile, but because alchemy in another form has proved so successful that the arduous production of gold in the laboratory is no longer necessary. It is not vital to alchemy’s aim, in the sense of increasing wealth, that lead be actually transmuted into gold. It will suffice if a substance of no value is transformed into one of value: paper, for example, into money. We can interpret the economic process as alchemy if it is possible to arrive at money without having earned it through corresponding effort . . . in other words, if a genuine value creation is possible which is not bound by any limits and is therefore, in this sense, sorcery or magic.

In the paper money scene, Faust enlists Mephistopheles’s aid to pay the Emperor’s debts by the invention of banknotes. The monarch is skeptical at first, rightly suspecting that demonic magic is involved, but he embraces the new currency once he perceives that his creditors are happy to accept it as though it were real gold. The liberation of financial value from gold bullion constitutes the ultimate triumph of alchemy. Alchemy did not disappear because it failed but because, certain elements within it having succeeded, it was no longer deemed necessary. But the elements within alchemy that proved successful— the practical attempt to create financial value, and the theoretical claim that art could reproduce natural essences—were never ortho- dox, and their victory over the orthodox practitioners of the discipline constitute the death of traditional alchemy. As Goethe’s attribution of paper money to Mephistopheles suggests, the artificial produc- tion of financial value was connected with black magic throughout all alchemical debate...

This is the vital difference between the alchemy of the money markets and the Aristotelian art of precapitalist societies. Traditional alchemy is concerned with quality. It does not try to create gold in order to realize its financial value, but because gold is the perfect form or telos of metal. The elusive “elixir” or “philosophers’ stone” was the catalyst that would realize the entelechy of the material world. In contrast, financial alchemy, or usury, conceives of value in terms of quantity; it disregards the essences of things and translates them into financial value." [Hawkes, The Faust Myth]


Hawkes on Money

Hawkes: Faust among the Witches


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

*Become clean, my friends.*
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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Fri Nov 21, 2014 12:39 pm

Characteristics of the Gothic.

Quote :
"In Gothic fiction certain stock features provide the principal embodiments and evocations of cultural anxieties. Tortuous, fragmented narratives relating mysterious incidents, horrible images and life-threatening pursuits predominate in the eighteenth century. Spectres, monsters, demons, corpses, skeletons, evil aristocrats, monks and nuns, fainting heroines and bandits populate Gothic landscapes as suggestive figures of imagined and realistic threats. This list grew, in the nineteenth century, with the addition of scientists, fathers, husbands, madmen, criminals and the monstrous double signifying duplicity and evil nature. Gothic landscapes are desolate, alienating and full of menace. In the eighteenth century they were wild and mountainous locations. Later the modern city combined the natural and architectural components of Gothic grandeur and wildness, its dark, labyrinthine streets suggesting the violence and menace of Gothic castle and forest.

The major locus of Gothic plots, the castle, was gloomily predominant in early Gothic fiction. Decaying, bleak and full of hidden passageways, the castle was linked to other medieval edifices—abbeys, churches and graveyards especially— that, in their generally ruinous states, harked back to a feudal past associated with barbarity, superstition and fear. Architecture, particularly medieval in form (although historical accuracy was not a prime concern), signalled the spatial and temporal separation of the past and its values from those of the present. The pleasures of horror and terror came from the reappearance of figures long gone. None the less, Gothic narratives never escaped the concerns of their own times, despite the heavy historical trappings. In later fiction, the castle gradually gave way to the old house: as both building and family line, it became the site where fears and anxieties returned in the present. These anxieties varied according to diverse changes: political revolution, industrialisation, urbanisation, shifts in sexual and domestic organisation, and scientific discovery.

In Gothic productions imagination and emotional effects exceed reason. Passion, excitement and sensation transgress social proprieties and moral laws. Ambivalence and uncertainty obscure single meaning. Drawing on the myths, legends and folklore of medieval romances, Gothic conjured up magical worlds and tales of knights, monsters, ghosts and extravagant adventures and terrors. Associated with wildness, Gothic signified an over-abundance of imaginative frenzy, untamed by reason and unrestrained by conventional eighteenth-century demands for simplicity, realism or probability. The boundlessness as well as the over-ornamentation of Gothic styles were part of a move away from strictly neoclassical aesthetic rules which insisted on clarity and symmetry, on variety encompassed by unity of purpose and design. Gothic signified a trend towards an aesthetics based on feeling and emotion and associated primarily with the sublime.

Linked to poetic and visionary power, the sublime also evoked excessive emotion. Through its presentations of supernatural, sensational and terrifying incidents, imagined or not, Gothic produced emotional effects on its readers rather than developing a rational or properly cultivated response. Exciting rather than informing, it chilled their blood, delighted their superstitious fancies and fed uncultivated appetites for marvellous and strange events, instead of instructing readers with moral lessons that inculcated decent and tasteful attitudes to literature and life. Gothic excesses transgressed the proper limits of aesthetic as well as social order in the overflow of emotions that undermined boundaries of life and fiction, fantasy and reality. Attacked throughout the second half of the eighteenth century for encouraging excessive emotions and invigorating unlicensed passions, Gothic texts were also seen to be subverting the mores and manners on which good social behaviour rested. The feminisation of reading practices and markets, linked to concerns about romances throughout the century, were seen to upset domestic sensibilities as well as sexual propriety. Presenting pasts that the eighteenth century constructed as barbarous or uncivilised, Gothic fictions seemed to promote vice and violence, giving free reign to selfish ambitions and sexual desires beyond the prescriptions of law or familial duty. By nefarious means Gothic villains usurp rightful heirs, rob reputable families of property and reputation while threatening the honour of their wives and orphaned daughters. Illegitimate power and violence is not only put on display but threatens to consume the world of civilised and domestic values. In the skeletons that leap from family closets and the erotic and often incestuous tendencies of Gothic villains there emerges the awful spectre of complete social disintegration in which virtue cedes to vice, reason to desire, law to tyranny.

Uncertainties about the nature of power, law, society, family and sexuality dominate Gothic fiction. They are linked to wider threats of disintegration manifested most forcefully in political revolution. The decade of the French Revolution was also the period when the Gothic novel was at its most popular. Gothic, too, was a term invoked in many political debates, signifying, for a range of political positions, revolutionary mobs, enlightened radicals and irrational adherence to tyrannical and superstitious feudal values. In a more specific historical sense, Gothic was associated with the history of the northern, Germanic nations whose fierce avowal of the values of freedom and democracy was claimed as an ancient heritage. Opposed to all forms of tyranny and slavery, the warlike, Gothic tribes of northern Europe were popularly believed to have brought down the Roman empire. Roman tyranny was subsequently identified with the Catholic Church, and the production of Gothic novels in northern European Protestant countries often had an anti-Catholic subtext.

The excesses and ambivalence associated with Gothic figures were seen as distinct signs of transgression. Aesthetically excessive, Gothic productions were considered unnatural in their under-mining of physical laws with marvellous beings and fantastic events. Transgressing the bounds of reality and possibility, they also challenged reason through their overindulgence in fanciful ideas and imaginative flights. Encouraging superstitious beliefs Gothic narratives subverted rational codes of understanding and, in their presentation of diabolical deeds and supernatural incidents, ventured into the unhallowed ground of necromancy and arcane ritual. The centrality of usurpation, intrigue, betrayal and murder to Gothic plots appeared to celebrate criminal behaviour, violent executions of selfish ambition and voracious passion and licentious enactments of carnal desire. Such terrors, emerging from the gloom of a castle or lurking in the dark features of the villain, were also the source of pleasure, stimulating excitements which blurred definitions of reason and morality and, critics feared, encouraging readers’ decline into depravity and corruption. As well as recasting the nature of social and domestic fears, Gothic fictions presented different, more exciting, worlds in which heroines in particular could encounter not only frightening violence but also adventurous freedom. The artificiality of narratives imagined other worlds and also challenged the forms of nature and reality advocated by eighteenth-century social and domestic ideology.

Terror evoked cathartic emotions and facilitated the expulsion of the object of fear. Transgression, provoking fears of social disintegration, thus enabled the reconstitution of limits and boundaries. Good was affirmed in the contrast with evil; light and reason won out over darkness and superstition. Antitheses, made visible in Gothic transgressions, allowed proper limits and values to be asserted at the closure of narratives in which mysteries were explained or moral resolutions advanced. In an age that developed philosophical, scientific and psychological systems to define and classify the nature of the external world, the parameters of human organisation and their relation to the workings of the mind, transgression is important not only as an interrogation of received rules and values, but in the identification, reconstitution or transformation of limits. In this respect Gothic fiction is less an unrestrained celebration of unsanctioned excesses and more an examination of the limits produced in the eighteenth century to distinguish good from evil, reason from passion, virtue from vice and self from other. Images of light and dark focus, in their duality, the acceptable and unacceptable sides of the limits that regulate social distinctions.

In the demonstrations of the forms and effects of evil by means of terror, the line between transgression and a restitution of acceptable limits remained a difficult one to discern. Some moral endings are little more than perfunctory tokens, thin excuses for salacious excesses, while others sustain a decorous and didactic balance of excitement and instruction. The moral, political and literary ambivalence of Gothic fiction seems to be an effect of the counter-vailing movements of propriety and imaginative excess in which morality, in its enthusiasm to identify and exclude forms of evil, of culturally threatening elements, becomes entangled in the symbolic and social antagonisms it sets out to distinguish. Defining and affirming one term—reason—by denigrating and excluding the other—passion—moral and literary value admitted both force and emotion as a means of regulating conventional hierarchies. These contradictions undermine the project of attaining and fixing secure boundaries and leave Gothic texts open to a play of ambivalence, a dynamic of limit and transgression that both restores and contests boundaries. This play of terms, of oppositions, indeed, characterises the ambivalence of Gothic fiction: good depends on evil, light on dark, reason on irrationality, in order to define limits. The play means that Gothic is an inscription neither of darkness nor of light, a delineation neither of reason and morality nor of superstition and corruption, neither good nor evil, but both at the same time. Relations between real and fantastic, sacred and profane, supernatural and natural, past and present, civilised and barbaric, rational and fanciful, remain crucial to the Gothic dynamic of limit and transgression.

The play of antitheses produces the ambivalent and excessive effects and reception of Gothic writing. Drawing on various literary forms, Gothic fiction hovers between the categories of novel and romance. Considered as a serious threat to literary and social values, anything Gothic was also discarded as an idle waste of time. Its images of dark power and mystery evoked fear and anxiety, but their absurdity also provoked ridicule and laughter. The emotions most associated with Gothic fiction are similarly ambivalent: objects of terror and horror not only provoke repugnance, disgust and recoil, but also engage readers’ interest, fascinating and attracting them. Threats are spiced with thrills, terrors with delights, horrors with pleasures. Terror, in its sublime manifestations, is associated with subjective elevation, with the pleasures of imaginatively transcending or overcoming fear and thereby renewing and heightening a sense of self and social value: threatened with dissolution, the self, like the social limits which define it, reconstitutes its identity against the otherness and loss presented in the moment of terror. The subjective elevation in moments of terror is thus exciting and pleasurable, uplifting the self by means of emotional expenditure that simultaneously excludes the object of fear. In the process, fear and its darkly obscure object is externalised and limits are reconstituted between inside and outside. While terror and horror are often used synonymously, distinctions can be made between them as countervailing aspects of Gothic’s emotional ambivalence. If terror leads to an imaginative expansion of one’s sense of self, horror describes the movement of contraction and recoil. Like the dilation of the pupil in moments of excitement and fear, terror marks the uplifting thrill where horror distinguishes a contraction at the imminence and unavoidability of the threat. Terror expels after horror glimpses invasion, reconstituting the boundaries that horror has seen dissolve.

The movement between terror and horror is part of a dynamic whose poles chart the extent and different directions of Gothic projects. These poles, always inextricably linked, involve the externalisation or internalisation of objects of fear and anxiety. The different movements implied by terror and horror characterise the most important shift in the genre. In the eighteenth century the emphasis was placed on expelling and objectifying threatening figures of darkness and evil, casting them out and restoring proper limits: villains are punished; heroines well married. In the nineteenth century, the security and stability of social, political and aesthetic formations are much more uncertain. In the changing political and philosophical conditions attendant on the French Revolution all hierarchies and distinctions governing social and economic formations were in question.

Gothic castles, villains and ghosts, already made clichéd and formulaic by popular imitation, ceased to evoke terror or horror. Their capacity to embody and externalise fears and anxieties was in decline. If they remained, they continued more as signs of internal states and conflicts than of external threats. The new concern inflected in Gothic forms emerged as the darker side to Romantic ideals of individuality, imaginative consciousness and creation. Gothic became part of an internalised world of guilt, anxiety, despair, a world of individual transgression interrogating the uncertain bounds of imaginative freedom and human knowledge. Romantic ideals were shadowed by Gothic passions and extravagance. External forms were signs of psychological disturbance, of increasingly uncertain subjective states dominated by fantasy, hallucination and madness. The internalisation of Gothic forms reflected wider anxieties which, centring on the individual, concerned the nature of reality and society and its relation to individual freedom and imagination. Terror became secondary to horror, the sublime ceded to the uncanny, the latter an effect of uncertainty, of the irruption of fantasies, suppressed wishes and emotional and sexual conflicts. A disruptive return of archaic desires and fears, the uncanny disturbs the familiar, homely and secure sense of reality and normality. The disturbance of psychic states, however, does not signal a purely subjective disintegration: the uncanny renders all boundaries uncertain and, in nineteenth-century Gothic writing, often leaves readers unsure whether narratives describe psychological disturbance or wider upheavals within formations of reality and normality.

Less identifiable as a separate genre in the nineteenth century, Gothic fiction seemed to go underground: its depths were less romantic chasms or labyrinthine dungeons, than the murky recesses of human subjectivity. The city, a gloomy forest or dark labyrinth itself, became a site of nocturnal corruption and violence, a locus of real horror; the family became a place rendered threatening and uncanny by the haunting return of past transgressions and attendant guilt on an everyday world shrouded in strangeness. The attempt to distinguish the apparent from the real, the good from the bad, evident in the standard Gothic device of portraits assuming life, was internalised rather than explained as a supernatural occurrence, a trick of the light or of the imagination. Uncanny effects rather than sublime terrors predominated. Doubles, alter egos, mirrors and animated representations of the disturbing parts of human identity became the stock devices. Signifying the alienation of the human subject from the culture and language in which s/he was located, these devices increasingly destabilised the boundaries between psyche and reality, opening up an indeterminate zone in which the differences between fantasy and actuality were no longer secure.

The Gothic strain existed in excess of, and often within, realist forms, both inhabiting and excluded from its homogenising representations of the world. Psychological rather than supernatural forces became the prime movers in worlds where individuals could be sure neither of others nor of themselves. As bourgeois modes of social organisation and economic and aesthetic production demanded increasing realism, self-discipline and regulation of its individuals, with techniques being developed by social and scientific practices, those persons that deviated from its norms became fascinating objects of scrutiny. Gothic subjects were alienated, divided from themselves, no longer in control of those passions, desires, and fantasies, that had been policed and partially expunged in the eighteenth century. Individuals were divided products of both reason and desire, subjects of obsession, narcissism and self-gratification as much as reasonable, responsible codes of behaviour. Nature, wild and untameable, was as much within as without. Excess emanated from within, from hidden, pathological motivations that rationality was powerless to control. Scientific theory and technological innovation, often used as figures of human alienation and Gothic excess themselves, provided a vocabulary and objects of fear and anxiety for nineteenth-century Gothic writing. Darwinian models of evolution, researches in criminology, anatomical and physiological science identified the bestial within the human. Categorised forms of deviance and abnormality explained criminal behaviour as a pathological return of animalistic, instinctual habits. The forms of history deployed, appearing like ghosts in the present, were less feudal and romantic and more an effect of scientific discourse: guilts and fears haunted individuals and families, while primal patterns of instinct and motivation threatened the humanity of the human species. Science, with its chemical concoctions, mechanical laboratories and electrical instruments became a new domain for the encounter with dark powers, now secular, mental and animal rather than supernatural. Crime similarly presented a challenge to rationality in a degenerate world of mysterious but distinctly human and corrupt motivations. In defining a divided world of divided beings, science also disclosed a sense of loss, of the decline of human society and its values of individual strength and health. Faced with this loss, presented as social degeneration, criminal and sexual degradation, science gave way to a new spirituality which tried to recover a sense of cultural value and unity by inflecting science with sacred, religious powers, powers that invoked conventional Gothic figures and strategies." [Fred Botting, Gothic]


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

*Become clean, my friends.*
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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Fri Nov 21, 2014 12:41 pm

The Gothic Sublime

Quote :
"The dominance of classical values produced a national past that was distinct from the cultivation, rationality and maturity of an enlightened age. This past was called ‘Gothic’, a general and derogatory term for the Middle Ages which conjured up ideas of barbarous customs and practices, of superstition, ignorance, extravagant fancies and natural wildness. Manifestations of the Gothic past—buildings, ruins, songs and romances—were treated as products of uncultivated if not childish minds. But characteristics like extravagance, superstition, fancy and wildness which were initially considered in negative terms became associated, in the course of the eighteenth century, with a more expansive and imaginative potential for aesthetic production.

Graveyard poetry, rejecting human vices and vanities through an insistenceon mortality, encouraged an interest in ruins, tombs and nocturnal gloom as the frontiers that opened on to an afterlife of infinite bliss. The taste for the sublime that dominated eighteenth-century aesthetic enquiries also offered intimations of an infinity beyond the limits of any rational framework. Natural and artistic objects were seen to evoke emotional effects like terror and wonder which marked an indistinct sense of an immensity that exceeded human comprehension and elevated human sensibility. The effusive and imaginative descriptions of objects both natural and supernatural that were recovered by scholars collecting the songs and ballads of medieval culture provided the examples of a romantic and sublime way of writing. Similarly, medieval architecture, with its cathedrals, castles and ruins, became a worthy model for evocations of sublimity. The marvellous incidents and chivalric customs of romances, the descriptions of wild and elemental natural settings, the gloom of the graveyard and ruin, the scale and permanence of the architecture, the terror and wonder of the sublime, all become important features of the eighteenth-century Gothic novel.

Shadows, indeed, were among the foremost characteristics of Gothic works. They marked the limits necessary to the constitution of an enlightened world and delineated the limitations of neoclassical perceptions. Darkness, metaphorically, threatened the light of reason with what it did not know. Gloom cast perceptions of formal order and unified design into obscurity; its uncertainty generated both a sense of mystery and passions and emotions alien to reason. Night gave free reign to imagination’s unnatural and marvellous creatures, while ruins testified to a temporality that exceeded rational understanding and human finitude. These were the thoughts conjured up by Graveyard poets.

Graveyard poetry was popular in the first half of the eighteenth century. Its principal poetic objects, other than graves and churchyards, were night, ruins, death and ghosts, everything, indeed, that was excluded by rational culture. It did not, however, idly or uncritically, celebrate them for its own sake. Robert Blair’s ‘The Grave’ (1743) revels in images of death and encourages readers to think about the horrors of the grave, of night and ghosts not as a morbid fascination but rather as a warning to the godless. For Blair death is a ‘gloomy path’ (l. 687) that leads from earth to heaven. To contemplate death and its accompanying signs is to recognise the transience of physical things and pleasures: ‘How shocking must thy Summons be, O Death! /To him that is at Ease in his possessions’ (ll. 350–1). Death lays waste to material human aspirations:

But it also elevates ones considerations to higher, spiritual objects and ends:

Death, as leveller of earthly desires and ambitions, demands religious faith and hope in order to pave the way for souls to ascend to heaven.

As a poem imbued with the sentiments of the Evangelical revival taking place in the eighteenth century, ‘The Grave’ enjoyed a long life in print as required reading for the spiritually-minded. Edward Young’s Night Thoughts (1749–51) also received such acclaim. This much longer poem develops evangelical themes, but in a more extravagant fashion. In Night Thoughts the contemplation of death and decay serves to encourage speculations on the life to come. Fears of mortality and associated superstitions are unwarranted if one has faith. Confronting and overcoming the limits of material existence, Night Thoughts is organised by a play of images which double the significance of life and death, light and dark. For Young, the life of the body entombs the soul in darkness, while death and darkness enable the apprehension of a transcendent and immanent brilliance. It is for these reasons that night and darkness are so valued:

Darkness enables a person to perceive the soul within, it expands the mind by producing a consciousness of its own potential for divinity.

Although Night Thoughts alters the significance of Enlightenment metaphors of light and dark and goes beyond the limits of rationality and empirical knowledge in its efforts to inspire the individual imagination with a sense of religious mystery and wonder, its power as a moral text was beyond question. In many ways, the poem’s warnings against corruption, depravity and atheism as

Soon, very soon, thy firmest Footing fails; And down dropp’t into that darksome Place, Where nor Device, nor knowledge ever came.

(II. 294–6)

Thrice welcome Death!
That after many a painful bleeding Step Conducts us to our Home, and lands us safe On the long-wish’d for Shore.

(II. 706–9)

Darkness has more Divinity for me,
It strikes Thought inward, it drives back the Soul To settle on Herself, our Point supreme!

(V, 128–30)

well as many of its images of the Divinity, as a mighty mind, for instance, mark it out as a product of its age. Like other poems of its kind, Night Thoughts criticises ignorance and superstition. Thomas Parnell’s ‘Night-piece on Death’ (1722), Nathaniel Cotton’s ‘Night-piece’ (1751) and John Cunningham’s ‘The Contemplatist’ (1762) all emphasise that the leveller, death, is not to be feared. Without fear the spectres and ghosts that haunt superstitious minds disappear. In the face of death, moreover, science remains impotent and blind. Graveyard poetry, its injunctions to nocturnal speculation on human finitude and the vanity of earthly ambitions, uses tombs, ruins, decay and ghosts as a mode of moral instruction rather than excitement.

The attractions of darkness, however, and the power of the images and visions it engendered were not lost on other poets associated with the melancholy evocations of the Graveyard school. William Collins’s ‘Ode to Fear’ (1746) describes the fanciful and shadowy shapes, the monsters, giants and phantoms that the emotion produces. These figures testify less to the power of the grave in elevating thought to spiritual matters and more to the power of imagination:

Fear and the supernatural figures it conjures up is one of the ‘divine emotions’ that poets and bards of earlier ages were able to produce. To these the ode appeals for an imaginative power, a sense of nature and a capacity to evoke feelings unavailable in neoclassical compositions.

Natural scenery, for example, was being perceived differently. Mountains, once considered as ugly blemishes, deformities disfiguring the proportions of a world that ideally should be uniform, flat and symmetrical, began to be seen with eyes pleased by their irregularity, diversity and scale. The pleasure arose from the range of intense and uplifting emotions that mountainous scenery evoked in the viewer. Wonder, awe, horror and joy were the emotions believed to expand or elevate the soul and the imagination with a sense of power and infinity. Mountains were the foremost objects of the natural sublime.

No topic of aesthetic enquiry in the eighteenth century generated greater interest than the sublime. De Boileau’s translation of Longinus on sublimity in the late seventeenth century inspired a host of writings examining the nature, objects and effects of the sublime, among the most influential of which was Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757). For Burke, beautiful objects were characterised by their smallness, smoothness, delicacy and gradual variation. They evoked love and tenderness in contrast to the sublime which produced awe and terror. Objects which evoked sublime emotions were vast, magnificent and obscure. Loudness and sudden contrasts, like the play of light and dark in buildings, contributed to the sense of extension and infinity associated with the sublime. While beauty could be contained within the individual’s gaze or comprehension, sublimity presented an excess that could not be processed by a rational mind. This excess, which confronted the individual subject with the thought of its own extinction, derived from emotions which, Burke argued, pertained to self-preservation and produced a frisson of delight and horror, tranquility and terror.

The terror was akin to the sense of wonderment and awe accompanying religious experience. Sublimity offered intimations of a great, if not divine, power. This power was experienced in many objects and not only in the grandeur of natural landscape. Gothic romances and poetry, which drew on the wildness and grandeur of nature for their inspiration, partook of the sublime. The awful obscurity of the settings of Graveyard poetry elevate the mind to ideas of wonder and divinity, while the similar settings of poems by Collins and the Wartons attribute a sacred, visionary and sublime power to the supernatural figures of ancient bards as well as to the wildness of nature. Hugh Blair, in his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783), identifies Gothic architecture as a source of the sublime: ‘A Gothic cathedral raises ideas of grandeur in our minds, by its size, its height, its awful obscurity, its strength, its antiquity, and its durability’ (p. 59). The irregularity,ornamentation, immensity of Gothic buildings overwhelmed the gaze with a vastness that suggested divinity and infinity. Age and durability were also features that evoked sublimity for an essayist writing ‘On the Pleasure Arising from the Sight of Ruins or Ancient Structures’ in the European Magazine (1795): ‘No one of the least sentiment or imagination can look upon an old or ruined edifice without feeling sublime emotions; a thousand ideas croud upon his mind, and fill him with awful astonishment’ (Monk, p. 141).

The interest in the sublime is crucial in the reappraisal of artefacts from the Gothic ages. Implicated in the transformation of ideas concerning nature and its relation to art, both Gothic and sublime objects also participated in a transformation of notions of individuality, in the minds relation to itself as well as to natural, cultural and metaphysical worlds. John Baillie’s An Essay on the Sublime (1747) gives a powerful account of what the sublime meant for an individual’s sense of self:

Hence comes the Name of Sublime to everything which thus raises the Mind to fits of Greatness and disposes it to soar above her Mother Earth; Hence arises that Exultation and Pride which the Mind ever feels from the Consciousness of its own Vastness—That Object only can be justly called Sublime, which in some degree disposes the Mind to this Enlargement of itself, and gives her a lofty Conception of her own Powers.

The vastness that had been glimpsed in the natural sublime became the mirror of the immensity of the human mind. Elevating and expanding mental powers to an almost divine extent signified the displacement of religious authority and mystery by the sublimity of nature and the human imagination. Sacred nature, glimpsed in sublime settings and evoked by old poetry and buildings, ceded to the genius and creative power of a sacred self. By means of natural and cultural objects of sublimity the human mind began its transcendence. In its imaginary ascendancy over nature, it discovered a grander scale and a new sense of power and freedom for itself.

This sense of freedom was neither purely subjective nor simply a matter of exceeding previous aesthetic forms. Freedom, in a political sense, was evoked in the process of recovering old texts, themselves markers of a history in which endured a different idea of nation and culture. It was a culture, if not entirely indigenous to Britain, that was distinguished from those of Greece or Rome and possessed of a history which had the permanence identified in Gothic architecture. Moreover, it was a culture believed to foster a love of liberty and democracy. Paul-Henri Mallett’s Preface to his 1755 account of the early history of the Germanic tribes, translated by Percy as Northern Antiquities (1770), outlines these aspects of Gothic culture. It was among the nations of northern Europe and Scandinavia that European hatred of slavery and tyranny originated:

is it not well known that the most flourishing and celebrated states of Europe owe originally to the northern nations, whatever liberty they now enjoy, either in their constitution, or in the spirit of their government? For although the Gothic form of government has been almost every where altered or abolished, have we not retained, in most things, the opinions, the customs, the manners which that government had a tendency to produce? Is not this, in fact, the principal source of that courage, of that aversion to slavery, of that empire of honour which characterize in general the European nations; and of that moderation, of that easiness of access, and peculiar attention to the rights of humanity, which so happily distinguish our sovereigns from the inaccessible and superb tyrants of Asia?

Asia was not the only locus of tyranny. Closer to home was the tyranny that attended the decline of the Roman empire which became a site of despotism, degradation and barbarity and was itself overthrown by the Germanic tribes.

The significance of Gothic culture was cited in British political discussions from the mid-seventeenth century. Parliaments and the legal system, it was believed, were derived from Gothic institutions and peoples who were free and democratic. The word was employed loosely, embracing Celtic and Germanic tribes. The native culture that it referred to was one composed of those indigenous peoples and invaders whose occupation preceded the invasions of the Romans. Any relics of a non-Roman past were taken as evidence of a native and enduring tradition of independence. In 1739 one contributor to Common Sense wrote: ‘Methinks there was something respectable in those old hospitable Gothick halls, hung round with the Helmets, Breast-plates, and Swords of our Ancestors; I entered them with a Constitutional Sort of Reverence and look’d upon those arms with Gratitude, as the Terror of former Ministers, and the Check of Kings’ (Kliger, p. 27). Like the durability of Gothic buildings, these relics are reminders of the ‘noble Strength and Simplicity’ of the Gothic Constitution. The hierarchical relation of the meanings of ‘Gothic’ and ‘Roman’ was far less clear than eighteenth-century critics made out: privileged meanings of ‘Gothic’ or ‘classical’ alternated, polarised by the political positions of Whig or Tory that employed the terms.

The word ‘Gothic’ was thus implicated in an ongoing political struggle over meanings. In the mid-eighteenth century the tyranny of Rome signified more than a period in early European history. After the Reformation, Protestantism constructed Roman Catholicism as a breeding-ground of despotism and superstition. The resistance to the imposition of classical aesthetic values also vindicates an enduring idea of British national culture as both free, natural and imaginative. But ‘Gothic’ was also a term of abuse in other political positions. In the contest for the meaning of ‘Gothic’ more than a single word was at stake." [Botting, Gothic]


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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Tue Nov 29, 2016 1:29 pm

Byronic Satanism.

Its interesting to note how the figure of Satan was used to argue against race and family and for feminism...

The trope of Satan the outcast was used as a premise to establish laws based "only on merit", a promethianism, a prome-Theism of race-less, meritorious individualism against authority of 'god' (bolded)…

Stirner's anarchism and atomic individualism could easily follow after that.

Peter Schock wrote:
Quote :
"It has no doubt resulted from a train of speculation similar to this, that poetical readers have commonly remarked Milton’s devil to be a being of considerable virtue. It must be admitted that his energies centered too much in personal regards. But why did he rebel against his maker? It was, as he himself informs us, because he saw no sufficient reason, for that extreme inequality of rank and power, which the creator assumed. It was because prescription and precedent form no adequate ground for implicit faith. After his fall, why did he still cherish the spirit of opposition? From a persuasion that he was hardly and injuriously treated. He was not discouraged by the apparent inequality of the contest: because a sense of reason and justice was stronger in his mind, than a sense of brute force; because he had much of the feelings of an Epictetus or a Cato, and little of those of a slave. He bore his torments with fortitude, because he disdained to be subdued by despotic power.
He sought revenge, because he could not think with tameness of the unexpostulating authority that assumed to dispose of him. How beneficial and illustrious might the temper from which these qualities flowed, have been found, with a small diversity of situation!" [Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793)]  

"A reader familiar with the eighteenth-century vogue for Milton’s Satan might still be struck by Godwin’s overreading and idealization of this figure, seemingly so uncharacteristic of this writer’s notoriously ratiocinat- ive sensibility. But this is no mere display of rhetorical colors: by the end of this passage, Godwin has transformed Milton’s Satan into a vehicle of the values to which the anarchist philosopher was most committed. He conceives of Satan as an embodiment of the fully autonomous intellect that discerns and rejects the radical injustice of a ‘despotic’ and ‘assumed’ power analogous to the arbitrary authority of prescription and precedent that governed England in the 1790s and that Godwin believed would wither away in time.

Although Godwin’s conception of Milton’s Satan is transgressive, in that it expresses political values palatable to few readers of the day, it rests unselfconsciously on an anterior appropriation, one performed by his surrounding culture.

In their writing, Blake, Shelley, and Byron turned Milton’s fallen angel into a differ- ent kind of mythic anchor for ideological identification. A figure projecting the oppositional values of their social groups as well as the ambivalence generated by these commitments, Satan served as a rhetorical instrument in controversial or speculative writing. Such a character could be readily adapted to these purposes because Romantic writers found him trapped, as John Carey explains, ‘within an alien fiction.’ As if misplaced in the ideo- logical structure of Milton’s epic, the figure of the fallen angel invited his own excision and insertion into different contexts. For all of these reasons, Milton’s Satan assumes in the Romantic era a prominence seen never before or since, nearly rivaling Prometheus as the most characteristic mythic figure of the age. A more active and ambiguous mythic agent than the bound, suffering forethinker and benefactor of humanity, the reimagined figure of Milton’s Satan embodied for the age the apotheosis of human desire and power.

In literary history, ‘Romantic Satanism’ conveys to many readers the sense of moral transgressiveness exhibited by figures like Byron’s protagonists. This conception of ‘diabolism’ gained wide currency in the twentieth century through Mario Praz’s monumental study, The Romantic Agony. Critics after Praz have redefined the concept by tying it closely to allusions to Milton that evoke Romantic subjectivity. Peter Thorslev identifies the following speech as the locus classicus of the Satanic stance in Romantic writing:

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater?

Satan’s defiant assertion of autonomy, delivered on the burning plain of hell, was so broadly influential, Thorslev notes, that it is possible to distinguish four kinds of thematic adaptations of this stance in Romantic writing: psychological, Stoic, epistemological, and proto-existentialist. All of these senses of Satanism have been extended to cover a range of Romantic attitudes or stances – typically individualism, rebellious or defiant self-assertion, and daemonic sublimity. To other (disapproving) readers, Satanism is a rubric for misreadings of Paradise Lost in Romantic criticism and literary allusion, founded on an uncritical idealization of Milton’s fallen archangel.

Even in the heyday of myth criticism, the more comprehensive taxon- omy of Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism (1957) found room only for brief comments on what he called ‘demonic modulation.’

Yet Satanism is not monolithic or univocal in its rhetorical function, and it serves equally well as a mouthpiece for satire and irony. For example, in The Vision of Judgment (1821), the Satanic persona articu- lates Byron’s ironic view of political change; in the The Deformed Transformed (1824) the demonic figure punctures various idealizations of eros, the soul, and military heroism. And in other contexts the fallen angel is a deeply ambiguous figure, portraying social violence, aggression, and even tyranny. Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound (1820) syncretically blends the Titan with the vengeful fallen angel, thereby mingling the ‘beautiful idealism’ of Promethean unbinding with the specter of the bloody insurrection this writer anticipated. With Blake’s major prophecies the figure of Satan reverts to the traditional role of the adversary, embodying the forces that block apocalyptic liberation: state religion and imperial war.

These ideological employments of myth rarely transvalued the figure of Satan. On both sides of the political divide, those invoking the myth did so almost without exception in a conventional sense – Satan personified the evil of the opposition, whether revolutionary or reactionary. For example, Alexander Pirie called the revolution the ‘beast rising out of the bottomless pit, or vast abyss, as its politics are mischievous and deep as hell, and its actions works of the Devil.’

The British government itself began propagandizing in this vein as early as 1791, disseminating through newspapers and pamphlets apocalyptic prophecies casting revolutionary France in the role of the Beast of Revelation. On the radical side, those who hailed the revolution as the prophesied Millennium saw the thrones of Europe as Satanic. In 1794 Joseph Priestley declared that the ten horns of the Beast of Revelation were the ten monarchies of Europe, that the pope was Antichrist, and that both thrones and pope would fall. Richard Brothers, the most celebrated Millenarian prophet of the 1790s, himself beheld a vision politically compatible with Priestley’s prophecy: in 1791 he saw ‘Satan walking leisurely into London ... dressed in White and Scarlet Robes.’ Not long after this vision of Satan in full regalia, Brothers became intensely interested in politics and tried to warn the House of Commons not to oppose the French revolution, which he declared was God’s judgment against monarchy. In a letter of 1795, Robert Southey mentions another mythic prophecy of revolutionary crisis: inspired by Brothers, a Charles Cotter announced that the French would invade England and that Satan would appear as ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ three days before London’s fall.

If the referent of Satan in the prophecies of Brothers and Cotter seems somewhat ambiguous (both obscurely evoke a power that dooms monarchy), the diabology constructed for the Tory cause is decidedly more stable and univocal.
In the satiric prints and political writing of the early 1790s, the Satanic became one of the central mythic frames through which conservatives viewed not only revolution abroad but political dissent at home. Here a demonizing iconography develops, displaying complicated references. The link was clear enough to English conservatives, who feared that the dissenters who sympathized with the revolution wished to pull down the church – a process already underway in France.

In Politics for the People (1793), the journal of the radical printer, Daniel Isaac Eaton, a series of pronouncements titled ‘The History of Jacobinism’ begins with the assertion that ‘The Devil was the first Jacobin, for which he was hurled neck and heels out of heaven.’ Deriving from the earlier Tory maxim, ‘The First Whig was the Devil,’ the slogan becomes approving rather than castigating in the context of Eaton’s radical journal- ism. But in all other cases, ‘Satanic’ becomes the abusive label affixed to the opposition, the means by which the many human figures and chaotic events making up a complex social movement are reduced to typological clarity of meaning – a single, diabolical agency. To satanize is rhetorically powerful: it strips away all complexity, ambiguity, and humanity to brand the political adversary. Propaganda worked precisely this way in the case of Paine, repeatedly represented as the emissary of Satan.

As Southey’s attack on the ‘Satanic school’ reveals, the tactics of demonizing retained their currency long after the 1790s had passed. In response to political developments, the targets shifted over the years, first passing from the earlier Jacobins and their English sympathizers to Napoleon, then returning to English plebeian radicalism after Waterloo. After the coup d’état of 1799, Bonaparte was increasingly identified with the Devil and Antichrist: Hester Thrale Piozzi noted in her diary that many said the Corsican was ‘the Devil Incarnate, the Appolyon mentioned in Scripture.’ She herself believed that his Corsican name was N’Apollione, ‘the Destroyer,’ and said that ‘he does come forwards followed by a Cloud of Locusts from ye bottomless Pit.’

Evidently this Satanic conceit circulated extensively, for it was echoed years later, in an 1806 sermon preached in London, calling Napoleon ‘the fiend of the bottomless pit, the Hebrew Abbadon.’ As in the 1790s, this demonizing rhetoric had its visual counterpart in the satiric print. In 1804, C. Ansell executed ‘The Corsican Usurper’s New Imperial French Arms’; in this heraldic image, the Devil appears above a Janus-headed Napoleon who surmounts the coat of arms. The broadside ballads usually attached to these prints also carried the theme of the confederacy of Satan and Napoleon.

Coleridge elaborates a moralized mythic view of Bonaparte from this motto, emphasizing that his ‘main power’ lies in

"the abandonment of all Principle of Right, [which] enables the Soul to chuse and act upon a Principle of wrong, and to subordinate to this one Principle all the various Vices of Human nature ... . [He] who has once said with his whole heart, Evil be thou my Good! has removed a world of Obstacles by the very decision, that he will have no Obstacles but those of force and brute matter."

In the final years of the empire, satirical prints continued this attack on the Satanic Napoleon, often in a mock-sublime mode invoked to ridicule his fallen fortunes. The most impressive of all of these prints, probably by George Cruikshank, is ‘Boney’s meditations on the Island of St. Helena or – The Devil addressing the Sun.’ Straddling the rocks of his island, sur- rounded by storm-clouds, the gigantic figure of Napoleon, horned, winged, and goat-legged, gazes at the sun, where the Prince Regent’s face looks out on his dominion. A scroll of flame issues from Napoleon’s mouth, carrying the opening lines of Satan’s apostrophe to the sun: ‘to thee I call, / But with no friendly voice’ (Paradise Lost IV, ll. 35–6, pp. 192–3).

After the emperor’s disappearance from the European scene, the Satanic trope was used in England to shape public opinion over the domestic unrest that followed Waterloo. In his first lay sermon, The Statesman’s Manual (1816), Coleridge links the present instability – especially the agita- tion for Parliamentary reform – to the diabolic French influence. Tracing popular disaffection to its roots in the ideology of the 1790s, Coleridge attacks and demonizes French rationalism and revolutionary thought. The cultivation of the mere understanding by the philosophes turned that faculty into an Antichrist rising up against the moral powers of the soul, while the deifying of reason and atheism during the revolution manifested the Tempter’s promise that ‘ye shall be as gods.’

This latter allegorization invites considerable parsing: Coleridge not only revises the traditional exegesis of the psychic disorder that constituted the Fall (here it involves the triumph of reason, not its subjection), he also mythicizes the inversion of the French social order as the primal transgression, the abortive apotheosis of Eve inspired by the voice of the Tempter. In the state cult of Reason, Coleridge suggests, the Satanic force motivating all of the social and politi- cal innovations of the French is enshrined. In his concluding discussion of the catastrophic consequences for the present age of psychic disintegration (here schematized as the splitting of reason, religion, and the will), Coleridge develops his conception of the Satanic Napoleon into a pyschological allegory. Coleridge explains that the French emperor, the final product of the revolution, had embodied the ‘satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry’ which arise when the will abstracts itself from reason and reli- gion and enables the self to choose evil as its good.

This same Satanic hypertrophy of the will, Coleridge argues elsewhere, now threatens the social and political order in England after Waterloo. In a series of letters in The Courier, Coleridge warns prophetically of the current social danger latent in the Drury Lane production of Maturin’s Byronic drama, Bertram (1816). Coleridge’s involved critique defines the features of a ‘modern jacobinical drama’ – that is, art that revels in a neo-revolutionary ‘confu- sion and subversion of the nature of things.’ The dramatic locus of this displaced Jacobinism, which renders rebels against ‘law, reason, and religion’ sympathetic, is Maturin’s protagonist, ‘the sublimity of whose angel-sin rivals the star-bright apostate.’

The most stridently propagandistic use of Satanic political iconography in the era appears in the final years of the Regency, when Henry Hunt, Richard Carlile, William Hone, and others were demonized in an attack on the intertwined threats of blasphemous and seditious utterance. Passed after the Peterloo Massacre of late 1819, the Six Acts were partly engineered to suppress just these forms of dissent.

This latest wave of demonizing rhetoric helped give rise to a new form of literary Satanism, generating in Byron and Shelley something like the group-consciousness fostered in Blake by the attacks on the Johnson circle in the 1790s. The satanizing of the second-generation poets began after the Quarterly Review classed Byron with plebeian blasphemers, a development that followed the hostile reception his new satires received after 1818. Southey’s attack on the Satanic school openly called for the suppression of its writing. Byron could hardly avoid responding to this kind of rhetoric, and consequently a reflexive form of literary Satanism like that found in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell arrives in 1821, a structural element of Cain: A Mystery (1821).

Byron almost certainly was urged in this direction by Shelley, who suggested a counterattack on the Quarterly Review. Within their circle, Shelley whimsically bore the identity of a Satanic adversary of the religious and political order – hence the persistence of his nickname in that group, ‘the Snake’ (which Byron derived from Faust, according to Trelawny). And Shelley understood the tactics of demonizing well: he had already employed them in a partisan spirit in Queen Mab, The Revolt of Islam, and the essay ‘On the Devil, and Devils,’ all of which dismantle and transform the traditional myth of Satan. All three were partial models for Byron’s Cain; directly and indirectly, then, Shelley encouraged Byron to counter perceived attacks on their circle. The initial reception of Cain discerned a hard ideological edge, especially in Lucifer’s inflammatory speeches attacking divine authority. This reading of the Satanism of the play, which has been deprecated by critics in the last half-century as a distortion of Byron’s view of scripture, was not so reductive after all.

In Milton’s fallen archangel, Byron and Shelley found an adequate vehicle for their ideological backlash. The centrality of Milton’s Satan was partly a consequence of the monumental cultural authority Paradise Lost, the most widely published long poem in the eighteenth century, enjoyed in the Romantic era.49 The only demonic figure of comparable stature was Goethe’s Mephistopheles; because of the relative cultural isolation of Britain during the era and the late publication of Faust: Eine Tragedie (1808), however, Goethe’s Devil did not influence English Romanticism until late in the second generation; and even when Goethe’s Mephistopheles entered British culture through partial translations and commentaries, he was seen through the lens of Milton’s Satan.50 It was this figure, not Goethe’s urbane spirit of negation, that answered the artistic and ideological demands of English writers. In particular, the stance Satan assumes – that of an autogenous rival to Milton’s God – offered them a mythic base for the attitudes and values they embodied in their replicas of the fallen angel. Before Satan’s defiant autonomy could serve the program- matic aims of Blake, Shelley, Byron, and others, however, his figure had to undergo a century-long metamorphosis in the reception of Paradise Lost. This was not merely a matter of declaring Satan the hero of Milton’s epic – that occurred before the end of the seventeenth century. In a profound shift in interpretative response to Paradise Lost, the fallen archangel gradually assumed heroic, sublime, and human aspects in the criticism and illus- tration of Milton. By the end of the eighteenth century, Satan’s form contained all of these qualities, emerging as the apotheosis of human will and consciousness.

Transforming the conception of Milton’s Satan involved a succession of shifts in political, moral, and religious responses to his character and role. Satan’s heroic status became problematic early in the eighteenth century, when Dryden observed that the fallen archangel occupied the role of hero in a formal but not an ethical sense, a contradiction disabling the moral of Paradise Lost. Yet in the decades after, few critics directly engaged this ques- tion; until the 1790s, the moral heroism of Satan is not considered, much less openly asserted, nor is he defended as a victim of heavenly tyranny. For much of the eighteenth century, Satan-idolatry meant eliding the moral response to this character through the irrationalism of sublimity. During the last decade of the century, though, conventional moral and religious responses to Satan were almost entirely overturned; his traditional roles – the adversary of God, the enemy of mankind, the rebel angel, tempter, and emperor of hell – were all displaced or radically transformed.

With the political significance of Paradise Lost thus obscured, contradic- tory responses to Satan’s character and role emerged. Critical perceptions became conflicted when recognition of his heroic traits collided with moral and theological values. The first critic to pronounce Satan the hero of Paradise Lost, Dryden registered his unease with the archangel’s role by implying that Milton perverted the instructive function of the epic when he made Satan the protagonist. In the preface to his translation of Virgil, Dryden asserts that Milton’s epic would have been superior ‘if the Devil had not been his hero, instead of Adam; if the giant had not foiled the knight, and driven him out of his stronghold ... .‘ Dryden’s cryptic obiter dictum identifies Satan as the hero for merely formal reasons: he carries and completes the action, triumphing over Adam. Acknowledging no virtue in Satan, Dryden’s laconic assessment implies that Satanic heroism is not only transgressive but morally incomprehensible.

The illustrations of Paradise Lost circulating at this time visually amplify Dryden’s split conception of the Devil miscast as hero; these convey Satan’s heroic stature, while at the same time mingling into the portrayal the features of a grotesque demon. This trend begins with the first illustrated version of the epic, Jacob Tonson’s edition of 1688. Until 1720, when Tonson issued a newly illustrated edition, these designs were the only illustrations of Paradise Lost available in England, reissued in several printings. The pictures in Tonson’s influential edition of 1688 fixed the mode of representing Satan in monstrous form, produced by combining the traditional or medieval Devil with the Italianate satyr. Henry Aldritch’s design for Paradise Lost I is representative. While the fallen angels welter in the burning lake, the large, martial figure of Satan rises up, wearing a Roman tunic and grasping a spear. But this otherwise heroic representation is contradicted by the bestially demonic features of Satan – small bat-wings, horns, elongated ass’s ears, and medusa-like locks. Despite the supervention of French neo-classical values in the illustrations produced for Tonson’s edition of 1720, the new designs by Louis Cheron and Sir James Thornhill left this heroic-demonic portrayal of Satan essentially undisturbed.55 For more than half a century after Tonson’s edition of 1688, the conventions for depicting Satan would not change.

Once the category of the sublime was established in the criticism of Paradise Lost, however, the image of Satan altered. The esthetic and moral-theological responses to Satan were gradually uncoupled as a new conception arrived: Milton’s fallen archangel as an embodiment of sublimity. This shift becomes discernible in Addison’s Spectator papers on Paradise Lost (1712). Addison declines to assign Satan the role of hero, emphasizing the effect of the felix culpa, Satan’s ultimate defeat in the Redemption that elevates the fallen Adam. Yet Addison ranks the heroic stature of Satan above that of Homer’s Odysseus, while also emphasizing the sublimity of Milton’s description of the fallen archangel, which he pronounces ‘very apt to raise and terrify the Reader’s Imagination.’ Addison’s tentatively secular response to Satan is crystallized in his ambivalent comment on the passage that was to exert a magnetic force on Romantic readers: he equivocally praises the strident impiety of the speech, ‘the mind is its own place’, describing its sentiments as ‘suitable to a created Being of the most exalted and most depraved Nature.’

Through 1818, Satan is almost fully humanized. The preoccupation with sublimity and its delightful terror or confusion encouraged a selective reading of Paradise Lost in Edmund Burke and his followers, who focused their attention on those books where Satan is the central figure. In his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Burke singles out the ‘Archangel ruin’d’ passage of Book I as an instance of the sublime, a poetical picture mingling

"images of a tower, an archangel, the sun rising through mists, or in an eclipse, the ruin of monarchs, and the revolutions of kingdoms. The mind is hurried out of itself, by a croud of great and confused images; which affect because they are crouded and confused."

Daniel Webb invoked Burke’s sensationist reading of Satan to bury the moral response to the fallen angel. Of the apparition of Satan in Pandemonium (Paradise Lost X, ll. 441–50; pp. 530–1), Webb observes that the subject of ‘fallen greatness’ here gives rise to such a train of fluctuating images’ that the reader’s senses are perforce ‘hurried away’ beyond the reach of sober moral reflection about the ‘obnoxious’ figure of Satan.

This trend accelerates in the next few decades, as the fascination with Satan’s grandeur and fictional personality grows. In his Dissertations Moral and Critical (1783), James Beattie’s attempt at moral equivocation founders:

"though there are no qualities that can be called good in a moral view; nay, though the very purpose of that wicked spirit is bent to evil and to that only; yet there is a grandeur of a ruined archangel; there is force able to contend with the most boisterous elements; and there is bold- ness which no power but what is Almighty can intimidate. These quali- ties are astonishing; and although we always detest this malignity, we are often compelled to admire that very greatness by which we are confounded and terrified."

Then Beattie goes on explicitly to dismiss the religious response, asserting that we regard Milton’s Satan not ‘As the great enemy of our souls but as a fictitious being and a mere poetical hero.’62 In his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783), Hugh Blair comments on the same description of the ruined archangel analyzed by Burke, defining the ‘principal object’ of its sublimity: the revelation of the personality of Satan. Blair’s sympathetic interest in a ‘high superior nature, fallen indeed but erecting itself against distress’ filters out any reminders of the depraved nature and final degrada- tion of Satan, qualities that an earlier writer like Addison kept in view.63 Finally Blair humanizes Satan:

"He is brave and faithful to his troops. In the midst of his impiety, he is not without remorse. He is even touched with pity for our first parents; and justifies himself in his design against them, from the necessity of his situation. He is actuated by ambition and resentment, rather than by pure malice. In short, Milton’s Satan is no worse than many a conspira- tor or factious chief, that makes a figure in history."

The very reticence of Samuel Johnson’s commentary attests to the gathering momentum of Satan-idolatry in the eighteenth century. In the Life of Milton (1779), Johnson justifies the intensity of Satan’s libertarian rhetoric by simply observing that ‘the language of rebellion cannot be the same with that of obedience’ and concludes that his ‘expressions are commonly general, and no otherwise offensive than as they are wicked.’ And this is all, as if to suggest that even Johnson’s firm moralism all but yielded to the vogue for Satan’s sublimity, by his day so widespread and intense.

Fiction of the marvelous produced stock fallen angels replicating one after the other the same features. The sublime, throned Eblis (the eastern Satan) found in William Beckford’s Vathek (1786) is so wedded to the Miltonic model that this figure is only nominally Islamic: the eastern Devil, conventionally represented as an old man with a bestial, disfigured body, is replaced by a youthful fallen angel. Beckford’s Eblis was faithfully reproduced in turn by Matthew Gregory Lewis a decade later in The Monk (1796). The fascination with Satan’s sublimity penetrated even the genteel popular culture of the era, inspiring one of the subjects dis- played by Philip de Loutherbourg’s proto-cinematic machine of the 1780s, the Eidophusikon.

By the 1790s, then, the sublime human form of Satan had displaced all other renderings of this figure. Yet this was ideologically unthreatening sublimity. Milton’s Satan and his latter-day replicas were sensational but not particularly controversial. The easternized fallen angel of Beckford is a conventionally conceived emperor of hell; Johnson’s odd defense of Milton renders the definitive judgment that Milton’s Satan could not morally subvert the reader, or even ‘give pain to the pious ear.’67 In the final decade of the century, however, new adaptations of this figure began to appear in the writing of Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Blake, and others, transforming Satan into the mythic vehicle of more transgressive values. This shift is accompanied by the aggressively heroic rendering of this figure in the illustrations of Paradise Lost produced in the early 1790s. By this time, English illustrators of Milton had discarded not merely the demonic Satan but the all too human figure of Francis Hayman as well, depicting the fallen archangel for the first time in a heightened, idealized manner. The proto- type here is almost certainly James Barry’s ‘Satan and his Legions Hurling Defiance toward the Vault of Heaven’ (ca. 1792–95). Blake, who knew Barry, very likely saw this picture, for he later developed an uncan- nily similar figure in a notebook sketch; this he transformed into the emblem-image of ‘Fire,’ his model for Orc.

On the edge of a precipice before the burning lake, Barry’s wingless, muscular Satan leans back, brandishing shield and spear and gazing aloft or exulting. His crowned figure and those of his comrades are lit from the lower left by the flames of the burning lake; the angels’ heads and spears fade into a dark and obscure background. Fuseli’s other images of Satan – ‘Satan, encount’ring Death, Sin Interposing,’ ‘Satan starting at the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear,’ ‘Uriel Observing Satan,’ and ‘Battle of the Angels’ – all preserve the muscular, heroic, and entirely human image: wings are added in only the last of these. This change in the conception of Satan was pervasive.

In Stothard’s design of 1792–93 for Book I, Satan is proud, stern-visaged, and crowned, his muscular figure reclining on the burning lake in the manner of the Sistine Chapel Adam. When the illustrators of the 1790s overrode Milton’s verbal representations, they pursued effects precisely the opposite of earlier artists.

In the Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Godwin seizes on the figure of the fallen archangel to illus- trate the ‘sense of justice’ which rejects arbitrary authority: Satan rebelled against his maker because ‘he saw no sufficient reason, for that extreme inequality of rank and power, which the creator assumed ... because prescription and precedent form no adequate ground for implicit faith.’ Satan’s quest for revenge is motivated mainly by his opposition to ‘the unexpostulating authority that assumed to dispose of him.’ In Godwin, the image of Milton’s Satan emerges through an ideological filter, for this extra- ordinary interpretation of his rebellion screens out practically all of the archangel’s negative features – significantly, his authoritarianism – and reshapes his role in the epic. The host of fallen angels, Godwin insists, are not merely the tools and victims of Satan’s quest for vengeance; the benev- olent rebel ‘felt real compassion and sympathy for his partners in misfor- tune.’ Mildly conceding that Satan’s ‘energies centered too much in personal regards,’ Godwin faults him only for his deficiency in rational dis- interestedness. Instead Godwin twice notes Satan’s virtuous refusal to accede to God’s ‘assumed’ power and rank.

Godwin saw all government and law as ‘an usurpation upon the private judgment and individual conscience of mankind,’ and Satan’s speech declaring that ‘The mind is its own place’ consequently read back to him his own assumptions about authority. Thus Satan’s opposition to celestial oppression embodies resistance to coercive, unequal institutions, and Godwin’s fallen archangel emerges as a figure who perceives truth independently and struggles benevolently for a just order.

Godwin’s interpretation of Milton’s Satan opens onto a larger ideological ground, where it overlaps the revolutionary rhetoric of Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and all who attacked hereditary power that governs arbitrarily by ‘prescription and precedent.’ In a confessional note attached to the second chapter of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Mary Wollstonecraft assumes the stance of Milton’s Satan to justify her aversion to Edenic scenes of ‘humble mutual love’; instead, she exults, ‘I have, with conscious dignity, or Satanic pride, turned to hell for sublimer objects.’ Wollstonecraft then satanizes in turn these objects, pointing to ‘the grandest of all human sights,’ the ‘outcast of fortune, rising superior to passion and discontent.’ This last expression rhetorically amplifies her point in the main text – that ‘the noblest struggles of suffering merit’ alone deserve admiration.

In both evocations, a single purpose drives Wollstonecraft’s appropriation of the heroic image of the fallen archangel struggling against adversity: to exalt subjected humanity, whether represented by the fallen woman or the widow striving to bear a single life with dignity. In a mani- festo which everywhere else cautiously urges that women be educated so as to become more capable wives and mothers, the rhetorical force of this Satanic idealization of the victim of class-based and gendered oppression is striking. It recalls the effect of other passages wherein the author’s prag- matically patient and reasonable tone either slips or is temporarily suspended - the assault on ‘brutal force’ which ‘has hitherto governed the world.’ In Wollstonecraft, then, Satanism is rhetorically disruptive, breaking up the texture of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to reveal this writer’s deeper commitments and conflicts.

It should be apparent that the transformations of Milton’s Satan in Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Wordsworth, and the illustrators of the 1790s imply if not an indifference to authorial intentions, then an eagerness to supplement them.

Especially among second-generation Romantic writers, replicas of Milton’s Satan are often removed from the narrative context of Paradise Lost to take on something of the identity and role of the Prometheus of Aeschylus. In these cases, Satan becomes the surrogate for the figure recreated in Romantic writing to mythicize the human struggle against various forms of oppression and limitation. In assuming this func- tion, the aggressively active figure of Satan nearly displaces Prometheus as an image of the apotheosis of human desire.

Largely as a consequence of what Stuart Curran has described as the ‘Aeschylus revival,’ Prometheus acquired broad social significance in the Romantic era. In the many iconographic representations of the myth of the Titan in revolutionary art and writing, Curran demonstrates, Prometheus typically stood for ‘a humanity bound to an undeserved state and no longer acquiescent in its degradation ... .’

In her book on Romantic Prometheanism, Linda Lewis observes that Romantic writers used the myth to imagine a range of responses to oppression: submission, passive and active resistance, and the mental reconstitution of authority. In broad terms, the Romantic Prometheus embodies potential or frustrated power, desire confronting limitation. Whether the goal of this striving is under- stood as political, psychological, or metaphysical transformation, the mythic forethinker is emblematic of that aspiration toward heightened existence that informs the perfectibilitarian ideology of the Romantic era, the various modes of idealism found in Shelley, and Byron’s tragic vision.

Yet the capacity of Prometheus to embody this struggle is limited, confined by the terms of the received myth which reduce his power of action to passive endurance. This becomes problematic in Shelley’s revision of Aeschylus, where the self-purgation of the Titan in the opening act of Prometheus Unbound – the only ‘action’ performed by the Titan – remains an obscure link in the causal chain leading to the violent overthrow of Jupiter and the liberation of humanity. In Shelley, then, Promethean agency is indeterminate – an effect that is unbalanced by the syncretic fusion of the Titan with the aggression of Satan.

For Byron, the perpetually bound condi- tion of Prometheus itself becomes the central mythic datum, grounding the conception of tragic Titanism that emerges in ‘Prometheus’ and the third canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. In the ode of 1816, the Titan’s infinite mind and desire coexist with his subjection to the Thunderer, imaging the aspiring consciousness of humanity, confined by physical limitation. The suf- fering Prometheus is a ‘symbol and a sign’ of the hopeless duality of human existence, the division experienced between our ‘fate and force.’

By contrast, it was the energetic qualities of Satan that received emphasis in Romantic adaptations of this figure. In his lecture, ‘On Shakespeare and Milton’ (1818), Hazlitt idealizes Satan precisely because of these traits, vir- tually exhausting his rhetoric in a catalogue of the fallen archangel’s ‘power of action’ and the ‘vastness of his designs.’ Leigh Hunt’s chief com- plaint about The Excursion was that unlike Paradise Lost,

"There is no eagle-flight ... no sustainment of a mighty action; no enormous hero, bearing on his wings the weight of a lost eternity, and holding on, nevertheless, undismayed, – firm-visaged through faltering chaos, – the combatant of all chance and all power, – a vision that, if he could be seen now, would be seen in the sky like a comet, remaining, though speeding, – visible for long nights, though rapidly voyaging, – a sight for a universe, an actor on the stage of infinity."

Colored with Byronic overtones, Hunt’s grand evocation is matched by other recreations of Milton’s Satan that emphasize a different fundamental trait, one which further explains why his appeal equalled that of Prometheus: the assertion of the autonomy of consciousness. Amounting to a Satanist manifesto for Romantic readers, the fallen angel’s declaration of subjective independence, ‘The mind is its own place,’ is founded on his claim of autogeny – that he is ‘self-rais’d, self-begot,’ metaphysically free of God.

Byron’s writing similarly exhibits the typological appeal of Satanic autonomy, if not the outright autogeny found in Blake. ‘The mind is its own place’ is concisely evoked by the ‘concentred recompense’ Prometheus enjoys (and which lends mortals their ‘force’).

Thus one central mode of Romantic Satanism contains a reconception of Milton’s fallen archangel that is patently an image of apotheosis, an emblem of an aspiring, rebelling, rising human god who insists that he is self-created. This transformation of the mythic character may be seen as one element of the larger process Northrop Frye described as the Romantic recovery of the projection of divinity from the sky god and its reconstitution in a human form. Mythmaking with pretensions of this magnitude had a social func- tion during the era, as Emmet Kennedy explains in A Cultural History of the French Revolution (1989). The worship of the heroes of the French revolution established by ritual the new belief that authority, rather than descending from a transcendent God, ascended from the people:

The deities in the Panthéon remain purely human – the revolutionaries were no modern polytheists. But at the same time these men were thought to have so far superseded ordinary mortality that they became like gods ... . The Hébertist de-Christianizer Antoine-François Momoro explained the fragile boundary between ordinary humanity and divinity in 1793 when he insisted that ‘liberty, reason, truth are only abstract beings. They are not gods, for properly speaking, they are part of ourselves.’ It was that part of themselves that the revolutionaries worshiped in the Cult of Reason in November 1793.

the image of the modern Prometheus blurs with the features of Milton’s Satan which Mary Shelley grafted onto the figure of Victor Frankenstein.

Adaptations like these exploit the paradigmatic potential in Satan’s cult of himself; it is recognized that his self-assertion compromises his rebellion against God and the attempt to set up an independent system of moral values. While Godwin maintained that Satan rebels out of just notions about political authority and rights, he nevertheless acknowledged the fallen archangel’s excessive self-regard. Shelley was more ambivalent, declaring that his partial prototype for Prometheus embodied, on the one hand, ‘courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force’ and, on the other, the ‘taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement.’

This side of the Romantic response to Milton – which seems generally more respectful of his intentions, even as it softens Satanic evil to selfishness – gives rise to the ambiguity of Romantic recreations of the fallen archangel. While Satan is re-envisioned as the image of expanding human consciousness and desire, rebelling against oppression and limitation, he also comes into view as a fallen figure who loses Paradise in an attempt to locate the divine source within, whose rebelliousness may turn tyrannical and revengeful in his authoritarian reign in hell. This aspect of the Satanic figure is especially prominent in the mythic representations of oppression and insurrection in Blake and Shelley.

Thus, in Romantic writing Milton’s Satan emerges as an unstable figure: in many contexts, he appears as an heroic apotheosis of human consciousness and libertarian desire, while in others he constitutes the dark double or shadow of Prometheus." [Romantic Satanism]


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

*Become clean, my friends.*
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PostSubject: Re: Byronic Heroes: Faust, Prometheus Tue Jan 03, 2017 1:06 pm

Arnold's Byronic Philosopher-king Empedocles...

Anthony Kenny wrote:
Empedocles on Etna of Matthew Arnold

[P]assage in which Pausanias is urged to lower his expectations of life and realize that human beings have no right to happiness.

"We mortals are no kings
For each of whom to sway
A new-made world up-springs,
Meant merely for his play;
No, we are strangers here; the world is from of old.

In vain our pent wills fret,
And would the world subdue
Limits we did not set
Condition all we do;

Born into life we are, and life must be our mould." (Arnold, 1. 2. 176–87)

Unable to bear our woes like adults, Empedocles continues, we behave like children who beat the ground when they fall and hurt themselves.

So, loath to suffer mute
We, peopling the void air,
Make Gods to whom to impute
The ills we ought to bear;
With God and Fate to rail at, suffering easily. (1. 2. 277–81)

But it is not just to have someone to blame that we invent gods:

we would reverse
the scheme ourselves have spun
And what we made to curse
We now would lean upon
And feign kind Gods who perfect what man vainly tries. (1. 2. 312–16)

Having failed to find rapture here on earth we hope to find with the gods the joy that here we look for in vain. But it is foolish to think that happiness, which has escaped us so often here, may not do just the same elsewhere. We should not fly to dreams, but should moderate our desires and realize that we have ample cause for contentment.

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun
To have lived light in the spring
To have loved, to have thought, to have done

To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes

That we must feign a bliss Of doubtful future date
And while we dream on this Lose all our present state

And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?
(1. 2. 397–46)

Lionel Trilling comments perceptively:

Thus the noonday Empedocles. But it is to his friend, the simple minded physician Pausanias, that Empedocles gives his advice; he himself cannot take it. He himself cannot support a life limited to reconciliation and compromise; he yearns for the absolute, and his own resolution is to flee from clocked and circumstantial existence by flinging himself into the crater of Etna. It is not entirely a suicide of escape. The act is done in ecstasy and is, as it were, the affirmation of human desire by mingling with the All and mingling with the elements. (p. 88)

When the second act opens, in the evening of the day, we see Empedocles by the volcano’s summit

On this charr’d blacken’d melancholy waste

Crown’d by the awful peak, Etna’s great mouth Round which the sullen vapour rolls—alone!

(2. 1–3)

He expounds his weariness with the world. He cannot live with other men nor yet in solitude. The only friends he has left are the four elements he canonized: earth, air, fire, and water. Prospero- like, he lays aside the panoply of his godlike status among humans.

Lie there, ye ensigns
Of my unloved preeminence
In an age like this!
Among a people of children,
Who thronged me in their cities
Who worshipped me in their houses
And asked not wisdom
But drugs to charm with
But spells to mutter—
All the fool’s armoury of magic!—Lie there My golden circlet
My purple robe.

(2. 109–20)

Next, he divests himself of his poetic tools: ‘lie thou here, my laurel bough’. He laments that he hates being alone, and hates poetic solitude. ‘Only death’, we are told, ‘can cut his oscillations short, and so | bring him to poise. There is no other way.’

Arnold’s philosopher in this final act is much closer to the historic Empedocles. He recalls the happy time he spent with Parmenides, on whose poem he modelled his own On Nature.

And yet what days were those, Parmenides!
When we were young, when we could number friends
In all the Italian cities like ourselves,
When with elated hearts we join’d your train
Ye sun-born Virgins, on the road of truth
Then we could still enjoy, then neither thought
Nor outward things were closed and dead to us;
But we received the shock of mighty thoughts
On simple minds with a pure natural joy.

(2. 235–43)

The final stanzas of the poem are both the finest on their own aesthetic terms, and the closest to the verses of the historical Empedocles. We are constantly reminded of Fragment 115, the decree of necessity and the thrice ten thousand years of wandering to which Empedocles condemned the fallen.

To the elements it came from
Everything will return—

Our bodies to earth
Our blood to water
Heat to fire
Breath to air

They were well born,
they will be well entomb’d

But mind? ...

But mind, but thought—

If these have been the master part of us—
Where will they find their parent element?
Who will receive them, who will call them home?
But we shall still be in them, and they in us,
And we shall be the strangers of the world,
And they will be our lords, as they are now;
And keep us prisoners of our consciousness,
And never let us clasp and feel the All
But through their forms and modes and stifling veils....


still thought and mind

Will hurry us with them on their homeless march

Over the unallied unopening earth,

Over the unrecognising sea; while air

Will blow us fiercely back to sea and earth,

And fire repel us from its living waves.

And then we shall unwillingly return

Back to this meadow of calamity

This uncongenial place, this human life;

And in our individual human state

Go through the sad probation all again,

To see if we will poise our life at last,

To see if we will now at last be true

To our own only true, deep-buried selves,

Being one with which we are one with the whole world ...


O ye elements I know—
Ye know it too—it hath been granted me

Not to die wholly, not to be all enslaved.

I feel it in this hour.

Leap and roar, thou sea of fire!

My soul glows to meet you.

Ere it flag, ere the mists

Of despondency and gloom

Rush over it again,

Receive me, save me.

(2. 331–8, 344–54, 358–72, 403–16)

There is no denying that what it communicates is the situation and sentiment of Arnold himself rather than of the historical Empedocles. However, defenders of Arnold may claim a certain affinity between the two men. Empedocles, part magus and part scientist, was, like Arnold, poised between two worlds, one dead, one struggling to be born." [From Empedocles to Wittgenstein]


"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

*Become clean, my friends.*
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