Monday, March 15, 2010

One tweets, the other doesn't

jillybobwwHey ... lookee there. The word "Ides" is trending, and a certain pubescent vocal performer is not. Who says Twitter doesn't have cultcha?

This morning on Twitter, one of the hottest topics is "Ides." It seems everyone must take time from their day to tweet the fact that it was on this day 2054 years ago (give or take a bit of calendar tweaking) that a band of Roman conspirators ended the life of Julius Caesar (and two years later, deified him).

Twitter seems to partake of such short-lived conversational modes  - whatever is occurring in the moment becomes a hot topic, and, a moment later, belongs to oblivion.

One might call such linguistic environments "modes of the short now" - the preoccupation is of the instant, tending to the trivial, the ephemeral, the next fashionable thing, the hyped meme, or nano-meme. These stand in contrast with the long now, the now found in theological and philosophical notions of eternal consciousness, godlike, synchronic apprehension of all time, past and future, within one pervasive, perdurable, uninflected NOW.

I mention this just to briefly note that Milton does a stunning thing with these very different kinds of temporality in Book III. It's quite clever, and easy to summarize. The last we see of Satan is at the very end of Book II, when he's crawling out of the realm of Chaos like a waterbird from oil sludge, sees the pendant world hanging by a golden chain:

Thither full fraught with mischievous revenge,
Accurst, and in a cursed hour he hies. [ 1055 ]

Then comes Book III's soaring invocation to light, followed by the first appearance of God:

Now had the Almighty Father from above,
From the pure Empyrean where he sits
High Thron'd above all highth, bent down his eye ...

And it's in this now that he spies Satan:

Coasting the wall of Heav'n on this side Night
In the dun Air sublime, and ready now
To stoop with wearied wings, and willing feet

Satan's now is the now of finite movement, of step after step as he clambers out of the abyss and onto the backside of the universe. He's approaching, he's not yet landed. Look what Milton now does: he presents the dialog of God with the Son, in which is foreseen and foretold the outcome of Satan's efforts, Adam and Eve's fall, the resulting impact upon mankind, and the provision of a new plan that involves the son's volunteering to become the new Adam, and to die for man and for Justice, leading to an eventual resurrection, day of doom, transformation of the world in refining fire, and elevation of the Son as God/Man to eternal sanctity in a Paradise in which God is "all in all."

Milton has compressed the entire "Satan problem" and its solution, and with it the entirety of human history and God's sacred plan, into a few hundred lines, ending:

unexampl'd love, [ 410 ]
Love no where to be found less then Divine!
Hail Son of God, Saviour of Men, thy Name
Shall be the copious matter of my Song
Henceforth, and never shall my Harp thy praise
Forget, nor from thy Fathers praise disjoine. [ 415 ]

At which point the narrator takes up the thread from the moment that Satan "lights" on the world:

Mean while upon the firm opacous Globe
Of this round World, whose first convex divides
The luminous inferior Orbsenclos'd [ 420 ]
From Chaos and th' inroad of Darkness old,
Satan alighted walks: 

In the interval between Satan's approach and his actual alighting, Milton has pinched the Now of God, in which Satan's future, and that of mankind, are decided. Indeed, a future is literally provided for humanity: an alternative to the now of finitude and Death. The architecture of Milton's narrative dramatically gives us two kinds of time, two kinds of now. Satan tweets; Providence...provides.

No comments: