Yesterday was bizzay. Actually the past two days were frightfully busy.
I got home Thurs night (technically Friday morning) after a full day of classes, memo/motions writing. The classes were awesome.
The first was Clinic case rounds for a very interesting/promising case involving sexual touching on a bus (case was disposed of on Friday – we lost (ack!)). I am consistently impressed with the good suggestions that come out of those sessions; they’re so good you want to smack your forehead and exclaim “Of Course!” every 4 minutes.
The second was the criminal enforcement of environmental laws which suffered a bit due to late notice of long reading assignments. It was still awesome though. I learn best when there are practical/real world/structural challenges laced though the black letter law. Since the professors in that class are all former prosecutors who are now private defenders, I get plenty of “and here’s how theory grounds into the real world” moments.
Friday was a bit rough also. The motion I stayed up to write on Thurs sucked and had to be rewritten on Friday, and I owe Tenacious D a debt of gratitude for taking on my last minute motions challenge and hammering the thing into shape. Again, a good learning experience. Although that motion was finished very close to the deadline, I think I’m pretty much now caught up on everything. Things will get easier now that my two heavy reading classes are starting to give me more time to work with the materials.
Friday also featured a morning witness statement taking (again not the smoothest preparation to the justified annoyance of my investigative partner) and then the final memo touches and filing.
After the deadlines, I ended up talking with someone about my 1L summer and encouraging her to apply. It was kind of funny. She was giving these standard responses to my questions about why she’d be interested in a PDs office and what she was looking for in terms of experiences, etc., when she kind of breaks “interview mold” and says, “I was wondering if I should bring up the fact that [omitted fact] and therefore I [omitted fact].” Well, this omitted fact was an absolute “must have her” kind of thing. I told her that if I were doing the hiring, and knew this, she could say the most bizarre stuff for the rest of the interview and I’d still take her as a summer 1L on the sole strength of that one experience and the perspective it gives. I hope she gets the position, since I think that summer program is one of the best experiences you could possibly have during your 1L year. In many ways it’s sort of a mini-clinic, and simply I can’t recommend it highly enough, even for people who are not planning on going into criminal law, but are interested in it nonetheless.
Also on Friday, at some point, my heater core in my car cracked. I think. It smells like burnt antifreeze and idles roughly (almost surging) whenever I flip the heater on. With the heater off, it seems to run just fine. More investigation will be done today. Arrgh.
I finished Friday by doing a Capitol Hill pub crawl (2 pubs) with some clinic peeps. On reflection, the whole thing was decidedly odd – not that the whole day wasn’t – but I did have a great time talking with people about cases, fantasy, poetry, law, and the LS experience. We even had some of the fellows out with us, which is always a treat. The rumor mill was running full tilt last night, which was also kind of funny. I probably need to take such things more seriously, but eh. Case in point – some guy gave me money for chatting with him in the bathroom. Sounds sketchy, yes?
Well, I was standing next to some very drunk Russian guy in the bathroom who was complaining about his girlfriend being hassled by skinheads. Actually, I think it was more of the opportunistic young white trash thing, rather than the hardcore skinhead type. I’ve done the shaved head and combat boots thing – it causes problems like you would not believe. Or maybe you would. Anyway, I made sympathetic noises and asked if I could do anything for him, or if anyone was giving him trouble. He said no kind of confusedly and staggered off. So later I see him at the bar with his girlfriend and said skinhead. The skinhead was doing that sort of opportunistic guy thing, the girlfriend was playing the skinhead for attention, and the Russian guy was obviously not pleased. He was also, as mentioned, very drunk so couldn’t say much of anything without looking like the overprotective drunk boyfriend. So I leaned over to him and said – “I’ve been in this situation before. I’m sorry you’re in it now.” So he looks at me and slips me a handful of 20s while saying – “You are a good man with clear eyes.” Then he heads off upstairs. Decidedly weird, but very Russian withal. So, with the aid of the Sensible Student, I spent the money on drinks for the clinic people.
Another weird point was running into someone who independently recognized me as a poet rather than a law student or a blogger (this is someone I’d never met.) That’s an unusual random encounter, since my celebrity is small, and those who do recognize me as a poet are mostly other writers, not straight up readers.
Over the course of the evening, the cast of characters were many and at one point the Dapper Floridian (hi!) and his wife (hi!) and I ended up talking about blogging and monikers. Blogging makes people nervous – who knows the google skills that will be employed looking for information about you?
But blogging is also kind of difficult to track if you’re just hoping for random information on a person. While it’s easy (via google) to find a blogger associated with a city or a bar or an institution, it’s much harder to find out a) who that person is, and b) which random person mentioned on the blog is the Xperson (whom you’re actually looking for) and whether or not if, even if you have a likely candidate for Xperson, whatever was blogged about actually happened. Blogging is, in many ways, like most written communication – people tend to see what they want to see in it. Meaning their subjective filters encounter only the text on the page, and all the small social things of real interaction which completely color any kind of event or experience are simply absent.
So in many ways the blog’s vision of individuals is a distorting social typecaster *if* the reader forgets that blogs are fictionalized (as all writing is) and reflect, for the purposes of telling a story, only a small sub-section of very rich lives. It would follow that the doings of third parties mentioned on blogs are even more distorted. I don’t think the Dapper Floridian was complaining of how I treat (portray) him on the blog, but I think it’s good to remind my dear readers that when mentioning others, we’re always talking about a sliver of a fraction of a story.
And the last element in my rambling post shall be John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
I was chatting with Proto-Abe (I think after a 9pm workout in the gym on Thurs?) about epic poetry. Apparently few read Paradise Lost anymore. (Or of The Prelude, or Beowulf, or The Divine Comedy, or The Faerie Queene, or The Nibelungenlied, or the Elder Edda, or Gilgamesh, or the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Aeneid. )
Although I imagine the Odyssey and The Divine Comedy must remain the most popular of this unpopular list.
Anyway, Paradise Lost is an odd and unpopular poem. It’s dense, allusive, difficult. It’s a product of a DWM Cromwellian Puritan who went blind and suffered a serious reversal of his political and personal fortunes. There are disturbing gender implications for contemporary sensibilities. It talks about God and sin a lot. It’s in fact so allusive to both classical mythology and the Bible that it will cause your head to burst if you try to integrate its cosmology into your own as you read. (The best advice I can give on approaching it is to read it as though it’s science fiction and not get bogged own.)
But it’s also daring and weird. The protagonist of PL is Satan, and he gets all the best lines. The next best lines are given to Eve. Adam is kind of stiff, honorable, but ultimately human, and ultimately (I think) more culpable and weaker than Eve is. God and Jesus are, well, often insufferable. But God and Jesus are not really written *as* people within the poem (they’re, um, kind of conceptual), whereas Adam and Eve are portrayed as fully rounded beings. If you read it you’ll see what I mean.
It’s also simply great poetry. The strengths and weaknesses of the poem (for modern ears) are found in the first two sentences:
OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, [ 5 ]
Sing Heav'nly Muse,that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill [ 10 ]
Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues [ 15 ]
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence, [ 25 ]
And justifie the wayes of God to men.
First off – amazing sentences. Amazing rhetoric.
You can follow it well enough, at first, and might catch that line 4’s “one greater Man/Restore us” must be Christ. Well enough. But then there’s Oreb, Sinai, Sion Hill, Siloa’s Brook – what *is* all this stuff? If you start to play the hunt and peck game within PL, you will read slowly and the poem will sputter to a halt. Just pretend that there is a shepherd (whether you can name him or not) and move on.
Milton’s also very daring here. He invokes the classical muse (a customary move) to aid him in telling his tale. Then he invokes God to do the same – and how he does that!
Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant
That’s just a fantastic image of God, brooding (in all senses of the word) on nothingness and then giving it life. This is far more radical and organic and tender and maternal (oddly) than the relatively sterile “let there be light.”
Milton’s also (if you didn’t catch it!) full of poetic arrogance. Meaning he’s willing to try to make the big argument, to attempt things yet unattempted in Prose or Rhime, and to (no small task here!) justify the ways of god to men. Some wag once quipped “Beer does more than Milton can/To justify the ways of god to man.” But how can you not read something that *tries* to do that.
Yet at the same time Milton is humble within the language. He tucks his fantastic dove image deep within a sentence, making it subordinate to his imploration of poetic aid.
This is a work rich in contradictions.
So, I thought I’d close with a couple of good snippets from PL to encourage (hopefully) someone out there to read it.
The first is Eve addressing Adam. In PL, the mother of our race is revealed to be a great love poet: “With thee conversing I forget all time.” I am genuinely sorry for anyone who hasn’t experienced that kind of love. Eve builds up this wonderful list of things she loves, and then, like a rhetorical wave getting pulled back into the ocean, she recalls all these things and simply says that in the absence of her love, none of these are sweet. It’s a very complex kind of statement when you parse it out; it’s about presence and sharing, and evinces Eve's outward ranging mind.
From PARADISE LOST
With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and thir change, all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest Birds; pleasant the Sun
When first on this delightful Land he spreads
His orient Beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flow’r
Glist’ring with dew; fragrant the fertile earth
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on
of grateful Ev’ning mild, the silent Night
With this her solemn Bird and this fair Moon.
And these the Gems of Heav’n, her starry train:
But neither breath of Morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest Birds, nor rising Sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flow’r
Glist’ring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful Ev’ning mild, nor silent Night
With this her solemn Bird, nor walk by Moon,
Or glittering Star-light without thee is sweet.
But wherefore all night long shine these, for whom
This glorious sight, when sleep hath shut all eyes?
The next is some of Satan’s rhetoric as he tries to rally the banished angels to support him as the ruler of hell. I’m sure you’ve heard the final line, and I’m sure you’re all familiar with the rationalization, the grasping at straws, the pride, the rage. It’s all here:
From PARADISE LOST
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.
Compare this to his later (private) lament in Book IV, lines 72-78. .
Me miserable! which way shall I flie
Infinite wrauth, and infinite despaire?
Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav'n.
The last is a touch of the fantastic in Milton. Adam and Eve have just finished a day’s labor in “mutual love and mutual help” and have (this is before the fall) laid themselves down naked in their bower. They observe no religious "rites" except for a simple expression of thanks, but they do enjoy “their Rites Mysterious of connubial Love,” after which they fall asleep in each other’s arms. (Again, this is pretty radical stuff for the day - Milton labels the anti-sexual as Hypocrites.)
Satan, disguised in the form of a toad-like thing creeps up on the sleeping Adam and Eve, who, unknown to him, are guarded by the angel Ithuriel.
As a distracted and fascinated Satan begins to whisper in the ears of the sleepers, Ithuriel finds him and is uncertain of what’s going on. . .
From PARADISE LOST
Him thus intent Ithuriel with his Spear
Touch’d lightly; for no falsehood can endure
Touch of Celestial temper, but returns
Of force to its own likeness: up he starts
Discoverd and surpriz’d. As when a spark
Lights on a heap of nitrous Powder, laid
Fit for the Tun some Magazin to store
Against a rumord Warr, the Smuttie graine
With sudden blaze diffus’d, inflames the Aire:
So started up in his own shape the Fiend.
Back stept those two fair Angels half amaz'd
So sudden to behold the grieslie King;
Yet thus, unmovd with fear, accost him soon.
Which of those rebell Spirits adjudg'd to Hell
Com'st thou, escap'd thy prison, and transform'd,
Why satst thou like an enemie in waite?
This is a tremendously kinetic and dramatic scene that Milton renders with great economy – it’s inspired a number of paintings:
Anyway, I hope this might cause some of you to skim through Paradise Lost. There's a lot of great poetry in there (just don't get put off by the bits that *don't* grab you).