And Milton said: “Please pass the butter”

It’s been a while. I have since read Paradise Lost in its entirety, fulfilling my quest of completing it once through before the end of the Pesach break.

I have to admit that Milton’s efforts are much appreciated. His epic is full of picturesque description just aching (in my opinion) to be translated into a graphic novel (i.e. comic book). William Blake, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t do it justice.

Note: Evoking my artistic side, I’ve scribbled a number of vignettes on the self-made cover  of my book. (For the record, I ripped up my huge volume of “Milton’s Works” into a number of smaller, easily transported portions; to keep the pages from scattering, I bound it with bristol and white glue.) If I ever finish it, I will post photos.

Of course, Milton being Milton, he has succeeded in stretching out the story of the Original Sin — about 23 lines in Genesis — into 10, 557 lines. He has added in lots of good stuff and  I quite love his descriptions of  Paradise, which, as I said cry out for illustration.

However, I have some profound thoughts about the religious aspect of all this, but can’t seem to get them organized enough in my brain to put them into English. It involves the idea that the story of the original sin is MAN’S attempt to explain man’s inherent quest to know (I don’t believe that the Bible is a “true” story dictated by an All-Being God), and thus Man’s inherent evil and despicable nature (which it is, despite many ‘good’ people, Human’s overall tendency is to be vile, ambitious and greedy). The story of the “Original sin” is just that, a STORY. That is, it is an allegory to describe Man’s inherent nature. This nature came FIRST, before the  idea of an “original sin.”

Somehow, in discussing Paradise Lost, the whole idea that Milton is simply a flesh-and-blood person aiming to retell a cool story gets lost and we seems to discuss him as if he is relating, with some God-given spirit, an event that really happened.

I know, I am not at all being clear. No matter. Maybe one day I will be able to sort out my thoughts more coherently.

In the meantime, because I “complained” elsewhere that Milton, being Milton, would probably say “please pass the butter” in 100 words or more, and since it’s time for more “Linda a la Milton” (or is this “Milton a la Linda”? I am confused), behold the following.

And in pentameter no less (pretty close to iambic, I think)… and free verse (i.e. no rhyme).


Please pass the butter a la Milton (i.e. in 100 words or more)

Now as I sit here and of pleasant bread
Do eat, but wish that lovely slice be now
slathered by some del’cate,  tasty spread,
do thus entreat my lady fair at right,
to reach her lithesome arm to yonder place,
and pass that bowl. What talent,  farmers bold,
to make so flavorsome this bovine stuff,
from udders full. From highland Ayrshires  red,
or auburn Guernseys mottled bright, pi-ed 
Holstein, or buff colored Jersey, that chews
her cud in placid stance in pasture yon.
Praise the dairyman: who take’th liquid white
and bland and churn’th well, and maketh thus
this creamy joy my naked bread adorn.




Moving from the 17th century to the 21st.

Last semester there were two courses where the instructors, on the very first day of class, told us in no uncertain terms, “NO COMPUTER/TELEPHONE USE IN CLASS.”

We were NOT supposed to hide behind our laptop, not even to look up a word (you were supposed to ask the professor if you didn’t understand something on the grounds that if you didn’t know, there was probably someone else that didn’t either). One even said that if caught, the student would be excused from the class for the day.

No  emailing or texting, Tweeting , Facebook, surfing, or answering phones during class. You will   be asked to leave the class that day  if engaging in those activities.

To my knowledge, students respected this (as much as I could tell: I usually sat in the front of the class, so I didn’t see what was going on. But ALL the students were pretty much involved in these classes.) Laptops were only used to bring up the readings required, and on a few occasions to consult Wikipedia (which would be shared with the class). Anyone forgetting to set their phone to silent was supposed to bring a cake the next week (although this was never actually enforced the two times a phone DID go off).

Both professors (they are in cahoots, I’m sure) gave us the following in their first-day handout:

 As  Cara A. Finnegan, Associate Professor of Communications at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign writes:

 In recent years the saturation of cell phones, text messaging, and laptops has produced something I call the problem of divided attention. A March 25, 2008 article in the New York Times summarized recent studies of productivity in business settings. Researchers found that after responding to email or text messages, it took people more than 15 minutes to refocus on the “serious mental tasks” they had been performing before the interruption. Other research has shown that when people attempt to perform two tasks at once (e.g., following what’s happening in class while checking text messages), the brain literally cannot do it. The brain has got to abandon one of the tasks in order effectively to accomplish the other. Hidden behind all the hype about multi-tasking, then, is this sad truth: it can actually make you slower and dumber. For this reason alone you should seek to avoid the problem of divided attention when you are in class.

But there’s another, equally important reason: we technology-users often lose our senses when it comes to norms of polite behavior, and the result is that perfectly lovely people become unbelievably rude. …  Recent studies also  suggest that students who bring laptops to class  perform worse (on average) than their non-laptop using peers, and are much less likely to pay attention in class. Laptops can also be a distraction for other students and the professor.”

This semester I am taking a seminar course with approximately 22 students, most of whom sit at around a large U-shaped table formation. I have noticed that there are a number of students who spend a good portion of the 4-lesson period behind an open laptop. The student who sat on my left this week, for example, seemed to be working on some letter writing. Because it was in a language I can’t read, it COULD have been notes, but the format suggested otherwise: there were also various non-class-issue windows open on the screen. This student did participate in some discussion, though, so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt.

Across the room, two other students had their screens up and were VERY quiet in class. What were they doing?  I have noticed another student who has been continuously engaged in her computer screen: the first class, she was doing some kind of architectural stuff (designing her apartment?), another time I sat near her, it seemed she was working on a paper. Anytime I looked toward her, I could see she was deeply involved in whatever was going on on her screen.

The last lesson, I sat next to a student who spent the entire time checking out stuff on Facebook, registering for some flying lessons (or flying experience thing), checking out a wedding venue, and I don’t know what else. I am so well-informed on her goings-on because she sat on my right, the direction I had to turn to look at the front, so I couldn’t avoid seeing her computer pages flying. I found it VERY distracting, and I know it threw me off the discussion once or twice. It seemed that part of the time she was in some teacher’s forum! She’s a teacher and this is what she does in class? Does she let her students do the same thing? I’d wager not! There were a few times when she actually had her eyes directed at the instructor. That was when she was crocheting a kippah.

Of the 22 students, I would say that about 10 are very active participants (I include myself), and another 3-4 are paying attention but are quiet souls. Frankly, I don’t care if someone takes up class space and gets nothing out of the course. There ARE those who come for the piece of paper and don’t care about the education. However, when I sit next to Facebook and party invitation designs flashing on the screen next to me, I am distracted and lose my train of thought.

What should I do? Any ideas?


Aeropagatica–Rhymes with…

Continuing on with Milton, I have to say that the class last Wednesday on Lycidas did end off on a nice note, our professor demonstrating the wonderful way that various themes were woven into the poem. I’d have to check my notes to actually remember how and what, but it was a fairly interesting class.

This week’s reading is Aeropagatica: For the Liberty of unlicenc’d Printing. This is Milton’s 17,950-word plea to the parlament [sic] against book pre-publication censorship (which was effected in 1643).

Now, I respect Milton’s purpose, and agree with him that such censorship is uncalled for. I believe he made good points in trying to show how the ancient Greeks renounced censorship and how the Catholics installed it, and that it is virtually impossible and unfeasible to try to stifle the flow of ideas. I imagine that the government would have taken his ideas to heart. However,  I read the short (2-page) introduction in the Dartmouth Milton Room, which noted that “Milton’s Areopagitica had virtually no political impact in its day: Parliament ignored it.”

Then I got down to reading it. Did I mention that this is 17,950 words long? I read and read and read and read and it went on and on and on and on. There never seems to be a place to come up for air. I didn’t note any elegant transitions. After a while, I lost track of what I was reading as the words just seemed to register on my retina and dissolve somewhere between there and  the thought centers in my brain. About half-way through I gave up (I’ll get back to it later on, but at this point, my head is popping and it’s time to feed the dogs.)

Just for fun. I timed myself reading a bit out loud: It took me about 7 minutes to read 1,000 words, meaning that reading 18,000 words (without pause) would come to just a bit over two hours. Non-stop. Might I venture that the reason it had no impact is because by about the 30th minute of his speech his listeners had tuned out and were dreaming about their dinner? Or having a short snooze? Or perhaps they had (like what seems to go on in Knesset) left the hall? Dunno.

My professor is an esteemed Milton expert. In fact, he wrote an introduction to the Hebrew translation of Aeropagatica. I imagine if anyone can help me “appreciate” this long, drawn-out diatribe, it will be him. So, while I consider reading it (at this point) to be somewhat tortuous, I am looking forward (sort of) to class tomorrow to see what will come out of it.

Comments welcome!