Ithuriel's Spear: History
and the Language of Accommodation

John Guillory

Thought can as it were fly, it doesn't have to walk. You do not understand your own transactions, that is to say you do not have a synoptic view of them, and you as it were project your lack of understanding into the idea of a medium in which the most astounding things are possible.



The simile-allusion concluding book 1 of Paradise Lost complicates the idea of literary history by pushing to a further limit the notion of reduction, which is the structure of both metonymy and its more complex successors, transumption. When the simile spends itself, however, there remains something more to be said, and this supplementary matter is untouched by both the rhetorical reductions taking place within the lines of verse, and the physical reductions of bodies within the palace of Pandemonium. I would like to place some pressure on these additional lines in order to open a pathway from literary history to history itself, which seems to have been virtually excluded from the poem but which remains "left over" at precisely those points where transumptive allusion reaches a zenith of complexity. There are uneasy currents of contemporary allusion in the final paragraphs of book 1, ranging from an almost certain reference to St. Peter's Basilica, to more uncertain allusions to the Barberini pope, and perhaps to the Long Parliament. These contemporary allusions are inversely related to

From Poetic Authority: Spenser, Milton, and Literary History. © 1983 by Columbia University Press.


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John Milton's Paradise Lost


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