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Touching the air of paradise lost : an investigation into air's instability Choi, Mari


This paper traces how Milton characterizes the physically unphysical air of its world in two ways: put simply, physically and absurdly. It will serve as an interesting gateway to understanding the vitality of the very things that surround and incarcerate us. In an epic deeply rooted in the dichotomy between good and evil, how does the natural fit into such conflicts and distinctions? Is nature exploitable, or perhaps the only truly neutral force in a world where no one or thing else can be neutral? In the climate of Renaissance exploration and curiosity, Milton’s portrayal of the natural, agential world is particularly interesting. His treatment of air transcends the limiting bounds of tendency, typicality, and topicality; for Milton, air is a multifunctioning, multidimensional, tangible and yet wispy enigma. I will use that as a starting point to explore air as a force in the world of Paradise Lost, to examine the ways in which Milton uses and differs from Renaissance attitudes and understandings of air. His use of the concept of air in Paradise Lost is complex; it is clear that he is engaging with certain scientific ideas about air as a gas, but there is a tendency to give air unexpected properties of physicality, gender and power. This tension between standard ideas and unique modifications is what makes examining Milton’s usage of air such an interesting pursuit. While he was not the only seventeenth-century poet concerned with materiality, and more broadly vitality, his take is made unique by his abstract experimentation with and insistence for the multifaceted nature of nature: his treatment of nature far exceeds that of greenery and transcends the bounds of personification as it engages with metaphysical contemplations about an air that is both essential to life and has the ability to produce divine judgments, change colour, shape and size, act as a physical conduit for chemical and magical reactions, and be literally substantiated in the physical world.

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