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Title: Milton’s Sky-Earth alchemy and Heidegger’s Earth-Sky continuum : a comparative analysis
Authors: Micallef, Bernard
Keywords: Milton, John, 1608-1674. Paradise Lost -- Criticism and interpretation
Discourse analysis, Literary
Phenomenology in literature
Alchemy in literature
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Springer
Citation: Micallef, B. Milton’s Sky-Earth alchemy and Heidegger’s Earth-Sky continuum : a comparative analysis - From sky and Earth to metaphysics. Berlin: Springer, 2015. 217-239.
Abstract: In Paradise Lost , allusions to alchemy are mostly evident in the third book, where Satan, on his way to ruining God’s wondrous creation of earth and man, passes through the region of the sun. Part of the orb’s “all-cheering” effect is to “shoot invisible virtue even to the deep,” reaching the inner nature of bodies in the surrounding universe. Remote as the “arch-chemic sun” is from earth, it functions as a fi rst alchemist whose rays are naturally mixed with terrestrial moisture to produce “here in the dark so many precious things/of colour glorious and effect so rare.” This divinely ordained and natural alchemy stands in stark contrast to two other rival pursuits for rare metal in Paradise Lost . Firstly, there is the brigade of fallen angels in the fi rst book, who are led by Mammon towards earthly riches, digging into a volcanic hill whose “glossy scurf” is a clear sign “that in his womb was hid metallic ore ,/The work of sulphur.” Secondly, there is the future fallen race of man who, a few verses later in the same book, is likewise led by Mammon to rifl e “the bowels of their mother earth/For treasures better hid.” In contrast to this sky- earth alchemy descending from a divine source, Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of art sees a phenomenological continuum extending in the opposite direction, from earth to Greek temple, godhead, sky, and sun. These last celestial entities are brought into being through the ramifying potential of the human work of art, the Greek temple that puts in relief the presence of the god within its sacred precinct as well as the natural elements surrounding it. In this process, earth endures as the unfath- omable aspect of a constantly arising and unconcealed world. Can Heidegger’s work of art, which ultimately engenders even God’s fi rmament, be reconciled with Milton’s alchemical allegory, which depicts God’s heavenly rays engendering the earth’s lesser riches? Heidegger’s philosophy of art implies the sky and the godhead as products of mankind’s ceaseless creativity working upon an ultimately impenetrable earth, whereas Milton’s alchemical allegory condemns mankind’s futile attempt to emulate God’s supreme art of engendering life in earth. And yet, striking resemblances emerge between the two paradigms as they are brought together in a comprehensive gestalt of creation.
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