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How Came I Thus? : Adam and Eve In the Mirror of the Other.

Milton's Paradise Lost explores origins of many kinds at multiple levels of human experience, including the origin of human psychological development. It is not surprising, then, that modern critics with an interest in psychoanalytic theory have turned their attention to the striking narcissism displayed by several of the poem's characters--a narcissism clearly evident in the behavior of Adam and Eve. I wish to demonstrate how the language of psychoanalysis, used in the service of more traditional methods of linguistic and stylistic analysis, can bring new interpretations to classic works and encourage students to examine traditional texts in a variety of ways. One of the salutary effects of a psychoanalytic approach is that it encourages students put off by Milton's unrelenting phallocentrism to reexamine the subtlety with which the poet, perhaps unconsciously, embued his greatest poem with complex psychological ambiguities.

Claudia Champagne, in an analogous psychoanalytic exercise, argues that Adam's fatal acquiescence to Eve's desires, while clearly serving his own narcissistic needs, "originates, not in any sense of vanity or self-importance, but [ldots] in his primordial consciousness of a lack in his being. [ldots] Adam needs Eve because she fills this void, making him feel complete" (1991, 48-49). [1] Champagne, moreover, reaches the optimistic conclusion that in the events that follow Adam's capitulation, he learns humility from Eve's admission of guilt and is redeemed by her example: "Her humility leads Adam back to the Other. [ldots] Adam confesses his guilt and [ldots] once more submits himself to the authority of the omnipotent God"(57). This conclusion, of course, makes excellent use of psychoanalytic tools, but it produces rather traditional results. I suggest we push our psychoanalytic interrogation further in a way that spares no participant in this great drama from critical examination, not even the Father.

While I agree that Adam's uxorious difficulties are rooted in a sense of incompleteness, I think that his narcissism originates not in his own psychological configuration alone, but in the overwhelming--and repressive--narcissism of the "omnipotent God" himself. If this contention is valid, then Adam and Eve are part of a much larger web of "family dysfunction" in the poem, and the complex weave of narcissistic elements suggests more pessimistic conclusions about the prospects of Edenic autonomy and the kind of redemption involved.

The present reading departs from more usual psychoanalytic treatments of Paradise Lost by employing the developmental concepts of object relations psychology within a broadly Lacanian framework. Its purpose is to investigate the results of what ego psychologists might call "blurred ego boundaries" between God-the-Father and the Son. Such boundary confusion arises from two circumstances. First, the exact relationship between Father and Son in Paradise Lost is ambiguous--that is, it is not clear in what way the two are "united" in the Godhead and yet "separate" as "persons" in the trinity. Second, the Father-Son dyad is purely phallic--that is, it admits no female, or "gynetic," element to play a part in divine creative activities.

The result of these two factors is a repression of the radically monist Father's "maternal" dimension into a register of experience that Lacan calls the Imaginary. [2] Thus, not only does the indeterminate relation between phallic divine agencies set the stage for a range of narcissistic disturbances in the poem's other characters, but the repressed, maternal, creative dimension within the Godhead becomes encoded as an Imaginary "subtext." This "subtext," or submerged chain of signification, becomes the domain of what I call the "absent (M)other, Moreover, the maternal principle, denied primary text expression (the Lacanian Symbolic) as a creative element, operates through the Imaginary to distort the Symbolic activity of the primary text. Before we consider this argument, however, let us review the Lacanian categories that structure this discussion.

Lacan argues that the different levels of the human psyche and therefore human experience are structured like a language--that is, in chains of signs (signifiers) and the ideas, images, or effects toward which those signs point (signifieds). The basic linguistic principles that govern this psychic "language," its signifying chains, are the same as those we see in poetry--the principles of metaphor and metonymy. Lacan also developed categories that he called the Symbolic, the Imaginary, and the Real. These categories, or "registers," are in essence the different levels of experience composed of signifying chains that both constitute the person and are themselves the environments within which all our experiences are constituted. These levels or registers of experience in their metaphorical and metonymic dimensions establish what we might consider a text and subtext of psychic experience. [3] The Symbolic register is inaugurated by the "phallic" Law of the Father. This "law"--the principle of difference and sep aration--is established by what Lacan calls the phallus or "phallic signifier." This signifier cannot be identified in any direct way with the male sexual organ. Rather, in the Real and in the unconscious the phallus is a "pure effect," a functional principle that separates the psyche of the child from that of the mother. During this separation, the phallic signifier mandates language, making language possible through the substitution of symbol for absent thing (the mother), and ushers the child into the Symbolic order. [4] This level, which Lacan privileges, includes spoken and written language and conscious reasoning. It also constitutes our systems of thought and culture. The Imaginary register is the illusory, subjective, and narcissistic response of the individual to separation--most basically, the original separation from the mother. This register is most apparent in dreams, fantasies, and unconscious thoughts; it constitutes our illusory view of ourselves as a unified consciousness, and it is motivated by "Desire"--a desire for wholeness, completeness, and unity with an Other.

These Lacanian levels of experience are not stratified; rather, the chains of meaning and signification are interwoven so that Imaginary and Real effects are glimpsed in linguistic ambiguities, in logical disruptions, and in slips of the tongue that occur in Symbolic speech. Our "true" or "Real experience and Desire are available to us only through the language of the Symbolic register, and the Lacanian psychoanalyst "reads" the Symbolic meanings in the speech of the analysand like a psychic "text" to discover the effects of that experience. The Lacanian critic, on the other hand, might attempt to read the literary text like a "psyche."The poem or text in the ordinary sense--the chronologies of events, its characters or arguments, its rhetorical strategies and sequences--are a "primary" text, or system of meanings, and they are the locus of the Symbolic order. In Paradise Lost, for example, the primary text presents and privileges the events of the creation and fall from an "Edenic" perspective. It is God-th e-Father's view of his creation that dominates the determination of moral and theological value. This theological perspective is advanced by the narrator, Raphael, Abdiel, the unfallen Adam and Eve, and, of course, by the poem's central hero of the Symbolic, Christ. God-the-Father in the poem is the locus of difference and creative potential, and he therefore enunciates the Law-of-the-Father. Christ, as his creative agent, then, becomes the phallic instrument through which the principle of creative differentiation is effected.

However, God-the-Father is also the Original Other from whom Christ and the Father's other creations must be separated and clearly differentiated for proper psychological development to occur in the inhabitants of the Father's "perfect" Symbolic. If the precise relationship between God-the-Father and the Son is unclear or ambiguous, then the Son, the agent of creative differentiation and signifier of the Law-of-the-Father, will be unable to effect clear boundaries between self and other. It is precisely this problem that I think arises as a consequence of Milton's trinitarian formulations and this circumstance becomes the source of the "subtextual" anxiety in both Doctrine and in Paradise Lost. As a Lacanian reader, I therefore note arguments and events in Milton's theological treatise and in his poem, which are inconclusive or logically odd. Further, I identify concerns that seem to issue from a "place" other than the argumentative site of the issues with which the primary texts and major lines of argument or plot and character development are occupied. These logical and rhetorical discontinuities give me reason to suspect the existence of a "repressed" anxiety--an unconscious, or "submerged" concern expressed at a level that I can treat as a "subtext." This chain of signification, or meanings, comprises a "language" that speaks of an (Other) level of meaning, and its effect is to undermine consistency and coherence of the primary or "Symbolic" level of the text.

In Paradise Lost, I suggest, God-the-Father denies his maternal dimension, and this suppression brings into being the Imaginary register as a dimension of the Godhead whose Desire is for "fusion"--for reunification with paternal, or "phallic" creativity. Gynetic creative potential then generates the subtextual discourse that I label "God-the-Mother," or the "(M)Other." Such a maternal potential is of course not a "character," but an interpretive construct that allows discussion of gynetic "energy" in its precise oppositional relation to God-the-Father.

It is of course true that texts and their interpretations almost always reflect some aspect of "real world" experience, and in our daily lives ambiguous familial relationships have serious consequences. In the "real world" in which we are often both parents and children, inadequate or blurred ego boundaries--those crucial separations between parental "selves" and the "selves" of children--produce inadequate narcissistic personality structures and the symptoms of narcissistic disorder in children. The results of pathological narcissism thus pass from generation to generation. In Paradise Lost, therefore, if the omnipotent God-the-Father is also the paradigmatic narcissist, then it is reasonable to look for evidence of narcissistic difficulties in God-the Father's "children," Adam and Eve. In fact, our first parents, as Milton imagines them, provide a "test case" for the Miltonic Divine Father as a divine narcissist, and dysfunctional relations between Adam and Eve are then a measure of divine narcissistic dys function. It is also my contention that the narcissistic Father bears a large responsibility for the dysfunctional relations that develop in Eden. He plays a decisive role in determining the susceptibility of both Adam and Eve to Other Desire, and his attitude toward Eve even before her creation determines Adam's uxorious response to his "fit helpmeet."

In Paradise Eve, the "mother of mankind," is the figure of a contained, "other" creative energy that is carefully derivative: she herself was "derived" from Adam's rib, and she is under Adam's domination in the hierarchy of the Father's "perfect" Symbolic. Eve was created in part to represent a signifier of Symbolic difference rather than of fusional (Imaginary) sameness--Adam represents the standard from which she deviates--but Eve is also subordinate to Adam because she is "lacking." The Father intends her to be a deliberately limited and controlled other. I also suggest, however, that in addition to the Father's own narcissistic attachment to his exact likeness, Imaginary gynetic energy is a dimension of his creative activity in the births of Adam and Eve, despite his appropriation of all creative potential. [5]

In Book Eight, Adam tells Raphael the circumstances of his own birth and of Eve's, including his introduction to and naming of the other inhabitants of the new world. Adam seems to have been born a Symbolic creation, and as he names--and thus differentiates--the other creatures under his "dominion," the Father continues to construct him within the Symbolic register: "I named them, as they passed, and understood/ Their nature, with such knowledge God endued/ My sudden apprehension" (PL 8.352-54). [6] Adam, however, is a creature also "endued" with Desire: "but in these/ I found not what me thought I wanted still" (8.354-55; emphasis added).

Adam pleads "deficiency," and asks God for a social equal, a "consort" who will offer him "fellowship" and who will be "fit to participate/ All rational delight" (8.383, 389-91). After the Father pretends to resist--an actual instance of divine dissemblance--Adam asks belatedly for someone who can give him "collateral love, and dearest amity" (8.426). God, who has had Eve in mind all along, seems to respond, not to Adam's wishes, but to his own. His promise to Adam that "[w]hat next I bring shall please thee, be assured,/ Thy likeness, thy fit help, thy other self,/ Thy wish exactly to thy heart's desire" (8.449-51) does not stress companionship and intellectual exchange. Instead, the Father's response betrays narcissistic Desire. His promise that "What next I bring shall please thee, be assured," displaces divine narcissism and then creates the potential for blurred ego boundaries in his promise that Adam will get his "likeness" in an "other" self. God-the-Father problematizes the structure of both the self Adam already has and the "self" he is about to receive in Eve--and there remains a question about whether Eve her-"self" will actually have a separate self. The Father's language does not suggest reciprocity. [7] If Eve is Adam's "other self," it is a self for whom rational delights are clearly meant to be secondary. But this design has another, unintended, result: Eve in fact represents an "other" Imaginary dimension of Adam to which the (M)Other through Eve can make her claim. Moreover, it seems that what Adam actually gets is not a "likeness," either in appearance or, as Satan describes Adam's attributes, in "contemplation and valor." And there is no doubt that in her "otherness" Eve draws the phallic gaze.

What Satan sees when he looks at Adam and Eve are "godlike" creatures, but with a difference:

though both

Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed;

For contemplation he and valour formed,

For softness she and sweet attractive grace,

He for God only, she for God in him. (PL 4.295-99)

Satan's phallic gaze obviously distinguishes Adam and Eve according to the standards of Desire: he sees (or does not see) what Eve "lacks," but Satan himself does not seem to privilege Adam's intellectual qualities. For Satan the fact that Eve's relationship to God is derivative while Adam's is direct is not necessarily a Symbolic virtue, but seems to suggest a Symbolic structural weakness. Her secondary "place" and her "sweet attractiveness" in fact help afford Satan his opportunity to play the seducer. Additionally, Eve's place as "farther" from God in the worldly hierarchy because she is not as "like" the narcissistic Father as is Adam helps to confirm Eve's more direct relationship to the repressed "(M)Other' who, as we will discover, made her appearance immediately after Eve's "birth."

If one is inclined to disbelieve Satan's testimony about Eve's difference, recourse to Adam's estimation of her is even less reassuring: in Adam's encomium to her in Book Four, he tells Raphael that Eve's different sex is

so lovely fair,

That what seemed fair in all the world, seemed now

Mean, or in her summed up, in her contained

And in her looks, which from that time infused

Sweetness into my heart, unfelt before,

And into all things from her air inspired

The spirit of love and amorous delight. (PL 8.471-77)

To Adam "all the world," including Adam himself, takes second place to Eve, instead of Eve being in second place behind him. Her beauty (and his Desire), far from being "contained," are "all" consuming, and she is the "sum" of "all"--a truly God(ess) like characteristic. More strikingly, she "infuses" sweetness into Adam's heart, and her "air inspires" the "spirit of love." Including the antanaclasis on "air inspires," this language is suspiciously like that in which Raphael tells Adam about his birth--that God "breathed" life into his nostrils and he became a "living soul." Adam quite appropriately is attracted to Eve, however. It is not the desire, but the Desire in this passage that displeases Raphael, and only Raphael, of all who comment on Eve is restrained in his attitude toward her. He says tersely that Adam, the image of God, was created male, "but thy consort/ Female for race" (7.529-30). As befits Raphael's view of Eve's place in the divine economy, his description of her is purely functional.

Adam perhaps thinks he desires "rational delights," but what he gets is his paternally conditioned Desire--a clinging beauty who at first, instead of conversing with an angel, would rather learn theology in Adam's arms. Moreover, Adam's "likeness" is also fatally susceptible to a temptation which in large measure Satan couches in terms of appearances and otherness--elements that were primary in God's verbal response to Adam's request. God's Imaginarily disrupted Symbolic language, his moment of deception in "testing" Adam, and the end-product of his final creative act betray gynetic influence--a disruption of the phallic creative process by (M)Other Desire.

Raphael, when he describes Adam's creation to him is poetic but restrained. His account indicates that the Father, in the same breath that he announces that man will be created in his image, makes him a ruler over the new creation--the Father's new-born Symbolic. The Father/Son "forms" Adam from dust and into his nostrils "breathes" life in an affecting gesture of divine intimacy. Raphael's description, "in his own image he/ Created thee, in the image of God/ Express, and thou becamest a living soul" (7.526-28), creates an intense poetry of phallic creativity. There is no disruptive Imaginary influence at work in this climactic moment of differentiation. Raphael does not betray Imaginary influence in this crucial Symbolic account.

Adam, on the other hand, tells Raphael the story of Eve's creation with an-Other kind of passion. After arguing his case for companionship, Adam reports, the strain of higher learning and divine debate wears him out, and "dazzled and spent" he sinks into sleep. Adam's sleep, however, is a "trance"--part dream, part extreme dissociation:

Mine eyes he closed, but open left the cell

Of fancy my internal sight, by which

Abstract as in a trance methought I saw,

Though sleeping, where I lay, and saw the shape

Still glorious before whom awake I stood. (PL 8.460-64)

It is not clear whether Adam dreams. His eyes are "closed," but he "sees" with "internal sight." Situated at a nexus between dreaming and seeing, between Symbolic functioning and Imaginary experience, Adam gazes from the place of a Symbolic/Imaginary/Real "knot." He sees in the "still glorious" shape before him a composite of Symbolic and Imaginary representation. Repressed (M)Other energy, usually unable to rise above the "bar" of consciousness, can become almost "visible" or represented as a dimension of the figure of the Father. This position is as close as the (M)Other can come to translating Maternal energy into the Symbolic register. [8]

The "shape" of the divine "stoops" over Adam and, he says,

opened my left side, and took

From thence a rib, with cordial spirits warm,

And life-blood streaming fresh; wide was the wound,

But suddenly with flesh filled up and healed. (PL 8.465-68)

The act of creation itself--Eve's "birth"--is also precisely situated at the Symbolic and Imaginary nexus: the "wound," or womb, is a signifier of both Imaginary and Symbolic discourses. As a "womb" it is connected to female creativity but the womb itself is evidence of phallic absence and a mark of castration. The "life-blood streaming fresh" signifies the risk inherent in such a womb/wound, and is "suddenly"--almost anxiously--"with flesh filled up and healed." The wound is also a mark of separation and loss, and the Father/(M)Other (an interestingly complete creative unit) takes from Adam a part of himself to mold a separate being: "The rib he formed and fashioned with his hands;/ Under his forming hands a creature grew" (8.469-70).

Adam himself as the site of the "womb" is metonymically related to female creativity, but the Father forms Eve outside the womb with his hands, the poem's usual symbols of phallic creative potency. Within a Lacanian framework, this creation "outside" is a highly significant "place" of creativity, since it is the primary function of the Symbolic and Symbolic language to establish the crucial distinction between inside and outside the Original Other. In this gesture the Father occults gynetic creativity and appropriates to himself once more the generative function. It is the Father's bid to make of Eve a purely contained, Symbolic figure of female difference.

This appropriation, however, is not completely successful: the Father makes Eve "manlike, but different sex" (8.471).The "womb" (and the wound as mark) are replicated within her, but hidden--a now "present absence or invisible mark of gynetic influence. The Father created her "outside" the Maternal "wound," but the (M)Other established "within" her an Imaginary site of signification. Moreover, the creative act takes place under the trance-like gaze of Adam, and although his "wound" is gynetic, his gaze is phallic. He perceives her difference and otherness, but his response is overdetermined. He not only desires her, but absence and difference as dimensions of Imaginary otherness--his own and Eve's--immediately produce Desire. Eve's beauty also becomes a visible mark connected in the submerged discourse to the womb and to the (M)Other, and they condition the passion of his encomium: "so lovely fair,/ That what seemed fair in all the world, seemed now/ Mean" (8.471-73).

Imaginary influence in fact exerts an influence on the Father to such an extent that it seriously compromises his purely phallic creativity, and this influence was lurking there before the creative act itself, conditioning the Father's prediction to Adam about the erotic qualities of his "helpmeet." Adam's own response to Eve, both during his trance when he is more directly under gynetic influence, and also afterwards when he is fully awake, confirm the permanent effects of the (M)Other's intervention: when he describes his first sight of Eve as the Father leads her to him, he asserts that "Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye" (8.488).

Eve immediately takes her place in the Symbolic as a Symbolically contained signifier of otherness, but partly because of the responses of the Father and of Adam to her, she also becomes a signifier of Imaginary influence and Desire. Moreover, Adam and Eve are both psychologically constructed by crucially different mirror stage experiences.

Both Adam and Eve are developmentally determined by several experiences of looking and seeing that reveal different experiences of the mirror and the gaze. The accounts of their awakenings and of their first encounters with the world and with God reveal the different developmental trajectories that they follow, but paradoxically the first speeches that Satan overhears between Adam and Eve in Eden suggest not only difference, but also boundary confusion and a tendency toward narcissistic and Imaginary fusion.

Satan has apparently discovered Adam and Eve at a moment in their courtship when they are getting to know more about one another. Adam, although he still betrays a suspicious, Imaginary over-evaluation of Eve--"Sole partner and sole part of all these joys,/ Dearer thy self than all" (4.411-12)--nevertheless adopts the Symbolically appropriate attitude toward the world and toward its Creator. Eve tells Adam about herself, but Adam, as befits his role in the hierarchy, concentrates on emphasizing the rule of the Law as represented by the prohibition:

This one, this easy charge

not to taste that only tree

Of knowledge, planted by the tree of life,

So near grows death to life, what e'er death is,

Some dreadful thing no doubt; for well thou know'st

God hath pronounced it death to taste that tree,

The only sign of our obedience left. (PL 4.421-28)

Adam clearly demonstrates the function of Symbolic language to differentiate and establish significations: to taste and not to taste, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, life and death. Adam, apart from the references to Eve at the beginning and end of his speech, thus presents himself to her in relatively impersonal terms as the superior enunciator of public values: they are to obey the Law, keep horticultural order, enjoy each other, and praise God. Eve, in contrast, begins her address in the language of dependence and second-class citizenship, and her discourse is completely personal: she is concerned, not with the Law, but with the relationship between Adam and herself. It is also, however, a Symbolic expression in so far as she attempts to define her place in relation to Adam:

O thou for whom

And from whom I was formed flesh of thy flesh,

And without whom am to no end, my guide

And head, what thou hast said is just and right.

For we to him indeed all praises owe,

And daily thanks, I chiefly who enjoy

So far the happier lot, enjoying thee

Pre-eminent by so much odds, while thou

Like consort to thyself canst nowhere find. (PL 4.440-48)

The main Symbolic purpose of Eve's apostrophe appears to be to differentiate herself from Adam and to establish her inferiority, thereby establishing her Symbolic hierarchical place. She makes her distinctions, however, in language that also emphasizes her "oneness," or partial fusion with him. She is "flesh of [his] flesh;" The antanaclastic "head" suggests not only that Adam is her superior, but synecdochally that Adam's actual head is also her head--the seat of her intelligence. The larger implication, therefore, of the synecdochal relation of Eve's body parts to Adam's is an absence of autonomy and separate selfhood for Eve, and for Adam as well. This passage also suggests an ontological and teleological fusion of the two. The phrase, "without whom I am to no end," signifies a union of purpose and even of existence itself. Eve is no-thing without Adam.

In the Symbolic, Eve's physical and ontological origins are as carefully derivative in her speech as they were in Adam's account of her birth, but the language of substitution is distorted by the submerged discourse of unequal, pre-Oedipal, narcissistic relation. Eve declares to Adam, "Like consort to thyself canst nowhere find," and this statement ironically contradicts God's promise of an "other self" who is "fit" and adds some confirmation to the idea that God gave "a consort" to Adam according to the dictates of larger Desire. That Desire, I maintain, thoroughly conditions the experience of her awakening that Eve next relates to Adam (and to the "Eves-dropping" Satan), and it is useful to compare her first experiences with Adam's paternally derived response to himself and his world upon awakening.

The ostensible purpose of Eve's reminiscence is to tell him how she felt when she first met him, and her discourse is of course Symbolic speech and the product of Oedipalization. Her account, however, reveals a moment before she comes under the constitutive influence of the signifier and that pre-lingual stage shapes her discourse. Eve begins with a succinct statement of her first moment of consciousness: "I first awaked, and found myself reposed/ Under a shade of flowers, much wondering where! And what I was, whence thither brought and how" (4.450-52).

Adam, by contrast, in his account to Raphael, gives more details about his first awareness and describes the "balmy sweat"--very much like a residue of amniotic fluid--which covers him and which the sun dries (8.253-56). Here again, as earlier in the poem, we find the obvious symbolic connection between sun and Father/Son, and this passage suggests that the Father is caring" for his newborn son. Adam, "looking" for his Father, "Straight toward heaven my wondering eyes I turned,/ And gazed a while the ample sky" (8.257-58). His first "gaze" is fixed on the place of the Father, on heaven, which is not quite empty because it contains a symbol of the Father. The "ample sky," however, does not afford Adam a "whole" image of himself, as does Eve's first experience of her world.

Adam's first experience instead is of the Symbolically differentiated world and of himself as "fragmented body." He springs up with "quick instinctive motion" (toward the Father, of course) and stands "upright." He sees "hill, dale and shady woods, and sunny plains," and he hears the "liquid lapse of murmuring streams" by which lived "creatures that [ldots] moved and walked, or flew," including "birds on the branches warbling" (8.259-65). Adam immediately distinguishes sight from sound and all the geographical areas and their inhabitants from one another. He is innately endowed, even in his pre-mirror state, with the Symbolic ability to differentiate. His pre-mirror developmental phase, however, is evidenced by the fact that, without a specular image of himself he perceives himself in parts:

My self I then perused, and limb by limb

Surveyed, and sometimes went, and sometimes ran

With supple joints, and lively vigour led:

but who I was, or where, or from what cause,

Knew not. (PL 8.267-71)

He experiences the parts of his body and the motions his body can make, but he has no sense of self that comes from the specular experience ("but who I was [ldots] knew not"). He nevertheless has language: "to speak I tried, and forthwith spake,/ My tongue obeyed and readily could name/ Whate'er I saw. Thou sun, said I" (8.271-73). His ability to speak apparently arises from his status as the first, Symbolic, human male created by a solely phallic agency. He is in fact somewhat "separate" from his birth and psychologically separate to some degree from the other features of his surroundings.

The paternal third term is present in its symbolic guise as sun/Son, and when Adam "speaks" to "heal" his separateness, it is the sun he first addresses. He then "names" the other general shapes and forms of his surroundings and asks his most pressing questions: "how came I thus, how here?" (8.277). Adam has language, but not identity. He is therefore also not yet fully "placed" in the Symbolic register of experience, since identity and "place" are still inextricably connected. Adam, like the psychological infant that he resembles, does not yet know if he is "inside" or "outside" or inside or outside of what--or whom: he asks, "Tell me, how may I know him [some great maker], how adore,/ From whom I have that thus I move and live" (8.280-81). [9]

Eve's first conscious moments offer a decided contrast to Adam's. When she awakes she finds herself under "a shade of flowers," but this description is the importation of recognition back into a stage in which Eve was pre-lingual. She neither gazes about her nor examines her own body, but wonders "what" she is (not "who" as Adam does) and where she is. Eve seems not to distinguish the characteristics of her surroundings in any way until she first hears water:

Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound

Of waters issued from a cave and spread

Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved

Pure as the expanse of heaven. (PL 4.453-56)

Eve does not report having "called and strayed I know not whither" as does Adam (8. 283). She responds immediately to the non-linguistic sound of waters and to the sight of the "liquid plane," which seem to be a unitary perceptual experience. Mich[grave{e}]le Montrelay has commented on the fact that because the eye and ear are in close proximity, seeing and hearing are often confused for the infant, who is imbedded in the Real of objects and of the mother's body (Ragland-Sullivan 1986, 20) Eve is entangled in the sights and sounds of her pre-mirror stage and is likewise imbedded in the Real of the natural world. Fowler notes Ricks's comment about the "syntactical mingling" of the words "issued," "spread" and "stood." These descriptions can refer either to "sounds" or to "waters" (PL 4.453-56 n.). This unity of experience extends to the visual mingling of the "plain" of water with the sky. The water is pure and "unmoved" like the expanse of heaven. Eve is surrounded by earth and sky in an undifferentiated vis ual and aural perceptual experience.

Some commentators have described Eve's experience as occurring at a "pool"--a circumscribed body of water. This description is a clear importation of the imagery of the Ovidian Narcissus myth into Paradise Lost. [10] Eve lies down on a "green bank" that she does not recognize as a boundary because it does nothing to distinguish earth from sky: the water into which she gazes is an unbounded "plain" containing both earth and the limitless expanse of heaven. The waters themselves have their origin in a cave, a signifier that has in the submerged discourse the signified, "womb." Adam after his birth is still sprinkled with amniotic fluid; Eve is confronted with waters nearly within the womb itself, but contained within no visible boundaries:

I thither went

With unexperienced thought, and laid me down

On the green bank, to look into the clear

Smooth lake, that to me seemed another sky (PL 4.456-59)

Any purely tactile experience of the smooth lake and green bank as boundaries is immediately undercut by the specular experience of the watery reflection that "seemed another sky." Even in Eve's later Symbolic language, one recognizes the boundariless, nearly imageless territory of the Real in which the new-born Eve finds herself. No clear inside-outside divisions exist: the sky is above and below Eve and in a moment she will see herself both outside of and within the water. There are no voices--not even a bird singing--and no language: only the sight/sound of originary waters. The matrix of Eve's awareness is the earth, referred to as "she" throughout the poem.

In contrast, Adam, "calling and straying," finds "a green shady bank," but no water to give him the unified image of self as other that his development requires. He seems about to lose the fragile narcissistic structures of his first, fragmented self-awareness:

there gentle sleep

First found me, and with soft oppression seized

My drowsed sense, untroubled, though I thought

I then was passing to my former state

Insensible, and forthwith to dissolve. (PL 8.287-91)

Without the narcissistic support of the Other in his new-born Desire and without a sense of "place," Adam, regardless of his precocious ability to differentiate, would indeed lose his psychological boundaries and "dissolve" once more into the boundless narcissism of the Father. This "oneness," a reunion with the substance of the Father, would have meant an end to separation. Such psychological dissolution, far from "troubling," is merely a "soft oppression" and constitutes the ultimate satisfaction of all Desire.

This fate, however, is not what God intends for Adam, and the Father suddenly appears. Again Adam apparently dreams, but it is not quite a dream because, after its progress, Adam wakes and finds "before mine eyes all real, as the dream/ had lively shadowed" (8.310-11). This time the "trance" seems to mark a developmental moment between encroaching narcissistic fusion and separation. Adam's mirror stage experience takes place at a nexus between an Imaginary pre-conscious and a Symbolic consciousness, and the "inward apparition" that arises from the Imaginary is the image of his Desire and a composite image of his own fragmented body as a perfect whole. Adam is made in the image of his creator-Father who names him and calls him father:

When suddenly stood at my head a dream,

Whose inward apparition gently moved

My fancy to believe I yet had being,

And lived: one came, methought, of shape divine,

And said, Thy mansion wants thee, Adam, rise,

First man, of men innumerable ordained

First father, called by thee I come thy guide

To the garden of bliss, thy seat prepared. (PL 8.292-99; emphasis added)

The image is first an "apparition" who gives Adam a sense of being "alive"--it is an "other" separate from himself. He then perceives it as a "shape divine," but the image is still "himself as divine" because he is the perfect image of his maker. The divine then calls him Adam, naming him and giving him an identity separate from the image. Adam is also the "first man, a description that further establishes him as "other." A sense of sameness is preserved, however, in an additional appellation, "first father." Adam is a father like his Father because he himself will engender "men innumerable."

Adam is still in the grip of his mirror-stage experience, but the Father moves to end it by "placing" him in the Symbolic. The Father speaks and in so-doing directly links language and "place" in the Symbolic order. The Father will "guide" the "first father" to the "mansion" that "wants" him--his "seat" of "bliss." The Father's first words to Adam connect place and Desire. In Lacanian theory one responds to and is shaped by the Desire of the other and the Other. In this case the Father specifically locates Other Desire in the Symbolic and identifies the Other as phallic--the Father himself: The Desire of the Symbolic other (the mansion), by "wanting" Adam, defines Adam's desire for his place in the Symbolic. Adam desired to know his maker and his place (where he was).The Father responds to Adam's "call" and informs him of "Symbolic" Desire, which is also the Father's own. Adam's Desire is thus constructed in terms of the Father and his place in terms of the Symbolic.

The Father through Symbolic language first constructs Adam in the mirror of his own image as Other and then detaches him from that mirror. He then takes the still-dreaming Adam "out" into the Symbolic world and presents him with substitute satisfactions for his Desire. First, Adam desires nurture at the sight of fruit: "fairest fruit that hung to the eye/Tempting, stirred in me sudden appetite" (8.307-08). The language of this Desire, however, is ominous--the words "fruit" and "temptation" foreshadow the grip of an Other Desire that is not of or for the Father. The Father, therefore, aware of his new son's vulnerability, presents himself as Other Nurturer--a substitute both for Imaginary Desire and for the phallic Other in the dream mirror:

I waked, and found

Before mine eyes all real, as the dream

Had lively shadowed: here had new begun

My wandering, had not he who was my guide

Up hither, from among the trees appeared

Presence divine. Rejoicing, but with awe

In adoration at his feet I fell

Submiss: he reared me, and Whom thou sought'st I am,

Said mildly, author of all this thou seest. (PL 8.309-17)

Lest Adam begin to stray in search of another identificatory image ("here had new begun/ My wanderings") or identify the satisfaction of Desire with sensual appetite alone, the Father appears once again to "heal" Adam's separation. As a third term that cuts off mirror identification, the Father offers to Adam-himself, the Original third term. This time, however, Adam perceives the Father as entirely separate from himself and an "object" outside of himself unlike the dream image that was "in" himself: "In adoration at his feet I fell submiss." The Father "rears" Adam; in this reading the antanaclasis suggests the Father's act of guiding him through the first stages of development. God then names himself the great "I am" and identifies himself as the creator in the last step of Adam's entry into the world of constant objects and separate others. (However, given the Father's narcissism and the presence of gynetic energy, it remains to be seen how separate Adam can really manage to be.)

Adam is now ready to continue his Symbolic education by receiving his place in the social hierarchy and by learning the Law that it will be his responsibility to administer. For the moment at least, Adam has successfully negotiated the developmental maze under the watchful gaze of the Father. The progress of Eve's developmental history, however, is quite different. As we have noted, she is not born as "separate," nor does she possess a language that disengages her from the Real of her surroundings. She has yet to learn even what Lacan calls the "letters" of the body--the perceptual signs and signals emanating from the mother's body that are the beginning of abstraction.

Drawn by the sound/sight of waters, Eve reports that, "I thither went/With unexperienced thought" (4.457). The adjective, "unexperienced," has an antanaclastic quality that suggests both lack of experience in thinking and the absence of abstract thought altogether. Like the newborn, Eve is aware of only those characteristics of the world--for the infant, usually the mother's body--that she sees, hears or feels. Gazing into the boundariless "lake-sky," she finds a "presence"--her first vivid experience of an image:

As I bent down to look, just opposite,

A shape within the watery gleam appeared

Bending to look on me, I started back,

It started back, but pleased I soon returned,

Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks

Of sympathy and love; there I had fixed

Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,

Had not a voice thus warned me. (PL 4.460-67)

The "shape" Eve sees is bathed in light--it appears "within the watery gleam"--and the confluence of light and water create a visual field, a "plain" of the Imaginary in which she discovers a "mirror." The text presents us with another definitive moment of the originary gaze during which Eve emerges from the Real and discovers herself as other--and Other. When the "shape"--a part-object--appears, Eve responds to it as a "letter," an image of self and other that distances her from the Real and begins to constitute her as a "subject" of the gaze. At the same moment, however, the object of her gaze looks back ("Bending to look on me"), and to avoid capture and the surrender of visual mastery, Eve "starts back" to avoid becoming the "object" of the gaze of the other, who is herself. But during that moment in which Eve is part-subject, part-object, a mirror-stage identification takes place in which she both is the object and recognizes it as other.

For the infant who looks in the mirror, the experience of a self-controlled, unified, and smoothly functioning "self" at which it gazes is an illusion on which it bases its future "selfhood." In actuality, the infant still has little control over its movements or body functions. Part of the intensity of Eve's experience is that she is not an infant, and the image she sees is that of an adult with full control over her body. Eve in this sense experiences the Real of her own body which is also a signifier of the Original (M)Other. In Eve, the (M)Other becomes em-bodied and the "body" she displays to Eve is at once the other and the Other--a doubly powerful identification. [11] In her moment of specular identification, Eve is "one" with--or fused--with the (M)Other and at the same time reflected in her the way every child is reflected in the mother.

Eve's startled response backward at the sudden appearance of self and Other becomes in this reading a trope of the fact that subject and object positions in the gaze cannot be occupied simultaneously: one position must be repressed because a looker cannot consciously be subject and object at the same time. When Eve, newly constituted as subject, breaks the gaze, the object also disappears from the water, but Eve has been irreversibly constituted as subject and object, self and (O)ther. The loss of the object in the water ("It started back") and the concomitant repression of that object within her psyche create Desire and constitute within Eve the beginning of an Imaginary discourse.

When Eve is placed in the Symbolic by language, the Imaginary register will reach its full development, but during Eve's moment of identification and repression, the (M)Other is powerfully installed within Eve's unconscious as the motive force of a hidden discourse. This force now manifests itself in Eve as a Desire for the lost Original Object of Desire and Eve now seeks out her image once again ("but pleased I soon returned"). Eve is now a divided consciousness (self and alienated other). She possesses an Imaginary "I" ("moi") whose actual subjectivity ("Je") will be located in her unconscious--in the Real of her experience of the Original (M)other.

As Eve re-establishes the gaze, she re-institutes the process of subject- mastery and objectification, a process that here is double--the (M)Other is seen, sees and masters, and then is seen again ("Pleased it soon returned with answering looks"). Both participants in this gaze--self and Other--find the objects of their Desire and then lose them as each becomes object in the gaze of the other. It is Desire itself ("looks of sympathy and love") which "slips away"--remains unsatisfied--and therefore holds each gazer in the grip of the other ("there I had fixed/Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire").

The compulsive pleasure a child feels in gaining a sense of her own body and "self" while still remaining reflected in and existing as part of the mother is here intensified by the fact that Eve's other is also an embodiment of the primordial (M)Other, the gynetic creative dimension of God-the-Father, who will soon assert himself to claim his daughter. Left in the grip of their Desire, neither looker would be able to release the other without intolerable loss: Eve would lose her "self" and the (M)Other would lose her "body"--and with it her temporary ascent above the bar of consciousness into the Father's Symbolic.

Eve's fate, if she were to continue in her mirror-relation to the (M)Other, would be the same as it was for Narcissus (whose story is so obviously alluded to) and as it is for all infants who do not undergo Oedipalization: the gradual extinguishing of self and possible incestuous reincorporation into the Other. As I read him, Narcissus was a victim of the gaze and lost his self through Desire. Motivated by unconscious fear of "lack," he saw himself as the Imaginary phallus of the (M)Other, the Original Object of Desire, who then claimed him. Narcissus himself made an object of his own body and then a strange Imaginary incest--his and the Original Other's--killed him. [12]

The myth of Narcissus, misogynistically transferred to women as the paradigm for their psychic structure, is the traditional subtext of Eve's mirror-stage experience. Her "vain desire" is a precise expression for the adult fear of being "trapped by appearances"--of being shut up in suffocating relation to an all-powerful mother by the boundless narcissism of the infant. The misogyny of the transfer from Narcissus to women is testimony to the strength of the original unitary bond with the mother and how much displaced resistance is often necessary--at least as it is often expressed in literature--to avoid regression toward the Original Object of Desire.

Narcissus had only Echo to coax him away from the pool, but God-the-Father, the Other author of the gaze, comes to Eve's "rescue" with the infinite resources of the Law. He literally breaks off the mute, pre-Oedipal gaze between (M)Other and daughter with the Symbolic power of his voice. Eve tells Adam that she would still be at the watery plain,

Had not a voice thus warned me, What thou seest,

What there thou seest fair creature is thyself,

With thee it came and goes: but follow me,

And I will bring thee where no shadow stays

Thy coming, and thy soft embraces, he

Whose image thou art, him thou shall enjoy

Inseparably thine, to him shalt bear

Multitudes like thyself, and thence be called

Mother of human race. (PL 4.467-75)

Eve's talk of "vain desire" and her sense that the voice was "warning" her seem to be a product of Oedipalization expressed in the Symbolic discourse. During the event itself she seems to have experienced nothing but the compulsive pleasure of neonatal sensory exploration. Similarly, the strength of a "warning," assuming that's what the Father's address is, seems to lack an objective correlative--unless it is directed against a subtextual, rather than a primary-text threat.

The force of(M)Other frustrated Desire, in this reading, does seem to provide a submerged context for such a warning, but the Father's strategy against his own unacknowledged adversary is to adopt a tone of almost playful denial and to divest the image at which Eve gazed of any Other significance than being an "empty" and useless reflection of herself "alone." The isocolonic repetition of, "What thou seest,/What there thou seest," followed by "fair creature is thyself," seems to establish an amused, gently mocking tone while acknowledging that Eve is in fact attractive enough to draw one's gaze. He is a Father gently chiding his pretty daughter for indulging in a silly pastime.

After trivializing her experience with the (M)Other, God-the-Father effects Eve's separation from the Original Other by drawing her away from the "mirror" with language that continues to reinterpret the event in Symbolic terms. At the same time, his words reconstruct Eve Symbolically and repress her pre-Oedipal experience in preparation for a substitution of Adam for the Original Object of her Desire. The Father first denies the "otherness" of her image: "with thee it comes and goes." Instead of following her own unrealized "self" the Father directs her to follow him--the Symbolic, phallic Other: "but follow me,/And I will bring thee where no shadow stays thy coming." This statement is a complete reconstruction of her specular experience: the Father substitutes a "shadow" for her experience of an image bathed in light ("A shape within the watery gleam appeared"). A shadow where once there was a bright reflection becomes a mark of repression, an effacement of the Original Object in preparation for the Symboli cally substituted one. The (M)Other is once again repressed--a repetition of the Father's original repression of gynetic energy. The later Eve then relates to Adam the next phases of her Oedipal education.

After transforming the (M)Other to a "shadow" in Eve's understanding and explaining that she can never "have" her, the Father redirects her Desire to the phallic other that she can have: ("where no shadow stays thy coming, and thy soft embraces") (4.470-71). The Father installs in her consciousness an object of Desire in much the same way that he "installed" Eve in Adam's, but with the significant difference that there is no talk of intellectual "fitness." The Father describes the "enjoyment" of physical "embraces" that will lead, in Symbolically correct fashion, to motherhood. At the same time, the Father does not dwell on Adam's "manly graces," feeling, presumably, that Eve, because of her mirror experience, is all too aware of physical attractions.

Eve has in fact been more powerfully immersed in her perceptually-oriented mirror stage experience than Adam was in his, and the Father, having sunk her Original image of self in darkness, is at pains to substitute for it a "self" image that is outside of Eve her self, thus creating a boundary between inside and outside and a sense of object. He undercuts the separation, however, by "uniting" Eve to Adam: "he/ Whose image thou art, him thou shall enjoy/ Inseparably thine" (4.471-73). Adam belongs to Eve, but he is not her "other self," presumably, because she is already Adam's "other self."

Thanks to the developmental trajectories established by the Father's narcissism and to the paternal repression of maternal creativity, the already suspicious fusion between Adam and Eve projected by the Father's Imaginarily influenced discourse is again unequal. Adam will be the phallic substitute for Eve's lost Other--an other that she can "have"--and an object of Desire separate from herself, but the Father also tells her that she is Adam's image, a statement that is clearly not accurate. Eve has no exact image in the Symbolic, nor has Adam had the experience of a Maternal Other, a circumstance that makes him vulnerable to Eve's "difference." These conditions, in addition to the Father's own narcissistic discourse, lay the psychological foundation for the couple's future difficulties.

Martin is Associate Professor of English at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. She has published articles on John Milton and Aphra Behn.


(1.) See this study also for a brief overview of critical views on Adam's narcissism and his "uxoriousness."

(2.) I have adopted the custom of capitalizing the Lacanian terms "Imaginary," "Symbolic," and "Real"--Lacan's three registers of experience--to distinguish them from the more usual uses of these terms. Other terms that have specifically Lacanian meanings like "Other" and "Desire" are also capitalized.

(3.) Lacan's third register of experience, the "Real," contains the facts and effects of our history and development which are outside and beyond representation and which are never directly accessible to the conscious mind. These effects appear in altered form in the Imaginary as images, dreams, wishes, and desires, and with great effort they can be "read" and understood in the Symbolic. Since these effects are outside of and beyond signification except insofar as they are translated into Imaginary and Symbolic effects, my discussion of "text" and "subtext" here is primarily concerned with the Symbolic and Imaginary registers.

(4.) Only on the level of the Imaginary is the phallus represented by an organ or by one's real father. While feminist critics sometimes use "phallus" and "phallic" as pejorative terms, Lacanian theory actually privileges this signifier and the Symbolic order that it institutes. Lacan also argues that sexual difference and orientation are established in the course of a child's orientation to this signifier. In my own reading, "phallic" is also synonymous with the creative and generative acts carried out by God-the-Father and the Son in both Milton's theology and his poem. The Son, I argue, embodies the phallic signifier at the Symbolic level of both treatise and poem.

(5.) Biblical and social mandate, of course, determine Eve's difference and inferiority in Paradise Lost, but the question remains why woman, within and without biblical history, is characterized as so emotionally and psychologically "other" that she becomes the instrumental cause of loss and limitation. Genesis offers no explicit answers, but Milton was heir to a long theological tradition which includes explanations that are, in a sense, psychological. Within that tradition, his portraits of Adam, Eve, and Satan in the poem are clearly psychological in the more traditional sense of character development, and my reading simply extends the idea of psychological motivation to the Father as well.

(6.) All references to the poem are taken from the Alastair Fowler edition of Paradise Lost (1971).

(7.) Technically in Lacanian theory, the Imaginarily conceived self is always "other," since it is formed in the mirror. To have one's identity thus decentered and invested in the Imaginary other who is already a substitute for the Original Other would seem to be "otherness" three times removed--a trope of otherness.

(8.) There is an odd example of textual repression in the "Argument" that prefaces Book Eight. Adam's meeting with Eve is mentioned, but Eve's creation is omitted, perhaps suggesting some authorial anxiety around this event.

(9.) The scriptural allusion which makes this idea explicit is from Paul's sermon on the unknown God in Acts, 17:28: "For in him we live, and move, and have our being [ldots] For we are also his offspring."

(10.) For example, see Marjorie Hope Nicholson (1963, 241) and James W Earl (1985, 13-16). Most recent scholars, however, seem careful to refer to the water into which Eve gazes as a "lake," the same term that Milton uses. Cf. Catherine Belsey (1988, 61) and John T. Shawcross (1993, 202).

(11.) For a discussion of the "pool" as Eve's "missing mother" see Earl (1985, 1316). For a different, Freudian/Lacanian reading of this scene that comes to different conclusions, see Shawcross (1993, 296 n4). See also Shawcross (1993, 202), for a Jungian approach to these same passages.

(12.) There are of course many interpretations of the Narcissus myth itself, an examination of which would take us too far afield, but almost all interpretations of Eve's experience at the "watery plane" are based, explicitly or implicitly, on the Narcissus myth. William Kerrigan (1983, 70) in The Sacred Complex: on the Psychogenesis of "Paradise Lost" gives a thoroughly psychological, but traditionally negative, reading of the scene. Most traditional readings of Eve's experience with her reflection rely on the myth to draw negative conclusions about the dangers of lingering too long over her own image --for example, G. K. Hunter (1980, 191); but some, like Joseph Summers (1962, 98), and Diane Kelsey McColley (1983, 80-85), find a positive note in a contrast between Narcissus and Eve. One of the earliest, but still most unconventional, of these readings is that of Stanley Fish (1967,216-19). For semi-psychological interpretations that build on the traditional negative relation between Eve and the Narcissus m yth, see Richard Durocher (1985, 72-85) and Arnold Stein (1977, 93-96). For a brief reprise of critical readings of this episode, see Fish (1967, 216-19). My reading of the myth itself as well as of the reflection scene is in keeping with my psychological approach and has of course benefited from the readings of Fish, Shawcross, Kerrigan, and others.

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