"Paradise Lost has the balls to dissolve confusion, changing the topic of conversation from 'why?' to 'because, bitch.' It's a great piece of mythological fan-fiction. It's a great piece of persuasive advertising."
"Satan's actions are all the more identifiable given that there are quite literally no other humans to be found in the story at this point. He doesn't even know that he's evil though."
"There's nothing about the contents of Hell in The Bible. It's woefully under-represented."
". . .we suppose it's communication that is humanity's greatest survival tool. It fights the confusion. It's a tool for prosperity, for growth, for demonstration of intellectual prowess. When there is communication, there is stability, and when there is stability, there is great opportunity for freedom."
"You're not afraid to leave this world because this world is negligent and it won't care when you're gone, and yet to identify with even one person and admit that you can't name every voice speaking in your soul, and to give over that responsibility in the face of absolute terror, that is the greatest persuasion.
NB: We originally wrote this review between February and July of 2011. Why? Because this Paradise Lost, the greatest thing ever written. Not only did we need to do it justice, we got to writing about it, and left the computer for a bit, and then came back, and had an epiphany. Needless to say, in order to prove a point, we took our time and pledged months ago not to have this thing be "done" until July 19. That's today. Enjoy!
We're huge admirers of actionbutton.net. Those guys have got it going on. Their freewheeling aggro-talk inspired a lot of what we do here. Our favorite feature of their site is that they are inclined to re-review things, sometimes more than once, and sometimes months or years later. What a concept! Imagine if we did this for the Academy Awards, for example. Did you know Shakespeare In Love won best picture? It did. Do you know what year it won in? Do you know what didn't win that year? Saving Private Ryan. Can you imagine if the evaluation system involved a re-review process 5 years later? Which of those two movies resonated further with audiences then, now, and a decade from now? Did you know Chicago won best picture? Over both Gangs of New York and The Two Towers.
There's a toxicity in our need for immediacy. It hinges on demand and on people's inability to make decisions for themselves. Make enough small bad decisions in a row, you lose yourself in your vat of errors, and incorrectness becomes unrecognizable. Sure, everybody has a right to accurate news though, to information, and to have it delivered in a timely fashion. It's when information blurs with consumption that things become clouded. We fear the day when all information and interpretation of events, both recent and ancient, are homogenized into a singularity, like the eventuality of Wikipedia. Information might one day be so ubiquitous and accessible that to be "intelligent" will become obsolete. People will be able to claim data and fact from the ether, its finality will be undisputed, and we all go Eloi (cruel irony, tell the people what Eloi are if they don't already know).
This in mind, we say delay immediacy. Slow your mental plow, man. Humans might like to think that their brains are solid-state hard drives. We aren't. We're better than that. What if we operated on a six-month delay of professional critique, analysis, and review? First, a lot of people would lose their jobs. We know we would, for sure.
This delay though -- would it add stability to our critical process? Is your gut reaction your best reaction? Well, write that down, but it won't be official for another six months under this system. Sleep on it. Think about it. Then forget about it. You'll go through a lot of days, moods, and interpretations over the course of that time. If you're doing your job correctly though, you'll arrive at the truest answer. You will always have your initial interpretation to fall back on if you can't discover anything else.
But what are we talking about again? Shit. How about that, four paragraphs and no mention of Paradise Lost, just ramblings about why we like actionbutton.net so much. Well, heads-up, this is probably the most importance sentence in the review, since it contains the statement, "Personal, prolonged justification in decision-making is a human's greatest capability, too often lost, and too often perverted, so when you attempt to cast off responsibility, you are also casting off self-worth, and that cuts you in a way that may never properly heal." Or maybe it's not the most important statement. We just riffed that without even looking down at the keyboard or taking a break to check email. Maybe we should write this over the course of six months? That'd be pretty righteous. Patience. We'll see what happens.
So we did.
Understand this: people lean. It makes us great. It's life-affirming and gives us worth. We slouch when we can't stand straight. We rest to collect our thoughts. We go to others when we need to verbalize. Rare is the person that doesn't shudder with fatigue. The other half of this webbed scaffolding we build around ourselves is that we don't quit. People, we mean. We don't lay down and die. There's always one last question we can think of, always one last thing we need to do, one last answer. The human soul runs on description and justification.
In order to obtain description and justification though, we have to run on a crude fossil fuel: confusion. Paraphrasing Kierkegaard in limited vernacular, "The Bible is a simple book with a simple message, it's just that even the most intelligent man will deliberately refuse to understand it." The confusion powers us. Paradise Lost has the balls to dissolve confusion, changing the topic of conversation from "why?" to "because we think." It's a great piece of mythological fan-fiction. It's a great piece of persuasive advertising.
Confusion and rage power our protagonist in Paradise Lost. Beginning in medias res, as the best epics do, our hero is in trouble, annoyed after a fight with his father. It's some heavy shit. Family drama is the meatiest, most sticky drama. Because of the falling out, the kid has been sent to live in a crappy neighborhood with his equally confused friends. The electrical work in his new place is bad and the water damage makes the floors smell. The fight with his dad is rolling around inside his skull like a baker's dozen beetles with megaphones. In the beginning, he just wants to get what he did wrong. Our protagonist's confusion stems from his inability to understand the "why" of his father's displeasure. He felt he'd always done the right thing, admiring dear old dad, talking him up to people he met -- seriously, that's why we're here, right? To make our parents look good? And isn't out-doing them the best way to make our parents look good?
The answer was apparently "no." This confused the living shit out of our hero. It started a fight and it came to blows. The hero left, sad, angry, violent, upset. He went to bed mad. He doesn't quit. There's always another question, the need for another answer. Approach a bad situation with both eyes open. If you don't like where you're at, change it. Good lessons for all people.
The biggest problem is that our hero isn't "people." He isn't even human—he's an angel, and a fallen angel at that. Our snap-judgment kicks in immediately when we're told the most ancient "oh, he'll be bad" red herring drops. Still, we're so compelled to side with him. Now, we've always been told that God created the angels to be different from humans. How different? Well, we were never really told that, the mythology's fuzzy. Yet they are seen as pious, pitying creatures, protecting earth-dwellers. There are no rules about how they "should" behave. In fact, the only rule is that God loves humans more than angels.
Angels get their wings and their halo and they get that one hard and fast rule. Paradise Lost is the story of the first angel to ask why that is. Worse still though, our fallen angel hero might be central to the story, but his struggle isn't the reason for this story. With that in mind, we readers already know there's no way in hell that he'll get the closure he demands. We know how the Genesis story ends. He doesn't know that yet, so the tragedy stems from the reader knowing before the hero. Also, he isn't a hero, he's an anti-hero. Eventually, he'll grow up to be The Prince of Darkness, Ruler of Hell, once called Lucifer, Satan now. He's a charming piece of work, sympathetic and seductive, and wicked to the core without even realizing it.
He's the most human character in the story. Definitely easier to identify with than the actual humans. "Humans" and "humanity" are new concepts at the beginning of the story. Lucifer knows they exist and he knows that they've got a deluxe apartment in the sky. He does not. He's in Hell. It's pitch black, it's fucking hot, there are lakes of acid, and he just got his head stoved in by Michael, that kiss-ass punk. A lot of people don't get that. Lucifer was an, and is, an angel. He'll never be stronger than God. He's got the mystical firepower of some mid-level entity like Michael or Gandalf. So the next time you want to claim Satan-induced weakness or insanity, remember that Lucifer was a fairly weak spirit.
Lucifer decides he should wreck all the nick-knacks hanging on the wall in God's den. We've all been there, it's a reasonable reaction. Satan's actions are all the more identifiable given that there are quite literally no other humans to be found in the story at this point. He doesn't even know that he's evil though. Those are the best villains. Ones that are true believers in their missions. They see themselves as wronged, as righteous, or as so disconnected from good and bad that what they're doing as malevolence.
So Satan isn't 'evil.' Or rather, we have no way to actually label Lucifer, the character, as evil. He hasn't done it yet. We know he will. We will always know how the story ends. This is good drama, children. Make the lead sympathetic, make him charismatic, make him wronged in a very human way, make his downfall predestined, then blind him of it. Make the reader hope for him. We hope for redemption, always. What a weird quality -- hearing this story about a guy that's supposedly the embodiment of all evil in existence, and we want to forgive him, want him to be redeemed. Says something about people's hearts being in the right place. The most popular religions are founded on that belief -- the eventuality of redemption. Out of our confusion, there is hope. Eventually.
Hope will deliver us from confusion? Wishful thinking. Lucifer is an action-man! When others would wallow, he tells his bros that he's gonna go totally sick-house on God's favorite creation: mankind. OK, if you're a human reading the story, at this point, you can't abide that. "No, Lucifer, don't do it! You're going to get God mad at you and you'll be turned into a snake forever! Watch out, it's a fucking trap!" You can't save him. You have to watch him. Watch him and know that his suffering will teach you a lesson. It will teach you, human, the lesson of: "Why God acts the way he does around you."
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there disease? Why do we experience confusion? Why do we experience heartbreak? What is the purpose of giving us free will and then demanding obedience? Why is power given to those who do not know its value?
What is the purpose behind the ways of God to man?
An amazing narrative hook. Everybody grapples with why others act a particular way toward a particular person. Everybody grapples with God, especially atheists. We at http://www.ghostlittle.com believe in a non-systemic beliefs system. It's paradoxical and contradictory, like all religions, so it still counts. We don't align with a political party. We rarely vote. We don't believe in a specific god. We don't read a specific book when we feel confused, except maybe The Alchemist. We can understand why people would, but the idea of taking advice from something written, translated, and re-written by a loosely-assembled cult of malnourished, dehydrated, hallucinating, persecuted, angry desert-dwellers that blame another loosely-assembled tribe of malnourished, dehydrated, hallucinating, persecuted, angry desert-dwellers for killing their ret-conned messiah -- it just doesn't sit right. Seriously, ask any Christian, for example, why he or she believes in God. The good ones—and they do exist—will answer that they enjoy guidance, or they enjoy the communal betterment the church can bring, or they're trying to nail the organist.
Then there are the funny ones. They might say something like, "because Jesus will save me." Jesus. The guy from The Bible? OK, we'll ignore that for a sec. What's Jesus going to save you from? "He's going to save me from the devil and get me to Heaven."
Let's start here. The devil? You mean Lucifer. The prideful angel that stepped out of line in 1337 BC (not the actual year), confused about God's immediate and unexplained love for his second children? Why does God love us more than the angels, by the way? We're getting to that, that's what Paradise Lost explains, dummy! Anyway, the devil runs Hell, and that's where the people that Christians hate go when they die. Man, religion truly is a dish best served cold. Good to know that the motherfuckers of the world will be shot with acid-filled paintballs for, like, forever. Forever is longer than a human mind can fathom, maybe even longer, so they'll get theirs, don't you worry!
What's Hell like? Well, any well-educated man of God will begin by describing the Circles. And the layers of sins. And the homunculi that torture the exposed flesh of the wicked. And the things that are done to people in their personalized Hellzzz, and how Satan is chained in the deepest frozen circle with three different heads that constantly masticate on the undying remains of the worst sinners in Christian mythology.
Spoiler: these circles of Hell, the personalized sin-spas that the heathens are hot-tubbing in, these things do not appear anywhere in The Bible. You are thinking of The Inferno cantos from Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. You'd be just as well off reading The Canterbury Tales or Hyperion if you're looking for realizations of Hell. There's nothing about the contents of Hell in The Bible. It's woefully under-represented. The people (characters) in The Bible might refer to Hell on occasion, but what this is saying to us is that the people (characters) in The Bible have no idea what they're talking about. Which means all of their threats are empty. Which means their stories might be exaggerated for dramatic effect, ideally scaring readers into believing them, put there for dramatic effect. Which means they were making it up as they went along. The fact that committees were formed to decide which version of the Revelation story was to be canonized worries us.
It doesn't matter though. All confusion over religion can be washed away by Paradise Lost. All the annoying fear-mongering and condemnation—gone.
We are at a strange place in history. We're on a technological launching pad, yet we're still fighting wars circulating around religion and interpretation. Hatred hold-overs because of fear and confusion.
The good technologies in human history were born out of necessity, created for the betterment of the human condition. Consider America as an easy-to-follow example. Are you American? Don't answer that. Welcome, non-American reader!
See, cities needed power, so complex coal mines were developed to fuel growing metropolises. Anybody that says London is foggy doesn't know what they're talking about—that Dickensian fog they're always talking about is actually coal soot, not actual fog. Always was. Nevertheless, the filth and squalor of early mega-cities brought overpopulation. Overpopulation led to people moving west, railroads systems were crafted. America needed food, invented massive agricultural machines to feed the baby boom after World War II. Pride in one's family lead to expansion, big cars, big houses, big yards, big dreams. Men in particular would say things about themselves without even speaking, poetry, truly, in that pride, pride's the two-faced composition notwithstanding, naturally. Needed to prove themselves, so they bought these things. Still, populations and sub-cultures were established all across the country—trains too slow, flight industry exploded. Still not fast enough, telecommunication networks were built, people drawn even closer together—closer still with the speed high-fidelity broadband connections allowed. The concepts of day and night on the planet are nearly negated due to the speed at which humans can communicate today.
There was always a necessity. Always a need. Sometimes for business, sometimes for survival. Always for speed though. The rate at which a human life can be extinguished is lessened with the speed at which one human can communicate with another. Therefore, we suppose it's communication that is humanity's greatest survival tool. It fights the confusion. It's a tool for prosperity, for growth, for demonstration of intellectual prowess. When there is communication, there is stability, and when there is stability, there is great opportunity for freedom. Freedom from time leads to exploration and wonderment, stimulation, and ways to specifically spend the free time that cooperation afforded.
Cooperation, then speed, then communication, then freedom, then stimulation—art. Expression of existence. Replication of existence. Interpretation of existence. Go read Chapter 4 of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It'll change your life. It'll make you want to buy a dead poet's ashes off of eBay, chop them on a mirror, and do a few lines of an Irishwoman named Angela.
This art will become beauty and reflection. It is still a result of necessity. Human communication's final form is a desire, a necessity, even, perhaps, to convey presence at all times to others. To say without saying, again, is poetry. Yet, when presence becomes omnipresence, it is no longer felt, only its absence is felt. Anything less is inadequate. It can't be maintained, and we should not desire it to be maintained. At which point, we must assume that fluctuation, rising and falling and rising again, is the best communication, the best art, the best freedom, the best stimulation, the clearest expression of existence.
Existence, as humans define it. Buddha said that life is suffering—we think that thought is incomplete.
We think there has to be way more than people are aware of. For example, X-rays exist. We can't feel them, but we know they're there. We know they're capable of penetrating our reality, our level of perception—it just takes a lot of technology and perception. So what else is there? There might be life-forms whose existence we might not even count as alive.
That which serves in symbiosis, aware that it will someday fall apart, will be the proudest. Sound like anybody named Satan that you've heard of? There may perhaps never be another like him, rebel angel that he is, and he knows it, so his uniqueness is a keystone to his expression. Utter individuality simultaneously manages to be just as inadequate as omnipresence, for it is in utter individuality that weakness is bred. It's here that the proudest, which we mentioned above, shows its true colors. It is too driven. Too absorbed into the necessity of self.
In Paradise Lost, God is the omnipresence, and Satan is the first individualist. Neither of them end up doing very well by the end of the story. The question is, and always has been: "Why is it this way?" We're nearing the answer. What is God? What is Satan?
By comparison, what is human?
It's in one's ability to shift, at necessity, that shows life's true colors. A shift from firmness to softness. From fast to slow. From high to low. From light to dark. And back again, if we find ourselves regretful.
People are bad at shifting quickly. Physically, the human body can bend if pressure is applied over time—coincidentally, the brain is kind of the same. Lucifer is hung up on themes of freedom and fairness.
Americans, by default, are raised on the concept of freedom and equality, but when released into the wild, like all creatures outside of the familiar, they find themselves without the emotional vocabulary to craft an independent persona capable of conversing with a concept as expansive as freedom, so they gravitate towards something immediate and safe. We don’t just gravitate to the path of least resistance though, we also regress back to baser comprehension. This is a big cause of mid-life crises—people find themselves unrecognizable later in life, just overgrow meatbags of values described in childhood, running on auto-pilot, too indifferent now to move. From there, we're snuggly and compartmentalized, still deploying unshakable, playground-caliber notions of right and wrong. If we're told that we're not free, we will instantly deny that statement. Anybody that even thinks it would be so humanely inhumane, so starkly wrong! Yet being "just wrong" is not enough for us. There has to be a reason that anybody would suggest America isn't free, so we'll assemble myths behind their motivations, modifying their circumstances, adding gravitas, adding personal complexity to this monolithic wickedness. Recognize that we aren't talking about a trait specific to America anymore. All people create demons. We fight demons. We, free humans, declare we are indeed still human in violent defiance.
Shit, Americans win wars. Our career record is 11-2-2.
Creatures of conscience, we want to kill our enemies in an odd kind of equation sorta unique to the American brain, marrying violence with freedom. Innumerable modern cultures have borrowed this persuasion recently. America is a culture of psychos (it's okay, Yossarian pointed out that you won't know if you're crazy), a byproduct of the inherent character envy implanted when its citizens are young—the way one is told that all are equal, and yet it becomes increasingly clear as we stare into our surrounding culture, that Americans are in no way equal, and that gnaws at an American's brainstem. We know it, but to say it out loud is to let our demons win, to admit that we aren't free. We can either accept it or fight, and the fighters, the true, honest psychos, indifferent to the social posturing that the others submitted to, are the ones that get all the envy they can, eventually becoming creatures that feed on the feeling.
Think. Remember back home to the cagey, self-loathing, dishonest people, knowingly unworthy of being 'American,' the irony not lost, sadly. They've submitted knowingly, debased their independence knowingly, handed envy, a sick emotion, to the truly craziest crazies, and all because they can't channel the freedom they had learned years and years ago. We've been taught it and told it was good, but freedom, and its uses, are so vast and so variable from one person to the next, that its value is lost to so many of us. It's intangible and it has to be given its value.
All deserve freedom! This isn't right. The answer has to be elsewhere. Lucifer decided he would find it.
Find the humans. Find out why they've been given freedom and life and love. Lucifer carries hell within him—back when when was just an individual emotion, and not a metaphysical place -- he verbally abandons good, incapable of rising back to hope. He wishes he could abandon fear. He cannot. He knows what he's doing is wicked, so sorry for himself that he is so predestined to destruction. His dark materials, indeed.
The story of Paradise Lost tapers and accelerates once Satan has entered the Garden. We're nearly there.
There is no turning back. We all know the story. Snake sees woman, woman sees fruit, snake offers casual suggestion, woman fucks up. Did woman fuck up? Eve, proto-lady as she was, proto-innocent as she was, she is not to blame. Everything she did, she did out of love, crafted with the base-simple logic, seeing good, knowing only good. She immediately understands what she did (because, you know, it's the Fruit of Knowledge), yet it's in Adam's identification, even before he himself has eaten, that there is the seed of human redemption. Perhaps God realized this would happen, perhaps not, but to see Eve, afraid, aware, and alone inside 'Knowledge' itself, in proto-humanity that is so much greater than Lucifer's self-diluted pity, Adam would rather die with Eve than live forever alone, ignorant to the meaning of her love for him.
He eats the fruit. It's a sad triumph. Satan has helped evict humanity from paradise, from the original paradise, and we see him for what he is and always was.
Books IX-XII are so elegant and respectful of the story we all know. It's not mistake that Lucifer goes from charismatic to a recoiling ash serpent, Lord of Darkness, and Fucker of Death (seriously, he had to fuck Death to gain entry to the earthly plane (read this poem!)). The torch is passed to the actual humans, Adam and Eve, who make an emotional calculation of devotion before they technically been given the tools to make such a distinction. It isn't spelled out—it needn't be.
Justifying the way of God to men is a difficult task—mostly because we refuse the answer given. Suppose God is an expansive metaphor for misfortune, bad luck, fate shitting rain and lightning on your weekend plans. We reject this. Satan took a bad situation and attempted to make it good by becoming evil itself. The humans took a bad situation and decided to love one another instead. Who had the better reaction to fate? The ones that were given the capability to create good out of misfortune, rather than the One that couldn't learn from his mistakes? Which would you rather be?
Humans can bend. Evil fallen angels can't.
No matter how smart you think you are, there is somebody in the world that has the simplest answer to a question you don't even realize you're asking yourself at the beginning and the end of every day. You can't face that answer until you're brave enough to admit you are a confused little shit living in absolute terror. You're not afraid to leave this world because this world is negligent and it won't care when you're gone, and yet to identify with even one person and admit that you can't name every voice speaking in your soul, and to give over that responsibility in the face of absolute terror, that is the greatest persuasion. It's the admission that you don't know yourself, not entirely. This idea can't be planted in your heads by an outside force. For it to work, you have to persuade yourself.
It's prolonged serendipity. That's it. That's love. Not forcing yourself, but loosing yourself from your personal singularity, is how love works. You have to persuade yourself that somebody else could have an answer.
And that is why this is the greatest thing ever written.
++ Certified ++
-- @Alex Crumb (originally published 7/19/11)