A Gust for Paradise: Milton's Eden and the Visual Arts
University of Illinois Press, 1993 - 305 pages
This beautifully illustrated multidisciplinary study addresses interpretations of the Genesis creation story in Paradise Lost and other seventeenth-century English poems and in the visual arts from the Middle Ages through the Reformation. It considers poems, visual images, and music concerned with divine and human creativity and interprets these works as salutary examples for the creation of the arts and the preservation of the earth.
The central topic is the "daily work of body or mind" of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost as primal artists and caretakers of nature before the Fall, developing the arts of language, music, liturgy, and government, discovering the rudiments of a technology harmless to the biosphere, and dressing and keeping a garden that is an epitome of the whole earth. These unfallen arts promote awareness of the complex harmonies of creation and potentially of civilization: an awareness that is not only linear or binary but radiant and multiple; not only monodic but also choral.
McColley argues that northern European visual artists and seventeenth-century English poets reimagined Eden in order to re-Edenize the imagination as a source of ethical and ecological healing. The best-known depictions of Adam and Eve in the visual arts, which focus on the drama of the all, depart from a widespread but undervalued tradition that more celebratory and regenerative and less susceptible to misogynous interpretation. This tradition includes the neglected topos of original righteousness and contributes to what we would now call ecological awareness. Poets allied to this view foster Edenic consciousness by creating a Paradisal language that weaves form, sound, image, metaphor, concept, and experience as closely as nature weaves life, and so exercises our sense of connections.
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