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Filtering by Tag: House of Cards

Stubborn Patience in Paradise Lost

Joy and Matthew Steem

Illustration for John Milton's Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré, (1886) showing Lucifer's descent and his deterioration into Satan Last night I dreamt that I got lost again. It’s a frequent dream for me: I can’t find my car or my way home. While that type of dream may have metaphorical meaning for some people, I think it is most likely pretty literal for me. When I was a kid, sometimes I had to ask my friends at sleepovers to remind me where their bathroom was because I couldn’t quite remember their house layout and I was scared of opening the wrong door. Before smart phones and GPSs, using public transit was a complete nightmare. In addition to having the tendency of getting lost, I am also pretty good at remaining unseen. It was not that uncommon for me to be the last one sitting on the bus patiently awaiting my destination when the driver would turn around, and, with a start say, “I had no idea there was still a passenger on here!” Sometimes, I had gotten on the right bus, but on the wrong side of the street and so ended up at the other side of the city.

Often, in an attempt to make me feel better, people will tell me that they are not very good with directions either. They mean well, but it doesn’t really help; it makes me feel like they think they understand, but they don’t. It can be somewhat isolating. So, when I meet someone who has a similar challenge it can be really quite bonding.

The petite elderly professor who taught me Paradise Lost was like that. One of her colleagues once told our class that said professor was so perpetually lost that it was sometimes an accomplishment for her to find her way home from a neighbour’s. True or not, the impression stuck and she became among my favorite instructors. When she spoke of Milton’s Satan, Adam, and Eve, I paid attention and was quite nearly riveted. Without power point, whiteboard, props or even a dramatic voice, the passages she pointed to were gripping. I still read it from time to time. The story fascinates me. I know the ending, how can I possibly be so transfixed, I sometimes wonder. I’m beginning to think I might have an inkling of what particularly fascinates me about the story: Satan.

Perhaps of all the lines in Paradise Lost, the description of Satan’s “stubborn patience as with triple steel” is among the most chilling for me. The Fallen Angel’s designs to deceive and destroy God’s freshly created Eve and Adam stuns me with its icy resolution. It strikes me because of its dissimilarity with the nature of evil that I often see portrayed in culture and literature: hot, passionate, sensual desire with searing results. Milton, however, shows us a Satan who is not sexy, only stubborn.

Like Francis Underwood of House of Cards, Satan’s plans are strategic, stealthy and unwearied: his will is enduring and his resilience indestructible. Perhaps this image is so striking for me because of the composed calmness the line suggests he possesses. There is little hustle and bustle going on at this moment; instead, there is cold calculation. Rather than the perpetrator of forbidden fun like the devil (who can forget Al Pacino in this role) in Devil’s Advocate, Milton’s antagonist embodies the nature of evil Charles Williams explores in Descent into Hell: deliberate, incremental and isolating steps that go deeper and deeper into the non-spectacular: the anti-spectacular, in fact, for it is oblivion.

Darkness Rather than Light

Jean Hoefling

2043093 It has always seemed strange to me . . . the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egoism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.John Steinbeck

What epitomizes the essence of Steinbeck’s ruminations better than the highly successful Netflix TV show House of Cards, a statement on the ruthless spirit of Washington politics (real or somewhat imagined) that even a sophisticated reviewer for the New York Times admits “may be the most joyless show on television.” Nevertheless, I hear it everywhere: emotional downer shows that cash in on human evil are “actually quite literary,” and this type of “finally, something intelligent on television” programming spells the Salvation of Western Civilization.

While admitting the show is joyless, the Times reviewer still considers this drama series “exhilarating and binge-worthy.” She’s right; looking voyeuristically into other people’s soul sickness is a rush, and addictive because we unconsciously recognize it in ourselves. The spirit behind the Machiavellian Frank Underwood and his grim, shifty-eyed ilk appeals to the Black Plague germs lurking in us all, our love of darkness rather than light (John 3:19). Steinbeck needn’t have been surprised by this human tendency.

What’s actually surprising is that we don’t work harder to fill our eyes and ears with kind and wholesome images, stuff that even science has proven beneficial psychologically and physiologically. In an article in Psychology Today, “Elation: The Amazing Effect of Witnessing Acts of Kindness,” “witnessing altruistic acts can be a source of what Abraham Maslow called ‘peak experiences,’ “a warm feeling in the chest, a sensation of expansion in [the] heart . . . increased sense of connection with others . . . a manifestation of humanity’s ‘higher’ or ‘better’ nature.” And to think goodness isn’t cool in our world.

Question for self: Without being overly didactic about it, wouldn’t it be better for my soul, if I must view monsters, just to dial into old episodes of The Munsters instead of keeping company with the monsters in House of Cards?