Autonomy Metaphor: Men As Leaves Term Paper

Length: 15 pages Sources: 14 Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy Type: Term Paper Paper: #34970259 Related Topics: Metaphor, Aeneid, Sojourner Truth, Walt Whitman
Excerpt from Term Paper :

(Leaves, 680)

Similarly Whitman informs us:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun…there are millions of suns left,

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…nor look through the eyes of the dead…nor feed on the specters in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me. (Leaves, 663)

America as a democratic state and freedom of individuals was the greatest dream of Whiteman that is evident from the poems in Leave of the Grass

OI believe there is nothing real but America and Freedom!

O to sternly reject all except Democracy! (Roy, 106)

He wanted to see America free of all the evils of democracy such as corruption.

The symbol of leaves and grass itself depict the idea of independence and democracy. As leaves are free and are bound to their nature by attaching to plants in the spring and detaching in the autumn. It is their nature and no one can suppress them to act against their nature. Similarly cluster of grass is the symbol of democracy in the poetry of Whitman. By using grass the poet constructs the bond between man and nature.

In one sense the image of grass is the symbol of poet himself who like all other objects of nature himself is an independent being. Yet he himself explains the grass in the answer and question of a child "How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is/any more than he." (Song of Myself, 48) but when he give invitation to his "soul at his ease observing" the grass, he comes to know of its symbolic meaning and describes it as "flag" of disposition, "out of hopeful green stuff woven." Thus grass is the symbol of independence and liberty.

Similarly the leaves are the symbol of equality and freedom

And that a kelson of the creation is love,

And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,

And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,

And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap's stones, elder, mullein and poke-weed.

The concept of Autonomy in "Paradise Lost"

In Paradise Lost, Milton gives the public role of conscience its inception at the fall. Adam's nominal role as the fore bearer of autonomous reason would appear to place him in a position of epistemological authority over Eve, whose infamous 'rebellion' against him has come to represent her own capacity for autonomous, reasoned decisions. I argue, however, that the fall, for Milton, is the story of reason's education, one that begins with Adam's belief that reason is an autonomous principle of action that derives its sense directly from God, and ends with his conviction that reason is never autonomous to begin with, but draws its sense from the drama of human relations (a conviction, I argue, that Eve has always possessed). In the fall, Milton gives us a story about the relationship between reason and embodiment, a relationship that necessarily preexists Eve's "strange / Desire of wandering," both in that Adam always depends on Eve's sense of the world to make sense of his own experience and in that any vision of the fall is a vision given with postlapsarian eyes. Adam's prelapsarian vision of reason is as illusory for him as it is for his postlapsarian readers. Reason can always imagine itself as exercising principles that need no effort of justification to deserve their intelligibility in the world. But it is here that Milton gives the figure of Eve its crucial import.

Eve is not merely a device...


Neither is she merely the embodiment of the material world and its snares and temptations. Rather, it is both in Eve's sustained curiosity about the natural world and in the primacy she gives to her relationship with Adam that Eve demonstrates reason as a phenomenally-bound activity of the mind. It is only when Adam's worldview is threatened, on the other hand, that he begins to experience the embodied center of rational activity. Because reason draws its sense from the contingent and vulnerable territory of self-understanding, it, too, is vulnerable, susceptible, as Adam comes to find, to the slanted and misleading quality of his perception -- those "imaginations" and "airy shapes" he warns Eve at the beginning of Book V must be combated with reason. There is a mode of reading the story of Adam and Eve that would see the fall as nothing other than the opportunity for blame and regret. Milton gives us something else. Before the fall Adam's sense of himself and of Eve has never been threatened by incoherence of any kind, and its coherence derives from his mistaken perception that Eve's lack of interest in things divine reflects a diminished intellectual faculty relative to himself. Adam's mentality, like that of a metaphysician, is more interested in speculation about the realm of the divine than he is in understanding the ways in which his own mind is an extension of nature and human community. Adam is clearly threatened by the possibility that his own mind is not adequate to control either nature or human community: Eden's various images of "wanton growth," for example, "Ask riddance" just as Eve is "Too much ornament" that requires control through her constant submission. In this way, Adam's metaphysical impulses reflect a posture of defense against the very material that gives his life meaning. Eve's lack of interest in things divine, on the other hand, reflects a receptive attitude to that same material. Her thoughts, never preoccupied, as Adam's are, with "matters hid," suggests that, for her, human sense is the only kind of sense there is. This is not a mark of diminished intellect; it is the thinking of a mature humanist -- one for whom empirical and social experience are both imperfect and adequate measures of human knowledge. It is not until Michael teaches him that his own intellectual faculty was always diminished (and yet still sufficient) relative to God that Adam becomes attuned to the mind's embodiment. And because Eve stands as a figure so attuned, Paradise Lost is a poem with conscience.

The course of redemption through which Michael leads Adam in Books XI and XII of Paradise Lost is essentially about bringing Adam into a correct relation to the expressions of conscience after the fall, a relation that involves and depends on Eve's particular knowledge and experience of both the world and of Adam. The fall is not a matter of lost unity with an immutable, truth entire, but a matter of lost unity with the sense of such a unity. For Milton, conscience was always susceptible of error. But Adam never questions his own convictions until this poignant moment in Book XII, especially where he assumes that Eve must repress her desire to be free from his authority -- an assumption that derives from his own false sense that submission is as limiting as freedom is limitless.

While Paradise Lost and Book XII in particular, does offer a very powerful argument in favor of readers of Milton who contend that a politics of autonomy is not available in his republicanism, the idea that this reflects a deficiency in his politics is predicated on the assumption that Milton's subject aims for a rational autonomy that never really appears either because rational autonomy is itself a chimera, bound conceptually by bourgeois exclusivity, or because devotion to God impedes it. Barker argues that in dedicating himself to the redemptive feature of intellectual pursuits, Milton inadvertently usurps the monarch's for Milton, a society is the public face of conscience, expressing in its laws and institutions its own collective good or bad conscience. 101 In this way, a government that recognizes man's freedom of conviction isn't enough; it must also be a government that recognizes itself as a body of men that holds convictions. Embedded in this view is the idea that a government is accountable to the same principle of justice that expresses the convictions of conscience. To govern according to conscience is to acknowledge law's limited capacity for justice; it is to govern with equity.

Milton does not separate church and state in the sense that he regards state sanctioned authority as secular; he separates "rule by civil power" from "things to be ruled only by spiritual." This is a separation of institutional from personal authority that not only guarantees personal freedom, but also enables governors to exercise their own consciences in the political arena. A society open to the free exchange of ideas is the society in which the "common rule and touchstone is the scripture" for "nothing can be more…

Sources Used in Documents:


Anscombe, Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret, Intention Oxford: Blackwell, 1957. 70-76

Bernstein, Steven, Richard Ned Lebow, Janice Gross, and Steven Weber, God Gave Physics the Easy Problems: Adapting Social Science to an Unpredictable World, European Journal of International Relations, 6(1): 43 -- 76.

Carr, Edward H., Twenty Years Crisis: 1919-1939 New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1946.

Christman, John. Introduction In The Inner Citadel: Essays on Individual Autonomy, edited by John Christman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Cite this Document:

"Autonomy Metaphor Men As Leaves" (2012, January 08) Retrieved September 21, 2021, from

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