Sunday, February 26, 2006



Sartre's "L'enfer, c'est les autres" (Hell is other people) is often quoted, with good reason. I feel that way most of the time. But a good case can be made for considering hell to be not other people, but one's self. Satan, in Milton's Paradise Lost, recognized this:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

And like a devilish engine back recoils
Upon himself; horrour and doubt distract
His troubled thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The Hell within him; for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step, no more than from himself, can fly
By change of place.
Milton understood Satan so well because in Milton's personality, as in Satan's, rebelliousness was one of the chief ingredients. Johnson in his Life of Milton writes with great psychological penetration:
Milton's Republicanism was, I am afraid, founded in an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence; in petulance impatient of control, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs in the State, and prelates in the Church; for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority.

Stephen Crane's little poem is a frightening vision of hell:
I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
Running, leaping,
and carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, "Comrade! Brother!"

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