"Imaginative Geography": Orientalist Discourse in Paradise Lost



Paradise Lost incorporates many references to the East. The Orient figures prominently in the vast scope – the "imaginative geography" - of the poem. This paper attempts a survey of what, following Edward Said, has been termed "orientalist discourse" in Milton's epic poem. It is argued that this discourse has to be considered in the context of Milton's essentially religious and anti-monarchical stance. Associating the Orient with evil and the Satanic regime Paradise Lost cannot be wrested from "latent orientalism" but it is shown that issues such as aesthetic considerations, a cosmic setting, drawing on the authority of history, classicism, an encyclopedic scope, an essential anti-monarchism and above all a profound process of displacement whereby comments on contemporary issues are displaced onto the Orient all help compound the representations of the East in this text. The result is an ambiguous and multi-faceted orientalist discourse.