|John Martin, Pandemonium (1841)|
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, almost as soon as the rebel angels crash to the floor of Hell they begin thinking about how to alter their environment. They design and construct the great city of Pandemonium, in the coffeeshops of which they debate theology and philosophy.
Having built out their immediate environment, they look for new opportunities elsewhere, and construct a great bridge between their realm and Earth, so that they may pass back and forth, sharing with the inhabitants of Earth their wisdom. And perhaps such intercourse is beneficial to the devils as well.
Meanwhile, their leader Satan discovers that he can change his shape: through the exercise of a kind of spiritual biotechnology, a cosmetic surgery activated by the will alone, he can take the appearance of a lesser angel. Later he assumes the form of a cormorant; he is found “squat like a toad” at the ear of a woman, whispering dreams to her. Eventually it is the form of a serpent that he assumes. He does not seem to notice that he is always working his way down the Great Chain of Being, from beings of greater dignity and complexity to those of less. But what he does discover — though only because someone points it out — is that when he appears in his own form he is noticeably less beautiful than he had been when, named Lucifer, Son of the Morning, he had drawn near to the throne of God.
With the encouragement and support of his followers, he shares their vision of new possibility with the two human residents of Earth, who are living in a simple garden, working with their hands, and have left their appearance wholly unmodified, not even wearing clothing. Once they have been brought around to Satan’s way of thinking, the first technologies they employ are to make coverings for their bodies — to alter, though in a rudimentary way, their appearance, to make themselves seem rather different than they are.
When Satan returns to Pandemonium, crossing the bridge that had been constructed while he was at work, and announces his successful imparting to the strangers of the values of his community, he expects great applause. But what he hears is the hissing of the snakes his colleagues have been transformed into. From this time forward they will have no hands with which to make, no legs with which to walk, no voices with which to speak the words of possibility and otherness and transformation.