Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On the frontlines "of this great Argument" -- finding myself among the New Milton Critics!


There may be some interesting consequences stemming from my recent publication in the Milton Quarterly, for I suspect that I'll be perceived as having placed myself squarely in the camp of the New Milton Critics. Who are they? Three days ago, I couldn't have told you, but here's what they have to say for themselves:
The New Milton Criticism seeks to emphasize ambivalence and discontinuity in Milton's work and interrogate the assumptions and certainties in previous Milton scholarship. Contributors to the volume move Milton's open-ended poetics to the centre of Milton studies by showing how analysing irresolvable questions -- religious, philosophical and literary critical -- transforms interpretation and enriches appreciation of his work. The New Milton Criticism encourages scholars to embrace uncertainties in his writings rather than attempt to explain them away. Twelve critics from a range of countries, approaches and methodologies explore these questions in these new readings of Paradise Lost and other works. Sure to become a focus of debate and controversy in the field, this volume is a truly original contribution to early modern studies.

Among the New Milton Critics are Peter C. Herman, Elizabeth Sauer, Richard Strier, John Rogers, Judith Scherer Herz, Michael Bryson, Christopher D'Addario, Shannon Miller, Thomas Festa, Jeffrey Shoulson, William Kolbrener, and Joseph Wittreich, for these scholars contributed to the volume pictured above. I know several of them from the Milton List and also recognize the names of others from my acquaintance with Milton scholarship. I simply didn't realize that these trees made up a forest. I suppose I'm now perceived as a sapling on the perimeter. From the passage quoted above, I can see that I have some things in common. Like these scholars, I read Milton with a focus on "uncertainties in his writings," but unlike these same scholars, my approach to the uncertainties is to "attempt to explain them away," if possible. I don't embrace the uncertainties. I'm certainly no deconstructionist. I see the uncertainties -- or better, the contradictions -- as problems for Milton's great argument, and I think that he was aiming for logical coherence without entirely achieving it. But I know that I'll now be forever misunderstood as a New Milton Critic. Why? Here in the concluding sentence of my Milton Quarterly article -- immediately following my half-ironic remarks on Satan's necessary role in resolving an antinomy in Paradise Lost -- is why:
Milton has told us that his "great Argument" (1.24) does indeed "justifie the wayes of God to men" (1.26), but surely Milton did not intend a felix culpa, even if one might entertain destabilizing doubt at such contradictory complications . . . though merely sketching out the uncertain ramifications of such as these would go far beyond this brief essay and into realms of incertitude and ambiguity explored by Peter Herman, among others (cf. Sauer 15n1).

The citation is of Elizabeth Sauer in her "Introduction: The Art of Criticism," from Milton and the Climates of Reading: Essays by Balachandra Rajan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), which Sauer also edited. Concluding in this manner would seem to put my stamp of approval on the New Milton Critics -- among whom Sauer belongs (see list of scholars above) -- though I was in fact implicitly thanking Peter Herman for reading my article as I reworked it and offering his useful advice about seeking out primary sources from the 16th and 17th centuries to make my point about such terms as "cropt" and "uncropt." No one other than Peter would recognize this implicit thank-you note, of course, but there's more. Peter Herman also has an article published in the same issue of the Milton Quarterly, and it immediately follows my own -- mine thus appearing to introduce his -- and launches into a spirited defense of the New Milton Criticism through a strong offensive attack on an apparently polemical opponent:
I am not going to tax the reader's patience by repeating John Milton's mistake in Eikonoklastes and giving a tedious, point-by-point rebuttal of every single statement David Urban makes in his recent diatribe against the New Milton Criticism.

I finished reading Peter's counter-critique and then sent him an email:
I just yesterday received my copy of December's Milton Quarterly, and I learned of the heated debate between David Urban and the New Milton Critics. Wow! I've only read your article but will get to those of Wittreich and Strier soon.

There is some unintended irony in the concluding sentence of my article, which immediately precedes your own, in that my positive reference to your work on doubt, contradiction, incertitude, and ambiguity would appear to have been intended as an introduction to your article -- and the two that follow. I wonder if I will face consequences . . .

Peter quickly replied:
I was also very pleased by the happy circumstance of the last line of your article leading into mine. That [plus other things] . . . makes this the NMC issue of MQ, I think.

I strongly suspect that Peter's right. This issue of the Milton Quarterly will be seen as the New Milton Critics' issue, and scholars will infer that I've placed myself squarely within that camp.

Oh, well, all publicity is good publicity . . .

Labels: , , ,

19 Comments:

At 6:38 AM, Blogger dhr said...

you got a dangerous competitor now

 
At 6:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Whose side are you on?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 3:16 PM, Blogger dhr said...

on George & Mildred's side-car

 
At 5:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Do these two have surnames?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 7:37 PM, Blogger dhr said...

It was a funny English sit-com, back in the early 1980s, on the everyday life of two old, nice guys, husband and wife: their sidecar became a 'legend' in Italy.

 
At 8:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

George was married to a "guy"?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 9:15 PM, Blogger dhr said...

no, to a mild red lady.

 
At 9:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Seriously, I'd never heard of these two.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger dhr said...

It was a very circumscribed phenomenon, but it "imprinted" those of my generation. Sometimes G&M are still mentioned when joking.

 
At 9:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll look into them.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 4:39 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Others apart sat on a Hill retir'd,
In thoughts more elevate, and reason'd high
Of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will and Fate,
Fixt Fate, free will, foreknowledg absolute, [ 560 ]
And found no end, in wandring mazes lost.
Of good and evil much they argu'd then,
Of happiness and final misery,
Passion and Apathie, and glory and shame,
Vain wisdom all, and false Philosophie:

 
At 5:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I reckon that describes all of us . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 6:24 AM, Blogger dhr said...

... Milton better justify the ways of Scholars to Men...

 
At 7:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Too late! They're all in those wandering mazes lost . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 11:01 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

It is this kind of satirical stuff in PL lost that makes me think Milton is a lot more "modern" than the scholarship suggests. One way to look at it: in terms of his humor, his spiritual expectations, his anthropology, his understanding of the human condition (and notwithstanding the shock of the technology), Milton might very well feel a lot more at home in the 21st century than he would in the 16th . . . or the 17th for that matter.

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

An early modern postmodern man . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 11:21 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

One of the ways that Milton has corrupted me--oh, this set in ten or fifteen years ago when I began to read him with an adult sensibility--is that it is now very easy for me to sit in a committee meeting and imagine that the participants are a bunch of devils chained to a lake of fire, and that the depth of their fall and damnation is proportional to their vanity coupled with the degree to which they are oblivious to the fact of their fallen state.

But I am a pretty mild and unobtrusive-looking character (particulary from where I'm sitting, i.e, behind my own eyeballs), and maybe this makes it easy for me to look at people (especially in committee meetings) and see myself surrounded by a bunch of red devils snapping their tails, moreover with smoke trailing from their ears, mouths and noses.

 
At 11:24 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

"An early modern postmodern man . . ."

Precisely, and a latter day Menippus as well.

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't sit in on many committee meetings, but I usually feel like one of the fallen whenever I do . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 

Post a Comment

<< Home