Saturday, September 27, 2008

For my New York Readers, a Milton Bash!

Arthur Kirmss, John Milton
(Photo: Michelle V. Agins, for New York Times)

For my New York readers, I'm providing this last-minute reminder of Saturday's Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball, which opens the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center's celebration of John Milton's 400th birthday, a non-puritanical party for a 'Puritan' poet:
135 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 486-6012

Celebrating John Milton's 400th Birthday

The unrivaled arts festival honoring Milton's birthday and Paradise Lost, the greatest poem in the English language.

Bridging classic literature and contemporary fine art, performing arts and poetry reading.
September 27th -- November 2nd, 2008

Saturday, September 27th, 8pm to midnite

General admission is $40
Students with ID are $20
65 years old and above are $20
Children under 13 years of age are FREE, but must be accompanied by parent or guardian.
The evening is rated for the general public
To order tickets email us at
Some tickets reserved for sale at the door

This should be a lot of fun since the surrealist artist and art director Terrance Lindall has organized it, and because there's nothing like a bit of controversy to spice things up, go read Charles McGrath's article in the New York Times: "Milton Regained: A Helluva Party" (September 25, 2008), which says of Milton:
It's hard to know what he would have made of the Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball that the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center in Brooklyn is holding on Saturday evening. His father was a composer, and Milton wrote and played music himself, but as a Puritan he probably took a dim view of dancing. His idea of an evening was a supper of "olives or some light thing," a pipe and a glass of water. Nor, despite his fond depiction of marital love in "Paradise Lost," was Milton much of a ladies' man. His first wife found him so sullen and gloomy that she left him for three years. His second and third wives he turned into drudges and amanuenses. Samuel Johnson said of Milton that "there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females."
"What controversy?" you ask. Well, one scholar at the Milton List who liked neither the article nor the reported exhibit composed this letter to the New York Times:
I read with disgust Charles McGrath's flippant and irreverent mis-characterization of John Milton, which is as inaccurate and irresponsible as it is derogatory.

To begin with: any expert on the seventeenth century ought to know at a glance that the "sculpture of John Milton by Arthur Kimiss" shown below is in fact a sculpture of the head of Charles I -- or does Mr. McGrath think Milton wore a crown, in addition to taking "a dim view of dancing," harboring his "Turkish contempt of females," using his wives -- much less his daughters -- as "drudges and amanuenses" -- and the other claptrap he ignorantly reports?

It doesn't sound to me as if any of this -- his article or the exhibit it describes -- was "put together lovingly." I'd suggest that Mr. McGrath take the good advice of a character who is apparently closer to his reading level: Disney's Thumper. "If ya can't say nuthin' nice -- don't say nuthin' at all."
This prompted a tongue-in-cheek response from Terrance Lindall in an email circular sent out to the "Artists, Committee and Friends" associated with the WAH Center's big Milton bash:
The Milton professors are gathering an email campaign against the "Milton defamation!" The WAH Center will place bulletproof glass around Arthur Kirmss sculpture to defend his masterpiece "The Testament of the Poet" from irate students or Milton followers.
Back on the Milton List, I responded to the angered scholar:
[W]e ought not take this article's 'misinformation' so seriously. McGrath's is not an unreasonable reading of Milton, albeit based on partial evidence. I agree that he doesn't do Milton justice, and I don't think that Milton had a 'Turkish' contempt for women, but a man as polemical as Milton might easily be disliked and misunderstood -- though I suspect that McGrath was aiming for ironic humor, not dark defamation, in his description of our favorite poet.

Perhaps we should use this teachable moment to present other views on Milton. That seems, in part, what the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center intends with its exhibition -- and McGrath, in his ironic bemusement at some of the artworks, conveys that intention well enough.
Full disclosure: I am on the WAH Center's Paradise Lost Committee and have been quoted on the birthday bash's webpage:
"Appropriately for his background in art and philosophy, Lindall seems especially interested in using art to express ideas, which makes his work particularly intriguing for Milton scholars, for he has painted a number of works depicting scenes in Paradise Lost" -- Horace Jeffery Hodges, Assistant Professor in Kyung Hee University's Dept. of English Language and Literature
I'm no longer at Kyung Hee, of course -- Ewha University now being this Gypsy's home.

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