Just when I get good and fed up with Stanley Fish…

He puts out a column like this one and makes me like him again.

Happy Birthday, Milton

He really puts his finger on why I remain a Miltonist first and a Shakespearean second when he gets to what people want to talk about after experiencing each:

Nigel Smith’s most recent book is entitled “Is Milton Better Than Shakespeare?” The title is a publisher’s teaser and the answer to the question (as Smith knows) is, No, he’s different. And the difference is that after reading or seeing a Shakespeare play you want to sit down and discuss the glories of Shakespeare, whereas after reading a Milton poem you want to sit down and discuss the ideas and imperatives he has thrust at you.

Indeed.  As folks who know me know, I’m no Oscar-Wilde-style aestheticist by any stretch; my classes are occasions to take on the big questions of God, morality, sex, money, murder, and loyalty, and I leave the nitpicky formalist stuff to teachers who lack the stomach for a good fight.  That’s not to say that a discussion of such things will ignore form; on the contrary, as Aristotle teaches us, poetry is helpful for such explorations precisely because it’s an imitation: it stylizes and highlights and does all those great artistic things precisely so that human beings’ powers of analogical cognition can kick in.

Ah, Milton.  I think I might start my summer reading of PL and PR soon.

Happy 400th, John.



Filed under Milton

3 responses to “Just when I get good and fed up with Stanley Fish…

  1. Jonathan

    Before my summer class started, I actually began reading Paradise Lost. I liked what I read but the fact that it is written as a poem I find very irritating. I wish it was just written in paragraphs. I’m not big on poems and I have kind of a hard time following it that way. Oh well…I guess that is why I am not a English major. 🙂

  2. You’ve just not been in a class where I’ve taught Milton. 😉

  3. Jonathan

    Ha! I wish I was…maybe I’d understand it better then.

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