[Milton-L] Fetishizing Greatness, was Re: Is Paradise Lost

Jason Kerr aelfric at gmail.com
Fri Apr 24 11:26:02 EDT 2009


Larry Gorman's observation about philosophical prose brings to mind my
favorite footnote from Kant (though I can't for the life of me remember
where it is), in which Kant says something to the effect that he wishes
David Hume had thought of the particular point he is making, because he
would have written it so much more elegantly. I found it quite comforting at
the time (I was taking a seminar wholly devoted to Kant) that even Kant
realized that his prose could be a beast to get through.

As for Milton's prose, which I hardly need say can be far from easy, I find
myself deriving greater and greater pleasure from it the more I read it. At
the same time, part of the pleasure for me in Milton's prose is precisely
the way the words sometimes just rush out, as though he were being carried
away on the waves of his own thought, almost against his will. This
particularly seems to me to be the case in the elevated passages of
Areopagitica. Perhaps this is an example in prose of poetic madness along
the lines of Plato's Ion.

Back to prepping for class,
Jason A. Kerr

On Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 11:09 AM, Dr. Larry Gorman <larry at eastwest.edu>wrote:

> Great, the word "poetic" is quite misleading here.  I would reserve the
> word to current common usage: lines that have some kind of deliberate rhythm
> imposed upon it.  Given what some contemporary poets are writing, that might
> be stretching.  Instead of "poetic" we might want to use the word
> "literary."  It seems to me obvious that Wittgenstein is quite concerned
> with the literary nature of his prose.  Literariness is not his primary
> concern; he would call himself a philosopher, not a poet; he is
> communicating information, but he is highly sensitive to the sound of his
> language, even the pauses.  I remember Erich Heller talking somewhere about
> a philosophical comma.
>
> We can compare Wittgenstein with many philosophers--literary critics for
> that matter--who just let the words rush out, in which, forming the ugliest
> sentences you can imagine.
>
> We call people poets and philosophers as kind of a short hand.  We call
> texts poems and treatises in the same way.  It helps us isolate generic
> qualities and is quite useful as long as we don't take it too seriously and
> say things like "Shakespeare was a dramatist and not a poet."
>
> Literariness is a dimension of language.  All philosophy has a literary
> dimension, just as all poetry has a philosophical dimension.  Poorly written
> philosophy just has a bad literary dimension.
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of James Rovira
> Sent: Thursday, April 23, 2009 6:50 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fetishizing Greatness, was Re: Is Paradise Lost
>
> Thanks for your response, Jeffery.
>
> I realize I'm greatly mistaken about the poetic nature of the
> Tractatus.  Reading again proposition 4.1273, for example:
>
> aRb,
> (Ex):aRx.xRb,
> (Ex,y):aRx.xRy.yRb,
> ... .
> (note that the E in lines two and three are actually inverted)
>
> I found myself moved nearly to tears by Wittgenstein's unity of sound
> and sense, the concreteness of his expression, and his controlled
> exploitation of ambiguity.  And then when I read his truth tables
> again in 4.31 and 5.101 I realized I was reading a master of poetic
> form who could rival Milton.   But the line which truly elevates him
> to the poetic stratosphere in my judgment is perhaps this one from
> 5.531:
>
> "Thus I do not write 'f(a,b).a=b', but 'f(a,a)' (or 'f(b,b)'); and not
> 'f(a,b).~a=b', but 'f(a,b)')"
>
> I'm too moved to continue typing...please give me a moment...
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> His drawing of a cube on 5.5423 deserves special attention, as does
> his charting of tautologies on 6.1023 and especially his "proof that
> 2+2=4" of 6.421 for sheer poetry of expression.
>
> I will leave you with this final and most poetic of Wittgenstein's
> thoughts:
>
> "The logic of the world, which is shown in tautologies by the
> propositions of logic, is shown in equations by mathematics" (6.22).
>
> Jim R
>
> On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 3:50 PM, Horace Jeffery Hodges
> <jefferyhodges at yahoo.com> wrote:
> > Jim, while I generally agree with your critique of Carrol's use of the
> term
> > "poem," I found much to admire in what Carrol said.
> >
> > Anyway, concerning your remarks on Wittgenstein's Tractatus:
> >
> >
> > "Those who emphasize that poetic form makes poetry can recognize
> occasional
> > poetic qualities in Wittgenstein's Tractatus but would never call it a
> poem
> > -- which would be a rather strange poem indeed because it includes
> calculus.
> > If math is poetry then everything is poetry and the word itself ceases to
> > function at all. Those in the first camp would exclude the Tractatus from
> > poetry simply because it is philosophy."
> >
> >
> > Did he use calculus in that work? I haven't read it in a while. At any
> rate,
> > when I read it in German back in 1986, I had to read it slowly, and I was
> > struck by Wittgenstein's choice of a numbering system that  began with
> one
> > and ended with seven. As I read the opening line, "1. Die Welt ist alles,
> > was der Fall ist" ("1. The world is all that the case is"). I realized
> that
> > Wittgenstein was 'creating' a world in seven days, and on the seventh
> day,
> > he rests: "7. Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen"
> ("7.
> > Whereof one cannot speak, thereof must one be silent"). There's a sort of
> > poiesis to that.
> >
> > I once wrote up a brief summary of my views on Wittgenstein's biblical
> > allusion (and possible numerology), for I was interested in the way that
> he
> > was subverting the logical-positivist endeavor even in a work where he
> > seemed to be applying its principles, but that has gone missing in my
> many
> > moves over the years as a gypsy scholar.
> >
> > Jeffery Hodges
> >
> > --- On Thu, 4/23/09, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
> > Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fetishizing Greatness, was Re: Is Paradise Lost
> > To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> > Date: Thursday, April 23, 2009, 10:36 AM
> >
> > The question of what is or is not poetry has a long and distinguished
> > history, of course, but doesn't it tend to follow two currents?
> >
> > -Plato's distinction between poetry and philosophy, which emphasizes
> > content rather than form.
> >
> > -An emphasis upon form rather than content.
> >
> > The question seems to me to get particularly confused when we try to
> > blend these two types of responses.  Those who emphasize that poetic
> > form makes poetry can recognize occasional poetic qualities in
> > Wittgenstein's Tractatus but would never call it a poem -- which would
> > be a rather strange poem indeed because it includes calculus.  If math
> > is poetry then everything is poetry and the word itself ceases to
> > function at all.  Those in the first camp would exclude the Tractatus
> > from poetry simply because it is philosophy.  Both camps would also
> > exclude history from poetry unless it were written in verse form.
> >
> > I would say those paying attention to the most widespread, current
> > uses of the word "poetry" would say that today the word "poetry"
> > emphasizes form over content.  Carrying the whole history of a word
> > forward into current use is bad practice as a general principle, just
> > as it is bad practice to uncritically apply the conventions of Greek
> > drama to Shakespeare's plays -- which regularly ignore the unity of
> > time and place, mix comic with tragic conventions in the same play
> > (Much Ado About Nothing), etc.
> >
> > Now if we want to ask what Milton meant by the word poetry, that's
> > another matter entirely.  I would think the preface to PL might give
> > us some direction.  And so is the question of whether or not we should
> > limit ourselves today to his definition.
> >
> > Jim R
> >
> > On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 11:01 AM, Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu> wrote:
> >> I would use "poem" that way. (I think in ordinary usage "poetry" and
> >> "poem" differ somewhat.) A poem or a fiction is a "made thing," a verbal
> >> artifact. (I wouldn't use it for movies.)  I would also use it for many
> >> texts that the Renaissance would have called "history." Tillyard in his
> >> book on the "English Epic" included Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Gould's
> >> _The Structure of Evolutionary Theory_ is a beautiful artifact as well
> >> as a science text, and I don't see why "poem" could not, in some
> >> contexts, include that. "Work of literature" is awkward, and the best
> >> single word for it is "poem." There's a tragic rhythm in Wittgenstein's
> >> Tractatus, and an epic sweep to Rusell's _Human Knowledge_.
> >
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>
>
>
> --
> James Rovira
> Tiffin University
>
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-- 
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

          —Czeslaw Milosz, from "Ars Poetica?"
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