[Milton-L] Re: Books, documents and texts

Dan Knauss daniel.knauss at mu.edu
Wed Dec 15 11:56:36 EST 2004



What does "intellectually viable" mean to you? I'd agree if you mean
"intellectually viable because politically-culturally-historically
significant." 

Wasn't it Moby Dick's comeback (previously considered a failure) that helped
legitimize the study of American literature? Melville as an American
Shakespeare or Milton? Of course this "American literature" was directed by
the Yankee establishment and in the mid-twentieth century probably had to do
with a general need for a sense of a shared national history, unity and
identity. Prior to the Civil War, I think there was something of a movement
to define an American canon and literary spirit in terms of Southern writers
and the Southern experience. Milton-L may have touched on this in the past
regarding the old idea that Southerners identified with the Royalists and
North(East)erners with the Roundheads.

The early proponents of an English national literary canon were or were
patronized by aristocratic amateurs who were partly motivated to emulate and
counter German philology. Classically trained philologists shifted into the
study of Germanic languages and literature, and since many of these scholars
were German or German-educated, there was a sense of "foreign invasion" when
they started getting into what became known as "Old" and "Middle" English.
Shakespeare and Milton already had an established modern status, but Chaucer
had to be more comprehensively reinvented and reconstructed, as began to
occur in the 16th Century--also for very "political" reasons. -but not
simple, one-sided ones. There has always been the elite and the populist
Chaucer, and a lot of Victorian medievalism was driven by a kind of
anti-industrial society social ethic--a critical rather than jingoistic
nationalism. I don't know if Marx commented on anyone but Spenser, but
Tawney did a lot with obscure 16thC "economic writings," and Furnivall (I
think) and others were excited by similar stuff (esp. Piers Plowman) for
"progressive" or politically reformist reasons. I've seen one EETS volume
that makes blatant editorializing applications of 16thC "social criticism"
with late 19thC newspaper headlines about the London underclass. I wonder if
that is unique or not. From what I've read about Furnival, it probably isn't
that unique. 



> -----Original Message-----
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Boyd M Berry
> Sent: Wednesday, December 15, 2004 9:12 AM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Re: Books, documents and texts
> 
> 
> Aren't we talking about something familiar?  Wasn't that
> hoary triumverate--Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton--formulated 
> by people who wanted to argue that analyzing and writing 
> about English literature could be intellectually viable?  
> When I was in college in late 50's and early 60's, there were 
> still arguments about whether the study of American writing 
> was "valid."  In the late 60's, there was a vibrant 
> department meeting at Indiana to debate whether we should 
> create a course in African American writing.  And in the 
> 80's, undertakings like wwp at Brown impllicitly argued that 
> we could study writing by women.
> 
> Boyd Berry

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