[Milton-L] [Fwd: Re: When and how did the canon die?]

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 19 18:16:52 EST 2005


Nonetheless: if the reference is to the Norton anthologies, the attrition described is very close to true: the "books get bigger and bigger [containing "new" writers more and more obscure] and Dryden and Milton fade into the subchapters and indexes," silenced, one supposes, by the demon Diversity. What's included is an embarrassment; better it were, were nothing included at all. (The rendering of _Paradise Lost_, for example, is so minimal as to be a mockery for any student beyond the just-out-of-high-school level. No serious Miltonist would use the "selections" to teach--unless one intended only to cover a single "representative" book in a survey course.) Even then, I wouldn't use it: Milton, like Chaucer, is an acquired taste, developed after exposure sufficient to "normalize" his long periods and sometimes convoluted syntax. You don't breed familiarity, teaching books I or IX . . . all you do is foster contempt.

Best to all,

Carol Barton 
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Kirby J. Booker 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Saturday, November 19, 2005 4:52 PM
  Subject: RE: [Milton-L] [Fwd: Re: When and how did the canon die?]


  I don't feel comfortable judging if PL is more influential than ever, but I have noticed several references in readings assigned in my other classes. In Jack Hodgins' "The Invention of the World" cult leader Donal Keneally uses, "What, though the field be lost," in one of his inspirational speeches. I don't have all of the other books on hand but my friends and I have also noticed PL echoes in Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series: he is especially fond of the "palpable obscure," variations on it occur in other books outside the series as well. I think that it is almost impossible for later artists to totally escape the influence of great works like PL, although such works definitely ebb and flow in the popular consciousness (witness Hollywood's revival of classics starting with the success of "Gladiator"). Even those writing against or in mockery of Milton are still obviously influenced by him. 
  K.J. Booker

  "Peter C. Herma! n" <herman2 at mail.sdsu.edu> wrote:
    One should also look at the many, many references to Milton in popular culture. For example, Neil Gaiman's graphic novel, Seasons of the Mist (I'm quoting the title from memory, so it might be a bit inaccurate), overtly rewrites Paradise Lost, as Pullman's equally wonderful series, His Dark Materials, also uses PL. The popularity of that series is why Oxford asked Pullman to write the introduction to the new, coffee table edition of PL cited by Joe Wittreich. 

    As Wittreich notes in his forthcoming book, Why Milton Matters, Milton really occupies a unique position in the canon wars. On the one hand, he has come to represent the archetypal DWM whose works are a monument to dead ideas. Yet on the other hand, in non-academic circles, his works are constantly referenced and cited (another examp! le, I remember that one of the Star Trek movies based itself on PL). He's tremendously popular, yet has the reputation of being tremendously unpopular.

    Peter C. Herman

    At 10:40 AM 11/19/2005, you wrote:

      See the Introduction to Philip Pullman's new edition of Paradise Lost:
      "Paradise Lost . . . is more influential than ever . . . .  It will not
      go away" (page 9).  Whom do you believe?

      -----Original Message-----
      From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
      [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Carrol Cox
      Sent: Saturday, November 19, 2005 12:14 PM
      To: John Milton Discussion List
      Subject: [Milton-L] [Fwd: Re: When and how did the canon die?]

      This is from an ongoing discussion re coneptions of "the canon" on
      C18-L. The penultimate paragraph might be of interest to Miltonists. Is
      it accurate?

      Carrol


      -------- Original Message --------
      Subject: Re: (On Topic) When and how did the canon die?
      Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2005 21:50:09 -0400
      From: Russ Hunt <hunt at STU.CA>
      Reply-To: 18th Century Interdisciplinary Discussion
      <C18-L at lists.psu.edu>
      To: C18-L at LISTS.PSU.EDU
      References: <BAY104-F389BD70979E62C294E609CB4510 at phx.gbl>

      I'm hearing both that the canon never existed and that it's still alive
      and well. And, oddly, I agree with both. Depends on what you think it
      _is_. 

      The question about its relation to school curricula and textbooks is a
      powerful one. It seems to me we're talking about a couple of different,
      but related things.  One is the set of assumptions about what
      constitutes "the essential texts" or "the essential writers" embodied in
      the textbook industry and the school/university curricular structures
      which are symbiotic with them.  The other is the more the! oretical set of
      assumptions about the existence and nature of a literary tradition
      (examples are, of course, Harold Bloom and F. R. Leavis -- and, on the
      other end of some kind of spectrum, T. S. Eliot's redefinition of the
      canon as including the metaphysicals and pushing Milton out of the
      limelight). 

      They're related, obviously; those lists that the Norton Anthology's
      tables of contents defines are related to scholarly agreements about
      which writers and works embody, in Arnold's phrase, the best that has
      been thought and said. It's equally obvious that the relation works
      reciprocally: what scholars decide or assume affects what publishers
      produce and teachers teach -- but also, what teachers teach from
      textbooks shapes the careers of those who graduate, go to grad school,
      and start looking for a job. 

      But my colleague's view is that the possibility of Irish literature
      being taught and studied in mainstream English departments was dependent
      on the decline of the idea that we all knew what was "worth teaching"
      and it wasn't obscure Irish writers -- or women (except maybe Jane), or
      even Canadian or Anglo-Indian or queer. 

      I don't think there's any real question that that idea _has_ declined,
      even if the Nortons and their ilk are still out there in the market (and
      even there, as we all know, the "canon" has been extensively extended,
      as those books get bigger and bigger and Dryden and Milton fade into the
      subchapters and indexes). 

      His question, and mine, is "did that start somewhere, or become
      inevitable at some point?" Is there a story here that has definable
      characters and events, and maybe even a climax or two?

      -- Russ

      Russell Hunt
      Department of English
      St. Thomas University
      http://www.stu.ca/~hunt/

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