[Milton-L] response

Tom Bishop tgb2 at case.edu
Tue Aug 1 19:05:03 EDT 2006

James Fleming and I are clearly speaking different languages, and I  
am as unwilling to attempt to translate mine into his as he seems to  
be to understand mine. I believe my claims are fairly readily  
comprehensible, and that they would have been so to both Milton and  
Blake, both of whom certainly understood and wrote about what I  
called "poetic vigour". I'm not sure they would have understood Prof.  
Fleming's claims, relying as they do on philosophies of meaning and  
intention that postdate both. As these philosophies have been largely  
reluctant to address poetry, it's not clear to me that they have ever  
really grappled with the kind of activity that poetic production  
seems to be. It is certainly the case that to define "intention" as  
"an instance of mental directedness" is to formulate it quite  
differently from the ordinary meaning of the term. "Directedness"  
here seems to me at least as uncertain a term as "vigour". Is  
"inspiration", a term Milton certainly (thought he) understood, an  
instance of "mental directedness"? Nor is it at all clear to me that  
what I called "the poetic imagination" is "a mental state of being  
about things", a phrase I find quite vague (what is a "thing" in this  
context? what does it mean to "be about" something? and so on.). So  
it may be, indeed, that between our views of Milton there really is  
nothing to talk about, since Prof. Fleming seems to dismiss as "just  
feelings" what seems to me quite central to an evaluation of what  
poetry is and does. In any case, there has probably been enough  
throwing about of brains on this subject.

Tom Bishop

On Aug 1, 2006, at 5:02 AM, jfleming at sfu.ca wrote:

> On Mon, 31 Jul 2006 10:16:43 +1200 Tom Bishop wrote:
>> Shelley's and Blake's point... is that it is Milton's imagination  
>> that
> fails him in depicting the	
>> Father, not that he has some secret "intention" hidden even from	
>> himself but being expressed by some other agency, let alone that he	
>> has deliberately written a poetry that proves the reverse of what it	
>> seems to.
> I don't see how the first possibility (about secret intention) is
> inconsistent with Blake's "devil's party" statement, at least.  
> Moreover, I'm
> not sure what it means to say that "Milton's imagination fails him."
> One cannot usefully, for all kinds of reasons, speak of the	
>> poetic imagination as an "intention".
> I'm afraid I don't understand this statement. An intention is usually
> theorized as any instance of mental directedness. Thus any instance of
> thinking about a given thing is intentional. The "poetic imagination,"
> insofar as it is a mental state of being about things, is  
> intentional. This
> is why "meaning" and "intention" are synonymous.
> The argument -- a very strong one I believe, but one	
>> which can hardly respond to the demand for "evidence" except to point
>> at the poem itself -- turns on what many readers, this one included,	
>> have felt is a failure of poetic vigour (not reasoning) where the	
>> Father is concerned.	
> I don't understand what is meant by "poetic vigour." Also, if we  
> are talking
> just about feelings, and evidence is irrelevant, I don't see how we  
> can
> speak about an "argument."
> In response one can claim, as Lewis did, that	
>> such views in turn misread the poem from their own biases. But there	
>> might be kinds of evidence in the Father's speeches one could cite:	
>> metrical brittleness, poverty of diction, costive rhythm, and so	
>> forth.
> ok -- here we return to evidence. But I'm not sure what claim you  
> are making
> about its possibilities.
> It will not answer such a charge to show that Milton is
>> logically consistent, theologically precise, or hermeneutically	
>> impeccable. These are not the things complained of.
> So what's the charge? Just that some of us don't like some of the  
> poetry?
> Perhaps not; but what does that leave us to talk about?
> James Dougal Fleming, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor of English,
> Simon Fraser University,
> (604) 291-4713
> cell: 778-865-0926
> Laissez parler les faits.
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