[Milton-L] recordings for blind and dyslexic

carl bellinger bcarlb at comcast.net
Wed Feb 1 14:55:19 EST 2006

Carrol Cox wrote
> Having a recording of a text can make it _much_ easier for untrained
> readers to follow. Some years ago I conducted a study group on KM's
> _Wages, Price & Profit_. Several of the members had only a h.s.
> education and had never read much if any complex prose. I taped the work
> myself (unfortunately, the tapes are now lost), and it worked
> beautifully.
Wouldn't this be true for PL as well? Wouldn't an intelligent and informed 
and skillful recitation eliminate many of the apparent ambiguities that 
arise from complexities of syntax, and verse enjambments, and lexical forms 
which have, on first reading, multiple possible meanings?

I say "apparent" ambiguities. Isn't it a fairly widely held view that Milton 
quite consciously sets the reader up for temporary misinterpretations which 
then are corrected as subsequent text is read and the whole, then, 
_correctly_ interpreted?
This method of temporary ambiguity may be considered an aspect of Milton's 
project versus "a priori" knowledge, and/or a way of surprising us with our 
own sin-induced distortions of perception and our fallen preference for law 
and outward form rather than true liberty. It may also be just a happy 
elegance of a superbly informed literary artifact, always twinkling in the 
eye of the genuinely fit audience.  But 'when all is said and done' there is 
a single right reading --in terms of reading aloud-- to every sentence and 
paragraph of PL, yes, or no?

I realize this last point goes against what I suspect [please correct me] is 
our 20th c. preference for poetry which is absolutely and not just 
apparently ambiguous: we don't think anymore that Truth stands on a cragged 
hill; we think that about and about we must go because that brave motion is 
itself as close to Truth as we are ever likely to get. But regardless of 
that more global and tangential issue, the question of whether there is a 
single right recitation for each sentence in Paradise Lost, depends for 
proof does it not on whether there are certain words, phrases, 
constructions, which even after thorough examination remain ambiguous as to 
the proper sense and therefore as to the proper recitation.

In support of this argument I am thinking in part here of the works of 
writers such as John Mason [we discussed him a little some months ago] who, 
just a generation or so after Milton, claim, with Paradise Lost as the 
context, that poetry can be pronounced correctly, that is to say pronounced 
such that the powerful harmonies of implicit in the text, but only when the 
full and precise sense of the text is fully and properly understood.  If you 
remain in any doubt as to what the sense is, that doubt will be manifested 
[however faintly] in a faltering, disharmonious recitation which is untrue 
to the text as [Milton] wrote it.

O for a tape recording of John Mason's, or Samuel Say's, recitation of the 
great poem!

But in any case surely a really prescient and fine reading of PL would be a 
far more accessible form of PL to, say, a high school student who never read 
it, than a printed copy?


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