[Milton-L] Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night...

Cristine Soliz csoliz at csoliz.com
Fri Dec 26 12:01:45 EST 2008

In today's academies of consumer-based politics, Milton might have gotten
stuck in basic or developmental writing until he learned to have a clear
thesis statement.

Cheers --

Dr. Cristine Soliz
Visiting Assistant Professor
Colorado State University-Pueblo
Project Director, NEH Grant
Area Chair Historical Fiction, SW Tex Pop Culture and Am Culture Assoc
Associate Scholar, Center for World Indigenous Studies
csoliz at csoliz.com

> The statement that any author is "the greatest who has ever lived" implies
> a
> comparison between that author and all others.  Criticism makes
> comparisons
> all the time, though, and for many different purposes.
> The problem is that people have quit writing about "greatness" in
> literature
> (using that language) for about three to four decades now.  Part of the
> problem is that reading evaluations of one author's greatness in
> relationship to other authors begins to sound more like a testimony to the
> critic's greatness than a meaningful evaluation of any literature.  These
> readings sound pointless and overbearing after awhile.  Furthermore,
> criteria for greatness usually include specific value judgments that can
> no
> longer be assumed to be shared even among all people writing criticism in
> English.
> Longinus has been democratized into reader response theory because the
> concept of the "sublime" came to be associated negatively with elitism.
> But, elitism seems to be back in these days, so who knows?
> If we jettison value judgments and simply evaluate a work on the basis of
> its formal merits, we run into other problems.  It's very difficult to
> make
> comparisons among authors engaged in different tasks.  Wordsworth's
> Prelude
> could be compared to PL, and is strongly indebted to it, but is completely
> focused upon a single subjectivity.  It's highly personal so written
> following different conventions.  Blake's Jerusalem could be compared too,
> and is indebted as well, but is a mythological poem representing
> psychological forces rather than an epic poem mythologizing religious
> figures.
> And these are just comparisons among authors engaged in similar tasks.
> Relatively few specific criteria apply to a comparison between Milton and
> Shakespeare: one is writing plays, the other epic poems.  Milton's
> attempts
> at drama are few in number.  They're very good, but not as good as
> Shakespeare in my opinion, certainly not as entertaining and meaningful in
> so many different ways.  Furthermore, Shakespeare never attempted an epic
> poem to my knowledge.  Since these two authors spent their time writing
> very
> different types of works, how do you compare them?  A comparison between
> Joyce's Ulysses and PL seems right too -- but how do you compare a novel
> to
> an epic poem?  Even if the novel's a novelization of the grandfather (or
> grandmother?) of epic poems, and both PL and Ulysses are indebted to the
> same works?
> I think it may be more useful to make narrower comparisons: who wrote the
> greatest sonnets?  But I think we'd still have problems.  Even when
> Collins
> and cummings wrote rather silly sonnets, they're brilliantly silly
> sonnets.
> Even the sonnet keeps being reinvented and reused for different purposes,
> so
> that an evaluation of the greatness of any sonnet would have to evaluate
> the
> purposes to which different sonnets are put -- again, requiring value
> judgments that we can't agree upon any more (If we ever did to begin
> with).
> So a statement that Milton was the greatest author who ever lived sounds
> these days more like an emotional expression on the part of the person
> speaking rather than a careful evaluation of literature.
> What's more interesting to me are the ways we may still be applying a
> concept of "greatness" to literature but just calling it something else.
> Jim R
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