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

jonnyangel junkopardner at comcast.net
Sat Dec 27 01:15:44 EST 2008


Jim, 

The statement was ³There is no greater writer that has ever lived².
And that cannot be argued (well I guess it could, but it would be stupid).

With PL, Milton hit the ball so far out of the park it still hasn¹t landed,
and I doubt it ever will. If it ever does, I hope it smashes through the
windshield of a non-believer.

And all of this talk about _who¹s the greatest_ is a complete distortion of
what I said (see above) and more importantly, a complete waste of time.

I'll leave you with a quote from one (two, actually) of my favorite
musicians (the only artistic medium that transcends writing, imo):



"Muddy Waters taught us "You don't have to be the best one, just be a good
'un."

-Billy Gibbons 


Shalom, 

J






On 12/26/08 10:15 AM, "James Rovira" <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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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