[Milton-L] (no subject)

alan horn alanshorn at gmail.com
Tue Jun 10 17:47:10 EDT 2008

Mike Selby means the 22 May issue
(http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n10/eagl01_.html). Here is the opening para
(Milton reference toward the end):

All literary works are anonymous, but some are more anonymous than
others. It is in the nature of a piece of writing that it is able to
stand free of its begetter, and can dispense with his or her physical
presence. In this sense, writing is more like an adolescent than a
toddler. I might pass you a note at a meeting, but a note is only a
note if it can function in my absence. Writing, unlike speech, is
meaning that has come adrift from its source. Some bits of writing –
theatre tickets or notes to the milkman, for example – are more
closely tied to their original contexts than Paradise Lost or War and
Peace. Fiction (since it is imaginary) has no real-life original
context at all, and hermeneutically speaking can therefore circulate a
lot more freely than a shopping list or a bus ticket. Literary works
are peculiarly portable. They can be lifted from one interpretative
situation to another, and may change their meaning in the course of
this migration. Waiting for Godot as performed in San Quentin prison
is not quite the same play as Peter Hall's first London production. We
cannot simply put Auschwitz out of our minds while watching The
Merchant of Venice. Writerly meaning does not always trump readerly
meaning. Walter Benjamin believed that works of literature secreted
certain meanings which might be released only in their afterlife, as
they came to be read in as yet unforeseeable situations. He thought
much the same about history in general. The past itself is alterable,
since the future casts it in a new light. Whether John Milton belonged
to a species which ended up destroying itself is up to us and our
progeny. The future possibilities of Hamlet are part of the play's
meaning, even though they may never be realised. One of the finest
English novels, Samuel Richardson's 18th-century masterpiece Clarissa,
became newly readable in the light of the 20th-century women's

I believe "species" here is the human one and Eagleton is alluding to
the possibility of nuclear or ecological catastrophe.

Hope this helps,

Alan H.

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