[Milton-L] Nigel Smith's Milton in Time Magazine

Justin Kolb jbkolb at wisc.edu
Sun May 18 16:29:15 EDT 2008

So much to-do over one little article!

I have a hard time seeing why people are savaging Taylor for comparing Milton to Shakespeare when he was simply responding to the premise of the book he was reviewing. And Carol, as for these mysterious foes who would remove Shakespeare and Milton from the curriculum, I have passed thourgh a few English departments in my time, and I've never met these monsters of legend. Perhaps they reside off the edge of the map with the antipodeans. 

The whole argument over whether Shakespeare is better than Milton is rather silly. Two very different writers working in different genres in differnt eras, there is only really ground for this sort of head-to-head gurdge match if you accept the depopulated, dehistoricized experience of literature that most undergrads get, and which informs the understanding of those prone to lament the passing of a timeless canon where real-estate is scarce. Who cares whether Shakespeare or Milton is better? Or if Gary Taylor or Nigel Smith perfers one or another? We have room for them both. 

And as for positing the "Politically Incorrect Guide" as a curative, books that read Jane Austen to argue that "Most men would be improved if they were more patriarchal than they actually are" and Chaucer to claim that "Chivalry has contributed enormously to women's happiness" are exaclty the kind of shallow, politicized claptrap that has not place in a serious classroom. Lit crit from the series whose guide to US history extolls the virtues of the Confederacy seems pretty suspect to me.

It's amazing how little it takes to trigger very silly resentments on this list. Surely we can do better than wave about "politically correct" and "anti-intellectualist" scarecrows at each other? 


----- Original Message -----
From: Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
Date: Sunday, May 18, 2008 1:29 pm
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Nigel Smith's Milton in Time Magazine
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>

> I can only give you Walt Kelly in answer, then, Beth: "We have met the 
>  enemy, and he is us."
>  Taylor seems injudicious in a number of respects. If he disagreed 
> with 
>  Nigel Smith, well and good: so do I. But someone who knows firsthand 
>  what is happening to the canon in the anti-intellectual, 
>  politically-correct, pandering-to-special-interest environment in 
>  which we all now live should know better than to respond the way he 
>  did. He didn't have to dismiss Milton to defend Shakespeare--he 
> merely 
>  had to point out, as I did a few minutes ago, that the analogy was a 
>  false one, and that the conclusion that resulted from it was equally 
>  flawed.
>  Milton is better than Shakespeare at what he does, and the reverse is 
>  also true. Why (so unnecessarily) provide fodder for those who would 
>  gleefully remove them both from the curriculum in a heartbeat, given 
>  half a chance?
>  Best to all,
>  Carol Barton 
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