[Milton-L] Dr. Gorman's question about moral judgments

Alan Rudrum alanrudrum at gmail.com
Wed Apr 15 16:57:03 EDT 2009


It was from the standpoint of ethical criticism that two of us said
simultaneously, "What about King Lear?" and I suggested the importance of
Wordsworth's Prelude.  So, moral judgments certainly come into it.  I am at
present planning a course on ethical criticism that I may well not be given
the opportunity to teach.

Alan Rudrum

www.sfu.ca/~rudrum

On Wed, Apr 15, 2009 at 12:32 PM, Dr. Larry Gorman <larry at eastwest.edu>wrote:

> Isn't there a difference between making moral judgments and deciding if
> Paradise Lost is better than King Lear?
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Gregory
> Machacek
> Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 2:21 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: [Milton-L] Is Paradise Lost the greatest work?
>
> Alan Rudrum asked:  Is Paradise Lost the greatest single work of
> literature
> in the English language?  (He asked it across the subject line and into
> the
> message of his original post)
>
> Most respondents (I cited some in my first reply) indicated that such
> questions were "inane" or dismissed them as being the equivalent of
> arguing
> whether Superman could beat the Hulk, or jocularly proposed that the
> next
> MLA involve a March madness style tournament (I think I might enjoy such
> an
> MLA more than most that I've attended).
>
> Observing what struck me as a smug consensus that such questions are not
> worthwhile (symptomatic, I think, of assumptions governing literary
> criticism under its present dominant paradigm and of contemporary
> sensibilities generally), I asked if Milton would share our own age's
> reluctance to render literary judgments.
>
> Jim Rovira replied that it might make sense to make comparisons between
> Milton and Danielle Steele, but not between Milton and Shakespeare.
> (It's
> true that the original question about works has sometimes slipped into a
> question of authors rather than of works and that everything has been
> colored by johnny angel's disvaluing of Shakespeare).
>
> When I asked how comparisons between Milton and Shakespeare are
> different
> in kind from comparisons between Milton and Steele (carelessly slipping,
> myself, into the author-author comparison), he replied
>
> "I frankly can't believe I was asked this question?"
>
> It's precisely the unbelivability of such questions (under the reigning
> critical paradigm) that intrigues me.
>
> Why can't we ask such questions?  Why do they seem "inane" or
> "meaningless"?
>
> And I would pair that with my other question.  Doesn't Milton ask us to
> make such judgments?  (Moreover, isn't the content of Paradise Lost very
> much concerned with characters having to make precisely such difficult
> judgments?)  And if Milton does ask us to do so, and we decline, are we
> missing something important in our experience of his epic?
>
> Rushing to class.  Wish I had more time.  But this has grown long enough
> in
> any case.
>
>
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
>
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