[Milton-L] Frank Kermode & RS on Milton

richard strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Sun Aug 22 15:14:37 EDT 2010


Goodness, Carrol, I don't know whether to celebrate or mourn.  If my reading of 
PL is persuasive, I don't see why others can't build on it -- deo volente.


---- Original message ----
>Date: Sun, 22 Aug 2010 13:14:00 -0500
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of Carrol Cox 
<cbcox at ilstu.edu>)
>Subject: [Milton-L] Frank Kermode on Milton  
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>
>Frank Kermode, who died this past week at the age of 90, wrote a long
>and fascinatng exxay on Paradise Lost in 1960 which was strangely
>ignored by later critics. Aa bit later on Iwill return t this fact and
>argue that, as superb as the essay was, critical indifference to it was,
>in its way, quite rational. And I am going to predict that the same fate
>awaits the  Richard Strier's thesis on PL as a celebration of the
>earthly paradise.
>
>Keremode's thesis was that PL is a poem about death! (This is all from a
>50-year memory: my eyesight or lack of it  prevents me from checking the
>text.) And near the end of the essay he quotes a poem by Robert Graves,
>the fist of which, as I recall, was that after the speaker found love,
>death became terrible. Let us hypothetically identify a harmonious love
>affair and the earthly paradise. Then Kermode's interpretation of PL and
>Graves's poem both are versions of  richard's thesis of PL as
>envisioning the earthly paradise, for death is terrible only as the loss
>of that which is of great value. Kermode's essay, that is,
>incvorporatesd  richard's thesis, but uses it as a way station to his
>claim that the poem is about death.
>
>(This of course a very crude summary of both interpretations. Kermode's
>essay may be found in a collection edited by him, The Living Milton,
>1960.)
>
>I found Kermode's essay quite persuasive when I read it and was
>surprised when in my extensive reading in criticism of PL, 1960-1980, I
>found no references at all to it. But here, I believe, was the rub. As
>persuasive as his construal of the poem was, accepting did not, really,
>change one's reading of the poem. (Conttrast: I think Achilles'
>concrete, lived, knowledge of his own certain death at Troy consistently
>energizes one's reading of the poem.) Moreover, there was nothing
>another critic  could _do_ with it! Far from suggesting new lines of
>inquiry, it was in fact a dead end. One could accept it, see it as
>suspeerior to manyother readigns, recognize particular passages in PL
>it  illuminated -- but that was _all_ one could do with it. And as I
>say, in a way Kermode's interpretation embodied the interpretation  
>Strier gives, makes sense only in the context of the awefulness of
>losing the paradise embodied in the poem.
>
>And now I'm suggesting that Richard's interpretation will meet
>essentially the same fate. It will be read with nods of approval -- and
>then forgotten. There is nothing, really, that critics can do with it.
>
>Carrol
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