[Milton-L] Fish

Hugh Richmond hmr at berkeley.edu
Fri Aug 3 01:47:02 EDT 2012


As the office-mate and colleague of Stanley Fish during the formative 
years when he was completing Surprised by Sin, I am a little surprised 
at the geneological intensity of the scrutiny of his ideas' supposed 
critical derivations. In 1957 C. A. Patrides and I were both hired by 
UCB as experts on 17^th c. poetry, from WadhamCollege,Oxford, where we 
both had completed D. Phil.s. Patrides left, and Fish arrived at a time 
when I was teaching a large (200+) and successful Milton course, which 
no doubt suggested to Stanley that Skelton was not a comparable career 
focus.However, initially finding Milton not terribly viable either, he 
rapidly picked up the idea of involving students via similar affective 
approaches to those which I was using to suggest that Milton was not 
himself subconsciously attracted by Satan but presented him seductively 
enough to achieve reader catharsis. After Satanley published Surprised 
by Sin, I realized that the concept was too naïve: Milton's intended 
audience could not be the uninitiated, but was confined to those already 
sufficiently aware of such temptations, who enjoyed the reassurance of 
reading the epic as corroboration of their own past experience. The 
affective modern audience solicited by Stanley was surely not that "fit 
audience though few" which Milton predicted for his epic. He was not 
saving souls by smugly entrapping them (a concept I heard many students 
considered supercilious) but modestly confirming his shared awareness 
with the already elect.Stanley's references to C. S. Lewis and others 
were probably merely incidental, corroborative, or repudiated 
afterthoughts. Context defines content. Personally, I find Addison the 
worthiest precedent for all modern Milton criticism. However, I doubt if 
any of this helps the debate! Best wishes, Hugh Richmond

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