[Milton-L] Fish

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Mon Aug 6 20:21:02 EDT 2012


David --

I've read your article and think it's very good.  I think you present a
sound argument based not only upon Fish's claims in his preface, but upon a
statistical analysis of amount of quoted text coupled with a close reading
of that text, so that it's not just about who Fish quotes and how much, but
whether or not he agrees, and on what points he agrees.  Those who disagree
with your essay will have to take issue with your reading of Fish or with
your reading of the sources that you identify.

If I were to write a "wish list" for the article, it might include:

1. I wish you had more strongly articulated reasons for believing that Fish
was primarily influenced by Lewis (you do acknowledge some influence), even
though you probably feel that is the job of those who disagree with your
thesis rather than your job.  I think it would have strengthened your
presentation.

2. I'd like to see a more precise explanation of what you mean by
influence. It's been some years since I've read Surprised by Sin -- so your
reading is much more careful and recent than mine -- but I remember getting
the impression that Fish's immediate source for his ideas was his
experience of reading PL, not necessarily what critics had said about it.
 Does Fish create this impression, or am I misremembering?  You can still
claim influence on the development of his ideas for the writing of this
book, but that may be after the fact.

3. Maybe some acknowledgement that Fish's method, while perhaps not
theorized as such, was still followed by critics before him, particularly
of Lewis's generation?  There are times I feel like Lewis is following a
Reader Response methodology when I read his criticism, and not necessarily
in his reading of Paradise Lost.  Perhaps a broader view of the critical
context into which Fish was speaking?

4. I think your article is valuable as a corrective of a commonly repeated
assumption about Fish's sources, but why does this corrective matter?   How
does it change our reading of Fish or our reading of Milton or our
understanding of the history of Milton criticism?  You do discuss this
topic somewhat generally in terms of the importance of Fish's work, but I'd
like to see the importance of your thesis spelled out in more detail.  Part
of this point, on my end, is that I feel that you're overstating the
importance of Fish's SbS.  Couldn't the people in his "camp" have done just
fine without him?  I don't mean to denigrate Fish here though I probably
sound like I am.

I don't think Blake was a Satanic reader of Milton, by the way.  I think
Blake would say that Milton was worshipping Satan (the Satan of the Book of
Job) and calling him God, though very conflicted about the whole thing,
while Blake himself was worshipping the true God.

Thank you for reading,

Jim R
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