[Milton-L] Fish

Watt, James jwatt at butler.edu
Tue Aug 7 12:22:28 EDT 2012

Thanks, Jim Rovira, for your thoughtful response to David's article. As I am not very much interested in the history of criticism (which is obvious whenever I do respond to this list), it's unlikely that I would have done so myself. The general direction of this thread is, now, moving on in the direction it is because of the importance of locating Stanley in the history of his discipline to working scholars. I've not been much of a scholar in my life, only getting to teach Milton about every fourth or fifth semester and, even then, to the less than fit and definitely few. The department at Butler University, where I taught, was around ten full and six or seven part-time, so we were all 'utility players,' moving from second base to catcher to left field as needed. Indeed, it was only because one semester our 18th Century man was on sabbatical and the chair asked me to put together a seminar, that I discovered the joy of teaching Blake, a story too detailed to go into here. That takes me to the reason for my note; I agree with you that Blake was no 'Satanic reader' of P.L.; in fact, in MILTON he makes it perfectly clear that in his eyes Milton was worshipping Nobodaddy or Satan and only saved by 'the poetic genius.'

cheers, Jim Watt
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of James Rovira [jamesrovira at gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, August 06, 2012 8:21 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fish

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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