[Milton-L] Fish

David Urban dvu2 at calvin.edu
Tue Aug 7 17:58:29 EDT 2012


Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my article.  (I'll respond to Gregory M's comments later this week; I need to refer to documents in my office to give him an appropriate reply.)

I'll respond to your points directly below your original points (preceded by asterisks) so please scroll down . . .  

>>> James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com> 08/06/12 8:23 PM >>>
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.  

***Toward the end of my May 2011 *Milton Quarterly* article, "Speaking for the Dead," I suggest that one very important reason that various Milton critics--particularly those among the "New Milton Critics"--associate Fish so closely with Lewis is to make easier prey of Fish because such critics tend to portray Lewis as excessively orthodox, old fashioned, and even repressive against critical inquiry.   It might have been a good idea to directly restate that issue in "Surprised by Richardson."

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.  

***I think my article notes pretty carefully the direct influence that Fish acknowledges from Summers and Waldcock, as well as and especially the influence of Richardson.   I don't get the impression that Fish attempts to say that what he is doing in SBS is all that radical.  Read the Preface to SBS's 2nd edition and he mentions all the notes he got, just after SBS's publication, from scholars who said they were about to write the same kind of book.  

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? 

***I think that what you are saying makes sense.  When we look at the shift from the old "New Criticism" to "Reader-Response Criticism," we generally recognize that much of what "New Criticism" was doing was, in fact, "Reader-Response Criticism."  

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 that I'm overstating SBS's importance, and the fact that many of today's "New Milton Critics," not to mention Rumrich's scholarship from the 1980s and 1990s, seeks to attack SBS and Lewis's PREFACE as what are getting in the way of progress in Milton criticism speaks to what they consider such enduring influence.  I think that both books were and remain highly influential.  My main point is that Fish pursues an "orthodox" viewpoint by strategies distinct from Lewis's.

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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