[Milton-L] Fish

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Tue Aug 7 22:46:57 EDT 2012

Thanks much for the replies, David.  A bit more below.  You should be
pleased with Fish's response to your article...

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."

Definitely a good point to have stated in your article, but I would
particularly like to see the strengths of the argument for the influence of
Lewis on Fish presented in their own rights -- make the best case you can,
though briefly.

> 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.

Two parts to this one: 1) Yes, your article does note very clearly the
direct influence that Fish acknowledges from Summers and Waldcock, but I am
asking what -you- mean by influence for the sake of your article (source of
his initial idea about PL, source of his reading strategies, etc.?).  2)
Fish's response to you confirms my suspicion that these influences were
present during the writing of the book, but wouldn't a reader-response
approach claim that the origin of its ideas were the reader's initial
reactions in the individual's reading of the text?  Doesn't Fish speak as
if he is being led along by the text while he is writing about it at times?
 Again, I don't recall precisely.

This isn't about Fish's claims being radical, but simply originating in his
experience of reading the text, at least at first.

> 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."

Yes, and I do think you address this point above in your reference to the
Preface to the 2nd ed. of SbS.

>  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'm not sure that complaints about a reading are necessarily proof of the
importance of that reading.  Emmanuel Hirsch's early book on Blake's Songs
of Innocence and of Experience (late 60s, I think) has been a punching bag
in Blake criticism since Bentley's negative review of it (which clearly
articulated what I tended to think while reading Hirsch's book) -- I think
even to the point of indirect references to it in the latest Norton edition
of just a couple of years ago.  But it's hardly an important book in its
own right.  It's just a punching bag, probably because it makes an easily
replicated error -- but still a clear error.

You'd have a better sense of the real importance of SbS to future
scholarship on PL than I would, however.

Jim R
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