[Milton-L] Fish

David Urban dvu2 at calvin.edu
Wed Aug 8 11:11:11 EDT 2012


Thanks for your further thoughts.  And, yes, I'm deeply gratified by Stanley Fish's response on the *Appositions* site.

Let me just respond to your further comments on point #1.  You are absolutely right to be desirous that those who claim Lewis's influence on Fish to explain the strength of that position.  But the proponents of that position have not done so.  They have repeated their claims without providing concrete evidence.  To quote the end of the third paragraph of my *Appositions* article, " "I continue to question the extent of the Lewis-Fish connection, and I think it crucial to recognize that it is a connection that has been often stated but never demonstrated."  

Because of the lack of specific connection between Lewis and Fish, I believe the best case to be made for that connection is that both Lewis and Fish offer "orthodox" "anti-Satan" readings of *Paradise Lost.*  But plenty of critics did that before Fish, so why specify Lewis's influence without demonstrating it with concrete evidence?  



>>> James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com> 08/07/12 10:48 PM >>>
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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