[Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Bryson, Michael E michael.bryson at csun.edu
Thu Apr 10 15:45:59 EDT 2014

And *this* sums up very eloquently the massive divide we seem to have in Milton Studies. Yes, Milton's PL does participate in theological discourse--but it does so as an epic poem, not as non-fiction, however creative. The historicist impulse--which is one I very much share--to place PL in the context of theological, political, and other debates of his time can serve an enlightening and constructive function, but it can also be used to simply *shut down* discourse, or define "good" questions as somehow not mattering. It is incredibly important to get as accurate a sense as possible of how "Milton's readers" (a construct which by no means needs to be construed as simple or ideologically/theologically unified) might have received the text. But a literary work (*as* literary work) dies if that is the realm to which we exclusively limit it and bracket it off. 

And an analogy between a demonstrably historical character and God is a bit tricky. MLK existed, apart from anyone's belief. The existence of God was not even a matter of universal agreement in Milton's own time, much less in our own. PL does not participate in discourse about a "real" character in anything like the same way that the HBO movie does. 

But a given scholar's personal theoretical/theological/political commitments may make that either an obvious point, or a point that is impossible to grant. I am reminded of Upton Sinclair at this point:  "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary [or religion, or politics, or other idea] depends on his not understanding it." Perhaps we have a divide here that is impossible to cross, as Sinclair has a point for both sides of any debate...

Michael Bryson
(who has taken up far too much bandwidth for one day)
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: Thursday, April 10, 2014 12:22 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Carrol --

That's a good question that, I think, doesn't matter. Milton's PL participates in theological discourse about the Christian God by dramatizing it. For him and his readers, his subject matter was non-fiction, so that he is engaged in commentary on at least some ontological truths. That commentary is in fictional form, so that the reconstruction is a fiction, but the object represented is not: something like creative non-fiction. Of course from an atheist point of view it's all a massive fiction, but that's a metaquestion that doesn't help us with the text. For Milton's readers, PL was probably something akin to our watching an HBO movie about the life of MLK. The characters are real even if the conversations are not, and it participates in discourse about a real character.

How Milton's PL stands in relationship to other discourse about the same subject is therefore an eminently reasonable question to pursue.

Jim R

On Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 3:13 PM, JD Fleming <jfleming at sfu.ca<mailto:jfleming at sfu.ca>> wrote:

It has not always been clear in this thread whether the interest is in correctly construing a fiction or in asserting some ontological truth.


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