[Milton-L] Passing this along... -Carl

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Jan 12 23:28:13 EST 2014


Carter, 

I won't argue with anyone who says that Milton is a better poet than Blake. He certainly is. However, to say that Milton is a better philosopher, historian, political philosopher, etc., is to completely misunderstand the object of your critique, because Blake attempted to be none of those.

Blake did not care about history; he did not care about philosophy; he did not care about political science; and he did not care about religion. What he did care about was the phenomenological profile of all of those things in the minds of Englishmen. He cared about how these subjects existed in people's minds, not about what the objects were in themselves. So you should be asking, how good a psychologist was Blake? If it never occurred to you to ask that question, you've missed what is most central to Blake. Of course you were disappointed.

Furthermore, Blake did not believe that Milton's Satan was heroic. That in my opinion is an inadequate reading of Blake and of his criticisms of Milton in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which essentially posit a deeply conflicted Milton, but not an inadequate Milton. Blake is frankly impossible without Milton, found a great deal of inspiration in Milton, and was responding to not only Milton himself, but to what Milton represented to the England of his day. In Blake's mind, Milton is second in importance and veneration only to the Bible.

Blake's comments in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell about Milton's Satan posit a series of phenomenological equivalents: the Satan of the book of Job is phenomenologically equivalent to the God of Paradise Lost because of their focus on moral condemnation. You might observe that the God of the Book of Job expresses no condemnation of Job whatsoever, at least at the beginning of the book. The God of Paradise Lost -- that is the fictional God that Milton created -- does not express the same confidence in humankind, as it was Milton's interest to represent the omnipotence of God rather than God's faith in humankind, which is foregrounded in the book of Job.

I would suggest, most importantly, that it's  rather juvenile to think that one must believe that the object of one's study is the best of everything. Blake had a remarkable talent, and a remarkable imagination, and is still absolutely subject to any number of personal and artistic critiques. I don't necessarily disagree with any of your criticisms of Blake, but of course I don't think they exhaust the subject of Blake at all. Those criticisms exist alongside with real strengths. I merely study Blake: I don't worship him, which is perhaps a lesson that some of our more experienced Miltonists could learn. 

Interest could be generated in a variety of subjects for a variety of different reasons. For some of us, it's not about "who's the best" at anything, but about who allows us to follow our interests most carefully and specifically. Some of us like to study different kinds of problems: for example, book production is much more of an issue in Blake than it is in Milton because Blake manufactured, not just wrote, so many of his own works. The intersections of poetic and visual texts is much more of an issue in Blake than in Milton because Blake himself produced both at once. 

In my case, of course, the limitations are much more simple than that: I can only be interested in books that have pictures in them. 

I would like to add that I very much enjoyed myself at the recent MLA conference and have learned to appreciate the collegiality of my colleagues, even the most learned ones, who managed to be scholarly and supportive of a variety of interests at the same time. But then, I was spending my time with Romanticists.

Jim R
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