[Milton-L] Milton's Deliberate Ambiguities

Bryson, Michael E michael.bryson at csun.edu
Sun Sep 3 18:07:47 EDT 2017


I really don't think this--"complex literary texts only ever mean one thing and nothing else"--is the argument being made here.

A couple of sources that argue at much greater length for what I do see as the case being made are listed below:


Longxi, Zhang. “The Letter or the Spirit: The Song of Songs, Allegoresis,
and the Book of Poetry”. Comparative Literature: 193–217, https://doi.
org/10.2307/1770241

Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, 2013.


Michael Bryson



Love and its Critics: From the Song of Songs to Shakespeare and Milton’s Eden (Cambridge: Open Book, 2017)
https://www.openbookpublishers.com/product/611

-------- Original message --------
From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
Date: 9/3/17 2:58 PM (GMT-08:00)
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Deliberate Ambiguities

I enjoyed math a lot more when it was limited to 2+2 = 4, and I really started to hate it once it got more complex than that, starting especially with those unruly fractions.

But of course as an educated adult I look back on my childhood self and think I was mistaken, and I wish now I'd actually taken more math (stopped with first semester calculus). I really don't see the virtue in believing that any given complex literary texts only ever mean one thing and nothing else.

Level of detail matters too. I would agree with High Richmond's general summary of the sonnet in question, but on the level of individual line part of the fun of the poem is the fact that the lines could be taken two ways, as an insult or as a compliment. These dual simultaneous meetings are I think part of the author's intent.

Of course, most literature becomes much less complex when the point of all interpretation is to summarize it in a single sentence. That's a rather dull and Philistine enterprise, though.

Jim R
As for Miltonic complexities, I recall one of my better students progressing enthusiastically from my naive Milton course of 200 students to my office-mate’s, the Great Fish’s  Milton seminar - and disappearing into modern American literature thereafter. Years later she told me “You were wrong about Milton’s positive value, and Fish is right about how he tricks readers - I hate Milton and will never read him again.” No wonder university presses no longer  want to print such sophisticated literary criticism showing everything is too complicated to understand or enjoy.
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