[Milton-L] Milton's Deliberate Ambiguities

Hannibal Hamlin hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
Mon Sep 4 11:35:01 EDT 2017


I don't like Sontag's argument at all, and it actually has a whiff of bad
faith about it, an anti-intellectual pose by one of 20th century America's
most famous intellectuals. I'm inclined to say -- and I guess I will --
that there is really nothing but interpretation. It's interpretation
(substituting for turtles) all the way down. To argue otherwise is to
entirely misunderstand the fundamental nature of language. We may strive
for the precise utterance, but we are so bound up in metaphors that this is
an impossible dream. Of course, if I ask someone to please pass me the
salt, I am unlikely to be misunderstood, which is handy. But if I write
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" and have it printed, this is quite
another matter. I've already described some of the potential ambiguities of
both the line and the poem it begins. Professor Richmond feels I have
invented these, but how would he go about proving this? My comments are
rooted in the language on the page, just as his are. The only difference
between them is that he wants to believe the poem is a straightforward
declaration of love, and I find it more interesting to think of it as
somewhat more nervous -- love, certainly, but perhaps charged with a sense
that neither men, lovers, love, nor poems may be quite as eternal as we
might like them to be. I cannot prove that this is what Shakespeare had in
mind, but then neither can Professor make the same claim for his
interpretation, the author being dead (in a literal if not Barthesian
sense), and his intentions inaccessible except in the words he left behind.

I am not advocating Deconstructive nihilism. I venture to say that I love
sonnet 18 as much as Professor Richmond. But every utterance needs to be
interpreted, and the pleasure I derive from Shakespeare (or Milton) is
enhanced rather than diminished by the complex ambiguities in which they
delight.

Hannibal


On Sun, Sep 3, 2017 at 9:42 PM, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:

> Thanks very much for the elaboration, Michael. I've become dissatisfied
> with the eisegesis versus exegesis model. It seems to treat literary texts
> like buckets of meaning in which authors put meaning in and readers are
> obligated to take only the same meaning out.
>
> I prefer to think in terms of pattern recognition. In this practice, the
> reader is applying different filters, so to speak, to look for different
> kinds of patterns of meaning in the text. The author or his or her
> immediate historical context is maybe one filter that we use to examine a
> text, but it doesn't have to be the only one. Any conceivable pattern is
> legitimate so long as it's supported by evidence provided by the text.
>
> Of course, when you think that way, you have to carefully distinguish
> between the patterns that you're using and the author himself (in this
> case). We can ascribe patterns to the text that don't necessarily reflect
> on the person who wrote it. This isn't an arbitrary practice, as a filter
> looks for specific things, should set the terms of its own practice of
> pattern recognition, and then follow them.
>
> Jim R
>
> PS If Milton had an iPhone, Steve Jobs would be Satan.
>
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-- 
Hannibal Hamlin
Professor of English
The Ohio State University
Author of *The Bible in Shakespeare*, now available through all good
bookshops, or direct from Oxford University Press at
http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199677610.do
164 Annie & John Glenn Ave., 421 Denney Hall
Columbus, OH 43210-1340
hamlin.22 at osu.edu/
hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
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