[Milton-L] turtles

Hannibal Hamlin hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
Mon Sep 4 14:15:22 EDT 2017


Well, the point I was making was obviously in the context of the discussion
on the thread, especially in terms of comments about the sonnets and
ambiguity (which arose from comments about Milton and ambiguity). We may of
course disagree on this, Richard, but I don't think it is either trivial or
misleading to say that all language requires interpretation. I do agree
that normal communication depends upon our agreeing about a host of
ordinary utterances, but there is an element of interpretation, perhaps
barely conscious, even in these mundane agreements. When I hear "please
pass the salt," for instance, I must decide whether this means "to me" or
"to Jane" sitting on my left. To get more finicky, I might say that I need
to understand that I should pass the salt in the salt shaker, rather than
passing the salt itself, after shaking it into my hand. This sounds silly,
but I think it is still true. The reason it is not trivial is because it
suggests that our discussions of ambiguities and interpretations are not a
result of the "linguistic turn," or the perversity of particular readers,
but of language itself, especially when cast in the exceptionally dense and
complex forms we often find in poems. Shakespeare and Milton knew this and
crafted their poems to capitalize on ambiguities which enrich the
experience we have in reading them.

Hannibal


On Mon, Sep 4, 2017 at 12:21 PM, Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>
wrote:

> I'm not sure what it means to say that "it's interpretation all the way
> down."  This is either trivially true (every statement requires some
> framework) or misleading, as the dismissed example of "pass the salt"
> suggests.  Every competent speaker of a language can agree -- in fact, must
> agree -- on a great many things (easily dismissed as uninteresting, of
> course) before we get to the area of contestation.  But that large area of
> uninteresting, trivial agreement (it's in a book, it's printed, it's a
> poem, a sonnet, by Shakespeare, etc) is crucial.  See Donald Davidson's
> classic essay on "The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" -- easily
> available.  (I try to argue for the importance of this to literary
> criticism in the Intro to *Resistant Structures*.)
>
>
> RS
>
>
>
> ------------------------------
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu <milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu> on
> behalf of Bryson, Michael E <michael.bryson at csun.edu>
> *Sent:* Monday, September 4, 2017 10:56 AM
> *To:* Hannibal Hamlin; John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Deliberate Ambiguities
>
> "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."
>
> And there we have the problem with the entire "linguistic turn" in theory,
> and the effects that turn has wrought upon literary criticism over the last
> century. It has been, in my view, something akin to a disaster, and I will
> take the Susan Sontags and Oscar Wildes over the whole lot of us any day of
> the week.
>
> 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>https://www.
> openbookpublishers.com/product/611
>
> ------ Original message------
> *From: *Hannibal Hamlin
> *Date: *Mon, Sep 4, 2017 8:35 AM
> *To: *John Milton Discussion List;
> *Cc: *
> *Subject:*Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Deliberate Ambiguities
>
> 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
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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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