Friday, October 30, 2015

Milton as Canon

    When looking at Milton's work as a potential center of criticism, somehow Shakespeare must be put aside to make room for Milton. If you follow Bloom's thought about how Shakespeare is the center of the canon, then his work will show us what is thought to be meaningful literature.

    It seems that the canonization process is completely artificial. Critics have come up with their lists as to what should be considered valuable writing. And their evidence is to be seen within the pages of the well written plays, poems and whatever else. Read the works for proof of their value.

    But why should Milton be considered foremost, which puts him in the center of how criticism should operate? Look at Milton's work and compare that to the plays of Shakespeare to see how differently these poets wrote. Shakespeare made characters, while Milton wrote criticism. 

    Milton gave us a tradition of being self-aware of one's position within what we consider to be canonical writing. There is nothing from Shakespeare analogous to what Milton wrote within his political tracts about his desire to give posterity a type of canon. He seems to have an edge here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Milton's Political Context

    One of the things that one should keep in mind when studying Milton's life is the fact that he lived in world different from our own. Within the Anglosphere, we share a lot of things in common with Milton such as language, customs, and the idea that liberty is far better than tyranny.

    He wrote at length, as I wrote before, on controversial subjects that were pressing issues. But he, John Milton, did not write in a vacuum. No, there were statists (politicians), who shaped the affairs of the state, which was under dispute during the civil wars between the kingdoms.

    One such man, Oliver Cromwell, came to power after the void left by the execution of Charles I in 1649. He disputed with parliament; he was tried for treason. And after that horrible event, the Army came to power with Cromwell eventually becoming the Lord Protector in place of the king.

    Cromwell, being a military man, had learned tactics on the battlefield without having formal training in that subject. He was able to soundly defeat the Royalist forces that fought against him. During the war, Milton focused his attention to these matters while writing politically in prose.

    And after that brief period of non-monarchical rule, Charles II came out of hiding to take the crown in 1660. With this shifting political climate, Milton worked under leaders who sought to rule without a king much like what he wrote about in his tracts. They shared his political views.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Milton's Paradise Lost

    This poem was one of the first books that I bought with my own money at a bookstore. That along with other books like Robinson Crusoe and Pilgrim's Progress, were my first experiences of literature in general. Those two books, however, cannot compare to the heroic verse structure that you find in Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic poem that subsumes Homer, Virgil, Tasso, and so on.

    So the book that I'd like to discuss is Paradise Lost by John Milton. It is about the story of creation that we find in Genesis, but there are many Classical references as well. I feel that Satan is the central character, who reveals the fact that we identify with him at first but as we read through the poem, we feel that we would rather stay near our first parents: Adam and Eve, who are idealized human beings.

    The cosmos of PL consists of a three-tiered universe that some chide the biblical writers for. I sometimes wonder why science that has been evolving throughout these modern times must be used as a model for how pre-modern scientists should operate. Wouldn't it be nice if we could take what we know now and somehow give them our information? Perhaps, someday we will.

   Anyways, the three-tiered universe of PL is the backdrop for the event of the sin that Adam and Eve committed in the paradise that was the Garden of Eden. They were then cast out after they ate from one of trees of the garden, so that they then have to live without the sheltered lifestyle that they enjoyed together. And Satan was the one who led the assault on those two persons who ate.

  So the plot is simple enough to follow, but it's Satan who is the most intriguing because of his seductive charm that led our first parents to their demise. He was able to convince them in Book 9 to partake the fruit that was forbidden of them to eat. Then in Book 10, Satan is reduced to a hissing serpent, which is a long way down from the charismatic leader that we found in Book 2 of PL.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Press Liberty within the Lord's Kingdom

Wenatchee The Hatchet has a searching question in the context of press freedom:

The fundamental [question] is: Is Jesus honored when Christians take one another to task before a watching world?

    He then considers two different kinds of thinking about how the press operates. One is the libertarian view that the truth will win out over falsehood, if the press is not controlled in an authoritarian fashion, which is the view that an elite should control the means of how it functions because they feel that they have the right to do so.

    So the initial question should be recast in terms how we view the nature of the press. The authoritarians would be pleased with viewing the social networking press as a place where there needs to be some guidance in directing it, while those in favor of not having authorities over matters of press operation, would simply dismiss them as unnecessary.

    I think that for Christians and unbelievers alike, there will be an elite who controls social media, while those who are not as well as connected as Trueman and Leithart, will have a desire to take control of that sphere of influence by interacting with whatever they throw at us. So to answer the initial question: no, since his kingdom is not of this social media world.

Monday, October 12, 2015

What Would Milton Do?

    So far, I have looked at John Milton to see how he operated as the major English writer after Shakespeare. There was a brief series on Lycidas, where I thought poetically about this short poem. From those outworkings, you have seen that he blended Christian and pagan elements as he overcomes the loss of his friend. For example, he was compared to Orpheus whose corpse went down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore.

    I think that since he had an encyclopedic knowledge of Classical myth as well as a studied interest in the holy scriptures, which he has used to defend topics such as divorce (domestic liberty) and regicide (freedom from tyrants), then he would naturally use those tropes and references in his poetry. Much like how Shakespeare was known to the public first as a poet and then as a playwright, Milton was a political polemicist before he was known as the proper epic poet within English.

    Eventually, Milton published Paradise Lost, an epic poem in blank verse. During the time he was writing his poem, he lost his position as Secretary of Foreign Tongues within the Interregnum, when Cromwell ruled, since Charles II took over among other political considerations. So after that brief republican government, the blind Milton much like Homer composed the poem, which I'd like to write about next time.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Keep it in the Family

The following excerpt (p.59) from Bloom's Anatomy of Influence is about how to read King Leer:

All attempts to read King Leer as a positive, hopeful Christian drama are weak and unconvincing, but so drastic is the play that desperate attempts to soften it are understandable if deplorable. It is the most harrowing of all literary works, ever. Shakespeare pulls us in, exhausts us, and releases us to nihilism. Lear is neither saved nor redeemed, Cordelia is murdered, and Edgar survives as a warrior-king who, by one English tradition, goes down battling the wolves that overran the kingdom.

    This is in response to those who claim that Christ has his dominion even over stage plays that represent pre-Christian Britannia. If you are familiar with the play, you might argue for a Christian sensibility by pointing to Cordelia, a martyred figure, but not consistently.

    Domestic strife within families, like in works such as King Leer, move us to see that fathers are tragic figures. Leer pleaded, while anyone who would respond with pity was chided because his character is such that any love given him will be shown to be inadequate.

    The three daughters went their separate ways and eventually died off one by one. It seems as through they were unfit to inherit the kingdom that their father was to give to them. Such is feminine weakness in the response to Edgar and Edmond's fight for the throne.

    Much more could be said about the play, but I wanted to give a brief response to those who feel that they should read this play with theological insight. Some things should be evaluated for what they are, which is not redemption, but tragedy for a nominal Christian audience.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

our Poor Way of Writting

There has been an article recently published on Reformation 21 that affected me:

Because words now remain in a web of communication (on the web and in print), their power is preserved, for better or worse. We can offer others the meaning we have found, the control we have been given to use words wisely, and our personal presence in the unique structures and patterns of our prose. But that means we can also offer ambiguity, impotence, and absence. Poor prose can actually be an anti-type of communication reflecting the Trinity. That is why poor prose is not just poor prose; it's poor theology.

    The article argues that to write poorly is to write poor theology. To the extent that we profess true religion, we should also reflect our view of God in how we write. So the prose that we write should have clarity and personality. And it should be readable to the public at large.

    But no writer lives up to the standards that these theologians set up for us. These standards show how bad we are in explaining to our audience what we are trying to give them through our words. One is a good theologian, if he recognizes the limitations of us prose writers.

    Our God demanded perfection from his Son when he worked, and his words were hardly ambiguous or weak. And he also demanded perfection from his disciples who were off their targets when they spoke about him. (Matt.16:22, Mark 9:38) So these standards just kill us when we try to write.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Untying a Knot

There is a questionable part of yesterday's post that I'd like to untangle for today:

He begins with Shakespeare, of course, to show that he has the greatest influence on Bloom's approach to literary criticism. From there, he argues, Milton's Satan has within him the best of Shakespeare's characters to form a distinct personage in response to Shakespeare's influence among other observations.

    For Bloom, human personality was invented by William Shakespeare, whose many characters have represented how men and women think and operate in our world. They are more than mere actor's roles, they're life's largeness to be found in the 38 plays that he had penned down and acted in.

    And Milton is just one example of a belated poet, who came to terms with his literary past. So fiction authors not only come to be influenced by past masters, but they represent those influences as well as bring something new to the table by misapplying their influences when they write their works.

    So canonical literature cannot be artificially considered apart from the authors who contended with their literary past. The example of Milton being influenced by Shakespeare or the other way around is a classic one that shows how literary influence works. And Harold Bloom's theory is that this happens anxiously, not benignly.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Summer Ended

    I have recently been reading through Harold Bloom's Anatomy of Influence, which is about his theory that poets have to creatively misread their influences to put forth something meaningful in the poetic canon. He begins with Shakespeare, of course, to show that he has the greatest influence on Bloom's approach to literary criticism. From there, he argues, Milton's Satan has within him the best of Shakespeare's characters to form a distinct personage in response to Shakespeare's influence among other observations.

    Along with Bloom's theory of influence, he also suggested that reading poetry should strengthen one's appreciation for the value that they impress to its readers. His preference is for the Romantic poets such as Blake, Shelly, and Wordsworth. They combined sight and sound to form sensuous verse that evoked feelings. These strong emotions enable us to appreciate their work more than those who would value poetry for its social or political considerations.

    So I wanted to continue with Milton, but I have come to an impasse. To understand this poet, it would be beneficial to mark or place him with other poets to grasp his significance. Thus, it would be artificial to talk about Milton and his work without reference to his influences, which in addition to the Classical sources, also includes Shakespeare, who was given high praise by Milton when an anonymous poem his was dedicated to Shakespeare in his Second Folio in 1630.

    These poets have strongly influenced the way we approach literary studies. And those poets who have been influenced by them also color our understanding of the literary past. It is through these poems that have reacted against their influences that we are able to see the labyrinth of linkages that they have constructed for us. So as we walk through this literary labyrinth, we are able to evaluate how these poets have influenced each other.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

On the Late Massacre in Piemont

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughter'd saints, whose bones
Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshipt stocks and stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans,
Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piemontese that roll'd
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
to Heav'n. Their marty'd blood and ashes sow
O're all th' Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who, having learnt thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

Friday, October 2, 2015

the Good, the Bad, and the Obama

    You know by now that I've been focusing on words that have a Saxon equivalent rather than the common French words that we adore and use every day. But I wanted to ask the question: what is the political end of this focus on choosing certain words in speech or in writing? For the sake of explaining my title, I'd like to get to the grounds for why those, who prefer the barbarous Germanic words over high class Francophone phrases, have an authoritarian bent to them, even in a civil setting. So our beloved president's name was used a gimmick to move us to think about the political nature of Anglish.

    I have chosen Milton as my guide through this discussion because if there is one thing that describes the best poet after Shakespeare, then that would be power through what he wrote. If you compare Paradise Lost with Shakespeare's Lucrece, for example, you would conclude that the verse of PL > L because of their style and diction. PL is high and lofty, while L has a steady flow that does not rise and fall as much as PL does. So if you compare Miltonic epic with Shakespeare's best long poem, you have to conclude that Milton does indeed surpass Shakespeare at least with this comparison.

    If you look at Milton's political tracts, he dismisses the barbarous past and looks to places like France and Italy as model societies. And they have derived their ways from the Classical past. So the proper way to govern would not be to look at Beowulf, but to behold the Greek polis that had a much better way to conduct state affairs, than that of how the Germanic tribes worked out theirs.

    And I think that the nature of this artificial language is such that it will not be used to craft state policy, but rather it gives its users a power to craft what their thoughts desire. So since this tung has the barbarous Old English language in sight along with the other Germanic languages of the same sort, there is a longing to see how Germanic societies governed themselves during the Migration Periods after the fall of Rome. When civilization as we knew it collapsed, the Germanic invaders borrowed Classical customs but essentially retained their own Folkways including the way that they practiced governance.

    To conclude, Milton would cast me aside when it comes to preferring other customs of government than that of the Classical past, but he would look with favor on how language might be shaped for our own ends. And if those ends lead to a greater care to preserve our current state of affairs within our own burgs, moots, and rikes, then he may nod with a sigh of relief from the circuitous route that I took to get there.