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TSE  January 2013

TSE January 2013

Subject:

FW: [Milton-L] Kim Maxwell on Poetry & Truth

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Thu, 17 Jan 2013 22:47:06 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (105 lines)

From the Milton List. I find Kim Maxwell' fully  convincing. Also still
worth reading is the essay by James Kinkaid mentioned below.

Carrol

-----Original Message-----
From: [log in to unmask]
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Carrol Cox
Sent: Friday, April 06, 2012 12:58 PM
To: 'John Milton Discussion List'
Subject: [Milton-L] Kim Maxwell on Poetry & Truth

Below is a post Kim Maxwell submitted to the list several years ago. It
raises a number of interesting questions relevant to the present cluster of
threads -- especially those posts which tend to find in Milton a view of
human life not inconsistent with the critic's view.  In addition to Kim's
post, it seems to me the sharply different interpretations offered by
equally learned and perceptive critics give some support to an article James
Kincaid published in Critical Inquiry several decades ago: "Coherent
Readers, Incoherent Texts."

There was no discussion of Kim's post at the time, which was a pity.

Carrol

======

Re: [Milton-L] Reply to Prof.  Fleming on totalization Sun, 30 Nov 2008
09:32:51 -0800 (PST) 
--------

Prof. Fleming 

As our posts have gotten long and irritating to others, I will take up any
matters from my last two, which you have generally answered, with you off
line, at a later time, after I have read your book (which I started last
spring) However, I feel the question of mimesis is important, and I offer
the following response. 

Yes. literature must be about something. But (1) I presume you are not going
to ask "something" to be ontological, that literature provides and
internally justifies truthful statements about the real world itself. Does
Hell really have burning lakes, or Paradise a real tree of life? I think (2)
that we decide on the "something" as a first act o f interpretation, not as
an outcome, particularly about a work with as vast a compass as Paradise
Lost. We may be interested in Eve and patriarchy (the "something"), then
read relevant passages of the poem and other opinions to decide for
ourselves what we think the poem has to say about Eve and patriarchy. As
there are more than fifty articles and one book on Eve (not all about
patriarchy), with diverse and incompatible conclusions drawn from the poem,
it would be hard to say that the poem itself produces a mimesis of Eve and
patriarchy. Instead, (3) as you observe through Gadamer, an interpretation
comprises (at least) the text, our interests in the text (not drawn from the
text itself), and within those interest various beliefs that we bring to the
poem. Those interests must influence our interpretation, provide content to
the interpretation, and (more often than we would like to admit) direct and
may provide all of the material of an interpretation. How do we read "He for
God only, she for God in him"? Well, it depends. If we decide it is not
ironic, then it may become either a claim for the actual relationship
between men, women, and God (with the usual biblical citations), or a
statement of female oppression (with various real-world treatments of women
quivering in the background). If we decide it is ironic, (it is seen through
Satan's eyes, after all, and the narrator is not reliable), then we begin a
journey through the poem that has Eve resisting patriarchy, or ironically
defending patriarchy as a necessary component of civil order. None of these
can be justified by the poem alone. I claim that (4) mimesis works in one
direction, from the reader to the poem , as a means of understanding and
organizing the interpretative process, but that mimesis does not work in the
other direction, that we learn from the poem on its own terms something
about the world. I believe a careful reading of Aristotle's poetics will
reach the same idea, that fictions have necessary properties that require
mimesis to understand but preclude mimesis as a poetic outcome. 

Perhaps a classic formulation of the problem I mean can be found in
Kerrigan's /The Sacred Complex /He says, "The survival of literature as
anything more than an artifact depends on our ability to extend its original
reference into a genuinely revelatory description . . . of the world we
inhabit now." (p2) He then proceeds to self-consciously read the p oem
through the lens of Freudian psychoanalysis. This is not revelation, it is
(very ingenious and interesting) imposition of an external theory of the
world. If anyone believes that the poem cannot be made to confute rather
than defend a Freudian view, they have not been reading criticism latterly. 

I realize this makes the justification of literature itself difficult. If it
does not teach us about the world, or make a better world (by teaching
virtue, or otherness, or any of the other things so many even recent
scholars have advanced in favor of beauty and instruction, still the most
common justification), or critique or defend our cultural, moral, political
order, or order our thoughts, or create a consciousness (all of which may be
considered mimetic), what does it d o? I do not know the answer to this
question. It may have no answer (rather like saying what poetry is). But it
seems to that literature on its own revealing truths of the world cannot be
one of them. 



Kim Maxwell

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