Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pg. 69: "How Milton Works"

Stanley Fish is Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law at the College of Law at Florida International University. In addition to being one of the country's leading public intellectuals, Fish is one of the world's foremost authorities on John Milton.

I asked him to apply the "page 69 test" to his book, How Milton Works. Here is what he reported:
It is not surprising that page 69 of How Milton Works is representative of that book's argument; for How Milton Works, like the Milton it describes and celebrates, says one thing over and over again, and therefore of course says it on every page, including page 69. Page 69 describes the Son of God in paradise recalling the moment when he abandoned the project of performing great deeds that would alter circumstances in the world for what he decides is the more worthy project of transforming hearts and minds by the force of persuasion. The Son thus exemplifies the Miltonic insistence that the interior landscape – the landscape of the will and settled affections – must be ordered before the actor can insert himself into the maelstrom of social and political events. Milton’s heroes and heroines – and he would include himself in the list – display their heroism by refusing to draw conclusions on the basis of the pressures the world exerts and turn instead to a law or imperative that is written on the fleshly tables of their hearts. As a result, the hero, who marches not only to a different but to an inaudible drummer, will seem out of step to those who take their cue from the evidence of things seen. One thinks of the angel Abdiel, who alone dissents from the infernal council – Satan calls him “Seditious Angel” – and receives this praise from his Lord: “For this was all thy care/ To stand approved in sight of God, though worlds / Judged thee perverse.” (Paradise Lost 6.35-37) In Milton’s world, the danger always is that the outward surface of things will overwhelm or obscure an inner truth that surfaces do not display; but that inner truth, if recalled and clung to not only dispels surfaces but reconfigures them in the light of a vision they cannot contain. This is Milton’s lesson in Paradise Regained and in everything else he writes, and it is the lesson repeatedly rehearsed in How Milton Works.
Many thanks to Stanley for the input.

Click here to view the Table of Contents of How Milton Works.

Among the praise for How Milton Works:
I cannot think of a more impressive work of literary interpretation published in the past forty or so years. As a close reader--of just about anything--Stanley Fish has no peer.
--Frank Lentricchia, author of After the New Criticism

How Milton Works is a tremendously impressive and important book for Miltonists--important because of the sustained originality of the argument, the sharpness of some of its textual analysis, and because it will become a standard reference point with which to align oneself by proximity or remoteness.
--Joad Raymond, Times Higher Education Supplement

In How Milton Works, Stanley Fish defends his title as the reigning specialist on Milton by taking on all critical challengers single-handed. This forcefully and lucidly argued book is necessary both for readers and scholars of Milton, and for readers interested to see how Fish works at the height of his literary and rhetorical powers.
--Elaine Showalter, author of A Literature of Their Own
Fish's works include over 200 scholarly publications and books, including Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost (1967), Is there a Text in This Class? Interpretive Communities and the Sources of Authority (1980), There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It's a Good Thing, Too (1994), The Trouble with Principle (1999). The Stanley Fish Reader was published in 1999.

Currently, his blog posts appear in the New York Times Op-Ed pages (behind the TimesSelect pay-to-read wall).

Click here to read "The Trouble With Tolerance," in The Chronicle Review (November 10, 2006), and here for a collection of text and audio links to other works and interviews.

Previous "page 69 tests":
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue