How Milton Works by Stanley Fish

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Synopsis

Stanley Fish's Surprised by Sin, first published in 1967, set a new standard for Milton criticism and established its author as one of the world's preeminent Milton scholars. The lifelong engagement begun in that work culminates in this book, the magnum opus of a formidable critic and the definitive statement on Milton for our time.

How Milton works "from the inside out" is the foremost concern of Fish's book, which explores the radical effect of Milton's theological convictions on his poetry and prose. For Milton the value of a poem or of any other production derives from the inner worth of its author and not from any external measure of excellence or heroism. Milton's aesthetic, says Fish, is an "aesthetic of testimony": every action, whether verbal or physical, is or should be the action of holding fast to a single saving commitment against the allure of plot, narrative, representation, signs, drama--anything that might be construed as an illegitimate supplement to divine truth. Much of the energy of Milton's writing, according to Fish, comes from the effort to maintain his faith against these temptations, temptations which in any other aesthetic would be seen as the very essence of poetic value.

Encountering the great poet on his own terms, engaging his equally distinguished admirers and detractors, this book moves a 300-year debate about the significance of Milton's verse to a new level.

 

About Stanley Fish

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Stanley Eugene Fish, who writes on law and literary criticism and history, was born on April 19, 1938, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. Fish holds a Ph.D. from Yale. During his career, he has held major academic posts, serving as Kenan Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University from 1974 to 1985 and as Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English and Law at Duke University since 1985. He is known for his expertise in English literature and literary theory, particularly the subjectivity of textual interpretation. Fish's works include Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretative Communities, 1980 and Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies, 1989. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1969.
 
Published June 12, 2001 by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 640 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Instead of staging critical conflicts between good and evil, Fish holds that Milton’s work is continually mapping out a moral universe in which good is immune to both crisis and conflict because it is a state of perfect attunement to God’s will.

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The Guardian

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How Milton Works Stanley Fish 616pp, Harvard, £23.95 In the US, Stanley Fish is one of the big punchers of the academic world, a renowned intellectual showman and top-dollar prof.

Aug 04 2001 | Read Full Review of How Milton Works

Publishers Weekly

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Perhaps more prominent in recent years as a controversial legal theorist (The Trouble with Principle), soldier in the culture wars (There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too) and the highest-profile defector from Duke's star-packed '80s English department (he is now a dean a...

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London Review of Books

‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of angels and God, and at liberty when of devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.’ William Blake wrote these words near the end of the 18th century and set going the idea that Paradise Lost, Milt...

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The New York Review of Books

Satan and all those damned with him “insatiate to pursue/Vain war with Heav’n,” bend all their thoughts to “some new race called Man,” and determine to drive the “puny habitants” from Paradise or “seduce them to our party, that their God/May prove their foe.” Satan’s “subtlety” succeeds in tempti...

Jul 18 2002 | Read Full Review of How Milton Works

Project MUSE

Yet Fish's Milton is also more tentative and open to moral ambiguity, even though the first chapter, "How Milton Works," posits a simple, uncompromising God who is the basis for asserting the poet's pre-modern world view, according to which knowledge is not empirical but interior, based on a beli...

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Project MUSE

In short, right perception and ratio recta or right reasoning issue, deductively, from true beliefs and presuppositions, whereas wrong perception, fallacious reasoning, and rationalization emerge from erroneous beliefs and presuppositions.

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Project MUSE

In short, right perception and ratio recta or right reasoning issue, deductively, from true beliefs and presuppositions, whereas wrong perception, fallacious reasoning, and rationalization emerge from erroneous beliefs and presuppositions.

| Read Full Review of How Milton Works

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