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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2007

E 392M • Milton: Reading Him Today

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34990 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
CAL 323

Course Description

This course will survey Milton's works and historical situation and introduce various approaches to his writings. We will take time to consider the pertinence of his writings to social, political, and religious issues of the present day, not simply through the recent critical debate over Samson Agonistes and terrorism, but also by attending to Milton's republican political theory, advocacy of the separation of church and state, views on the proper regulatory role of government, freedom of speech, marriage, and education. Well also glance at previous moments when Milton's writings have seemed especially relevant, in revolutionary America and France, for example.

Milton believed that a true poet must himself live a true poem. With this invitation to ponder the intertexuality of Milton's life and letters, we will examine the self-authorship of a poet whose ideal of filial obedience led to regicide. The course will introduce Milton the propagandist, theologian, linguist, social critic, historian, logician, state official, and prophet. We will grapple with the paradox of a poet setting out to justify the ways of God to men after he had suffered blindness, crushing political defeat, domestic turmoil, imprisonment, public ridicule, and a close brush with a grisly execution.

Given the strategic position that Milton occupies on the map of literary studies, we will also try to understand the pressures that have shaped contemporary critical judgments. Admittedly, scholars with distinct agendas do disagree as to the social significance of Milton's epic, but their understanding of its textual meaning or effect on readers is similar. A premise of the course is that scholars of opposed outlook--e.g., Old and New Historicists, Freudians, Marxists, Feminists, and neo-Christians (to borrow Empson's term)--have all subscribed to a flawed consensus view of Paradise Lost and its author, one that crystallized with Stanley Fish's Surprised by Sin (1967). Ironically, the post-structuralist Milton is a figure of unprecedented coherence in the history of Milton studies, one whose dominant features--carping didacticism, aggressive misogyny, and bourgeois political and social attitudes--render him remarkably unappealing.


The text of Milton's poetry and selected prose that I edited with William Kerrigan and Steve Fallon may be out by then. If so, we will use that as our main text and supplement it with secondary readings drawn from the 17th into the 21st century.


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