Answerable Style: Essays on Paradise Lost

Answerable Style: Essays on Paradise Lost

Answerable Style: Essays on Paradise Lost

Answerable Style: Essays on Paradise Lost

Excerpt

I have heard a professor of anatomy -- I am told he is an excellent one -- make the shocking statement that few surgeons "know" anatomy. I have no doubt that he is right, by his standards of anatomical knowledge, and it would not comfort me in engaging a surgeon to speculate on what he does not know about anatomy. But I should think he had better be engaged to practice his craft with the limited anatomy he knows, if he knows surgery and has some living recommendations; and engaged perhaps in his present state of competence, before some other specialists worry me out of the possibility of decision by reminding me that this surgeon does not really know their important specialties.

I have heard a distinguished Miltonist, whose distinction I recognize and respect, urge the claim of "all those studies of Milton's life and thought, and of his religious and intellectual background . . . to be heard before we pass final judgment on the poet -- before, indeed, we can pretend fully to understand any one of his poems." My answer, which I certainly do not intend to be disrespectful of knowledge, is this: If we wait until we fully "understand" any major poem, when shall we be ready? The world created by a work of art requires contemplation from us, but it also requires action in the form of critical statement. We must always "pretend" to imaginative understanding, for it is only through the actual effort that our imagination may be engaged. Nor does "pretending" exclude consciousness of what we . . .

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