Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

By Kristin A. Pruitt; Charles W. Durham | Go to book overview

Of Chaos and Nightingales

JOHN RUMRICH

I agree with much of what John Leonard has to say in his essay on Chaos and Night in this volume. Even if I did not, devoting this response entirely to rejoinder would mean replying to a reply to a chapter in my book—a metacritical vortex further complicated by the fact that the chapter in question was itself conceived as a reply to scholars who have afforded Chaos a universal hiss for hostility to God. Rather than focus on Chaos alone, then, and at the risk of transforming this dialogue into a parody of one of Milton's college exercises (i.e., “Whether Day or Night is the More Excellent“), I will ultimately respond to Leonard's pregnant meditation on possibly infertile Night, limiting myself to a few remarks concerning his comments on my previous work on Chaos.

Leonard begins by saying that I have argued for the goodness of Chaos, which I have, and concludes by saying that although he finds the question of Chaos's goodness fascinating, he believes that the moral frame is irrelevant. I agree with him and, paradoxical as it may sound, will claim that this irrelevance is central to my claim for the goodness of Chaos. First, though, I'd like to indulge in a digression concerning method.

At one point, Leonard seems to suggest that bookish learning and theological background, at least as deployed by some, are not quite pertinent to a proper understanding of Milton's poetry. If he means that readers ought not backpedal in contextual circles so as to slip the impact of Milton's poetry, or worse, treat the poetry as a versification of intellectual history, we are again in agreement. Unfortunately, however, the characterization of learning, logic, or of Milton's own theological treatise as blind guides to his poetry has often preceded serious misreading. It is in my view the classic prelude in attempts to wrench Milton's poetry so that it will fit the version of Milton a given scholar would like to propagate.

-218-

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