Epic and Epoch: Essays on the Interpretation and History of a Genre

By Steven M. Oberhelman; Van Kelly et al. | Go to book overview

Milton and Epic Revisionism

John T. Shawcross


I

Critically, literary studies are at a kind of crossroad where we must decide whether we will allow methodology to dominate so thoroughly that literature itself is forgotten or we will employ methodologies in the reading of the literature. A part of such employment involves our reading without a seeming denial of other kinds of methodology, though one be stressed, or with an eclectic combination of pertinent theoretical bases. The topic "epic" falls under the rubric "genre." In recent years genre and generic studies have often been cast aside as meaningless by the methodologies that have been popular because our critics have not approached generic studies with understanding but have seen rather such confusion that Jacques Derrida (1980) concludes that the "law" of genre places a literary work into its own genre. Avrom Fleischman presents a similar point of view when he writes, "every addition to a genre changes it, by altering its sum; new audiences make for new norms, and vice versa" (1985, 363).1

From the middle of the seventeenth century, at least, the narrowing of genres and of their descriptions has further developed the sixteenthcentury movement to prescription for literary types. We recall the sixteenth-century treatment of Aristotle's Poetica and Rhetorica, for example, and, in England, Thomas Hobbes' 1650 reflection of what

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