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Reinterpreting Samson Agonistes
Samson Agonistes is the climax and completion of Milton’s poetic vision. As such, it has become the work at which the critical controversies in Milton studies converge and from which new critical perspectives on Milton’s poems emerge. In 1969, John Carey heralded the birth of new critical perspectives when he contended that Milton’s dramatic poem "is not a drama of inner regeneration," a view that flies in the face of traditional interpretation, which tends to perceive Samson as a hero of regeneration. Carey also focused on Samson’s “tragic sulk” and the “theatre-demolition” at the feast of Dagon. Following Carey’s lead, other critics, notably Irene Samuel, began to question the various elements, large and small, of the traditional interpretation of Milton’s dramatic poem. Milton’s religious and political thinking, his use of prosody and verse, his outlook on tragedy, and the like were all reexamined. Since this revisionist view of Samson Agonistes began to develop, it has unfolded with a decisiveness and momentum that now challenge the traditional view, if not overthrow it. The dramatic poem’s ambiguities highlight Milton’s innovative adaptation of the biblical narrative concerning Samson, undermine the traditional ideas of Samson’s election by God and his redemption, question the typological alignment of the Hebraic and Christian scriptures whereby Samson traditionally is perceived as a “hero of faith” who prefigures the mission and ministry of Jesus, and draw attention to Milton's use of Arminianism, Calvinism, and other theological views. This book contends that there are several Samsons in the dramatic poem and multiple contexts and various traditions that bring to light Milton’s unique rendition of a kaleidoscopic protagonist. To achieve its purposes, this book forges and deploys a new critical vocabulary of paramount importance not only to Miltonists but to critical theorists generally.
Milton, Marriage, and Friendship
This book takes a fresh look at John Milton’s major poems—Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, and Paradise Regained—and a few of the minor ones in light of a new analysis of Milton’s famous tracts on divorce. Luxon contends that Milton’s work is best understood as part of a major cultural project in which Milton assumed a leading role—the redefinition of Protestant marriage as a heteroerotic version of classical friendship, originally a homoerotic cultural practice. Schooled in the humanist notion that man was created as a godlike being, Milton also believed that what marked man as different from God is loneliness. Milton’s reading of Genesis—“it is not good for man to be alone”—prescribes a wife as the remedy for this “single imperfection,” but Milton thought marriage had fallen to such a degraded state that it required a reformation. As a humanist, Milton looked to classical culture, especially to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, for a more dignified model of human relations—friendship. Milton reimagined marriage as a classical friendship, without explicitly conceptualizing the issues of gender construction. Nor did he allow the chief tenet of classical friendship, equality, to claim a place in reformed marriage. Single Imperfection traces the path of friendship theory through Milton’s epistolary friendship with Charles Diodati, his elegies, divorce pamphlets, and major poems. The book will prompt even more reinterpretations of Milton’s poetry in an age that is anxiously redefining marriage once again.
Milton's Literary Ecclesiology
Ken Simpson’s study, focusing on John Milton’s Paradise Regained, examines the literary ecclesiology of this most subtle and elusive of Milton’s works. While far less critical attention has been given to Paradise Regained over the years as compared to Paradise Lost and others of Milton’s canon, it might be argued that Paradise Regained may be read as a full and culminating expression of Milton’s views on the doctrine of the church, the nature of the Word, prophecy and vocation, and apocalypticism. As Simpson asserts, in Paradise Regained Milton not only continues his critique of the English Reformation by confronting the failures of the Restoration settlement, but he also continues to develop the consistent theology of the church that preoccupied him in his prose during the civil war and Interregnum. Theology, polemics, and poetry were not backgrounds of one another in Milton’s work, nor was theology a set of abstract propositions to which all discourses referred; rather, these were overlapping fields of discourse that offered different opportunities to fulfill the religious imperative to build the church. Simpson examines Milton’s view of the church as a textual community—a group of participants in the church who are each guided by the Holy Spirit in their reading of the Word. The interplay of silence and the Word, then, in Paradise Regained demonstrates that interpretive authority must always defer to the Spirit rather than tradition. This approach also shapes Milton’s construction of ministry, liturgy, and church militancy in the poem. Simpson’s provocative and unique examination of Milton and Paradise Regained will become an indispensable study, offering new views of this somewhat neglected poem.
Deity, Discourse, and Heresy in the Miltonic Canon
In lively, forceful, and at times witty language, Michael Lieb has written an illuminating study of the figure of God as a literary character in the writings of John Milton. Milton’s God has always been a provocative and controversial figure, and Lieb offers a fresh way to look at the relationship between the language of theology and the language of poetry in Milton’s works. He draws into the discussion previous authors on the subject—Patrides, Hunter, Kelley, Empson, Danielson, Rumrich, and others—resulting in a dynamic debate about Milton’s multifarious God. By stressing God’s multivalent qualities, Theological Milton offers an innovative perspective on the darker side of the divinity. Lieb allows us to see a Miltonic God of hate as well as a God of love, a God who is a creator as well as a destroyer. Lieb directly confronts the more troubling faces of God in a manner richly informed by Milton’s own theology. Against the theoretical framework for the idea of addressing God as a distinctly literary figure, Lieb presents Milton in the historical milieu prior to and contemporaneous with his works. More cogently than others, Lieb clarifies Milton’s theology of the godhead and the various heresies, such as Socinianism and Arianism, that informed the religious controversies of the seventeenth century. He does so in a manner that exemplifies how literature and theology are inextricably intertwined.
Recent John Milton scholarship has seen a revival of interest in the practice of close reading: historically and theoretically informed attention to the author’s poetic and rhetorical style. Responding to this emerging trend, To Repair the Ruins examines how close reading functions as an act of recovery, an attempt to close the gap between past and present, or as an act of repair that uses the past to reenvision a ruined or fallen present. In this volume’s 12 essays, esteemed scholars offer fresh perspectives on the significance of close reading for Milton criticism, presenting both new topics in Milton studies and new ways to read and think about previously considered topics. Part 1 of the book calls for revival—for a return to close reading, an exploration of Milton’s undervalued Latin poems, and a reexamination of neglected aspects of Paradise Lost. Part 2 analyzes Milton’s understanding of inward experience and the relationship between reading, self-reflection, and action. Part 3 explores the historical record—medieval Catholicism, Milton’s biography, and seventeenth century religious conflicts—to shed light on forgotten or obscured details central to the meaning of particular texts. Finally, part 4 assesses not merely the author’s reception history, but also the ways in which Milton’s work has been used to address the concerns and even amend the problems of later readers—from politicians to visual artists to prisoners. Each chapter, in one way or another, attempts to bridge the gap between literary and historical studies—between the delight we may take in the beauty, in the unstable, sometimes bewildering proliferation of meanings we encounter in a poem, and the worldly commitments of an author trying to prosecute arguments in a world of policy and ideological or theological conflict. A significant contribution to Milton studies, To Repair the Ruins will also be of interest to scholars concerned with general discussions of close reading, as well as Protestant revisionist poetics, art, environment, and devotional practice.
Concepts and Themes in Emmanuel Levinas
Unlike many recent studies that have purported to examine the scope of Levinas’s thinking, Toward the Outside is distinguished by its attention to texts from both of Levinas’s two main genres: the philosophical and the confessional. Organized into three parts, the first examines key pairs of concepts—totality/infinity, same/other, saying/said, among others. Smith demonstrates a keen attunement to the development of Levinas’s thought as an overall philosophical trajectory. In part 2, Smith more explicitly identifies themes that are essential to our better understanding of Levinas—Judaism and the Holocaust, temporality, Levinas’s treatment of Husserl and Heidegger, Derrida’s reading of Levinas, and others. Finally, in part 3, his commentary, based on close readings of selected Levinas texts, meticulously follows and highlights the development of Levinas’s thought.
Studies in Shakespeare, Spenser, Jonson, and Donne
Deconstructionist critics have argued that literary works contain conflicting or contradictory meanings, thus creating an aporia, or impasse, that prevents readers from interpreting the work. Here, however, Murray Roston offers detailed and essentially new analyses of works by Shakespeare, Spenser, Jonson, and Donne, arguing that the seemingly contradictory presence of traditional and subversive elements in their major works actually creates the source of much of their literary achievement. Chapters explore The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Faerie Queene, Volpone, and the Meditations of John Donne, highlighting the creative tension between centripetal and centrifugal factors (borrowing Bakhtin’s terms). As Roston demonstrates, this tension exists in a variety of genres, including poetry, epic and drama, and even in religious prose-which, he acknowledges, might be thought to be exempt from such inner conflict because of its doctrinal and theological focus. The tension between tradition and subversion, both linguistic and cultural, then, can be seen to produce not aporia in any negative sense, but a positive complexity of response from the audience, animating and profoundly enriching each work. In The Merchant of Venice, for example, Shakespeare merges the previously despised figure of the merchant with a Christ-like figure, brilliantly reasserting the Christian condemnation of profiteering while simultaneously advocating its seeming opposite, a validation of the burgeoning mercantile activity of the Renaissance. Tradition and Subversion in Renaissance Literature is a thoughtful study, rich in both historical scholarship and in its survey of modern criticism. Even those who are quite familiar with the texts discussed here will find Roston’s focus on the tension between maintaining the expectations of the culture and pulling toward new ideas an illuminating way to freshly consider these literary works.
Bergson, Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur in Search of Time, Self, and Meaning
If there is a topic that sends chills up the spine of serious philosophers, scientists and poets alike, it is the topic of time. Simone Weil once wrote that time is the most tragic subject human beings can think about. Time is tragic on two counts. First, philosophically, we are unable to conceive of time in its totality. Second, our need to understand time beyond a mere speculation of its nature is driven by the undeniable reality of our mortal lives. It is the bane of human existence to see our lives as finite when contrasted to the age of stars and cosmic realities. This contrast fuels much of our existential angst to question our nature, understand ourselves and search for meaning.
Tricks of Time invites readers into the labyrinthine discussions of time, self and meaning under the auspices of three thinkers: Henri Bergson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Paul Ricoeur. Dubbed by Mark Muldoon “the masters of disruption,” the work of each philosopher is highlighted to show how each “disrupts” “clock time,” drawing out and reclaiming aspects of our humanity neglected in systems that treat time merely as chronology. Outside of Augustine perhaps, no other set of philosophers in any particular school or epoch has offered us such a diverse and unique series of attempts to respond to the question: “What is time?” While not working in tandem, or even necessarily following one another’s leads, but sharing the same French cultural and philosophical climate, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur aptly reveal how interrogating the present constantly intercepts any neat and efficient closure to defining the self and meaning.
Following the lead of Ricoeur’s central thesis, that time only becomes human to the extent that it is articulated through a narrative mode, Muldoon identifies unquestionable hints of the link between time and narrative in both Bergson and Merleau-Ponty. While the struggle with language is evident in each of these thinkers, the importance they accord it is striking. Each of their contributions is novel and unique, leading us to take Ricoeur’s claim seriously—namely, that time cannot, ultimately, be thought, it can only be lived and our lives recounted.
Heidegger, Ricoeur, and Derrida on Disclosure and Displacement
Throughout the history of philosophy, the truth of language has often been considered from the perspective of the distinction between language that serves the transparency and univocality to which philosophy strives and language that threatens this goal. Linguistic phenomena such as writing, metaphor, and poetic mimesis are often considered examples of the latter form, and as a result, treacherous to truth; they would exemplify the “seduction of language,” as Husserl beautifully called it. Against this background, it is remarkable that contemporary hermeneutics often inquires into the relation between truth and language by taking these seductive forms of language as a point of departure. Contemporary hermeneutics does so in order to provide a new understanding of truth and untruth in relation to language.
In this study, Gert-Jan van der Heiden shows that this hermeneutic understanding of the relation between truth, untruth, and language can be clarified by inquiring into the meaning of two notions: disclosure and displacement. Unconcealment and hiding, truth and untruth, disclosure and displacement are the key notions to understanding the various conceptions of language in contemporary approaches to hermeneutics in continental philosophy. By painting a picture of the different meanings of these concepts in the work of Heidegger, Ricoeur, and Derrida, illuminating the differences and affinities of their respective projects, he finds an original way of showing how these three thinkers mutually discuss the relation between truth and language.
The Truth (and Untruth) of Language also confirms Heidegger’s continued influence in contemporary debates by tracing the influence of his account of the disclosure and displacement of language in the reigning schools of hermeneutical thought in continental philosophy. As a result, he offers a clear account of the comparison between hermeneutics and deconstruction by elucidating Ricoeur and Derrida’s shared resource of Heidegger’s project.
“Van der Heiden clearly locates the problem of language around its double ability to disclose the essence of things and displace the essence of things. No one has penetrated the Heidegger hinge between Ricoeur and Derrida as much as van der Heiden has.” — Leonard Lawlor, Edwin Erie Sparks Professor of Philosophy, Penn State University
Volume 3 [Samson Agonistes]
Over a span of three centuries, scholarly work dedicated to Milton’s Samson Agonistes has gradually evolved, reflecting changing critical interpretations within historical contexts. This variorum edition of the poem, the first since 1809, gathers together all significant contributions to understanding Milton’s dramatic poem that were published between 1671 and 1970.
This Variorum Commentary is an indispensable reference tool and opens up fresh lines of inquiry. Simply the most comprehensive, detailed, and expansive exploration of Samson Agonistes' critical history, this book is an essential tool for anyone interested in Milton and one of his greatest poetic works.