A Solution without a Problem?

In the July/August edition of Poetry, Daisy Fried writes a nice little piece on reading Paradise Lost in its original form and in a recent parallel prose edition, which is offered, apparently, as “a way to deal with the epic’s difficulty” (Fried’s words). She pulls out a few clanger passages in translation to illustrate how impoverished they are (however well-meaning) next to the original poetry, which, at least in the examples she gives, isn’t really all that hard at all to read. Some passages from Fried’s short and sort of delightful article that seem relevant to much of the hoopla about how hard it is to read Infinite Jest:

Taking the Milton out of Milton emphasizes how much we need Milton’s language to create his effects.

No one ever told me Paradise Lost was difficult.

[Reading Paradise Lost] was like walking into a museum or gallery and seeing something you’ve never seen before which astonishes you. You don’t know why it does. You can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have the same reaction. Is it possible that teachers are preventing their students from seeing Milton as Milton, scaring them off, by talking too much about how much good-hearted help they’ll need to understand him?

Danielson’s Paradise Lost: Parallel Prose Edition is clearly a labor of love by someone who knows Milton.The trouble is, Danielson wants to orient rather than disorient — and that’s not Paradise Lost. It’s not what poems do… [Milton] was enacting my own disorientation. He was mattering to my life.

5 thoughts on “A Solution without a Problem?

  1. James Martin July 9, 2009 / 2:20 pm

    Paradise Lost was one of those I’ve never managed to slog through and have decided, I think, to stop trying. I like poetry, actually, and I even like some of Milton’s shorter works (e.g. “On His Blindness”), but I never had any love for this epic. Maybe something to save for my retirement? I feel vaguely guilty for writing it off.

    Speaking of which, what are we going to read after IJ, Daryl? I’m starting to dig this group reading/blogging thing.

  2. Daryl Houston July 9, 2009 / 3:08 pm

    Before I decided at the end of undergraduate study to get too big for my britches and apply only to top(ish)-notch graduate programs that rejected me, I had intended to spend my life studying the likes of Milton and, more specifically, Renaissance drama. But that didn’t pan out and here I am with a job in computers. I’ve always had a soft spot for Milton, and for Paradise Lost in particular, though. It didn’t hurt that I had an absolutely amazing professor for the Milton semester I took. I haven’t read PL in years and years, though. Maybe I need to put it back on my short-term list.

    After IJ? Wow, I dunno. I’ve been thinking of tackling Ulysses again (I’ve false-started a couple of times), and I know there’s some interest in that from some people on the wallace-l discussion list. I’ve got Suttree and Look Homeward Angel queued up, too. I’m digging the group reading/blogging thing too, though I don’t know how long I can keep it up. It’s fun but very nearly all-consuming for me. Ask me again in six weeks? 😉

  3. James Martin July 9, 2009 / 3:28 pm

    I love Renaissance drama. I did the grad school thing, and, like you, would have loved to spend a life studying fiction. But, you know, market forces and all that. So, now, I’m also in IT–a software trainer by day and an adjunct English instructor by night. But I’m lucky, really, in that training combines teaching and computer geekery, both of which I enjoy. And I get to teach American Lit II in the adjunct gig, which is pretty rare (I’d only gotten to teach composition before).

    I’m leaning toward Anna Karenina. I’ve never read it. The only Tolstoy I’ve ever read, outside of a short story or two, is The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which I liked quite a bit. But who knows. The reading blogging thing is a big time commitment. But I figure it’s just taking time I would have squandered in less worthy pursuits.

  4. Daryl Houston July 9, 2009 / 4:39 pm

    I can say honestly that it has never occurred to me to read Anna Karenina. It’s pitiful how little non-English literature I’ve read. I guess I basically increased the quantity by around 100% upon recent completion of 2666 (maybe just 50%, as I have read a little Dostoevsky, and I guess there’s Les Miserables). Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t be game for Anna Karenina.

    The thing the time commitment costs me is reading other stuff. The to-read pile is so huge and I’m so eager to read so many things that I sometimes feel compelled to sprint through one thing to get to the next. Having an excuse to slow down for Infinite Summer makes me wish I didn’t need a day job and had extra hours in the day on top of that.

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