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Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise…
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Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, 2nd Edition (original 1967; edição 1998)

por Stanley Fish (Autor)

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In 1967 the world of Milton studies was divided into two armed camps, one proclaiming that Milton was of the devil's party, the other proclaiming that the poet's sympathies are obviously with God and the angels loyal to him. The achievement of Stanley Fish's Surprised by Sin was to reconcile the two camps by subsuming their claims in a single overarching thesis: Paradise Lost is a poem about how its readers came to be the way they are and therefore the fact of their divided responses makes perfect sense. Thirty years later the issues raised in Surprised by Sin continue to set the agenda and drive debate.… (mais)
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Título:Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, 2nd Edition
Autores:Stanley Fish (Autor)
Informação:Harvard University Press (1998), Edition: 2nd, 440 pages
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Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost por Stanley Fish (1967)

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Surprised by Sin - the title is an obvious dig at C.S. Lewis, whose Introduction to Paradise Lost was one of the books that had led to the post-WWII rehabilitation of Milton - is one of those "you've all been making this too complicated: what it's really about is this..." books. Which would normally mean that it is (a) annoying and (b) misguided. To some extent it is both of those things, but it's also a book that no-one quite manages to ignore, even whilst disagreeing with it. Fish's central thesis might be a wilful oversimplification, but the evidence he marshals for it and the methods of analysis he uses really force you to read the book and pay attention to the details. Every other more recent work I've looked at so far has picked up at least one or two of the things Fish spotted in the text of PL and has taken them on in a new direction.

What every critic of PL has to deal with are the famous instabilities of the text, all the points where the poem's explicit message (as expressed e.g. in the voice of the narrator or of an authoritative character like God or Michael) fights with the less orthodox ideas that the language of the poem is suggesting to us. Most critics either assign these to Milton's subversive subconscious or tell us that they are radical ideas slipped into the text in deeply encoded form to avoid the censor; Fish argues that Milton is using a pedagogic trick that involves deliberately allowing his fallen readers to jump to the wrong conclusion, then correcting them and making them think about why they are so easily led into error, and thus ultimately giving them a better understanding of the significance of the Fall to our human existence. The Australian expression "trap for young players" sums it up perfectly...

It's a plausible argument, and it has the big advantage (in lit-crit terms) that it is self-contained, starts from the known perspective of the reader rather than the unknowable one of the author, and works without any need to bring in biographical evidence to support assumptions about what the author "intended". But it also has the big disadvantages that it relies on a completely arbitrary set of assumptions about the doctrinal position the poem is supposed to be promoting, and that it totally ignores the historical context in which the poem was written and published. And (since I'm reading this for pleasure and not as a scholar, I'm allowed to be subjective) it's totally at odds with the picture of Milton I've built up in my own mind. He is just too complex and contradictory a figure, with too many different sets of ideas playing a part in his life, to have invested the effort of dictating a 10000 line poem that reduces to a simple pulpit trick and a two-line message about faith and blind obedience to the commands of God.

I'm still glad I've read it, and there are definitely things I've learnt from it about how to read Milton (the book is worth it just for the discussion of the word "wand'ring"!), but I would be wary of taking it as the last word on "what PL is about". ( )
3 vote thorold | Apr 28, 2017 |
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In 1967 the world of Milton studies was divided into two armed camps, one proclaiming that Milton was of the devil's party, the other proclaiming that the poet's sympathies are obviously with God and the angels loyal to him. The achievement of Stanley Fish's Surprised by Sin was to reconcile the two camps by subsuming their claims in a single overarching thesis: Paradise Lost is a poem about how its readers came to be the way they are and therefore the fact of their divided responses makes perfect sense. Thirty years later the issues raised in Surprised by Sin continue to set the agenda and drive debate.

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