Wednesday, December 18, 2013

With Love, from Oxford: Social Proof UPDATE

So I did finally hear back from the illustrious William Poole of Oxford. He was surprisingly warm. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to use his feedback for the version of the paper I turned in for this class, but intend to in the revised version I hope to present at BYU's English Symposium.

See our brief exchange below...

Dr. Poole,

I’m a masters student at Brigham Young University studying John Milton. My current research project argues that the passages of Paradise Lost dealing with Babel should be read as a theodicy of God’s forcible obstruction of communication. Further, I believe contrasting Milton’s earlier claim that restricting the flow of knowledge is “contrary to the manner of God” (Areopagitica) to Book XII might offer some insight into how Milton’s views were affected by his imprisonment and the burning of his political tracts following the Restoration.

In the course of my research, I came across The Divine and the Grammarian in the 17th-Century Universal Language Movement. I’m still digesting it, but it was a fascinating read. Understanding Milton’s response to or participation in this movement would surely strengthen (or correct) my argument, but I can’t seem to find any sources on the subject. Could you point me in the right direction?

Jake Clayson

Dear Jake Clayson,

Apologies for my tardy response, but I've been very busy with interviews for the last week or so.
I'm not sure if Milton had any direct contact with the universal language movement -- most of their texts appeared after he was blind, and he was culturally and politically remote from most of its proponents, with the possible exceptions of Francis Lodwick and his friend Abraham Hill. But in terms of ideas, I think Milton would have been interested but sceptical. He would have known of discussions of the possibility of a 'real character' from Francis Bacon and probably John Wilkins's Mercury too: but my feeling is that Milton would have considered the epistemological confidence of the movement to be misplaced. The standard book on all this is Rhodri Lewis's Language, Mind and Nature: Artificial Languages in England from Bacon to Locke. Have a look at that and see where it gets you. 

Good luck with your research!
All best,

Will Poole

Babblers vs. Nimrods: Milton on Gods Gatekeeping Ethics

Here's my final research paper. I plan to submit it to the 2014 English Symposium, “Mightier than the Sword: The Power of Literature and Literacy,” so please feel free to send any critique you may have my way.

A Teaser...

For many historians, the pamphlet wars of the seventeenth century largely define the English Revolution as the first modern revolution “complete with a nascent public sphere, people beginning to perceive themselves as public actors, and, most importantly, a free press that empowered both” (Wheeler 340). It was in this context that Milton’s political pamphlets—including Areopagitica, which defends the very principles the seventeenth-century pamphleteering depended on—was published. The novelty of widespread, printed public debate was not lost on those of Milton’s era. Bookseller George Thomason, Milton’s friend, collected some 22,000 pamphlets 
and other publications between 1640 and 1660 to commemorate their historical significance (Pooley 231). In contrast, Royalist detractors—publishing their criticism in pamphlets, ironically—often used post-Babel babble as a symbol for the budding public sphere and to “restore authority to the King’s language” (Holston 18).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My final paper: A reflection

Before I go off on explaining my process for finally getting my act together and completing this final essay, I do just want to make it clear that I really did learn a lot in this class.  I greatly enjoyed the class discussions, and I feel that I gained a better understanding of how to read and analyze poetry.  I think I understand a little better just why so many Romantic poets absolutely loved Milton.

This is the story of how I finally completed my final paper the hard way.  As many in the class may have noticed, I missed a number of classes, which certainly didn’t help my ability to keep up with the reading and writing load.  I fell way behind in completing this essay, which is why it was turned in late.  Truth be told, I felt kind of swamped by the material—I mean, how do you come up with anything remotely original to say about an author who people have been debating for nearly 400 years?  As such, I felt like I was at a bit of a loss to come up with anything.  I was, however, drawn to the idea of looking first at Milton and Oliver Cromwell, specifically at the idea of Cromwell as inspiration for Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost.  I even wrote a short essay on that subject, which you might now recognize as forming a portion of my final essay.

Final Paper: Ambitions and Passivity: An Examination of Milton and his Works in the Light of Revolution

Here is my final paper.

There once was a paper...

So, here is the finished product of my paper: Ta-Da! I had a wonderfully positive experience researching and writing it. I think the most fun I had was through networking. Figuring out that there were people on the other side of the country (or planet as the case may be) who were not only interested in what I was interested in, but also interested in how my ideas developed. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way...

The world is a very non-linear place. I'm not sure when I first realized this fact, but here are the top three BYU experiences (listed in no particular order) that most impressed that fact on me:
  • Watching Kurosawa's Rashomon at BYU's International Cinema as an undergrad
  • Discovering the art of the personal essay as Pat Madden read Asymptosy in the Harold B. Lee Library
  • Reading, researching, and writing about Paradise Lost
 Very little went as I imagined it would. I took the class because I wanted to read Milton's grand epic, but found myself most excited when we picked up Areopagitica. I suppose the libertarian literature/media I've been ingesting over the past few years got me primed for Milton's views on gatekeeping, intellectual freedom, etc. Initially, I figured I'd pursue what Chelsea later delved deep into (Snowden and all). But after some conversations with Greg, Google, Gideon, and (of all people) one of the masterminds at More Good Foundation, I thought very seriously about applying Areopagitica to the present shifts in LDS public relations and CES policies (see: Mormopagitica).

In retrospect, I think I would have enjoyed following the Mormon rabbit further down the rabbit hole, and almost wish I could have a do-over. But when I sat down to write the shorter writing assignment (which, like Greg, I found invaluable), I felt a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of wrapping my head around such a multifaceted issue without the benefit of three-hundred years worth of historians winnowing away at the facts. And I was becoming enamored by both the harmony and dissonance I saw between Areopagitica and Paradise Lost. Specifically, I was fascinated by the fact that Milton decries forcible gatekeeping in Areopagitica as contrary to "the manner of God and nature," but saw a God who Paradise Lost who proscribed the spread of knowledge in a variety of ways. I couldn't help but ask why Milton would have reversed this claim after being so unjustly censored and imprisoned by the restored monarchy.

Ironically, as I started to research in earnest, I found myself connecting much more frequently in person than online. I think what I appreciated about face-to-face social research was how quickly I was able to get social proof each time. Whether it was a chat with Greg as we crossed campus after class, an intrusion on Gideon or Jason Kerr in their respective offices, or conversation with fellow graduate instructors in the carrels of the JFSB, conversing real-time gave me the chance to instantly pick up some new insight and gauge (sometimes through non-verbal feedback) whether I was on track.

Adventures in Miltonland

We made it! Hooray!

To say I'm completely satisfied with my final paper would be a stretch, but I tend to never be satisfied with my final product when writing a research paper. Always one more thing to add or change to make it better. However, one of the things that strengthened my paper and guiding it to where it ended up was the specific research approaches we took in this class. The process to write this paper was very refreshing, and I even used similar strategies to write a Poe-Hitchcock comparison paper for another class in which I was struggling to find sources for. It was quite the journey, and a good one too.