Over the past 30 years, when wanting any literary criticism I have found myself returning to the great classics of the mid-last century - books such as J.F. Danby`s Shakespeare`s Doctrine of Nature or Caroline Spurgeon`s Shakespeare`s Imagery. Deliberate obfuscation has long overtaken contemporary criticism, with the exception of pioneering all-encompassing masterpieces like Norman O. Brown`s Love`s Body & Life against Death.
So it was with a sense of real intellectual excitement that I began to read Sanford Budick`s volume Kant & Milton (Harvard UP, 2010). Here at long last is a book that sets the philosophical gelignite fizzing beneath the negative judgments of Messrs T.S. Eliot and Leavis who dislodged Milton from favor those many years ago. "Never trust a serious man" warned D.H. Lawrence, (and there`ve been few more serious than Lawrence himself !), but the truth is we`ve had far too many of a species that George Galloway defines as popinjays over the past half-century.
Let us recall some of the objections to Milton. For Leavis in Revaluation they were "the inescapable monotony of the ritual," and "the heavy stresses" followed up with "a foreseen thud." The upside for Milton was, as Budick remarks, there is no question of "anxiety of influence" for Milton since he imitates no one. Lessing saw Paradise Lost as the successor to the Iliad and Odyssey. And Virgil`s Aeneid could be added to the tradition defined by Kant where there is the alteration or alternation "between reality and negation...or rather a transition from one to the other, which makes every reality representable as a quantum. The schema of a reality, as the quality of something in so far as it fills time, is just this continuous and uniform production of that reality in time as we successively descend from a sensation which has a certain degree to a vanishing point, or progressively ascend from its negation to some magnitude of it."
Sanford Budick follows this from Critique of Pure Reason -"In the FINITE line of succession these representable quanta form `the successive apprehension of an object.` In the INFINITE Miltonic line of succession, we can now add, these representable quanta form, no less, the represented object."
Meier`s "energetic concepts" are thoughts in motion (see Hyatt Carter`s Thinking is the Best Way to Travel) So in Meier`s terms "every luminous concept conjointly spreads it light over those concepts which are connected to it." Or as Kant puts it his Critique of Judgment, "aesthetic ideas are those representations that contain a wealth of thoughts which ad infinitum draw after it a succession of thoughts." And Milton in Paradise Lost Book VIII: "Female light mixes itself with male light, to unknown ends" And Kant in a letter to Schiller quoted by Budick:
"fertilization...always needs two sexes in order for the species to be propagated" and ditto for thoughts to run"