reading quiz 1

How ya’ll feeling about this test? I’m real real nervous cause I don’t really understand what the hell is going on. Maybe I should be more focused in my reading, it’s hard to understand though.

This looming quiz has caused me so much stress, I think once I begin to study more closely I won’t feel as anxious. I’m thinking of rereading the work to get a better understanding, what ya’ll think? Can we make this post a place to help each other study? Like a back and forth to clarify what’s happening in the reading? Also, any tips for taking this reading quiz?

Absolutely asking for myself.

This is me definitely trying to couch my desire for a shared study space in Milton somehow connecting to my real life. I could write another super long post about his privilege but I’l give ya’ll a break today. And also myself cause this quiz go the like //:

You are so gifted and Milton is a joke

I’m back with more hyper critical analysis of Milton as a pillar of literature. Here we go.

I once saw this post that was written by WoC who, at an event, was trying to explain what she did for a living. As she was trying to describe that she was essentially a writer, another woman there reminded her there are many mediocre white men writing and labeling themselves writers so she, who is much more talented, should as well. And here we reach Milton.

I was really struck the other day when the professor was talking about how Milton felt his talent for writing poetry was so supreme that it was a gift directly from god that must be exercised. Like, wow. I was gagged to say the least. I think I’ve mentioned how I sometimes find myself writing as many of my peers do as well. Although we all write, how many of us actually refer to ourselves this way?

I’m not sure if you have to be a huge piece of trash to think your writing is something that must be done in order to give to the masses or if it’s the level of confidence I should aspire to. I think there’s a real level of illusion you have to subscribe to in order to think of yourself this way. Not because of an absence of talent but because there were/are so many more talented writers whose work has been soooo much more important who have never seen themselves in this way. At the very least, not publicly where there is a record of this sentiment centuries later.

I’m wondering why so many of us are fearful to call ourselves what we are, at our core, despite what capitalist job we are forced to work. Like, we are writers, not food workers, not retail workers, not our desk jobs. Yet, we hesitate to unabashedly recognize and point to this talent while others around us, mostly anglo men, are like yah I’m a writer when their work is so much less intricate than our own.

As I’m writing this I’m realizing more and more this post is really just me wanting to encourage y’all writers to refer to yourselves that way. Your talent is important and I see you for the work you are and even the work you haven’t done, don’t feel motivated to do; I see you for who you can be, and others do, too.

CALL YOURSELF A WRITER!!! Milton literally considered himself and his abilities a gift from god, you are 100000% more capable and powerful than he ever was. Please recognize your talent <3 <3 <3

Milton… a classic??? WHOSAIDTHAT

I’m sure ya’ll are tired of my Milton-adjacent posts but I can promise ya’ll aren’t half as tired as I am of Milton himself and it’s only week 4(?).

Today I’d like to consider who in the hell made Milton the literary hero he apparently is. Who decided his work was the treasure we are being brainwashed to believe he is? Obviously, other white men, but who were these people and who hurt them so they read epic poetry in difficult english for entertainment? I think the answer to both questions is white men who enjoy gate keeping and preserving the false sense of tradition and whiteness. Let me explain.

Who was reading Milton’s work at this time? Only other elites who would have had access to education, which, I’m assuming, would be a small portion of the entire population. And these men probably enjoyed this work because it was reminiscent of the work done by the people they were most likely taught to emulate in school as in other white elites. Or religious personnel who might have had access to education that way. They are the same men whose grandsons and great grandsons have made the decision to canonize other mediocre writers like Mark Twain, Herman Melville, and all those other white men whose names I purposefully forget.

I think this gatekeeping has been an important tool in colonization (duh, my fave) and also in moving western “culture” in the way of whiteness as rightness. If our idea of classics is so narrow, we can’t ever imagine anything outside of what we have been presented. And that is also a form of violence and oppression. And I’m tired of it.

milton as a woman

Recently for another class, I’ve read Virginia Woolf’s A room of one’s own. In the lecture she talks about a hypothetical sister Shakespeare might have had and how different their lives would have been purely based on their sex. Using this same technique, I thought maybe I could bring the same awareness to Milton’s own privilege. Imagine Miltonette, Milton’s older or younger sister just as talented in her poetic abilities. Except maybe Miltonette would become a wife instead of studying around Europe after her potential education, which is pretty doubtful in the first place. When she marries, she will immediately bear children for her husband’s name to pass on through the achievements her husband is able to produce. Meanwhile, her talents continue to smolder under her motherly, wifely being, untapped and truly overflowing with potential that will never be realized in the daylight beyond a possible occasional tap on the back by close friends or relatives. In Woolf’s example, Shakespeare’s sister eventually commits suicide because of the supreme unhappiness she feels as a stagnant artist whose life has been filled with socially acceptable womanly roles.

I guess my point here is another angle to understand Milton’s privilege; not only as a tool of colonization over PoC, but also as a white person with a penis over white people with a vagina. For those people who may have had less of a connection to the idea of Milton as a colonizer, anyways.

Writers of Color to replace milton

I was thinking in an effort to decolonize ourselves further we could create a list of better writers we could read in place of writers like Milton/Shakespeare/Chaucer. In a perfect world we could build this list together through the comments but also who has the time to comment on a post beyond participation points. I’ll just drop a couple names of some writers we could fill our time reading instead of privileged white men, feel free to add.

Maya Angelou, Gloria Anzaldua, Octavia Butler, Dolores Huerta, Assata Shakur, Patrica Khan Cullors, Frederick Douglas, Isabele Allende, Malcolm X, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alice Walker, Toni Robinson

I think the beauty of this list is that it’s full of people who have historically, and continue to be, marginalized. Yet, they developed into artists in a world that wants them to exist in shadow and have created art that reflects the experiences of so many people who have never been able to see themselves romanticized in this way. It’s a really amazing experience to read something by someone whose own life reflects yours.

At the risk of becoming too sappy, I’ll leave this here and *hopefully* as our frustrations grow with Milton, we can grow this list together?

These are mostly the names of people whose works I have read most recently so if some super great writer hasn’t made this list, my bad, pls add them!!

Mary Powell, Katherine Woodcock and Elizabeth Minshell

In the spirit of ignoring Milton as much as possible and also having a wealth of information about his life, I thought I’d post something about the women in his life instead. You know, to continue to promote the stories of those whose voices have been historically quieted.

A quick synopsis of Milton’s romantic life: Milton married Mary Powell in 1642 when he was 34 and she was 16 or 17, a whole child, which was not unusual at all at this time. Unfortunately, their love turned sour and Mary moved back into her family home where she stayed for three years. During this time, Milton wrote the divorce tracts which eventually legalized divorce on the grounds of incompatibility and adultery, I think. They reconciled and Mary gave birth to four children, before she died in 1652, Milton also went blind this year. In 1656 he moved on to Katherine Woodcock who later died in 1658 and whom he wrote a sonnet, To my late departed Saint. Some sources report a third marriage in 1663 to Elizabeth Minshell.

The weird part about this information is that among the handful of sites I visited to read Milton’s biography, all of them had less than a paragraph devoted to these women. Sure, the articles were written abut Milton’s life, not the lives of these women, and apparently not even about his children. But a part of me has to wonder how much each of these women influenced Milton’s work and life in general. It’s super sheisty that there’s no information about these women beyond their marriages and deaths. Was Milton a murderer??? Maybe. No one spends that much time trying to perfect poetic timing without losing at least some of their grasp on reality.

Here’s some of the sources I consulted for both this article and the extension of colonialism article from yesterday (in case ya’ll wanna spend time getting to know Milton on a more personal level)

The Biography.com Editors. “John Milton.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 15 Aug. 2019, www.biography.com/writer/john-milton.

jcj87438. “Marriage Made in Hell: John Milton’s Love for Divorce.” WTHistory, 2 Dec. 2016, ctlsites.uga.edu/whatthehistory/marriage-made-in-hell-john-miltons-love-for-divorce/.

“John Milton Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, www.notablebiographies.com/Ma-Mo/Milton-John.html.

Labriola, Albert C. “John Milton.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Apr. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/John-Milton/Divorce-tracts.

Milton as an extension of colonialism

In order to better understand Milton I read several articles dedicated to his privileged life. I now have more information about Milton’s life than I ever wanted. He was born into hella privilege which allowed him to study under private tutors until his admittance into a private school. He had so much privilege, in fact, that after he graduated from that school in his early twenties, he took a tour of Europe on his family’s dime and only returned because of the looming threat of  the English civil war. He allegedly met Galileo during this tour which he references in some of his work and married three separate times, all to women much younger than himself that birthed several of his children. Eventually, he went totally blind and then later died. I can’t say his life was particularly challenging although it was, without a doubt, full of its own challenges, I’m sure.

The thing about being an English major is that a majority of the respected writers we, as a department, are meant to cherish are anglo* men. I think the only time I’ve ever taken classes that aren’t centered on anglo male writers have been when the classes are specifically not about anglo men (i.e. ENGL353 women writers, AFAM491 black feminist thought). Those classes have been extremely rewarding, even if they weren’t specifically applicable to my own experience. I want to be in those classes, I want to know how people who have historically been disenfranchised used this colonizer language to write their own experiences. Yet, the requirements for English majors reflect an overwhelmingly anglo array of writers from “literature prior to 1700” to “literature from 1700-1945”. Those classes bore me, and maybe it’s because a lot of those writers would have hated to even look upon my non-white skin, or maybe it’s because the language is difficult to understand and fully appreciate in this 21st century (I’m looking directly into your eyes, Mark Twain), either way, they kind of really suck.

And this class is no exception: it continues to champion the anglo man whose poetic efforts were made while many PoCs were squished under the comfortability Milton and his likeness experienced, even if not directly under his knowledge. Cause that is part of the problem, too, it’s a privilege to be able to live your life under a spell of ignorance because these issues aren’t societal issues you ever have to contemplate. That isn’t to say Milton wasn’t an activist or whatever because he was extremely anti-King Chalres I, but he was an activist for only the issues that directly affected his life without taking into consideration the hardships others might be facing.

Maybe this feels kind of tangental to Milton and his poetry we’re studying but it’s a part of the larger issue of colonialism. People like Milton are celebrated for both their linguistic talent and their ability to step forward as leaders as he was largely political, many even speculate he witnessed King Charles I’s beheading. He is apparently so special that we are studying his poetry at this institution over 400 years later. Yet, I have to ask, is his work really any better than anything else written in olde English? How many of us can really understand the language in its raw, unedited form? People who have studied that sh*t, that’s who, and I definitely have not and never wanted to. But here I am being forced to learn from/about this person who is less impressive than other writers and probably more racist, after all, England was one of the leading states in enslaving Africans and pillaging and raping in the name of mother England. Maybe this sounds weirdly critical, maybe it is, but it’s also important to consider the amount of privilege this person has been afforded that a working class brown girl would be writing about him 400 years later, and let me tell you, it’s not because of his talent.

Also, I wanna say this isn’t meant to specifically target this class, I’m sure it’s gonna be great. This is about the larger picture that a very large portion of the classes English majors are required to take are anglo centered, despite both an evolving, diverse population and personal interest.

*I’m using anglo here as a broad term to categorize all white people of European lineage without acknowledgment of differing terms among specific origin groups

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