My Photo


  • Creative Commons License

« Temporary Comment Section for "The Best Introduction To . . . " | Main | SAT : ANALOGY :: »

Saturday, 01 April 2006


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Why not just read the entire run of Representations?

(And, Annales aside if you so wish, what about those Europeans and Europeanists: The Great Cat Massacre, The Cheese and the Worms.)

T. Scrivener

Someone should do one of these lists for analytic philosophy.

Jake - but not the one

Scott, it's interesting how events conspire to make sense.

I am in the midst of a discussion in another place about historicism, starting with Hegel, taking a major stop at Marx, and then moving on to Fukuyama. Now I think I understand that the New New Historicism is largely about literature, but I don't really have a solid grasp on that part.

Or much else, either.

So, is the New New Historicism about literature, or philosophy?

Keep it simple, Scott. I don't think I'm that bright (anymore).



Historicism was the prevailing mode of literary criticism (philology) for a very long time. My advisor, for instance, has told me of feeling oppressed by it at Harvard in the 50s. It's never excluded formal concerns as such, and I'd suggest that it has remained the default for the majority of literary scholarship ever published, which incorporates theoretical fashion very slowly, if at all.

Jake - but not the one

Philology? What do stamps have to do with anything?


Tom Perrin

-- and just when I'm compiling my orals lists too. This is the most useful thing ever!

Scott Eric Kaufman

Jon, reading the run of Representations would ably introduce one to New Historicism, but it wouldn't say much about the state of historicism today. For example, even Greenblatt's Will in the World--granted, intended for popular consumtion--disavows many of the interpretive moves which informed, say, Renaissance Self-Fashioning. Also, reading the Vesser gives one a healthy dose of those early Representation articles. Now, I should add that I'm not tossing Annales aside here; in fact, were this to be a more idiosyncratic list, i.e. what thought informs Scott's particular idea of historicism, the Annales school would be front-and-center, since methodologically I situate myself somewhere in the tension between Foucauldian discourse and la longue durée. But I wanted this to be a more general list.

Someone should do a list for analytic philosophy. Someone should also add analytic philosophy and some of its major subsects to the list he posted yesterday, and will.

Jake, yes, I limited this to literary studies because, well, because I'm neither a philosopher nor an historian. However, the absence of German Historismus/Geschichtswissenschaft from the American historicist tradition is the subject of the second chapter of Brook Thomas' New Historicism and Other Old-Fashioned Topics; and a few of the essays in the Vesser anthology specifically tackle the relation of literary historicism to Marxism. The point being, then, that both must be brought to bear on the American historicist tradition from the outside because they don't constitute its foundation.

I wouldn't consider philology coterminus with historicism, Jonathan. I agree with the general sentiments you've expressed--in that they're the reason for I included that first group, dispelling the idea of New Critical hegemony in literary studies--but I don't think you can draw a direct line from philology to historicism, if only because the historicism of, say, the '10s and '20s set itself up as opposed to the philological approaches. Someone like Van Wyck Brooks or Matthiessen or Parrington can't be seen as philological in any sense of the word; they can, however, be considered historicists and/or early American Studies (which is exactly what Leo Marx'll call 'em in the '50s). The best place for a brief history of all this (for those interested) would be Graff's Professing Literature.


They are OED 1 if not 4.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Surely you mean OED 1 ("Love of learning and literature; the branch of knowledge that deals with the historical, linguistic, interpretative, and critical aspects of literature; literary or classical scholarship") if not OED 3 ("The branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of languages or language families; the historical study of the phonology and morphology of languages; historical linguistics")?


I'm talking about "conterminous," not "philology."

Scott Eric Kaufman

You mean OED 1 ("Having a common boundary, bordering upon [each other]") if not OED 3b. ("Exactly coextensive in time, range, sense, etc.")? I'm still not clear that's the case, however; since I'm not sure what border they'd have in common, whereas I am sure they coextensive (albeit, perhaps not "exactly") in time.

Scott Eric Kaufman

To return to the point at hand, Jonathan, do you think the list reasonable and unidiosyncratic? I'm aiming for something of real usefulness here; also, I probably should add something like Professing Literature to it so as help better contextualize (esp. the early) history.


Not to be deflationary... but isn't 'historicism' really just anything that doesn't take natural right as a point of departure? The point being, of course, that the term doesn't do anything except rhetorically. (c.f., Leo and the Straussians.) That is to say, Nietzsche and Hegel are equally "historicist".

(To continue rattling on about Foucault -- the works of the mid-seventies aren't 'late'. 'Late' Foucault refers to the ethical period. The so-called 'final Foucault', whose 'finality' is easily disputed given that he died thus imposing the idea of 'finality' upon what he was doing at the time. The works of the mid-seventies are usually periodized as 'genealogical' in opposition to the earlier 'archaeological' works.)

Scott Eric Kaufman

Craig, I'm not understanding where you're coming from in that first sentence. I think we may be operating with an entirely different set of presuppositions which ought to be hashed out before we continue. Case in point: "late Foucault." Here's an excerpt from a June 2005 article in Foucault Studies which conforms to my post-D & P thinking on the matter:

The “late Foucault” is probably one of the most widely discussed topics in research published on Foucault. A popular view on this late period holds that at some point in his oeuvre, Foucault turned away from analysing the power/knowledge mechanisms that fabricate subjects, and turned to analysing how subjects constitute themselves. (emphasis mine)

That's from Harrar's "The Theme of Subjectivity in Foucault's Lecture Series L'herméneutique du sujet." Admittedly, I grabbed that off of Google, but it does accord with my definition and it is in Foucault Studies, so I can't be the only one who thinks this. I mean, yes, I understand the genealogical/archeological distinction, &c.


Scott: referring to D&P and HSI, you wrote, "Note the emphasis on late Foucault." These aren't 'late' works -- they are the 'middle' or 'genealogical' works. Take the following as examples, from the copy on Taylor & Vintages, Feminism and the Final Foucault:

"This collection is a useful and insightful connection between Foucault's later work on the self and feminist focus on the political nature of the personal. It is sure to be of great interest both to feminists and Foucault scholars." - Jon Simons

"Michel Foucault's influence on feminist theory and practice is probably as great as that of any intellectual figure of the twentieth century. But to this point feminists have drawn mainly from his 'middle works' such as Discipline and Punish and the first volume of The History of Sexuality. Like many others, feminist thinkers have not been as readily able to recognize the theoretical and political significance of Foucault's later works. [...]" - Melissa Orlie

Standard periodization is as follows:

(1) 'Early' - History of Madness
(2) 'Archaeological' - Order of Things, Archaeology of Knowledge
(3) 'Genealogical' - Discipline and Punish and HSI
(4) 'Late'/'Final'/'Ethical' - HSII, HSIII

"Hermenutics of the Self" is a late work. The passage you cite in reference to "Hermeneutics" refers to "power/knowledge" (i.e., the genealogical) as not being "late". The author is clearly referring to works of the eighties, such as the "Hermeneutics" lectures, as "late".

Trust me on this: D&P and HSI are most certainly not 'late' works.

(It feels strange to argue in this way about Foucault -- the guy who wrote "What is an Author?".)

Scott Eric Kaufman

You see, I did think it was a disciplinary thing: you see, as far as literary scholars are concerned, the breakdown is between 2 and 3 . . . and it maps onto the names "early" and "late." In fact, to answer your earlier question about where literary historicists find interest in Foucault, it's largely in categories 2 and 3; I know queer theorists take more from the "late" Foucault, but in discussions of his influence on the field it's typical to map "early" onto Order of Things and Archeology of Knowledge and "late" onto D & P and History of Sexuality I. At least, that's as fine a distinction as I regularly see drawn.

Or maybe this isn't a disciplinary blindspot, but my own. In which case, I need to pester some people who should know better and should have corrected me hundreds of times over the past five or six years.


The periodization I employ is the standard one among "Foucault scholars" (whatever that means), myself included. One can certainly understand the distinction vis a vis literary studies -- the more overt concern with representation and discourse versus the concern with change and power. This division, however, really does ignore a significant body of Foucault's work (not to suggest that anyone should make use of all of it), both at the beginning and the end.

In a sense, the problem of periodization and naming largely derives from Foucault. Or, perhaps I should say the Anglo-American reception of Foucault, which has been, on the whole, of a pretty low quality and standard. I say this as someone who takes Foucault seriously and who thinks that others should too. (Foucault is to me as Derrida is to Matt?)

It seems worth enquiring why people would entirely write off the ethical works -- close to a decade of work -- in what would have been, AIDS notwithstanding, one of his most productive decades... (Having said that, I find little use for myself of his late works -- OT and HSI are clearly the most important for me.)


Thanks for this Scott.


hey Scott,
I forgot to say - it'd be great to see the idiosyncratic "Scott's historicism" list at some point too. Among other things it'll help any aspiring Kaufman scholars get a leg up.

Meer Mushfique Mahmood

I think the days of Deconstruction are gone. New Historicism has started a new and perfect era in the literary criticism. But we are to be sure that whether new historicism is able answer all of the questions arised by other theories. And that's why the advent of "new new historicism" is a must with the target of making new hisroricism able to answer all of the questions thrown by the civilization.

The comments to this entry are closed.