Saturday, 01 April 2006

News of Absolutely No Interest to Academics Who Read or Write Blogs; or, Really, When I Say "Uninteresting" I Mean It Deep in the heart of Irvine an index finger hovers over the "Submit" button on the MLA's online Special Session proposal page. He owes it to her and him and him to press it. But he can't. Scott: Must . . . press . . . submit. Scott's Nagging Fears: Don't do it! It's not perfect yet. Scott's Beleaguered Practical Side: The deadline's tomorrow! Scott's Nagging Fears: Press that button and it's over. No more revision. There's always tomorrow. Scott's Beleaguered Practical Side: There certainly is. But Scott should spend it finishing his chapter, not agonizing over the parallelism of a clause in his proposal. Scott's Nagging Fears: But they will hate him for his faulty parallelism! They will laugh unto tears and without cessation for months until they die painful dehydrated deaths! Scott's Beleaguered Practical Side: No, they won't. Scott's Nagging Fears: Yes, they will. Scott's Beleaguered Practical Side: No. They won't! Scott's Nagging Fears: Yes. They will! Scott's Beleaguered Practical Side: NO THEY WON'T! Scott's Nagging Fears: YES THEY WILL! Scott: Will you two zip it already? I'm going to hit send. Scott's Nagging Fears: No, you won't. Scott: Yes, I will. Scott's Nagging Fears: No. You won't! Scott: Yes. I will! Scott's Nagging Fears: NO YOU WON'T! Scott: YES I WILL! (presses "Submit") Ha! Scott's Nagging Fears: You're gonna regret that. Scott: Maybe . . . but wait until word gets out about this panel. It will be the talk of the blogosphere for hours. Scott's Beleaguered Practical Side: You tell 'em! Scott: No one will have anything else to talk about. They'll all wish they could be in Philadelphia next December! They'll go out of their way to make sure they're there for THE GREATEST EVENT IN BLOGOSPHERIC HISTORY. Scott's Beleaguered Practical Side: Yeah! Scott: Yeah! Scott's Nagging Fears: Like this changes anything. They all still hate you . . .
New New Historicism: A Primer Today seems to be the day I hit publish on all those lists I've been compiling. So for all of you future historicists out there, I present to you a list of works which will introduce you to exciting world of literary historicism. I'll begin with what a less careful chap would call "prehistoricism." These works posit a naive relation of historical moment to literary production; that said, they exhibit a thoroughness which many works of new historicism would (often proudly and willfully) lack: The New History: Essays Illustrating the Modern Historical Outlook, James Harvey Robinson America's Coming of Age , Van Wyck Brooks "On Creating a Usable Past," Van Wyck Brooks On Native Grounds , Alfred Kazin Love and Death in the American Novel , Leslie Fiedler They are all men, yes, and American exceptionalists at that. I could list many more such men—including important ones like Charles Beard and F.O. Matthiessen—but the point I wish to make with this list is that dry, empty formalism was not the only available mode of literary scholarship in the years before and of New Critical dominance. Now let's move to some of the theoretical influences of the New Historicists: "Linguistics and Literary Theory," Leo Spitzer, trans. Michel Foucault "Philology and Weltliteratur," Erich Auerbach, trans. Marie and Edward Said "The Thinking of Thoughts," Gilbert Ryle "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture," Clifford Geertz Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality , Michel Foucault Note the emphasis on late Foucault. New Historicists think less about the repressiveness of power and more about the organization and channeling of it. Note, however, the conspicuous absence of the Annales school. As constructed from these particular sources, New Historicism embraced a radical perspective on the events and narratives they purported to explain. Despite the attempt to distance themselves from the "stuffy" historians of the first half of the century, in the end they had far more in common with the Progressive School of historiography than they're wont to admit. The historicism I espouse fails all sorts of political tests. It does not attempt to the advance the cause of the working class. It bombs every test of direct social effect one could throw at it. It is more interested in an account of what happened and why and how than in tracking the flow of power at a particular moment in order to liberate contemporary readers from said moment's social or political bequest. But if one is to be an historicist today one must be familiar with that form of historicism and should therefore read: The New Historicism , H. Aram Vesser Seminal, that is. It addresses most of the aforementioned works . . . only in a way that makes one wonder whether there isn't some unstated principle of selection at work. The collection's triumphalist tone remains clarion-loud throughtout with one exception. I implore you to read the entirety of the book from which that exception is excerpted: The New Historicism and Other...

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