Tuesday, 30 October 2007

"Classic" Acephalous: You Make Me Uncomfortable with Your Words and What You Say A slightly redacted version of my favorite student complaint ever: My Teacher, I appreciate you taking your inconvenience to instruct us but I really had some problems in your class and I would like to explain them to you now. Every day I wanted to discuss with you about the way you grade my papers and the way you teach the class, but I could not because the things you say in class and your words disturb me so much I can not. You make me completely uncomfortable with the little things you say in the class like how you talk about television or how you talk about when you are grading our papers and trying to be fair. You do not seem to care about our grades only that they are up to your too high standards and I can not talk to you because you make me completely uncomfortable. For example, you say you will talk to us about our grades but you really will not because of how uncomfortable you make me feel with your words and what you say. I will plan to contest the grade you have given me in this class when I get it because I know it will be much higher with any other teacher. I am a very religious man and you are not a bad person but you do not choose your words with enough care like a teacher should. You try to be objective and the very attempt becomes your flaw because you try so hard to grade fairly and comment wisely that you become biased to your own ideas. You criticize our writings because we are college students and young but do not realize that you offend most of us when you do this. I am always offended when I go to your class and have been on many occasions but I never tell you of my offense because you make me completely uncomfortable so I never say a word. You like to lead discussions and that is bad because it is the entire means by which we learn but we do not know what you want from us on our papers. I have honestly no idea what I learned from you in this class because so much time was spent discussing the tiny details in the passages in the book and so if I learned anything it is how to read things in too much detail. I could have read books in too much detail on my own but that is not what I came to college to do because I already know how to read and I would have told you this but you make me completely uncomfortable with your words so I never said a word. By doing this you give us no guidance on our papers. I thought it was lame that you decided to show a movie and a cop out because you chose not to give us any instruction. I know that...
"Classic" Acephalous: The 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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