The New Historicism
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Following Clifford Geertz and other cultural anthropologists, the New Historicist critics have evolved a method for describing culture in action. Their "thick descriptions" seize upon an event or anecdote--colonist John Rolfe's conversation with Pocohontas's father, a note found among Nietzsche's papers to the effect that "I have lost my umbrella"--and re-read it to reveal through the analysis of tiny particulars the motive forces controlling a whole society. Contributors: Stephen J. Greenblatt, Louis A. Montrose, Catherine Gallagher, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Gerald Graff, Jean Franco, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Frank Lentricchia, Vincent Pecora, Jane Marcus, Jon Klancher, Jonathan Arac, Hayden White, Stanley Fish, Judith Newton, Joel Fineman, John Schaffer, Richard Terdiman, Donald Pease, Brooks Thomas.
but are inevitably subject to political constraints. All constructions of literary histories are political, and many new historicists consider it their responsibility ro redress past political inequities by giving representation to those previously excluded. As imponant and valuable as these efforts are to make literary histories more representative, one difficulty with them is obvious. If all acts of representation are structurally dependent on misrepresentation, these new histories inevitably
ideologies are produced and sustained, and by which they may be conte-sted; the patterns of consonance and connadiction among the values and interests of a given individual, as these are acrualized in the shihing conjunctures of various subject positions--as, for example, intellectual worker, academic professional, and gendered domestic, social, political and economic agent. My point is not that .. The New Historicism"' as a definable project, or the work of specific individuals identified by
pan of individual or collective human subjeas. 11 .. Subject," Tht Poetics arrd Politic.s of Culture 21 a simultaneously grammatical and political term, has come into widespread use nm merely as a fashionable synonym for "The Individual" but precisely in ordrr to emphasize that individuals and the very concept of "The lndivid~ ual" are historically constituted in language and society. The freely self~ creating and world-creating Individual of so~called bourgeois humanism isat least, in
Institute session "Romanticism Reconsidered"-officially signaled the recovery of Romantic discourse from a long night of critical and ideological marginality. By this time Frye had used Blake to rewrite T.S. Eliot into the spiritual democracy of The Anatomy of Criticism, while powerful new readings of Wordswonh's Prelude were being prepared to focus critics on the modernity of Romantic consciousness.' But it may have been M.H. Abrams's English Institute paper "English Romanticism: The Spirit of
cutting through the morbid tissues, of the social anatomy" (454). And as their an is hygienic, so are their bodies: .. The hall was not full of halffeminine masculine revolutionaries and half-masculine feminine rebels. They were neat, had no posrures and poses" (456). Many years later, interviewed in 1973, Stead denied any identification with the contemporary women's liberation movement: .. It's eccentric. It's not a genuine movement. It's totally, purely middle class. •" Nonetheless, I think any