New Historicism

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  • Topic: Romanticism, New Historicism, Historicism
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Open Yale Courses http://oyc.yale.edu/transcript/469/engl-300 ENGL-300: INTRODUCTION TO
THEORY OF LITERATURE
Lecture 19 - The New Historicism [March 31, 2009]
Chapter 1. Origins of New Historicism [00:00:00]
Professor Paul Fry: So today we turn to a mode of doing literary criticism which was extraordinarily widespread beginning in the late seventies and into the eighties, called the New Historicism. It was definable in ways that I'll turn to in a minute and, as I say, prevalent to a remarkable degree everywhere. It began probably at the University of California at Berkeley under the auspices, in part, of Stephen Greenblatt, whose brief essay you've read for today. Greenblatt and others founded a journal, still one of the most important and influential journals in the field of literary study, calledRepresentations--always has been and still is an organ for New Historicist thought. It's a movement which began primarily preoccupied with the Early Modern period, the so-called "Renaissance." The New Historicism is, in effect, responsible for the replacement of the term "Renaissance" with the term "Early Modern." Its influence, however, quickly did extend to other fields, some fields perhaps more than others. It would be, I think, probably worth a lecture that I'm not going to give to explain why certain fields somehow or another seem to lend themselves more readily to New Historicist approaches than others. I think it's fair to say that in addition to the early modern period, the three fields that have been most influenced by the New Historicism are the eighteenth century, British Romanticism, and Americanist studies from the late colonial through the republican period. That age--the emergence of print culture, the emergence of the public sphere as a medium of influence, and the distribution of knowledge in the United States--has been very fruitfully studied from New Historicist points of view. So those are the fields that are most directly influenced by this approach. When we discuss Jerome McGann's essay, you'll see how it influences Romantic studies.

Now the New Historicism was--and this probably accounts for its remarkable popularity and influence in the period roughly from the late seventies through the early nineties--was a response to an increasing sense of ethical failure in the isolation of the text as it was allegedly practiced in certain forms of literary study. Beginning with the New Criticism through the period of deconstruction, and the recondite discourse of Lacan and others in psychoanalysis, there was a feeling widespread among scholars, especially younger scholars, that somehow or another, especially in response to pressing concerns-post-Vietnam, concerns

with
globalization,
concerns
with
the
distribution
of
power
and
global
capital--all
of
these
concerns
inspired
what
one
can
only
call
a
guilt
complex
in
academic
literary
scholarship
and
led
to
a
"return
to
history."
It
was
felt
that
a
kind
of
ethical
tipping
point
had
been
arrived
at
and
that
the
modes
of
analysis
that
had
been
flourishing
needed
to
be
superseded
by
modes
of
analysis
in which
history
and
the
political
implications
of
what
one
was
doing
became
prominent
and
central.
I have to say that in debates of this kind there's always a considerable amount of hot air, perhaps on both sides. In many ways it's not the case that the so-called isolated approaches really were isolated. Deconstruction in its second generation wrote perpetually about history and undertook to orient the techniques of deconstruction to an understanding of history, just to give one example. The New Historicism, on the other hand, evinced a preoccupation with issues of form and textual integrity that certainly followed from the disciplines, the approaches, that preceded them. Also to a large degree--and 1 of 10 03/24/2012 11:47 ظ.ق

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