New Historicism - Oakwood CUSD #76

New Historicism - Oakwood CUSD #76

critical theories can overlap with one another in terms of their application Marxists can draw on psychoanalytic concepts to help them analyze the debilitating effects of capitalism on peoples mental well being. Feminists can draw on Marxist concepts to examine the socioeconomic oppression of women. Queer theory can draw on deconstruction to problematize the binary constructs of gay and straight most critical theories remain distinct from one another

in terms of their purpose. Marxism attempts to reveal the ways in which our socioeconomic system is the ultimate source of our experience. Feminism attempts to reveal the ways in which patriarchal gender roles are the ultimate source of our experience. Psychoanalysis attempts to reveal the ways in which repressed psychological conflicts are the ultimate source of our experience. Structuralism attempts to reveal the simple structural systems that make possible our understanding of an otherwise chaotic world.

New Historicism Old and New Historicism Old Historicism (not a real word) Most of us are raised to think about history in the traditional way One would read an account of a Revolutionary War battle written by an American historian in 1944 and ask, if we asked anything at all, Is this account accurate? or

What does this battle tell us about the spirit of the age in which it was fought? New Historicism In contrast, a new historicist would read the same account of that battle and ask What does this account tell us about the political agendas and ideological conflicts of the culture that produced and read the account in 1944? New historical interest in the battle itself

would produce such questions as At the time in which it was fought, how was this battle represented (in newspapers, magazines, tracts, government documents, stories, speeches, drawings, and photographs) by the American colonies or by Britain (or by European countries) and what do these representations tell us about how the American Revolution shaped and was shaped by the cultures that represented it?

The questions asked by traditional historians and by new historicists are quite different these two approaches to history are based on very different views of what history is and how we can know it. Traditional historians ask, What happened? and What does the event tell us about history? In contrast, new historicists ask, How has the event been interpreted? and What do the interpretations tell us about the interpreters? Zeitgeist For most traditional historians, history is a series of events

that have a linear, causal relationship: event A caused event B, event B caused event C, and so on. they believe we are perfectly capable, through objective analysis, of uncovering the facts about historical events some of the most popular traditional historical accounts have offered a key concept that would explain the worldview of a given historical population such as the Renaissance notion of the Great Chain of Being the cosmic hierarchy of creation, with God at the top of the ladder, human beings at the middle, and the lowliest creatures at the bottomwhich has been used to argue that the guiding spirit of Elizabethan culture was a belief in the importance of order in all domains of human life.

Zeitgeist You can see this aspect of the traditional approach in history classes that study past events in terms of the spirit of an age, such as the Age of Reason or the Age of Enlightenment You can see it in literature classes that study literary works in terms of historical periods, such as the neoclassical, romantic, or modernist periods. traditional historians generally believe that history is progressive, that the human species is improving over the course of time, advancing in its moral, cultural, and technological accomplishments.

Its All B.S. New historicists dont believe we have clear access to any but the most basic facts of history. George Washington was the first American president This isnt even true Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. What do these facts mean? How do they fit

within the complex web of competing ideologies and conflicting social, political, and cultural agendas of the time and place in which they occurred ? History is strictly a matter of interpretation, not fact. Even when traditional historians believe they are sticking to the facts, the way they contextualize those facts (including which facts are deemed important enough to report and which are left out) determines what story those facts will tell.

From this perspective, there is no such thing as a presentation of facts; there is only interpretation. The first and most important reason for this difficulty, new historicists believe, is the impossibility of objective analysis. Like all human beings, historians live in a particular time and place, and their views of both current and past events are influenced in innumerable conscious and unconscious ways by their own experience within their own culture. Historians may believe theyre being objective, but their own views of what is right and wrong,

what is civilized and uncivilized, what is important and unimportant, and the like, will strongly influence the ways in which they interpret events. For example, the traditional view that history is progressive is based on the belief, held in the past by many Anglo-European historians, that the primitive cultures of native peoples are less evolved than, and therefore inferior to, the civilized Anglo-European cultures. Native Americans had at least three genders, seems pretty advanced to me, we can only handle two.

As a result, ancient cultures with highly developed art forms, ethical codes, and spiritual philosophies, such as the tribal cultures of Native Americans and Africans, were often misrepresented as lawless, superstitious, and savage. Another reason for the difficulty in producing reliable interpretations of history is its complexity. For new historicists, history cannot be understood simply as a linear progression of events. At any given point in history, any

given culture may be progressing in some areas and regressing in others. And any two historians may disagree about what constitutes progress and what doesnt, for these terms are matters of definition. That is, history isnt an orderly parade into a continually improving future, as many traditional historians have believed. Its more like an improvised dance consisting of an infinite variety of steps, following any new route at any given moment, and having no particular goal or destination.

Individuals and groups of people may have goals, but human history does not. What is New Historicism? New Historicists see literary studies, from the new criticism right on down to deconstruction, as tending to evade history or as using history only as background and context. By the new historicists account its bad to load you up on historical context before we have you read a text.

Its also bad to see history as a certain and stable set of secure facts Instead New historicists try to read history and literature together, with each influencing the other, and without a stable set of facts. History can be deconstructed just as easily as any literary text

Romeo and Juliet is about the beauty of true love! Romeo and Juliet is about a couple of overly dramatic idiot teenagers who wind up getting themselves killed over crushes! With history, just as with Literature, there are always multiple perspectives that can lead to multiple interpretations Facts arent Facts

There are ten commandments Thou shalt not mix dairy and beef! The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening Summer comes in June, July and August. Columbus discovered America in 1492 George Bush was elected President in 2000 New Historicists see themselves as recovering history for literary studies Literature comes not only from individual authors but also from the cultural controversies of an age Controversies provoke literature, the literature

interprets the controversies in a continuous cycle of exchange and influence Old historicists saw literature as merely reflecting the world New Historicists see Literature as reflecting and rethinking the rest of the world Shakespeares comedies, and other comedies of the era tend to end with characters falling in love and getting married Historian Lawrence Stone, in The Family, Sex, and

Marriage in England, 1400-1800 (1977) argued that marriages in Renaissance England came late, and were arranged (and were going to assume that hes largely accurate). For an old historicist literary critic, this is a problem, the plays and the history dont seem to match. New Historicists see text as doing more than just reproducing their surrounding culture. The plays seek to escape from established patterns The plays are a parody of established patterns The plays are a fantasy world that has little to do with daily life What do New Historicists Do?

Juxtapose literary and non-literary texts, reading the former in the light of the latter. Try to defamiliarise the canonical literary text, detaching it from the accumulated weight of previous literary scholarship and seeing as if new Focus attention (within both the text and co-text) on issues of power and how it is maintained, on patriarchal structures and their perpetuation, and on the process of colonization, with its accompanying mind-set. Make use of aspects of the post-structuralist outlook, especially Derridas notion that every facet of reality is textualized, and Foucaults idea of social structures as determined by dominant discursive practices.

In Short Parallel readings of literary and non-literary texts They dont privilege literary texts Instead they place the literary text within the frame of a non literary-text. What do the New Historicists ask? The following questions are intended to summarize approaches to literary analysis employed by new historicists, these questions offer us ways to examine the cultural work performed by literary texts. As you read these questions and imagine the ways in which a new historical critic might address them, keep in mind that, for such critics, no historical event, artifact, or ideology can be completely

understood in isolation from the innumerable historical events, artifacts, and ideologies among which it circulates, and our own cultural experience inevitably influences our perceptions, making true objectivity impossible. We can use new historical and cultural criticism properly only if we keep clearly in mind that our analysis is always incomplete, partial, and our perspective is always subjective. We cant stand outside our own culture and analyze texts from an objective vantage point. We can write only from within our own historical moment. 1. 2. 3.

How does the literary text function as part of a continuum with other historical and cultural texts from the same period, for example, penal codes, birthing practices, educational priorities, the treatment of children under the law, other art forms (including popular art forms), attitudes toward sexuality, and the like? That is, taken as part of a description of a given culture at a given point in history, what does this literary work add to our tentative understanding of human experience in that particular time and place, including the ways in which individual identity shapes and is shaped by cultural institutions? How can we use a literary work to map the interplay of both traditional and subversive discourses circulating in the culture in which that work emerged and/or the cultures in which the work has been interpreted? Put another way, how does the text

promote ideologies that support and/or undermine the prevailing power structures of the time and place in which it was written and/or interpreted? Using rhetorical analysis (analysis of a texts purpose and the stylistic means by which it tries to achieve that purpose), what does the literary text add to our understanding of the ways in which literary and nonliterary discourses (such as political, 4. What does the literary work suggest about the experience of groups of people who have been ignored, underrepresented, or misrepresented by traditional history (for example, laborers, prisoners, women, people of color, lesbians and gay men, children, the insane, and so on)? Keep in mind that new historical and cultural criticism

usually include attention to the intersection of the literary work with nonliterary discourses prevalent in the culture in which the work emerged and/or in the cultures in which it has been interpreted and often focus on such issues as the circulation of power and the dynamics of personal and group identity. 5. How has the works reception by literary critics and the reading publicincluding the reception at its point of origin, changing responses to the work over time, and its possible future relationship with its audiencebeen shaped by and shaped the culture in which that reception occurred? Presentism Presentism is typically a pejorative

Seeing feminism in Chaucers Wife of Bath tale Seeing an environmental sensibility in Moby Dick, or a gay one Not to say Herman Melville didnt have a thing for the boys Letting your present ideas distort the past Still, can we ever know the past itself? We only view it through the lens of the present. Be aware of your own biases Who are the important

New Historicists? Greenblatt, Foucault and Hayden White Stephan Greenblatt Coined the term new historicism Preferred the term cultural poetics Michel Foucault Primarily concerned with the relationship between

knowledge and power We internalize patterns of expectations from the surrounding culture, absorbing the cultures expectations so much that we take them for granted and suppose that they come from our own thinking. Knowledge constructs what it purports to know For Foucault, a discourse produces what it purports to describe

Gender Internalized patterns of cultural expectation about feminity and masculinity that, as the philosopher Judith Butler ahs argued, construct through repetition what they purport to know. People figure women move, talk, and dress in a certain variety of ways and that men move talk and dress in a different variety of ways But the discourse of gender constructs that knowledge through repeated actions and expectations. If people did not repeat that discourse, then others would not continue to believe in it and see it as knowledge.

Before Foucault, people thought that gender was there before the discourse. After Foucault, people think that the discourse created gender. To Foucault, modern society works like the Panopticon. Our discourses of gender regulate, discipline, police and surveil behavior and beliefs, producing and reproducing stereotypical ideas of gender. People internalize those ideas so deeply that no one else has to make them believe or live by those ideas. People surveil themselves, making sure they abide by

the dominant discourse. You can probably think of ways of dressing, walking, talking, or gesturing that signify femininity and masculinity and ways in which people police themselves from acting in ways the dominant discourse would construct as wrong. For Foucault, this is more powerful than coercion. Hayden White Metahistory Historical narratives are verbal fictions supported by philosophical theories of

history that seek to validate their plots. Sequences of events are selected from historical data plot structures are imposed on them to turn them into comprehensible narratives Narrative genres have rules that lead you to tell a story that justify your selection of the events that compose it. Archetypal tropes shape our understanding of history History itself is just another literary genre But what can Foucault do for you? Why do we repress

human sexuality? As we internalize the discourse of sexuality, it regulates and administers our lives. Foucault criticizes what he calls Freud's repressive hypothesis, that we suffer from this repression. Repression isnt repression,

Repression makes sex dirty, making it dirty makes it fun.

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