Historical Scholarship


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A postgraduate class presentation on the essay 'Historical Scholarship' by Catherine Gallagher.

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Historical Scholarship

  1. 1. Historical Scholarship Catherine Gallagher
  2. 2. Historical Scholarship• Historicism• Aim: to historicise that is, to understand any phenomenon as a part of history• A historical turn in literature departments 1980-90-present – Frederic Jameson: „Always historicise‟.• A broadening of the range of topics handled by literature depts.
  3. 3. • What does it mean for literary scholarship? – Challenging the text/context distinction – Posing historical questions about literary works – Answering historical questions with literary evidence and critical analytic tools
  4. 4. • Also influenced the underlying assumptions of literary criticism• We no longer study literature as a product of historical periods (English Renaissance Lit etc)• Historicism also looks at – Construction of authorship – Canons – Reading practices – Nationhood – Idea of the literary
  5. 5. – Historicising history itself and analysing its literary character– Understanding the place of literature in human culture. Literature is a recent phenomenon. Why did it emerge?
  6. 6. • Historicisms of the 80s – Frederic Jameson „Always historicise‟ – Literary history is not an epiphenomenon – History is a field for the chronological investigation of cultural differences which are reflected in and created by literary texts – Many historicisms, little consensus
  7. 7. – The idea of what is history has not been settled yet.– Historicism has had to deal with its own success– The movement has done a fair bit of introspection in order to settle its foundations.
  8. 8. • Jameson – the path of the object and the path of the subject – the historical origins of the things themselves and the intangible historicity of the concepts and categories by which we attempt to understand those things.• Historicism tried to follow a balanced approach.
  9. 9. What drives historicism?• Technology• Curiosity• Inclusivity – The need to include previously excluded groups as a part of history• Methodological self consciousness
  10. 10. Historicising The Author• The author was central to literary study upto the 1970s ie, till the advent of postmodernism• Till then, the author was – The historical link between a work and its environment of production – R S Crane (1935): A literary history is a narrative of the changing habits, beliefs, attitudes … of individual persons…it is not a history of literature but of literary men.• Author-centered, contextualising historical criticism
  11. 11. • 1970|1980 – New Historicisms – Discursive Criticism – Foucault & Annales school – Ideology Criticism – Marxist Structuralists – Louis Althusser, Pierre Macherey – Cultural Poetics/Cultural Studies – Raymond Williams & Annales school• Deemphasized the author• No difference b/w literature and its historical context.
  12. 12. New Historicisms• Discursive Criticism – connected texts (and other representations) across generic boundaries. As parts of „unauthored‟ discourses.• Texts are vehicles of discourse, carrying the “effects of social power” deep into “the secluded recesses of consciousness”.• It is discourse that creates consciousness. Individual consciousness (the author) is not the ultimate historical cause or source of a literary work.
  13. 13. • These movements sought to destabilize the idea of the subject.• Getting rid of the author was only part of this project.• The author is a modern figure, a product of our society…it discovered the prestige of the individual…it should be this positivism,the epitome and culmination of capitalist ideology, which has attached the greatest importance to the “person” of the author. -Roland Barthes
  14. 14. • Deconstructionists – the subject is made and unmade as a textual phenomenon.• Lacanians – the subject is an effect of language.• Althusserians – the modern subject was called into being by the ideological apparatuses of the state.• They all agreed that the author is a construction.
  15. 15. Terry Eagleton– Texts are composed of a variety of ideologies (ie, texts are overdetermined)– The authorial ideology (AuI) is only one of these. There are a lot of other ideologies too (GMP, LMP, AI, GI)
  16. 16. Jerome McGann:Romanticism vs. Historicism• Author figure in English Romanticism – During the romantic period, writers began claiming primacy for themselves and their consciousnesses. – Influence of Kant and Fichte‟s subjectivity. – They tried to place the author at the centre of the literary process. They tried to erase history and replaced it with a record of pure consciousness. – Literary historians (McGann) during the 70s and 80s attempted to reclaim the historicity of these works.
  17. 17. Retrieving historicity from Romantic Writers• The form of a literary work retains its historicity even if the author tries to impose his/her consciousness upon it.• The work/poem is a record of the struggle between the author and historical aspects of the time.• Close reading can reveal the elisions and intentional antihistorical actions engaged in by the authors.• Romantic authorship was overdetermined by a number of ideologies. Althusserian influence.
  18. 18. History and Textuality. Paul de Man & Lacan• According to de Man – The author is an ideological formation. – What disrupts ideology is called textuality or literariness.• New Historicists equated textuality with history.• History is the process by which ideologies are formed.• It fractures the “centred, totalizing and rational subject”.• History is often unspecifiable like the Jacques Lacan‟s idea of the real.
  19. 19. Stephen Greenblatt• Greenblatt‟s Renaissance Self-Fashioning.– questioning the subject/author. – the subject which emerged during the renaissance was not autonomous or stable. – It was an improvisational self. It could tolerate nonidentity. – Iago: “I am not what I am.”• Greenblatt was influenced by Foucault‟s idea that the subjectivity was a historically flexible conduit of power.
  20. 20. Foucauldian New Historicism• Foucauldians refused to privilege nonidentity as a subversive alternative to subjectivity.• Althusser: Elisions, fissures, gaps, ruptures and slippages in the text indicate instances when subjectivity breaks down.• Foucault: But these may serve another hidden power/agenda.• The author was an endlessly labile (mutable, changeable) self that could be fashioned for a variety of discursive purposes.
  21. 21. • In „What is an Author?‟, he argued that the „Death of the Author‟ is never absolute.• The author is always reconstituted in the form of an „author function‟.• The author function is how the name of the individual writers operate in various discourses – legal, institutional etc.• Modern literary authorship arises from the juridical need to hold individuals responsible for certain kinds of publications.
  22. 22. • Foucauldian critics looked at how writers constitute themselves into authors – under certain legal systems, inside certain ideologies, within the rules of certain institutions and with the help of certain productive forces.• The „author‟ is not the starting point of literature.• The author is a product. The writer is only one of the ingredients that make an author.
  23. 23. Legality and Censorship• Foucault identified the state‟s need to hold individuals responsible for their writing.• New impetus to studies of suppression and censorship. Examples of studies – page 177 paragraph 1• Censorship not only suppresses authorship, it requires it.• It authorizes and deauthorizes.
  24. 24. Copyright and the Author• Writers derive certain benefits out of censorship. The idea of copyright is one. (Woodmansee, Rose)• Britain had the earliest copyright law – 1710.• The writer becomes the author-proprietor.• Carla Hesse – „The Rise of Intellectual Property‟
  25. 25. The Author as a part of the Economy• The author is both economic agent and commodity.• This authorial function started with the beginning of the „print culture‟ in the early modern period. – Increasing availability of printed commodities – opening up of the public sphere – the ability to make one‟s living by writing.• Habermas, Pocock, Brewer. Pg 178 Para 0
  26. 26. The threat of Commodification to Authorship• Economic and Legal factors may have prompted textual production & authorship.• But the model of an autonomous and perfectly self-expressive author developed as a reaction to these conditions.• The aspect of authorship which was most threatened by commodification was masculinity.
  27. 27. Gender and Authorship• Historically the default gender of the author was assumed to be male.• Feminist projects to recover the history of women writers.• How and why did women become authors at specific points in history?• Authorship at these points in time took on a feminine aspect and conversely also helped constitute the very idea of femininity.
  28. 28. Minority Authorship• How and why did certain authors create textual effects of minority consciousness?• How did these affect the idea of authorship?• David Lloyd, Abdul JanMohamed, Regenia Gagnier
  29. 29. Revisiting Historicised Authorship• Economic, Legal, Psychological, Gender, Minority, Commodification etc have effects on authorship.• Barthes‟ idea of the author as a sovereign subject is incomplete.• Historicization has uncovered the complexities of authorship.• Is the process of historicization complete?
  30. 30. • Do we need to continue to historicize after we have removed the „sinister hegemony‟ of the subject? – We are only beginning to have a detailed picture of historical authorship. – Historicizing authorship is becoming an important part of literary biography. – A rich variety of theoretical and critical methods are available.
  31. 31. Historicizing the Text• Author, text, reader, literature etc are fundamental categories that are deeply interconnected.• Barthes – “The text is plural.”• Barthes attempted to distinguish between text and work – Text: an open-ended network or weave of signifiers or a methodological field – Work: a closed system that seems to convey a definite intention.• These (text and work) were radically new concepts.
  32. 32. • Defining a text is difficult• Not all things written by an author are texts.• There can be texts without authors ie, anonymous texts.• During the 1980s this plurality of the text was being explored by textual historians – They focused on the materiality of written artifacts; their versions, modes of production, preservation, and dissemination.
  33. 33. • These early textual historians noted the role of editors• They postulated that „editing‟ was invented as a deeply historical discipline in the 18th & 19th C. – Editing (re)constructs texts out of the indeterminacy and plurality which surrounds them.
  34. 34. 18th and 19th C practice of Editing - McGann • RECOVERY of the entire cultural and historical context of the original • EXPLORATION of the entire critical history • RECONSTITUTION of the words in terms of these two historical matrices.
  35. 35. Problems with this concept of Editing• It narrowed the field of possible historical questions about texts. – It hides the variety of texts available as well as the history of the text‟s production, dissemniation and reception• Because historicization of texts tend to dissolve them, authorial intention has been a necessary way of protecting the concept of the text from the plurality produced by historical criticism.
  36. 36. 1990s – New Philology• Celebration of heterogeneity of texts• Fundamental variability in the transmission of texts• Textual variability helps understand conditions of production and dissemination• Texts are not finished products but ongoing processes.
  37. 37. New areas of consideration in textual scholarship• History of the book censorship• History of • Licensing printing/manuscript • Libraries transmission • Markets• Histories of theater • Paper making• oral performance • Taxation• Illustration • Copyright• Photography • University curricula• religious customs • Film, television, intern• formal and informal et etc
  38. 38. • Textual historical criticism has merged with media studies• Textual historians read between texts to understand the operation of various discourses in society.• Challenges: – Loss of historical perspectives (time and space) – „Permanent presentness‟ of texts
  39. 39. Historicizing the Reader• Hand Robert Jauss, “The historicity of literature rests on…the experience of the literary work by its readers”• “The historical context in which a literary work appears is not a factical, independent series of events that exist apart from an observer”• The text happens wherever it is read.• Wolfgang Iser: The virtual text of the reading process is multiple in time and space.
  40. 40. Two Possibilities for Reading• The text does not have a • A new field in the history history; nor does the of reading is possible. reader. • We can study the differences between how• Barthes, „the reader is a reader in the 13th without century read a work and history, biography, psycho how it is read now. logy: he is simply that someone who holds • Jauss: „their horizons of together in a single field expectations‟ would be all the traces by which the dissimilar written text is constituted‟. • Para 0, pg 182 – 2 different readings of Perceval
  41. 41. Reception histories• 1970s – texts are simply their readings• Canons are made by readers• Human subjectivity differs widely• Various Theories emerged – German Reception Theory – American reader-response theory – French cultural history
  42. 42. 1990s – History of Reading• From “Who, what, when and where did people read?” To “Why and how did they read?”• Robert Darnton – “First steps toward a History of Reading”• Transitions in reading practice – from orality to writing, from manuscript to print, from hand press to industrial printing.
  43. 43. The impact of Printing• Printing displaced older reading habits.• In the medieval period, printing created not only a new type of reader but a new type of person.• Meaning of a text depends on its reading.• Reading depends upon its material and cultural conditions.
  44. 44. A negative vision and a positive one• Richard • Readers actively Hoggart, Foucault, Pierr moulded texts for their e Bourdieu: own purposes – Popular literacy is a form • Readers are not of political manipulation passive consumers – It implants a recessive subjectivity and self • Modern reading subject discipline is socially self – This is required for the conscious and resistant modern state to maintain to oppression and habitus exploitation. – Habitus: a culturally specific way of thinking, behaving and understanding which is regarded as natural by those inhabiting it.
  45. 45. Disintegration of the reader• The author subject and the reader subject depended on a certain mode of textual production: the medium of the book.• Changes in the nature of this medium are changing the nature of the reader and the author.• Readers who can access texts simultaneously and instantaneously.• A great revolution in reading.
  46. 46. Historicizing Literature• Terry Eagleton: There is no essence of literature• Literature is a functional term.• A definition of literature must take into account a lot of overlapping phenomenon – The public sphere – National identity – Capitalism – The print market etc
  47. 47. Canon Wars of the 80s• Literary canons are artificially constructed• Jane Tompkins: the fluctuating reputations of certain authors illustrate how the idea of literary value is continually refashioned.• Canons expanded with access to previously unavailable material through microfilm archives etc.• Inclusion of many women and minority writers.
  48. 48. Historicizing Nation, Race & Empire• Discovery of intimate connections between literature and development of modern nations• The nation was beginning to be understood as a very unstable category.• Benedict Anderson, Homi Bhabha• A student of Japanese Literature should take neither Japan or Literature for granted.
  49. 49. • The question of Empire – Britain itself is a conglomeration of nations – How did it control a vast global empire? – Is English Literature a national literature, an imperial literature or global literature?• The making of the American Nation and its literature – The history of colonisation of America• Racial Identities and literature – The nation as a constantly changing system of racial differences.
  50. 50. Concluding Remarks: Historicizing History• Tracing the development of history as – a discipline, – a category of consciousness, – A method of defining periods – A narrative practice• Hayden White, F. R. Ankersmit, Dominick La Capra• History (with a capital „H‟) >> history
  51. 51. • Limits to self questioning• One cannot examine history without using the principles of the discipline• Self-questioning -> the path of the subject• Opening up new areas -> the path of the object• Effecting a synthesis between the two.