II New Historicism


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Authors: Stephen Greenblatt/ Hayden White

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II New Historicism

  1. 1. HAYDEN WHITE New Historicism
  2. 2. General Overview <ul><li>General ideas about post-modernism: </li></ul><ul><li>we should not read texts superficially but look for those cracks and fault-lines – where alternative and sometimes contradictory meanings emerge; </li></ul><ul><li>we should read texts as texts and not as extensions of the author’s mood, life, </li></ul><ul><li>politics, etc. (there is nothing outside of the text) </li></ul><ul><li>there are no absolute or transcendental references or truths : everything is contingent upon (depends on) culture, history, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>we can read human subjectivity , experience and the world as text – just as we would a written or literary text. </li></ul><ul><li>the way we tell history and tell a story essentially involves the same narrative strategies; contemporary literary and non-literary texts when read together can be mutually illuminating </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>The trajectory of women (as subjects, as writers) in the history of literature is very different from that of men; </li></ul><ul><li>gender and biological sex are not necessarily the same thing and the former is more a social/cultural construct than a fixed essence; </li></ul><ul><li>the West has a long history of exploiting and excluding – or ‘ othering ’ – certain peoples and communities, especially peoples of colour and ‘orientals.’ Note that ‘oriental’ is no longer an accepted term for people who are of Asian origin. </li></ul><ul><li>(Other groups traditionally subject to ‘ othering ’ include people who prefer and/or practice non-normative sexuality, the disabled, people who profess alternative religious or political beliefs, etc.). </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>CTLLI is a course on and about critical and textual analysis, and biographical and contextual literary-historical information should be kept to a minimum. </li></ul><ul><li>while Spanish society is vastly different from the 1940s racist American society described by Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye, ethnic diversity and its attendant problems is very firmly part of contemporary Spanish experience </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>a text is not a priori ethnic or feminist or anything else; our reading of it, however, can be inflected by certain approaches (ethnic, feminist, etc.). </li></ul><ul><li>What this means, then, is that an Elizabeth Bishop poem can benefit from a gender, ethnic, new historicist or poststructuralist reading; similarly Heart of Darkness or any of the other literary texts on this course. </li></ul>
  6. 6. NEW HISTORICISM <ul><li>It is a response to the apolitical and a-historicist orthodoxies of deconstruction. </li></ul><ul><li>It draws on poststructuralist theories of discourse. </li></ul><ul><li>Greater attention to specific stories, to the details and local contextualizations of concrete instances and a greater emphasis on the body, the actual insertion of the human into the texture of time and history.” </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>New Historicism (or the ‘historical method’) argues that texts are not transcendent, i.e. detached from certain contextual particularities such as time, place, social forces, ideology, etc., </li></ul><ul><li>but on the contrary, are products of and generated among these particularities or discourses. </li></ul><ul><li>In its attention to ideological specificity, New Historicism owes much to Marxist methodology, while the dynamic between literature and history is constantly held up to scrutiny and problematized. </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>By the late 1970s, even Marxists had abandoned their earlier concern with economic and social history in favor of a critique of ideology focused on the politics of form.”. </li></ul><ul><li>As a result of Post-Structuralism, history was no longer what it used to be –a background of ideas or a field of empirical facts”. </li></ul><ul><li>New Historicists approach literature as just one more discourse that exists in interaction with other discourses at a given moment in history. </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>In this respect, New Historicists are particularly influenced by critiques of power, discourse and history of Michel Foucault. </li></ul><ul><li>The New Historicist rejects a static or totalizing view of the literary work as transcendent, aesthetically and thematically self-contained or isolated, practising </li></ul><ul><li>instead a dynamic ‘cultural poetics’ which acknowledges “the social and cultural negotiations, transactions, and exchanges that go into the making of a literary work” </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>One consequence is that, just as literature becomes historized, so history becomes textualized and one can speak of ‘narratives of history’. </li></ul><ul><li>“ History is always a matter of telling a story about the past.” </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>The concern with the collusion (confabulación) between discourse and power , appropriated from Michel Foucault, has generated two strands within New Historicism itself: </li></ul><ul><li>One (more closely identified with Greenblatt and the American School) is pessimistic about the possibilities of literary discourse to subvert power since it is always implicated in “the terms of the discourses which hold … social order in place”. </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>2. The other, in the line with both British and American theorists, seeks to re-inscribe a text within the discursive context which produced it, </li></ul><ul><li>a project which requires an imaginative re-creation of the inter-discursive exchange between the text and the other texts –ideological, cultural, social- of its day. </li></ul><ul><li>The point here is to occupy “a position within, the writer’s ideological frame of reference”, meaning that a text will necessarily be apprehended from a certain position – that of the critic reading in the present - which is inconsistent with that of its author or its original readers. </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>This method has been challenged on the grounds that by situating a text within its own time (generally the past. </li></ul>
  14. 14. HAYDEN WHITE <ul><li>While Stephen Greenblatt turned to history to explain the formal structures of literary texts, </li></ul><ul><li>White investigated the formal literary structures of history describing a “poetics of history.” </li></ul><ul><li>It’s a broad reflection on narrative and its relation to culture. </li></ul><ul><li>“ To raise the question of the nature of narrative is to invite reflection on the very nature of culture and on the nature of humanity itself. </li></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>Reacting against the tendency of history as a discipline to seek its models in the sciences, </li></ul><ul><li>White considers the literary dimension of history cannot be dismissed. </li></ul><ul><li>Historians deploy the traditional devices of narrative to make sense of raw data, to organize and give meaning to their accounts of the past. </li></ul><ul><li>Using the tools of the literary critic White analyses the nature and mechanisms of history as discourse. </li></ul>
  16. 16. The Historical Text as a Literary Artifact <ul><li>In this book, he examines the structuring role of plots and tropes (figures of speech) in the discourse of history. </li></ul><ul><li>It provides a synopsis of his main arguments in Metahistory , beginning with his definition of meta-history as the attempt to “get behind or beneath the presuppositions which sustain a given type of inquiry [in this case historical inquiry].” </li></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>It was thought that history (judged by its correspondence to reality ) and literature (judged as fiction ) </li></ul><ul><li>They are two distinct, diametrically opposed, activities </li></ul><ul><li>History, like literature, is a verbal structure and the historian is a writer, the tools that have served literary critics, the tools that compose the linguistic and rhetorical structures of a text, serve the historian as well. </li></ul><ul><li>The language in which history is written cannot be dismissed. </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>Language in history is never merely a means to an end. </li></ul><ul><li>It is neither transparent nor neutral . </li></ul><ul><li>He argues that history, because of its claims to represent reality adequately, is the form best suited for a study of the style of narrative “realism.” </li></ul><ul><li>Histories gain their explanatory power by processing data into stories . Those stories take their shape from what </li></ul><ul><li>White calls “ emplotment ,” the process through which the facts contained in “chronicles” are encoded as components of plots. </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>Plots are not immanent in events themselves but exist in the mind of historians. </li></ul><ul><li>The event emerges as a plotted story , which takes on meaning when it is combined with other elements in the limited number of generic plot structures by which a series of events can be constituted </li></ul>
  20. 20. White identifies four possible emplotments <ul><li>Tragic, comic, romantic, and ironic. </li></ul><ul><li>These generic deep-plot structures are shared between historians and their audiences by virtue of their participation in a common culture. </li></ul><ul><li>The kind of emplotment historians will employ is determined by the dominant figurative mode of the language they use to describe these events and story elements. </li></ul><ul><li>He identifies four master tropes or modes of figurative representation – metaphor , metonymy , synechdoque , and irony- which correspond to the four types of emplotment. </li></ul><ul><li>Tropes are ineradicable from discourse, as are plots. Thus history evokes reality: it does not reproduce or represent it. </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>Historians have mistakenly focused their attention only on the surface, while ignoring the underlying deep structures that produces those narratives. </li></ul><ul><li>Historians have objected to his narrowing of history to language, while more poststructuralist-minded literary critics have taken issue with his structuralist reductionism . </li></ul><ul><li>White imagines plot as a quintessential expression of the historian’s personal style and self. </li></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>Despite these objections, White’s skilful dismantling of the opposition between history and literature has paved the way for many productive studies in both fields. </li></ul><ul><li>According to Lévy- Strauss our explanation of historical processes are determined more by what we leave out than by what we put in. </li></ul><ul><li>Historical narrative as an extended metaphor it does not reproduce the events it describes, it tells us in what direction to think about the events. </li></ul>