Notes: New Historicism Lecture by Prof. Paul Fry at Yale University

Stephen Greenblatt. Photo grabbed from

arose due to an increasing sense of ethical failure in the isolation of the text : New Criticism > Deconstruction

guilt complex > return to history

history and the political implications of what one was doing became central

pattern of beginning with an anecdote rather far afield
> hallmark of New Historicism
> start somewhere far afield as you possibly can precisely in order to show the pervasiveness of a certain kind of thinking, social constraint or limitation on freedom
>reinforces the Foucaldian idea of power as ubiquitous and insiduous mode of circulating knowledge

Foucault > the crucial antecedent

: the pervasiveness through social orders of power, not primarily the power of vested authorities, violence, or tyranny from above, much more pervasively and insiduously the way in which knowledge circulates in a culture, the way in which what we think it is appropriate to think, acceptable thinking, is distributed by largely unseen forces in a social network/system

: power is knowledge
: power is the explanation of how certain forms of knowledge come to exist (knowledge not necessarily true) in certain places

: literature tends to collapse back into the broader or more general notion of discourse by which power circulates knowledge

> NH recognizes that the return to the real world is language-bound; it is by means of language that the real world shapes itself

>intense emphasis on the relationship between history and discourse is reciprocal
>history conditions what literature can say in a given epoch
>history is an important way of the valency of certain kinds of utterance at certain times
>history is a background to literature
>literature has a discursive agency that affects history every bit as much history affects literature e.g. play when it escapes the play house (conventional confines) staged purposely for fomenting rebellion :Frederic Jameson: History hurts, literature hurts, too

Old Historicism : no reciprocity between history and literature only history > literature

New Historicism: The text can be taken over, comandeered, and made subversive.

OH: no question of the role of the historian’s own subjectivity; not thought of the historian’s interpretation; that we can bracket out our own historical horizon and eliminate our own historical prejudices in order to understand the past objectively in and for itself

Gadamer: interpretation must necessarily involve the merger of horizons, the horizon of the other and my own horizon as an interpreter. I cannot bracket out my own subjectivity.

Greenblatt: the naivete of OH is its supposition that it has no vested interests in what it is talking about, history to accord with its own preconceptions but isn’t aware of it > the hidden agenda

NH: fully cognizant of the subjective investment that leads to a choice of interest in materials, a way of thinking about those materials, and a means of bringing them to life for us to day and into focus > finding a significance and not the meaning of a text; significance : there is power in text : a matter of self-consciousness

NH: the world is a dynamic interplay of networks of power and subversion, modes of challenging those networks even w/in the authoritative texts that generate power

McGann: doesn’t stress the reciprocity of history and discourse, he is interested in the presence of immediate social and personal circumstances in the history of a text

> primary influence is Bakhtin
> socio-historical method approaches all language utterances as phenomena marked w/ their concrete origins and history, voiced by material circumstances that produce them, polyglossal infusion of a variety of perspectives including ideological perspectives that shape that utterance

>attack: romantic: subjectivity, solipsism, isolation from social concern is emphasized and criticized
>attack: Marxist ideology: (Hegel) thought produces material circumstances rather than the other way around; idealists~romantic
>we can’t be romantic, our reading of Romanticism must be anti-romantic if we are to be socially responsible/ethical

Bakhtin: Tony the Tow Truck

I is subsumed by the sociality of the text
Not the voice of individual subjectivity but the voice of social togetherness/otherness

Jauss: in each generation of reception the aesthetic standards that prevail at a given time are reconsidered, rethought, and reshuffled, a new aesthetic, historical horizon emerges and texts are constituted in a different way > historical imperative

X inversion of power, little guy helps big guy
+ little guy needs help of another little guy
+ mutual reinforcement of little by little
narrator is the apparatus

>>>humanization of a mechanized world is what takes place through our identification of it through anthropomorphization (the human)
>mechanical reproduction (Benjamin) is equipment-free

>>>(Adorno) the acquiescence of this very figure proves that the apparatus of mechanical reproduction in the inequity of social relations proves that this can be suborned and comandeered by the culture industry for its own purposes

>>>OH: reconfirms status quo, virtue and vice are clear
>>>NH: a dicourse that produces history: concrete manifestations in reality


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