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- Limits and Beyond: Greenblatt, New Historicism and a Feminist Genealogy
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Tamarkin, Elisa. Altieri, Charles F. Picciotto, Joanna M. Sorensen, Janet.
Kahn, Victoria. Lavery, Grace. New historicism is a form of literary theory whose goal is to understand intellectual history through literature, and literature through its cultural context, which follows the s field of history of ideas and refers to itself as a form of "Cultural Poetics". It was first developed in the s, primarily through the work of the critic and University of California, Berkeley English professor Stephen Greenblatt and gained widespread influence in the s.
Harold Aram Veeser , introducing an anthology of essays, The New Historicism ,  noted some key assumptions that continually reappear in new historicism; they are:. A typical focus of new historicist critics, led by Stephen Orgel , has been on understanding Shakespeare less as an autonomous great author in the modern sense than as a means of reconstructing the cultural milieu Renaissance theatre —a collaborative and largely anonymous free-for-all—and the complex social politics of the time.
Influential historians behind the eruption of the new historicism are Lynn Hunt and Michel Foucault , as they both taught at UC-Berkeley during its rise as a postmodern approach to history.
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In this shift of focus, a comparison can be made with the best discussions of works of decorative arts. Unlike fine arts , which had been discussed in purely formal terms, comparable to the literary New Criticism, under the influences of Bernard Berenson and Ernst Gombrich , nuanced discussion of the arts of design since the s have been set within social and intellectual contexts, taking account of fluctuations in luxury trades, the availability of design prototypes to local craftsmen, the cultural horizons of the patron, and economic considerations—"the limits of the possible" in economic historian Fernand Braudel 's famous phrase.
An outstanding pioneer example of such a contextualized study was Peter Thornton 's monograph Seventeenth-Century Interior Decoration in England, France and Holland In its historicism and in its political interpretations, new historicism is indebted to Marxism. But whereas Marxism at least in its more orthodox forms tends to see literature as part of a ' superstructure ' in which the economic 'base' i.
In its tendency to see society as consisting of texts relating to other texts, with no 'fixed' literary value above and beyond the way specific cultures read them in specific situations, new historicism is a form of postmodernism applied to interpretive history. New historicism shares many of the same theories as with what is often called cultural materialism , but cultural materialist critics are even more likely to put emphasis on the present implications of their study and to position themselves in disagreement to current power structures, working to give power to traditionally disadvantaged groups.
Cultural critics also downplay the distinction between "high" and "low" culture and often focus predominantly on the productions of "popular culture" Newton With this in mind, new historicism is not "new". Many of the critiques that existed between the s and the s also focused on literature's historical content. New historicism also has something in common with the historical criticism of Hippolyte Taine , who argued that a literary work is less the product of its author's imaginations than the social circumstances of its creation, the three main aspects of which Taine called race, milieu, and moment.
It is also a response to an earlier historicism, practiced by early 20th century critics such as John Livingston Lowes , which sought to de-mythologize the creative process by reexamining the lives and times of canonical writers. But new historicism differs from both of these trends in its emphasis on ideology : the political disposition, unknown to the author that governs their work. It is indeed evident that the categories of history used by new historicists have been standardized academically.
Carl Rapp argues that "[the new historicists] often appear to be saying, 'We are the only ones who are willing to admit that all knowledge is contaminated, including even our own'".
Limits and Beyond: Greenblatt, New Historicism and a Feminist Genealogy
Camille Paglia likewise cites "the New Historicism coming out of Berkeley" as an "issue where the PC academy thinks it's going to reform the old bad path, I have been there before they have been, and I'm there to punish and expose and to say what they are doing To practice it, you must apparently lack all historical sense. Harold Bloom criticizes the new historicism for reducing literature to a footnote of history, and for not paying attention to the details involved in analyzing literature.
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Sarah Maza argues that "[Catherine] Gallagher and Greenblatt seem oblivious of the longer range of disciplinary development in history; they reject grand narratives as extensions of nineteenth- and twentieth-century nationalist, socialist or whiggish programs, obfuscating the fact that such mid-twentieth century innovations as histoire totale and quantified social history, large in scale as they were, originated from a desire to make history more democratic and more inclusive.