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New Historicism and Cultural Materialism

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New Historicism and Cultural Materialism
Social, cultural, philosophical, and religious values have meaning only when grasped as part of the historical moment in which they arise.Nineteenth-century answer to Enlightenment belief in universal Human Nature.
Historical Determinism
A theory of history that holds that all human events are affected in material ways by the economic sphere of society (i.e., the modes of production in classical Marxism). History is therefore the history of determinations made by productive forces.
Base and Superstructure
In classical Marxism, base refers to the modes of production, while superstructure refers to the aggregate of social, cultural, political, and commercial institutions and practices that are supported by the base.
In Marxist theory, a set of beliefs, laws, statutes, principles, practices, and traditions proclaimed by a dominant class in order to rule other classes. “Unscientific”, a form of “false consciousness” because it obscures the reality of historical processes.Can also refer to any set of beliefs, laws, statutes, and the like; thus, we can speak of “working-class ideology” or “socialist ideology.” Representing ideas and beliefs in signifying systems, of making meaning in a social context.
“The historicity of texts, and the textuality of history”
Louis Montrose’s (1986) central principles.Literary texts are traversed by history’s forces, but history is itself a textual construction.No unmediated access to historical events, and the texts that historians use to construct their histories are always in need of interpretation.
More practice than theory
No elaborate statement on new historicist principles by anyone.Open-ended essay as the typical genre,insteadof the monograph (Representations).Scepticism towards transposable theory: historic specificity to theory as well as to literary texts. (Primarily the fields of Renaissance and Romanticism.)
Inspirations – Raymond Williams (1921–88)
Very influential professor, Cambridge and Oxford.Stephen Greenblatt was one of his students.Culture and Society: 1780–1950(1958) andThe Long Revolution (1961)placed Williams in a tradition of British cultural materialism.
Raymond Williams 2
Materialist analysis of the production and reception of textsRefusal to elevate literature and art to any special status–“culture is ordinary”.Williams’ “ theory of culture”: “ the study of the relationships between elements in a whole way of life”.History is no mere background to literature; literature is no marginal illustration of history.
Raymond Williams 3
Critique of Marxist “ base and superstructure”: too narrow a definition of “ economic base” resulted in the relegation to the “superstructure” of certain crucial productive and reproductive forces.The dominant culture is never more than one player in the cultural field … it is always under pressure from alternative views and beliefs.Inner contradictions and tensions in literary works.
Inspirations 2 – Michel Foucault(Genealogy)
In the 1970s, he moved from archaeology to genealogy.Partly a politically committed criticism of institutions in the aftermath of 1968.Nietzschesought to uncover, via the observation of localized and relational historical operations of power, the installation of “false universals”, i.e. interested ideologies that are made to pass as neutral and naturally occurring “facts.”
Michel Foucault (Genealogy) 2
The focus of his questioning is the modern human sciences (biological, psychological, social). ”Universal scientific truths about human nature” – often expressions of ethical and political commitments of a particular society.Discipline and PunishandThe Will to Knowledgeare critical histories of thecarceralsystem and sexual science. Overturns of a commonplace about the post-Enlightenment idea of knowledge as humanitarian.
Michel Foucault (subjectivity)
Individuals in society are both subject to and the subjects of disciplinary discourses, i.e. individuals are made into self-identifying subjects as the result of their place within a set of systems of knowledge to which they are subject.
Michel Foucault (Power)
“ Power is not simply repressive; it is also productive.”A distinctive feature of modern power (disciplinary control) is its concern with what people have not done (nonobservence), with, that is, a person's failure to reach required standards. Discipline through imposing precise norms (“normalization”) … This idea of normalization is pervasive in our society: e.g., national standards for educational programs, for medical practice, for industrial processes and products.
Michel Foucault (Power) 2
Power is everywhere and comes from everywhere, and is exercised in largely unconscious ways through the forms of social organization that maintain order without direct action.New historicism takes this sense of literature’s implication in systems of value to find in literary texts the mechanisms by which values are regulated, reinforced, or (occasionally) transformed.Power is inescapable: a certain gloom.
Hayden White (1928 –)
Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe(1973).Historians do not write objective accounts of the past from disinterested positions,but create stories by approaching events according to certain “interpretive principles”. History, is above all linguistic and poetic in nature. The historian’s approach is ultimately chosen on aesthetic or moral grounds, rather than derived from factual historical evidence.
Basic Assumptions
New Historicism assumes that historical phenomena can be read like a text. H. AramVeeserhas isolated five key assumptions:1) “every expressive act is embedded in a network of material practices”;2) every critique inevitably “uses the tools it condemns and risks falling prey to the practice it exposes”;3) literary and non-literary texts “circulate inseparably”;4) no discourse “gives access to unchanging truths” nor “expresses inalterable human nature”; and5) critical methods under capitalism “participate in the economy they describe”.
Some Achievements
Introduced poststructuralist notions of the self, of discourse, and of power.They reject both the autonomy and individual genius of the author and the autonomy of the literary work. Author is only partially in command. Greenblatt : ‘the work of art is the product of a negotiation between a creator or class of creators, equipped with a complex, communally shared repertoire of conventions, and the institutions and practices of society’. Biography industry.
Literature does not simply reflect relations of power, but actively participates in the consolidation and/or construction of discourses and ideologies. Literature is not simply a product of history; it actively makes history.Canonisation, editing, textual studies, curricula.
No longer a difference between literature and other texts, no matter whether these are religious, political, historical, or products of marginal subcultures that so far have been ignored.Focused on thus far hidden and unsuspected sources of, and vehicles for, power and on the question of how power has worked to suppress or marginalize rival stories and discourses. It has a special interest in the disempowered, the marginalized. Has joined forces with feminism, queer studies, minority studies, post-colonial studies…
What are the Differences?
Cultural Materialism more British, New Historicism more AmericanDissent, subversion: almost none in New Historicism (Greenblatt’s article - subversion inevitably plays into the hands of power), Cultural Materialism is interested in the challenges to the dominant culture.Foucauldian vs. Marxian (via Williams) heritage





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New Historicism and Cultural Materialism