This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Definition y y y New Historicism is a theory applied to literature that suggests literature must be studied and interpreted within the context of both the history of the author and the history of the critic. The new historicism developed during the 1980s, largely in reaction to the text-only approach pursued by formalist New Critics and the critics who challenged the New Criticism in the 1970s. New Historicism evaluates how the work is influenced by the time in which it was produced. It also examines the social sphere in which the author moved the psychological background of the author, the books and theories that may have influenced the author, and any other factors which influenced the work of art. All work is biased. New Historicism acknowledges that any criticism of a work is necessarily hint with the critic s beliefs, social structure, and so on New Historicism thus represents a significant change from previous critical theories like New Criticism, because its main focus is to look at things outside of the work, instead of reading the text as a thing apart from the author. New Historicism frequently addresses the critical theory based idea that the lowest common denominator for all human actions is power, so the New Historicist seeks to find examples of power and how it is dispersed within the text. Power is a means through which the marginalized are controlled, and the thing that the marginalized (or, other) seek to gain. This relates back to the idea that because literature is written by those who have the most power, there must be details in it that show the views of the common people. New Historicists seek to find "sites of struggle" to identify just who is the group or entity with the most power. May approach a text from numerous perspectives, but all perspectives tend to reflect a concern with the period in which a text is produced and/or read (including contemporary work) Historicism is concerned with relating the idea of a text to other key concepts: culture, discourse, ideology, the self, and history. the new historicism is not "new"; the majority of critics between 1920 and 1950 focused on a work s historical content and based their interpretations on the interplay between the text and historical contexts (such as the author s life or intentions in writing the work). new historicism differs from the historical criticism of the 1930s and 1940s. , history was viewed as stable, linear, and recoverable--a narrative of fact. In contrast, New Historicism views history skeptically (historical narrative is inherently subjective), but also more broadly; history includes all of the cultural, social, political, anthropological discourses at work in any given age, and these various "texts" are unranked - any text may yield information valuable in understanding a particular milieu. Rather than forming a backdrop, the many discourses at work at any given time affect both an author and his/her text; both are inescapably part of a social construct
y y y
the commentator actually expresses his or her own beliefs." "subjectivity. etc. the history of sexuality. This general trend is often referred to as Cultural Studies. y . thus changing the way critics addressed such pervasive issues as "power. In describing this cultural colloquy. y y y People who influenced New Historicism y MICHEL FOUCAULT is quite possibly the most influential critic of the last quarter-century.and historically-minded studies. His willingness to analyze and discuss disparate disciplines (medicine. habits of thought. subjectivity. the literary text contains a variety of voices with which the critical reader and must discourse to find meaning. codes." "discipline. the critic must consider how the circumstances of the writer's life may influence the discourses contained within the text. literature. In interpreting historical facts or identifying historical contexts. or mores articulated within the text. Thus. and ideology has influenced critics not only in literary studies but also political science. epistemology. ideals. leading to the increasing popularity of culturally. y y Critical Strategies y In order to assess the significance of a literary text. or biases. This fascination with history and the minute details of culture soon caught on among scholars working in other historical periods. many of whom were directly inspired by Greenblatt's ideas and anecdotal approach. his influence meant that New Historicism first gained popularity among Renaissance scholars. reconciled or subverted. His interest in issues of power. The attempt of traditional historical criticism to identify a unified worldview of a society or period is a reductive illusion.Critical Assumptions y y All history is subjective. Foucault also had the ability to pick up common terms and give them new meaning. the historical commentator of literature does not reveal the objective meaning or absolute truth of a text but only participates in an historical discourse that often reveals as much about the commentator as about the text. government." and "government." As much as politics or military campaigns. As such it dramatizes "culture in action." STEPHEN GREENBLATT's brilliant studies of the Renaissance have established him as the major figure commonly associated with New Historicism. The critical reader must also acknowledge his own predispositions and cultural biases while exploring how the multiple voices within a text are balanced. literature dramatizes a battleground of competing ideas and values within a culture." "sexuality. the critical reader begins by describing the complex web of attitudes. Directly or indirectly. Culture is a web of conflicting discourses that cannot be simplified into a single point-of-view or linear set of idea(l)s. criminal science. The critical reader must highlight the social rules. and anthropology.) as well as his questioning of the very principle of disciplinarity and specialization has inspired a host of subsequent critics to explore interdisciplinary connections between areas that had rarely been examined together. Indeed. values. and points-of-view in the literary text that comprise its expression of the poetics of culture. Literature is only one of many historical discourses contributing to the definition of a culture. philosophy. the episteme of that historical moment. history." "discourse.
refract. just happens. to paraphrase the bumpersticker. They view history as a social science like anthropology and sociology. and obsessions are addressed or avoided. and neglects the uniquely literary qualities of the work in question. but they also analyze the text with an eye to history New historicist critics also tend to define the discipline of history more broadly than did their ancestors. like formalists and their critics. acknowledge the importance of the literary text. . Images and narratives do important cultural work. Frederick Jameson argues that much New Historicist criticism lacks a theory of history. and struggles does the work of literature reflect. New Historicists argue that the best framework for interpreting literature is to place it in its historical context: what contemporaneous issues. anxieties. hopes. That history. They function as a kind of workshop (or playroom) where cultural problems.New Historicist Premises/Idea y y New historicists. without explaining why it happens in the way that it does and who is affected. or try to work New Historicist criticism tries to relate interpretive problems to cultural-historical problems y y y Complaints Sometimes Made About New Historicism That it tends to reduce literature to a footnote of history. whereas older historicists tend to view history as literature's "background" and the social sciences as being properly historical.
In regards to the relationship between Marxism and New Historicism. and with Stephen Greenblatt as its main proponent. he or she will also duly note that the servant class is completely marginalized in Austen s work. Both the work and the reader are corrupted by everything that has influenced them. The fact that Austen wrote about a society to which she only marginally belonged can enhance the reading of her work. The theory arose in the 1980s. events in her life that may have influenced her. because its main focus is to look at things outside of the work. social structure. . because she was a female novelist. Austen is. and her own choices in regards to marriage. became quite popular in the 1990s. and so on. and is quite critical of those who marry beneath their social status. All work is biased. namely the landed gentry. It also examines the social sphere in which the author moved. For example. the psychological background of the author. giving information about her background. since Austen never married. Criticisms of this literary theory are mostly levied by those who still practice New Criticism. New Historicism acknowledges that any criticism of a work is necessarily tinged with the critic s beliefs. Most New Historicists may begin a critical reading of a novel by explaining themselves. it can be said that the New Historicist often looks for ways in which populations are marginalized through a literary work. the books she had read. instead of reading the text as a thing apart from the author. and any other factors which influenced the work of art. and their prejudices. Austen asserts the pre-eminence of the landed gentry above any other class of society. New Historicism evaluates how the work is influenced by the time in which it was produced. as well as those who make up the Post-Modernist critics. In fact. gaining power through her work rather than through marriage. particularly the writings of Michel Foucault. who may be more properly termed a psychological critic. such as Deconstructionists. One practicing New Historicism would note such a dichotomy. Marxist criticism is also a forefather of New Historicism.New Historicism is a theory applied to literature that suggests literature must be studied and interpreted within the context of both the history of the author and the history of the critic. which suggests power may be purchased through good marriages. including their own interpretations. Austen s life stands outside her own espoused theories in literature. While the New Historicist may praise the novel. their backgrounds. the books and theories that may have influenced the author. Unlike previous historical criticism. The critic might then evaluate why Austen would display this prejudice. It might also help make sense of her broad critiques of civilized society. are biased. against her own work. a Jane Austen novel is a novel confined to a very limited sphere of society. In addition. The New Critic argues that literature should be read as a self contained work without considering influence. in a way. Deconstructionists seem largely annoyed that New Historicists claim to be the only ones who admit that all texts. Those practicing New Historicism draw from other forms of criticism. New Historicism thus represents a significant change from previous critical theories like New Criticism. which limited itself to simply demonstrating how a work was reflective of its time.