Reconstruction of History and Renaissance Studies
Ally Chang
Jan. 4, 2000
    I. Introduction:
    • different definitions of history: Two meanings of the word "history": (Selden 188)
      1. "The events of the past."
      2. "Telling a story about the events of the past."
    II. Introduction to New Historicism: New Historicists "try to establish the interconnections between the literature and the general culture of a period" (Selden 188).
    1. New Historicism began in the early 1980s. "¡Kits proponents oppose to the formalism they attribute both to the New Criticism and to the critical deconstruction" (Abrams 248).
    2. The difference from old historical study: New Historicists do not take history as a background for a literary text at a particular time and place, but they only parallel the history and text in social, cultural, and political juxtaposition.
    III. New Historicism and other critical trends:
    1. New Criticism: "Contextual Reading" (Martin 151).
      1. The anatomy of text: "The text's meaning only exists in the text itself" (Buck's outline 1).
      2. The form of text: "The text's meaning is not explored by questions of author's biography, but by questions of 'verbal structure' in the text" (Buck's outline 1). "[L]iterary 'meaning' is sometimes a product of a text's interaction with non-verbal media" (Martin 152).
        1. How does the interaction work/function?
        2. Is there any different effect created in two forms of art? Eg. Painting vs. writing.
      3. "The text is a unity. "It is necessary to understand all the information within the text" (Buck's outline 2).
    2. Questions to New Criticism vs. New Historicism:
      1. Fictional and documentary:
        1. Eg. Narrative films can be documentary films. (Just name it).
        2. Eg. Documentary films can be fictional stories. (Discovery).
      2. Text ¡rHistory vs. Text // History (Text = History):
        1. Literary work vs. documents¢wletters, pamphlets, newspapers, essays, etc.
          1. What is the main body between text and history of a text?
          2. What is the ancillary?
          3. What's the principle/value for judging?
        2. The presentation and representation of history: Between belief and disbelief: The authenticity of history and the authentic history.
          1. What's the reality?
          2. What's reality?
        3. The pure history:
          1. Is literature truer and more faithful to history?
          2. Or is documentation truer and faithful to history?
          3. Is documentation always true?
            1. Eg. John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. (Charles Darwin and Karl Marx).
            2. Eg. Brian's presentation of his thesis¢wAnne Bronte.
        4. Literary scholars vs. historians:
          1. What are you looking for when you do a "historical reading"?
          2. Can you tell your position and purpose any different from historians?
          3. What do you say a text historical, a-historic, and "of a merely historical interest"? (Martin 151)
    3. Post-structuralism: Writing history: Ideological discourses: "Human experience is shaped by social institutions and specifically by ideological discourses" (Selden 189).
      1. Louis Althusser: "Ideology": "Ideology as a body of discursive practices" (Selden 189).
      2. Michel Foucault: "Discourse of knowledge": "Discourses are always rooted in social institutions" (Selden 189).

    IV. "Renaissance/Early Modern Study": Roland Barthes (Marcus 51): "[I]nterdisciplinary work is not a peaceful operation: it begin effectively when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down" (Marcus 42).
      1. Traditional Renaissance Study: The importance of historical documents/materials: "[A]s it has been traditionally practiced, open itself out toward the past in numerous other ways as well: it is concerned with questions of origin, [and] influence¡K." (Marcus 42).
        1. Renaissance humanism: "Self-fashioning" (Marcus 45).
        2. Naissance and Re-naissance: From disrupting and defamiliarizing to re-dicovering and re-defining.
      2. New Significance of Renaissance Study: "To look at the Renaissance through a lens called early modern is to see the concerns of modernism and postmodernism in embryo¢walienation, a disjunction from origins, profound skepticism about the possibility for objectivity ¡K an emphasis on textual indeterminacy as opposed to textual closure and stability, and an interest in intertextuality instead of filiation" (Marcus 43).
      3. Interpreting canon of authorship: "The Death of Author": Foucault's "What Is an Author?": "¡K'the author' is not a transhistorical category but a cultural construct associated with the beginnings of authorial accountability and censorship in the early modern era" (Marcus 46).
        1. Woman's writing (Marcus 46-7).
        2. Non-serious writing: pamphlets, romances, ballads, popular drama, etc (Marcus 47).
        3. Re-evaluation of big names: Shakespeare and Milton (Marcus 48-9).
        4. "Author's intent" and the "sociology of texts" by D. F. McKenzie (Marcus 50).
          1. "They [postmodernists] might attack the assumption that there is such a thing as critical or historical transparency: all interpretation is generated at least as much by the culture that has produced the critic as by the culture under scrutiny" (Marcus 50).
          2. "[P]ostmodernists (or late modernists) might assert that recent emphasis on nonauthroial forms of authorship allows us not less but more access to a culture in which such forms were just beginning to develop" (Marcus 50).
      4. Different readings on Renaissance /early modern studies:
        1. Roland Barthes: Between text and work: "to explore forms of textual instability related to modes of textual production specific to the period" (Marcus 51).
        2. Doconstructive reading: "Doubtfulness of words" in the age's own obsession with language theory and rhetoric document (Marcus 51).
      5. The crisis of "original": "What have been the cultural assumptions behind our 'standard editions' of the canonical authors?" (Marcus 52)
        1. Manuscript study: "[E]ditors produced standard editions of the major authors¡K."
        2. Textual study: "[S]cholars accepted these editions as reliable and used them to generate interpretation" (Marcus 53).
        3. The significance of the variations of critical and scholarly editions: "¡Kthere is an increasing sense of strain between the acknowledgement of variability and the desire to reconstruct a reliable authorial text ¡K [and we can expect] new scholarly editions [for] an erosion of the traditional editorial task of creating a single authoritative text and an increasing interest in variant versions of a text and the ways in which the variations are significant" (Marcus 54).
        4. Hypertext: "¡Kmore versions of a given passage in parallel on the screen, for ranging easily through several layers of editorial notes of different degrees of complexity¡K" (Marcus 55).
      6. The shift for Renaissance/early modern studies: SELF
        1. Technology: "Cosmic web" : "[T]he relations between science and literature will have to be massively reconceptualized and rewritten as we recognize the rich spectrum of scientific activities during the period and learn to think beyond our own inherited, linear models of scientific progress" (Marcus 57).
        2. "Scenes of writing" (Marcus 55-6): With other critical trends: Modernism, Postmodernism, T.S. Eliot, New Criticism, Psychoanalysis, feminist readings, women's reading and writing, Reader-response, Anthropology, ¡K.
      7. The Connection between New Historicism and Renaissance study --Anthropology: (Marcus 59-61)
        1. "Cross-cultural forms"
        2. "Historical writings"
        3. "Hermeneutic circle of interpretation"
        4. "Colonialism": "The goal of our quest to explore and map new worlds out of the past is intellectual simulation¡K" (Marcus 61).
    V. Historical Studies:   
    • Between authors and readers: "Different patterns of life" (Martine 155): The common concern for Jerome McGann (contextual reading) and Stephen Greenblatt (political reading): "[A] historical reading of the texts, what their meaning and value were for their first readers and audiences, the ways in which they were actively made use of or ¡K the ways in which they were consumed" (Martin 153-54).
    • Tradition and biographical study: "To take them 'on their own', to abstract them from their initial socio-cultural materiality, is to indulge in anachronistic misreading" (Martin 154).
        1. Text
        2. Author
        3. Reader
    • The interpretation and misreading of historicity:
        1. Diachronic reality
        2. Synchronic reality
        3. Commonality of reality
    • Function of historical study: The difference between McGann and Greenblatt
      1. McGann: Presenting text itself as presenting a historical event.
      2. Greenblatt: Between text and context: "The texts are ¡K their own evidence but always along with other evidence" (Martin 153). Greenblatt's problem: the difference from cultural anthropology.
  1. What new historicists do (Barry179).
    1. They juxtapose literary and non-literary texts, reading the former in the light of the latter.
    2. They try thereby to "defamiliarise" the canonical literary text, detaching it from the accumulated weight of previous literary scholarship and seeing it as if new.
    3. They focus attention (within both text and co-text) on issues of State power and how it is maintained, on patriarchal structures and their perpetuation, and on the process of colonisation, with its accompanying "mind-set."
    4. They make use, in doing so, of aspects of the post-structuralist outlook, especially Derrida's notion that every facet of reality is textualised, and Foucault's idea of social structures as determined by dominant "discursive practices."

  2. Conclusion:
    1. New Historicism: Shaping different versions of his-stories.
    2. Renaissance/early modern studies: Mapping conceptual model.
      1. Self Reflection
      2. Breaking boundary of Renaissance study: "[W]e are discovering that the early modern era had vastly different, usually less rigid, ways of defining sexual deviance than our society does; that sense of difference cannot but alter our interpretation of what constitutes normative sexual behavior in the literature" (Marcus 47).

Works Cited
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 6th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1993.

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.

Marcus, Leah S. "Renaissance/Early Modern Studies." Reclaiming the Boundaries. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: MLA, 1992. 41-63.

Martin, Graham. "New Historicism." A Handbook to Literary Research.

Selden, Raman, Peter Widdowson, and Peter Brooker eds. A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory. 4th ed. London: Prentice Hall, 1997.