Essays and criticism on New Historicism - Historical criticisms
New historicism is primarily concerned with the ways in which social power relations are embedded in language. Recognizing the textuality of history, critics agree that a range of texts, including literature, may generate subversive insights. However, they maintain that any potential for real subversion will be undercut and contained by the text itself. This significant principle of new historicist thinking emphasizes that ultimately there is no space in literature for effective resistance to authoritative social power. All texts will eventually contain and undermine their potential for subversion by submitting to and reinforcing the dominant social thinking of the day. Such customary pessimism for new historicist thinking has been the target of criticism, but practitioners nevertheless maintain that texts may point towards subversion, but they will surrender to the practice they expose. A new historicist approach to literary analysis will therefore illustrate the ways in which ideological practices always short-circuit any real challenge to prevailing power relations in society.
Beloved: Critique with New Historicism Essay:: ..
New historicists give equal critical weight to analysing the ways in which literature and historical texts negotiate social and political power. The literary text is not prioritized in any new historicist essay. Critics might examine the life of the author and look at traditional historical sources like newspaper reports, letters or journal accounts or cast their net more widely to look at medical or penal records, advertisements or other more obscure documentary sources. Analysing this variety of texts alongside literature enables new historicists to find evidence of widespread power structures operating in society. They then identify potential patterns of subversion that expose networks of power operating across texts. A combined critical focus on literature and historical texts permits the identification of what Greenblatt terms ‘social energies’, which he suggests are encoded across different types of text. Practitioners of new historicism established a pattern for analysis that often begins by citing a single documentary anecdote. The anecdote might initially appear far removed from the concerns of the literary text in question, but by analysing connections across the diverse texts, critics are able to actively expose similar social concerns and power relations in evidence in both. New readings of history and literature allow critics to demonstrate the ways in which pervasive power structures operate in different types of text within a particular society at a particular time.
Yvor Winters (1900-1968) was one of those critics who fall between the cracks of all the theoretical compartments. In addition to his poetry he wrote a lot of criticism including numerous essays devoted to the principles of criticism although he is not a protagonist in the contemporary debate and is not mentioned in it. Even in his lifetime he was a marginal figure, sometimes lumped with the New Critics, sometimes dismissed as a simple-minded moralist. However, his ideas have lasting interest and at the height of his powers he wrote prose of marvellous clarity and vigour. Some of his best essays stand as works of literature in their own right, something that cannot be said of very many modern works of criticism or scholarship.