Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Historicism operates more as a pragmatic check on wild theorizing

Countermemory Posted by Mike Johnduff Wednesday, May 28, 2008

If I have been unduly harsh on historicism in several posts below, it is because there is something more depressing about its failure as a movement within literary criticism than the failure of deconstruction. While the latter seems as if it were supposed to fail, as if it were supposed to remain merely a pipe dream, as if it were supposed to stay true to its starry-eyed idealism (despite its paradoxical claims to empiricity) and float along disinterestedly even before its moment has passed, the former always strove to be more pragmatic, to work towards the idealistic but always fall back upon the real, the actual--thus it is a bit more painful to see its downfall, for we lose with it a bit of our groundness in actuality itself, and completely against our will.

Or at least this is what I conclude from the remarks of Frederic Jameson in Postmodernism, or the Logic of Late Capitalism. "Failure" and "downfall," of course, need to be immediately qualified, as Jameson does: nothing simply fails within the study of literature, and certainly not historicism. We apply the term when assessing these movements precisely for this reason. To be clearer: until now (and perhaps beyond now--in America that is), the study of literature cannot really be distinguished from the application of an interpretive method, from a hermeneutic enterprise. Historicism and deconstruction, then, were both events in history (movements) and theoretical assumptions (methods).

The movement passes by--not only for reasons of fashion, but also for professional necessities, world events, all sorts of historical reasons--and the method changes with it. The only way to really show how both are tied together is to talk about the movement as if it were then an expression of the method: that that interpretive was a reflection of some aspect of the interpretive theory. We thus say it failed, but this is precisely because the theory will always have a complex relation to the historical movement -- in short, that it can't be said to fail simply. It is our way of trying to find the problems within the necessary aspects of the historical event itself.

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