New Historicism: “The historicity of the text and the texttuality of history.”
The phrase was coined by Stephen Greenblatt around 1980.
Other practitioners are J.W. Lever. Jonathan Dollimore.
Simple Definition: a method based on the parallel reading of literary and non-literary texts, usually of the same time period. It refuses to privilege literary text.
* It is no longer a matter of literature maintaining the foreground and history the background, instead it is a matter of literature and history occupying the same area and given the same weight. Reading all of the textual traces of the past, fiction or non.
* Places the literary text within the frame of a non-literary text.
* A historical anecdote is given, relating the text to the time.
* Context is replaced by “co-text”, that is an interrelated non-literary text from the same time period. Greenblatt: “Will of the World.”
Differences between old and new historicism:
* Old: hierarchical, with literature being the “jewel,” and history the background
* New: Parallel readings, no more hierarchy.
* Old: A historical movement: creates a historical framework in which to place the text
* New: a historicist movement. Interested in history as represented and recorded in written documents—history as text.
* “The word of the past replaces the world of the past.”
* “The aim is not to represent the past as it really was, but to present a new reality by re- situating it.”
Foucault and New Historicism:
* New Historicism is always anti-establishment, on the side of liberal ideas and personal freedoms.
* Believe in Michel Foucault’s idea of an all-seeing—panoptic—surveillance State.
* The panoptic state exerts power through discursive practices, circulating ideology through the body-politic.
* The State is seen as a monolithic structure and change is nearly impossible.
* Written in a far more accessible way than post-structuralist theory.
* It presents its data and draws its conclusions in a less dense way
* Material is often fascinating and distinctive.
* New territory.
* Political edge is always sharp, avoids problems of straight Marxist criticism.
Barry’s example, Montrose’s essay on Fantasies, reinforces the idea that literature plays off reality and reality plays off literature.
"New Historicism focuses on the way literature expresses-and sometimes disguises-power relations at work in the social context in which the literature was produced, often this involves making connections between a literary work and other kinds of texts. Literature is often shown to “negotiate” conflicting power interests. New historicism has made its biggest mark on literary studies of the Renaissances and Romantic periods and has revised motions of literature as privileged, apolitical writing. Much new historicism focuses on the marginalization of subjects such as those identified as witches, the insane, heretics, vagabonds, and political prisoners."