"Gallagher and Greenblatt offer a brilliant introduction to new historicism. In their hands, difficult ideas become coherent and accessible."-Choice
For decades, new historicism has been a highly controversial and influential force in literary and cultural studies. In this dazzling, seminal volume, two of the discipline's most distinguished practitioners reflect on its surprisingly disparate sources and far-reaching effects.
A tour de force of new literary criticism. In their introduction, Gallagher (Nobody's Story, not reviewed) and Greenblatt (Marvelous Possessions, 1991) express the hope that "you will not be able to say what it all adds up to; if you could, we would have failed." Alas, they succeed, and it's doubtful that a better demonstration of the anarchy and solipsism of literary criticism today can be found. They mean to demonstrate how their varied approaches to all sorts of "texts" grow out of the rediscovery by scholars like them of the relevance of historical and cultural context to the interpretation of just about everything. But they do so in ways that their predecessorsthe Victorian scholars who used history as an interpretive tool before the New Critics began to avoid itwould scarcely comprehend. Moreover, with misplaced modesty, they refuse to claim that their interpretations are any better than otherswhich, of course, is an imposed interpretive principle of its own. This being said, Gallagher and Greenblatt's virtuoso readings of paintings, potatoes (yes, spuds), religious ritual, and novelsall "texts"as well as essays on criticism and the significance of anecdotes, are likely to take their place as model examples of the qualities of the new critical school that they lead. Ironically, because everything they write suffers from what might be called the fallacy of excessive significance (i.e., finding in texts what may not be there), they reveal themselves to be as adept at close reading as the New Critics they shun. Historians (who know something about historicism) will find their teeth set on edge by the wayGallagherand Greenblatt do history. But that's part of the fun and fascination of the book. A zesty work for those already initiated into the incestuous world of contemporary literary criticismand for those who might like to see what all the fuss is about. (12 illustrations)