Toward a New Historicism

Toward a New Historicism

WESLEY MORRIS
Copyright Date: 1972
Pages: 278
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x11pv
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  • Book Info
    Toward a New Historicism
    Book Description:

    Assessing major critics from Vernon Parrington to Murray Krieger, Wesley Morris points the way to a "new historicism." He outlines traditional historicist interests in American literary theory and draws from them the foundation for a vital new study of literature. As Mr. Morris shows, however, the new historicism moves beyond-necessarily using the most recent developments in linguistics, anthropology, psychoanalysis, the psychology of perception and literary response-to see the aesthetic relationship between the work and its context.

    Originally published in 1972.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7041-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Chapter I Toward a Discrimination of Historicisms
    (pp. 3-13)

    I am tempted to begin this study with an apology, for here is yet another book that proposes to argue what we all already know: that literature has a significant relationship with its cultural-historical milieu. Since the high tide of the New Criticism the profession has been inundated by treatises that would return us to the sanity of historical perspective; it is difficult to conceive how anything can be added. But few of these works propose to offer a systematic philosophic analysis of this “newer” criticism, and as a consequence I fear we are not much nearer understanding the claims...

  5. Chapter II Literary History and Literary Criticism: Literature’s Dual Mode of Existence
    (pp. 14-32)

    It has been my aim in the Introduction to outline briefly the general philosophic bases for a study of culture known as “historicism.” Now I would narrow our attention to a special case of that study: the role of historical perspective in the interpretation and evaluation of literature. Essentially, the problem is to unite the fields of literary history and literary criticism, to argue that only in such a union can we fully understand and appreciate our finest works of art and, beyond that, our cultural heritage. Unfortunately, the marriage of the literary historian and the literary critic has been...

  6. PART I The American Historicist Tradition
    • Chapter III Vernon Louis Parrington: An Argument for Historicism
      (pp. 35-51)

      Warner Berthoff observes that “you cannot write intellectual, or cultural, history without reference to literature; neither can you write it solely on the basis of literature.”¹ He makes no mention of Vernon Parrington in this passage, but his warning might well be directed toward those who would imitate the methodology ofMain Currents in American Thought. In this chapter, however, I do not wish simply to reiterate the charges made against Parrington’s failures in aesthetic judgment; he has too often been censured for a lack of aesthetic sensibility without being granted the legitimacy of his particular interests, which inMain...

    • Chapter IV American Marxian Literary Theory: The Search for Critical Certainty
      (pp. 52-73)

      Although Vernon Parrington’s liberalism cannot be accurately interpreted as Marxian, Parrington’s work has very much appealed to American Marxian critics. Bernard Smith, aware of the dialectical limitations ofMain Currents, tries to make Parrington at least a “fellow traveler.” “The time was ripe for him,” Smith says, “but not for a genuine Marxist.”¹ A somewhat more discriminating Granville Hicks seems to have entangled himself in the very contradictions of Parrington’s elusive terminology.

      If he was primarily and most of the time a Jeffersonian, he was also, on occasion and to a certain extent a Marxist. If that is a paradox,...

    • Chapter V The Creative Mind and Literary Prophecy: The Critical Heritage of Van Wyck Brooks
      (pp. 74-102)

      The placement of this chapter violates whatever hint of chronology might have been evoked by Chapters III and IV, but a chronological study of historicism has never really been my aim. Thus I would note that both Randolph Bourne and Van Wyck Brooks influenced some of the critics who have so far occupied our attentions, particularly Vernon Parrington; yet they, along with Edmund Wilson and Lewis Mumford, form a continuing tradition of aesthetic theory that extends into the present day. They may serve, then, as foils for understanding many of the theories discussed in Part I and also as figures...

  7. PART II The Rediscovery of Historicism
    • Chapter VI John Crowe Ransom: Principles for a New Historicism
      (pp. 105-121)

      Van Wyck Brooks’s ideal, to stand between dream and reality, is no more than a restatement of the historicist’s concept of literature’s dual mode of existence. Dream becomes the aesthetic vision of a perfectly ordered world seeninthe poem, and reality is the recognizable world of society seenthroughthe poem. The dilemma has been and remains to join the two without vitiating the significance of either, and I believe that a schematic sense of the theoretical positions discussed in Part I will help clarify this dilemma.

      The crucial addition, of course, is the name of John Crowe Ransom,...

    • Chapter VII The Meeting of Opposites, I
      (pp. 122-144)

      John Crowe Ransom’s contribution to the emergence of a new historicism, and his contribution to poetic theory in general, lies in his effort to define a peculiarly aesthetic existence for poetry thatassumesits cultural-historical origins. He leaves many questions unanswered, but he does not deny poetry’s dual mode of existence in order to simplify or make orderly his critical approach. If the new historicism, as I suggested in Chapter II, is largely an effort to find the common aesthetic interest of both literary history and literary criticism, Ransom is the first American theorist who offers a perspective from which...

    • Chapter VIII Roy Harvey Pearce: The Revitalizing of Historicism
      (pp. 145-166)

      There are few critics today who are more aware of their place in their own critical tradition than Roy Harvey Pearce. Among those I have already discussed are many whom he cites repeatedly and whose works he acknowledges as having been influential. Pearce’s theoretical endeavors, nevertheless, represent a very serious attempt to push beyond those who have preceded him in the task of overhauling historicist theory; he struggles consciously and comprehensively with that historical relativism and anarchy of values that René Wellek claims are the “true” characteristics of historicism. As a traditional historicist himself he attempts to broaden the traditional...

    • Chapter IX The Meeting of Opposites, II
      (pp. 167-186)

      The aesthetic historicism of Harry Levin which sees the artist as “maker” of his culture in the very act of making his art contrasts directly with the mimetic-nationalistic historicism of Roy Harvey Pearce. For Levin the concept of “realism” is founded upon the claim that the artist is truly creativeas artist, though he simultaneously contributes to the historical advancement of his culture as does Van Wyck Brooks’s creative man of letters. For Pearce, as he was influenced by the mimetic theory of Erich Auerbach, the claim that the artist literally creates is vitiated by his insistence that the poem’s...

    • Chapter X Murray Krieger: The Ambition of a New Historicism
      (pp. 187-209)

      In his efforts to formulate a new historicist theory Murray Krieger draws extensively on the work of Leo Spitzer and Eliseo Vivas. It is not unjust to say that their struggles with the organicist-historicist dilemma guided him to the more crucial aspects of his own aesthetics, but Krieger’s study of the New Criticism and his broad familiarity with the history of aesthetics also contribute to his keen philosophic awareness. There is in his criticism extensive evidence of his effort to build upon the available tradition of literary theory as he sees this tradition opening new possibilities rather than confronting dead...

    • Chapter XI Toward a New Historicism
      (pp. 210-216)

      The absence of a conclusion here is in part an admission of defeat. I cannot conceive of a “concluding statement” for the massive amount of theoretical speculation that has been presented above. There have been several conclusions already; each theoretical proposition has been measured according to its own first principles and according to its own logical implications. In many cases it is premature to offer conclusions for theories that are still being evolved by their very active creators. There is perhaps so much yet to be presented that any conclusion would be outmoded before it could be set in type;...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 217-240)
  9. A List of Works Cited
    (pp. 241-256)
  10. Index
    (pp. 257-265)