Contemporary Cultural Theory: An Introduction by Andrew Milner

By Andrew Milner

First released in 2002. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.

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In new historicism, as in Foucault, this simultaneous stress on the discursivity of power and on the power of discourse easily leads to an overly ‘functional’ understanding of the self as effectively subordinated to and integrated within the social formation. So in much of Greenblatt’s work the apparently subversive moment in apparently subversive texts is read as ultimately affirmative of and complicit with the dominant discursive formation. The obvious instance here is the essay included in Political Shakespeare, and much reprinted elsewhere, which reads the subversive perceptions in Shakespeare’s history plays as ultimately supportive of the kingly authority they appear to question (Greenblatt, 1994).

In the first instance, then, what was to be interpreted was the religious canon itself, and for no less a purpose than to understand God’s own intended meaning. This is obviously no small matter: if God 23 ContCultural Theory Text Pages 4/4/03 1:42 PM Page 24 Contemporary Cultural Theory speaks only the truth, as by definition He does, then the intended authorial meaning of His own texts must take an absolute priority over any subsequent readings. For modern literary and philosophical hermeneutics, which begins with Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), the relevant meanings were those intended, consciously or unconsciously, by the author of the text.

Leavis’ own organicism is at its most apparent in his sense of literature itself ‘as essentially something more than an accumulation of separate works: it has an organic form, or constitutes an organic order in relation to which the individual writer has his significance’ (Leavis, 1962, p. 184). The centre of Leavis’ intellectual effort consists of an attempt to map out the tradition of the English novel on the one hand, the tradition of English poetry on the other, each imagined in exactly such organicist terms, and imagined, moreover, as bearing important moral truths—in particular, as bearers of the value of ‘life’, by which Leavis means, in short, non-determined, spontaneous creativity (Leavis, 1972, p.

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