Open Questions

Beginning to produce a "culturalist" (New Historicist) reading
  • Greenblatt and others have helped to forward a revised, more capacious sense of culture as the whole way of life. Can you distinguish this concept and the kind of reading it invites or requires from the more familiar "reading in context"? Greenblatt insists this is not simply a call for "extrinsic" criticism. But what does he mean? And is it convincing? Why would this be important anyways?

  • The culturalist approach seems to emphasize structures of power and how works of culture (literary texts, art etc.) play a role in maintaining, reproducing, and challenging boundaries -- including those that have to do with human freedom ("constraint," "mobility," "praise" and "blame"). What is the rationale for linking aesthetic objects like novels and poems with these social forces? Greenblatt would vehemently insist it does not represent a simple politicization of literary study.

  • Does a culturalist strive to know history in order to more accurately interpret texts, or does he or she strive to read the text in order to more accurately interpret history? Or ....

  • It seems as though art abides by the rules and reflects the norms of a given society. Isn't this a discouraging (or at least static and conservative) picture of what art can do? What do we make of the claim that "the ability of artists to assemble and shape the forces of their culture in novel ways so that elements powerfully interact ... has the potential to unsettle this affirmative relation"? (231)

Culture to Ideology
Week 8 Group Discussion Questions

Talan Memmot
(in-class writing?)
Memmot creates a work which seems to resonate with certain ideas about cultural, ideology, and subjectivity. It seems to reframe the idea of the individual artist and his work. Does Greenblatt's assertion seem relevant?
  • "despite our romatnic cult of originality, most artists are themselves gifted creators of variations upon received themes.... Such borrowing is not evidence of imaginative parsimony, still less a symptom of creative exhaustion . . . . It signals rather a further aspec tof cultural mobility to which I have already pointed. This mobiltis not the expression of franom motion but of exchange. A culture is a particular network of negatotions for the exchange of material goods, ideas, and -- through institutions like enslavement, adoption, or marriage -- people." (229)

Self Portrait(s) as Others


A society is possible because individuals carry in their heads a picture of society" and their place in it (Manheim, Qtd in Kavanagh, 309)

  • The concept of "ideology" in critical theory today is heavily influenced by Marxism. So Kavanagh writes that "any such class-divided social situation embodies an implicit tension that can at any time erupt into open conflict, and thus every class society has certain repressive mechanisms (police, armies, courts) to force social subjects to accept the relations of subordination and dominance between the classes." (308).
    • But he goes on to argue that ideology serves as a more effective tool towards the same ends? How? And what does this possibly have to do with literary study?
Understanding Althusser and Ideology Critique
Let's try to outline Kavanagh (pp. 310-313)