way—indeed, made it possible to see certain phenomena as facts at all." At first glance, this objective appears to be little different from that of traditional historical interpretation: the discourse of the past is grasped in its own terms. But what has been subtly introduced is a comparison. The New Historicist sees facts that the people of the time did not, and this special insight is what enables him to grasp the "discursive practices" that "produced" the facts that the people did see. But there remains a question: how can the New Historicist be certain that this second set of "facts" - those so painfully clear to a modern reader - are not merely produced by the discursive practices of his own time? Surely the terms in which he explains the past - "representations," "subversiveness," "cultural presence," etc. - belong to no age so much as his own. They are to be numbered among the discursive practices of the recent academic past. How then does the New Historicist know that the facts which show up so clearly in his interpretive framework can also be found in the distant past? There is no provision for them in his own Theory of historical knowledge. If he can never escape his own historicity, how can the New Historicist know for certain that those "facts" exist at all?

Despite its theoretical sheen, the New Historicism is strikingly unphilosophical about these and other problems of knowledge raised by its methods of interpretation. Movement writers never explain how it is that, though we are unable to recover the original meaning of a literary text, we are nevertheless able to reconstruct its original ideology. Nor do they account for why, though we cannot experience a text from an earlier age as its original readers would have experienced it, this problem disappears when we are faced by a text from the more recent past - say, a critical essay by a New Historicist. Indeed, it is clear that the New Historicism's categories of history are the standard academic ones. Although the movement is publicly contemptuous of the "periodization" of academic history, the uses to which New Historicists put the Foucauldian notion of the épistéme amount to very little more than the same practice under a new, improved label. A historical age is conceived of as a structure of thought held together by the same discursive practices. But the extent and duration of an épistéme is never fixed, and how one can be distinguished from another is never explained, except by the use of such labels as "Renaissance" or "Victorian England." Problems like these are not confronted, because academic categories in which New Historicist thinking occurs act something like ear-stoppers against unwelcome sounds.

None of these doubts is likely to dampen the enthusiasm within English departments for the new movement. The vindication is simply too persuasive. "If we don't do it this way we can't justify interpreting literary works any longer," movement regulars seem to be saying, "or what's worse, we'll have to go back to our old ways." Hence the distinctive terminology: "discursive practices," "representations," "mediations," "contradictions," "ruptures," "subversion." What the New Historicism offers to students of literature is the joy of new explanations, new paradigms. It does not designate an unexplored area of scholarly investigation. It does not raise new problems, new questions. If its attempts to "historicize" literary study were merely an inducement to look into new kinds of documents, to ask about the relation of literature to social history in a new way, the movement would perform a service for scholarship. But it does not. The New Historicism cannot be considered a new subspecialty within the discipline of English in the same sense as the older subspecialties of textual criticism or Renaissance studies. It is instead an academic specialty in the same sense that feminism is - a school of interpretation predisposed to find the same themes in every work it reads and to explain them always in the same terms. The specialization, in other words, is not a disciplinary but a bureaucratic one. It seeks to establish a new jurisdiction in a reorganized university. At such a juncture, the question of method becomes a matter of group loyalty. New Historicists like to picture themselves as challenging "the institution of criticism" - breaking loose from what Jane Tompkins describes as "the extremely narrow confines of literary study as it is now practiced within the academy." In reality, however, the movement is another step toward the re- confinement of literary study. As jobs are created for New Historicists and space in the critical journals is set aside for their essays - as academic decisions are increasingly made on the basis not of scholarly competence but of methodological affiliation - the pressure on younger scholars and graduate students to enlist in the movement becomes enormous: that way employment, advancement, and prestige lie. It seems to worry no one that this might take away from individual scholars the determination of what sort of research to pursue and put it in the hands of hiring committees and editorial boards. Yet such a state of affairs can only end by narrowing the possibilities for fruitful scholarship and abridging the academic freedom of those who would go their own way.

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