Position, Limits, Critiquing

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From Barker and Hulme’s “Nymphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Discursive Con-texts of The Tempest”:

“Our criticism of this politicized intertextuality does not however seek to reinstate the autotelic text with its single fixed meaning.  Texts are certainly not available for innocent, unhistorical readings.  Any reading must be made from a particular position, but is not reducible to that position (not least because texts are not infinitely malleable or interpretable, but offer certain constraints and resistances to readings made of them).  Rather, different readings struggle with each other on the site of the text, and all that can count, however provisionally, as knowledge of a text, is achieved through this discursive conflict.  In other words, the onus of new readings, especially radical readings aware of their own theoretical and political positioning, should be to proceed by means of a critique of the dominant readings of a text” (444).

I know, it’s a long quote, I’m sorry.  But there are three things about this quote I would like to focus on which I think are very typical of new historicism and which for the most part I agree with.  The first thing is that no matter what argument one makes, it always “must be made from a particular position.”  In other words, an author can’t help or control that they are affected by where, when, and what surrounds them when they write.  We are all affected by our culture whether subconsciously or consciously.  However, Barker and Hulme also realize that a reading “is not reducible to that position.”  This brings me to the second thing I want to discuss about this quote which is that texts do have limits to their interpretations.  We can’t just claim whatever we like about a work and then say it’s reasonable because such and such a thing was going on in history at the same time the work was written.  There needs to be textual support for any claim and there are many interpretations which work at the same time.  Lastly, Barker and Hulme like Dock et al. challenge us to “critique...the dominant readings of a text.”  New readings and interpretations of a text should be made by critiquing the arguments that already exist.  We should read critical articles and use them as a springboard into new readings. 

Read more on Barker and Hulme’s article.           

1 Comments

Angela Palumbo said:

I agree with you on this one. There needs to be a reason for intertextuality and using historical criticism. There has to be a foundation in which to build off of unless you want your house to crumble. My question is to what extent does culture really affect our readings? When I think about many things, it seems that I can relate them back to me being from a specific culture, even down to blogging right now. What do you think? Can you think of anything you do that isn't relate to culture?

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