My thanks to Aman and Jim for such a lively, entertaining and thought-provoking session. I just hate to let it end there …The reason I became a historicist, having trained as anything but (Cambridge Practical Criticism is about as a-historicist as it gets), is that I became increasingly frustrated by the slipperiness of meaning both at the linguistic level and at the level of genre. Words and genres simply do not stand still, and our assumption that we can read them now as anyone read them even twenty years ago (without the utmost circumspection) is deeply suspect. We may continue to read Pride and Prejudice, but any assumption that we continue to read it with anything like the understanding brought to it by (say) the Prince Regent on its publication seems to me simply misguided. How many in 311 today know that Fitzwilliam Darcy’s name marks him out as a Norman aristocrat (a fact reinforced by having an aunt called Lady Catherine de Burgh?) How many would know the difference in status between her being “Lady Catherine de Burgh” as distinct from “Lady de Burgh”? How many know that Mr Collins is marked out in his name as being very probably of Gaelic/Irish origin and so (no offence) an upstart as far as Regency gentry would have been concerned? How many would even have known that “Bennet” derives from “Benedict” and so implies “blessed one” — and so foreshadows Elizabeth’s fortunate outcome from the very beginning? All of this speaks to Aman’s concession that no one is going to be confused about whether Mr Darcy or Mr Collins is the hero of the novel. My point is that many of us are probably *very* confused (or, even worse, not yet confused enough) about precisely what we mean by “the hero” in this context — the resonances, the significances, the social and cultural implications. [Push this back a couple of hundred years and ask yourself whether Hamlet, or Macbeth, or Othello is a “hero” in anything resembling the same sense.] If I recognize some of this which others in 311 may not have done, that may well have something to do with my being English — and some of these resonances are still quite loud over there, in a way they probably never were in the US. (I am correspondingly tone deaf to a good deal in, say, Hawthorne.) But i still don’t pretend to assume that I have more than a glimmer of what any of this meant to the Prince Regent, much less what it might have meant to the Austens’ chamber-maid. (My own historicism comes with some post-structuralist knobs and whistles.) If all of this is true at the level of mere name-words, how much truer must it be at the level of narrative structures, which depend upon infinitely more complex word-complexes. I *cannot* read the novel as the Prince Regent read it, nor can I begin to guess its affect on him. This is where I — like a good little New Historicist — would part company with the other Jim (Fredal). [Did anyone notice that I let in an English full-stop there? It explains everything …] The truth is that we can never recover affect or emotions. We do, of course, have a very important body of literature from ancient times onwards which [that??] attempts to explain how to generate certain emotional responses in a reader or hearer. The problem is that we actually cannot know what love, or hate, or shame [or their Greek — or do I mean Attic? — equivalents] actually felt like to Aristotle, or how they compare to the emotions given the same labels by my next door neighbour (neighbor?) today. All we can trace is the linguistic or semiotic shadow, not the thing itself. Now, I actually think that tracing the linguistic shadow is a pretty worthwhile thing to do, because in the end history (the semiotic shadow of all things) is all we have that binds us together as human across the ages. And literature is one important part of it. Richard
- Robyn Warhol-Down: "Not Quite Not-There: Dickens's Narrative Refusals" (11/18)
- Nicholas Dames: "The Chapter: or, A History of Segmented Life" (11/13)
- "The Rhetoric of Comics": Karin Kukkonen (11/10)
- "Why the Humanities Matter" featuring Jonathan Gottschall (11/5)
- James Peterson on Rap Narratives, 10/2-10/3
- AAAI 2009 Spring Symposium on Intelligent Narrative Technologies II: Call for Participation
- PN Second Debate- 'The Sopranos' v. 'Lost': Debating the Highs and Lows of the Serial Narrative Arts
- 'The Sopranos v. Lost': Sean O'Sullivan's opening statement on 'The Sopranos'
- 'The Sopranos' v. 'Lost': Jared Gardner's response on 'Lost'
- PN Bibliography Wiki Launches!
- Robyn Warhol-Down: “Not Quite Not-There: Dickens’s Narrative Refusals” (11/18)
- Nicholas Dames: “The Chapter: or, A History of Segmented Life” (11/13)
- “The Rhetoric of Comics”: Karin Kukkonen (11/10)
- “Why the Humanities Matter” featuring Jonathan Gottschall (11/5)
- James Peterson on Rap Narratives, 10/2-10/3