By Michael Hays

ISBN-10: 0816620210

ISBN-13: 9780816620210

A major, masterfully accomplished contribution to the controversy surrounding the “New Historicism.”

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His "originality" lies, as it were, in his most fully extending the possibilities of his chosen discipline. One can read his text to say something about the empowered rationality of the very discourse he helps to extend and redefine; one can talk about how it exists, as he puts it, "in its theoretical fullness" (A 438). The process is doubly interesting in part because Bercovitch takes it as a central part of his task to reflect upon the ideological consequences of the workings and techniques of this discourse in its society.

5 In proposing another, he turned to Jacques Lacan's project. Lacan explained the development of an infant's identity in terms of miming the coherent image of another. But while Lacan intended the description as an alternative to the oedipal model (which recently had been appropriated by American ego psychologists), Fanon found in it an alternative explanation of the psychology of colonialism. Like the infant, the colonized organized his official identity by miming the language, customs, and judiciary system (what Lacan calls "les noms du peres") of the colonizers.

I am aware, too, that some of the central concerns . . may be even more problematic than their treatments in this volume suggest. (A 438-39) If Bercovitch seriously means that critics must either "make use of the categories of the culture o r . . be used by them," he repeats an authoritative blunder that restricts "criticism" to endless repetition. It would be interesting to ask how it came to be possible that Bercovitch could put the matter in terms of this unquestioned dualism. For a moment, let us rather think some of the consequences of what he has allowed himself to say: we have to imagine that critics—and all others, intellectuals in their own work, wherever that might be—are either always nothing more than the unquestioning agents of already inscribed Notes Toward a Politics of "American" Criticism 7 categories; or, that somehow what privileges critics, indeed establishes their identity as such, is their ability to escape this determination and, by means of the knowledge of the categories, no doubt acquired through the practice of the "Americanist" discourse, not only rise above them but also put them to some use—a use that, in itself, transcends, is outside, the ideological realm made up and disseminated by those very categories.

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Critical Conditions: Regarding the Historical Moment by Michael Hays


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