The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1417 Wednesday 11 August 1999.
From: David Knauer <
Date: Tuesday, 10 Aug 1999 10:57:46 CDT
Subject: Re: Is this British?
Clifford Stetner writes:
>The movement of twentieth century criticism away from the search for
>historical allusion is related more to political conflicts within the
>academy than to the consensus that such allusions (if present and
>discoverable) are of no value to the decoding of Shakespeare's texts.
>Specific allusions, of course, make reference to authorial
>intentionality, which is an issue that postmodern critics have (in my
>view, unsuccessfully) tried to dance around since Foucault. The >death of
>the author seems to me to be a metaphysical exercise which >denies the most
>obvious truths about the nature of literature, truths >upon which even
>postmodernist criticism somewhat hypocritically >depends.
>Certainly British cultural materialism, like American New Historicism >is a
>form of "contemporary interpretation," but there is a line drawn
>between textual and personal allusions that seems to me artificial >and at
>variance with the principle of heterogeneity of interpretation
>valorized by postmodernists.
This doesn't seem to me to be an accurate depiction of the history or
present of twentieth-century literary criticism, American or British.
First of all, I think it's misleading to conflate "historical allusion"
with "intentionality." Writers might certainly reproduce the
assumptions, ideologies, etc. of their historical moment
Secondly, the critique of intentionality predates postmodernism or
Wimsatt and Beardsley's "The Intentional Fallacy" (1954). And that
essay doesn't dispute the existence of a historical, biographical,
linguistic context for the literary work, but stipulates that such
material's relevance can only be judged after we accept a work of
literature as existing first and foremost within public language. This
shift of emphasis marks a break with expressive, Romantic criticism and
its scenarios of inspired genius. In one sense, postmodernity carries
on the formalist critique of the unified subject or origin, but extends
it to the literary work's coherent signification. I don't think
postmodernists argue that history or authors are of no value in
interpretation, just that they, too, exist in public, heterogeneous
Apologies to all if this seems pedantic.