The University of Wisconsin Press
Literature & Criticism
Historical Studies and Literary Criticism
Edited by Jerome J. McGann
For the past fifty years literary studies and criticism have been dominated by formalist, structural and text-centered approaches. The editor of this volume, Jerome J. McGann, has been arguing in recent years for more expansive and contextual procedures. In this collection of essays he has brought together a group of distinguished collaborators—including Terry Eagleton, Marilyn Butler, Cecil Lang, and Sandra Gilbert—whose work emphasizes the importance of social and historical methodologies for the study of literary texts. Representing a variety of viewpoints and critical strategies, these critics together demonstrate the sociohistorical dimensions of literary works, provide examples of how studies of such literary works might be pursued, and suggest some central areas of investigation. The resulting effort to reconstitute some vital and neglected critical approaches will engage students and scholars of literature, and move them to reassess current critical assumptions.
Fundamental to this collection is the sense that literary texts are more than self-enclosed verbal constructs. In his introduction to the essays, editor McGann examines how and why the concept of referentiality fell into disfavor with modern literary schools. The antihistorical bias of the New Critics, Structuralists, and Deconstructionists, he argues, ultimately limit their critical vision. For literature, McGann stresses, has various points of reference to a larger world of social interactions and historical influence; only by recognizing and reconstructing that world can we mine the full meaning, and communicative potential, of a fictional work.
Jerome J. McGann is at the time of publication, Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of Humanities at the California Institute of Technology.
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LC: 85-040374 PN
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