principles of literary history

  • For literary history to fulfill some role beyond summary, it needs to reshape, reorganize, reintegrate existing literary histories, so that what is old and what is new make better sense together side by side.
  • The pursuit of greater complexity or comprehensiveness is never sufficient reason to justify a new literary history. Instead, these become the means by which we reach a new perspective on existing writing and its histories, while introducing new materials into our thinking about literature.
  • The value of a new approach, as opposed to a new thematics, is that it should entail a truly new and different way of thinking about the material.  So how do your methods and procedures lead to different ways of thinking? Why is this change important?
  • It’s not just about the value of a particular piece of writing, but about communicating that value to someone who has never considered the writing that way before. What do they need to know, to follow you in your valuation?


2 responses to “principles of literary history

  1. Laura Rosenthal

    I think the last point is very important and constitutes much of the work of scholarship.

  2. Dave Mazella

    Thanks, Laura, I agree that this is a common problem for scholarship, though whether this is something specific to literary scholarship I’m still unsure about. There is such a peculiar relation between the experience of reading literary history and the experience of reading the (literary and non-literary) materials discussed in literary histories. I suspect that the difference between an effective and an ineffective literary history is the scholar’s ability to provide not merely information, but the just the right selection of information for her valuation to be understood.