“Sidney’s Technology: A Critique by Technology of Literary History”

Citation: “Sidney’s Technology: A Critique by Technology of Literary History.” Acts of Narrative. Ed. Carol Jacobs and Henry Sussman. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003. 174-94.

Excerpt from pages 175-76

This is an essay that seeks to characterize the project of literary history as a technical practice that is part of the broader poetics of contemporary techne. My aim will be to bring us to the point—though here just to the point—of seeing the difference between the technical ethos of past literary history and the so-called “new literary history” (the anthologies, literary histories, and readers published since c. 1985). The best way to make this difference clear is to review the older literary history from a perspective designed to force the issue. In order to clarify the technical difference I indicate, this essay submits the literary historical practices of the past to a critique by technology—specifically, to critique from the anachronistic perspective of contemporary technology. What do past practices of literary history look like as a communications, media, and information system? And how is the new literary history different?

From this perspective, literary history manages presentation by means of a communication system in which narrative speech acts redirect the dangerous immediacy of citation-as-“seeing” into a long-distance of citation-as-“calling.” (p. 178)

The materials to be considered here will include only the following works representing certain shared elements of literary-historical explication from the sixteenth century through modernity: Sidney’s Apology for Poetry (which will be my main example), Gray’s “Progress of Poesy,” Shelley’s Defense of Poetry, Taine’s History of English Literature, Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence, and formalist literary history spanning from the Russian Formalist thesis of “systemic evolution” (Shklovsky, Eichenbaum, Tynjanov, Jakobson) to later hermeneutical and genre-study variants (e.g., Hans Robert Jauss and Ralph Cohen, respectively). I will also invoke one representative anthology: the Norton Anthology of English Literature.

The literary history represented by such works, we can define, is the management and socialization of representations of literature. . . .

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