‘History’ in Criticism – the ‘Other’ Side of the Story (Part – 1)

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[Fig: Michel Foucault]

Focault and his contemporary post structuralists might make it a part of his consciousness that ontological studies of literature leads towards a future of studies without a point of convergence, as knowledge necessarily entails power relationship – that the moment one attempts to define in strict tones some aspect of ‘text’, it becomes something else. Exploiting this power relationship of knowledge with the interpreter’s environment (which is essentially socio-political). Said in Orientalism, adopted a different methodological standpoint – the method of “historical generalization”. And after publication of Orientalism the subaltern poststructural critics like Spivak termed it as the “source book” for the related disciplines  to which she belongs. The reason to present this fact is that, I want to direct our attention to one distinguish point of today’s criticism – that the so called anti-historic criticism (like post-structuralism) lead the way to point a fault i.e. “ontological interpretation” is never free from bias and thus it gives way to ‘historical generalization’ or (more specifically) to ‘use of history in critical interpretation of texts’, to which it is totally against. That means, in plain words, through the structuralists and post structuralists, deconstructionist distorted history, by assigning it the title of a ‘system’ with changing ‘center’ (For instance, Derrida thought his articulation of his deconstructionist ideas as an event, and this he showed as a process of change of “center” – by replacing “metaphysics” with the “deconstruction”, at the center of our belief system), they later paved the way (through Focault’s theory) for a new mode of interpretation where history plays an important role – in post colonial, subaltern and Oriental studies (more specifically in the words of Said and Bhaba).

Thus the most interesting point that comes to our notice is the relationship between two modes of idealism – one that supports the use of history and the other that is totally against the use of history in the study of literature are infact are the two sides of the same coin. This point as we observed in case of modern critical theories, tempts us to examine its validity in every phase of critical history itself, and in the following I am attempting to give this temptation , a mode of reality.

(Continued…)

[From my essay with the same title written in December 2003]

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© Samir K. Dash, 2003

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