Critical Theory and Politics--

Some writers managed to stay aloof from the politics of their time, at least not referring openly to any current events or topics in their work. We may read this either as a strong dedication to aesthetics over factionalism, or as an effete neglect of their social responsibilities, depending upon whether you demand that writers disengage from or engage in political consciousness in pursuit of their art. That critical decision, alone, will cause the reader to take sides (however unknowingly) in the debate between the New Critics, Structuralists, and "art-for-art's-sake" aetheticists, on the one hand, and the Marxists, Feminists, and New Historicists on the other. Is the poet a-political, and can poems have meaning completely independent of the material circumstances of their production? Do political forces extend beyond courts and parliaments and wars, and into people's psyches and the works of art created there? As you answer those questions for yourself, the importance of the rulers for the study of literature will rise or fall. Most scholars try to be aware of their influence, and few Renaissance or Medieval scholars can work without constant awareness of them.