New Historicist and Cultural Criticism Concepts and Terms

        Like most of the other Post-Structuralist critical methods, New Historicism and Cultural Criticism are very loosely defined by and for their practitioners by a generalized set of assumptions and some typical methods.  They tend to share with Feminism and late Marxism a tendency to see their work as politically important, a challenge to the dominant "normative" ideologies governing interpretations guided by left-over New Critical and Structuralist methods, which still turn up in published work.  Rather than seeking to rebuild a new "norm" or interpretive center, the NH and CC critics tend to move unpredictably about the literary (and cultural!) landscape, seeking opportunities to topple "insufficiently theorized" interpretive communities.  "Overdetermination" has become a key term of art used by a wide variety of Post-Structuralist critics, and its significance for critical method leads to the popularity of Geertz's "thick description" as a kind of universal extension of New Critical "close reading," Structuralist discovery of synchronically operating "deep structure action and status rules," Reader-Response discovery of diachronically operating "reader rules," and Marxist and Psychoanalytic and Feminist discovery of false consciousness operations.

Tyson on New Historicism--

How New Historicism characterizes the faulty doctrines of "Old Historicism" events can reveal a zeitgeist or "spirit of the age" (282) history is characterized by linear chains of causal relationships (282) historiography must be based on "objective" analysis (282-3) history is "progressive" with respect to human happiness, freedom, knowledge, etc. (279) history is best understood via the lives and thoughts of the "great men" who control governments and other social institutions
New Historicist assumptions cultures develop many myths about themselves, but no one mythos explains them people are continuously "shaping and shaped by" events (284) the "impossibility of objective analysis" requires study of the historiography as a narrative (283-4) history is "goal-less" but historiographers attribute goals to it as part of their cultural agenda we have an obligation to record and can learn far more from the lives of common people in the masses

Michel Foucault, a key theorist of the Post-Structuralist movement (284-8)--

power "circulates" rather than descending vertically down a hierarchical system (281) circulation of power occurs by means of exchange exchange of material goods by legal and illegal means exchange of people by cultural institutions exchange of ideas by discourses
discourses are social languages which create and are created by ideologies discourses allow negotiation of the exchanges of power by establishing categories of regulated behavior and norms for that behavior discourses are in a state of constant dynamic play with each other no monolithic "spirit" controls the discourses of any historical era, though designating a given period an "era" can make it seem as if one did so no totalizing historical explanation can capture all of the dynamic exchange of power because historiography operates within and is a product of the system it tries to describe

Clifford Geertz, an anthropological theorist, on "thick description" (288-90)--

cultural product social convention cultural code interpretive convention interpreter's self-positioning

Cultural Criticism, general theoretical principles--

all cultural productions do cultural work

"high" and "low" culture are politically determined norms

cultural production of "high culture" is privileged by social and interpretive conventions

"low" culture is equally or more valuable as an object of study

our subjective values must be acknowledged in the course of the analysis

"thick description" of the cultural production will reveal its conventions and codes