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    STUDIA PHILOLOGIA - Issue no. 3 / 2022  

  Abstract:  DOI: 10.24193/subbphilo.2022.3.11

Available online: 20 September 2022; Available print: 30 September 2022
pp. 61-74



Q: Literary history, be it national, local, or regional, is perhaps the most conservative form of literary study, with many claiming that the method is outmoded. What can literary histories do to overcome both the risk of obsolescence and their inherent conservatism?

A: Framed as it is, the question may be read as appealing to ideas about agency—personal, disciplinary, and institutional—in the appraisal of cultural forms as objects of critical scholarship, especially the study of literature. But the guiding assumption about the nature of literary history or histories, as simultaneously an endangered and a dominant academic species in critical humanities, is itself worthy of consideration. The convergence of our sense of the outdatedness of teaching and studying literary history, on the one hand, and its entrenchment in institutional practices, on the other, it seems to me, has a structure of the uncanny in that it captures the intellectual and affective resonance of our current moment at the same time as it throws us back to critiques of postmodern sensibility, with Jean-François Lyotard diagnosing the postmodern condition as a disillusionment with grand narratives, Fredric Jameson lamenting the “weakening of historicity, both in our relationship to public History and in the new forms of our private tempo¬rality” (1991, 6), and Francis Fukuyama declaring the end of history consequent upon the victory of liberal democracy over the Soviet totalitarian regime. Yet, as the twenty-first century unfolds into its third decade, a number of these observations recede into doubt, whether through the durability of intellectually reflexive forms of art, like the historical novel (think of Linda Hutcheon’s reasoning about historiographic metafiction), or modes of entertainment, like genre fictions and blockbuster movies and TV series, or newly emerging geopolitical horizons of precarity, like global warming, international terrorism, racial, social, and climate injustice, nuclear imperialism, and war. There’s a haunting feeling that we have seen this before and one wonders if history has come back as a farce or as Feste’s prophecy in Twelfth Night about “the whirligig of time” which “brings in his revenges” (5.1.374).
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