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Local TranscendenceEssays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database$
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Alan Liu

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226486956

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226486970.001.0001

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The Power of Formalism

The Power of Formalism

The New Historicism

(p.29) 1 The Power of Formalism
Local Transcendence

Alan Liu

University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers the version of rhetorical exordium the method uses to place its argument in play. Just as Philip Sidney solicits his audience in the Apology for Poetry, so Stephen Greenblatt and others—to quote Jean E. Howard's early criticism of the technique—broach their argument through “painstaking description of a particular historical event, place, or experience” whose “supposedly paradigmatic moment” sketches “a cultural law.” So thoroughgoing is such paradigmatism that exordium is convertible with digressio: even when a New Historicist study internalizes a paradigm as its centerpiece rather than its opening, the paradigm retains a throwaway quality. The chapter's discussion of why not? of the New Historicism serves primarily to repress the urgency of its real questions about literature and history. The reason the repression is necessary is because the urgency of these questions is not motivated by curiosity about literature and history in the past.

Keywords:   exordium, Philip Sidney, Apology for Poetry, Stephen Greenblatt, Jean E. Howard, cultural law, paradigmatism, digressio, New Historicism

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