Saturday, January 12, 2008


This morning I finished Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning. I had intended to move through it fairly rapidly. Instead, I ended up reading it with some care, savoring the quotations (especially, in retrospect, Spencer) and taking way too long with the thing. The construction of the book was impressive. I suppose that it was out of the ordinary in 1980 to mention Clifford Geertz as a methodological inspiration for a book on Renaissance literature, but discounting this, Greenblatt restrains himself from ‘theory’ for the whole, wonderful, first chapter. The second chapter, ‘the word of god in the age of mechanical reproduction’ makes elegant mention of Foucault, Freud and Benjamin in the space of ten pages. (Of course, the name of the chapter is Benjamin: can it be anything but a profound coincidence that ‘word of god’ and ‘work of art’ are so sonically similar?) Later in the book we get casual references to Lacan and Deleuze. The ease of all this is pleasant. Lacan’s Rome discourse turns out to be great for reading Shakespeare, while Deleuze is only there to remind us that repetition itself is difference.

It is hard to put myself in a place where the story he tells of individuality molded and fashioned at every turn not so much by itself as by Power is a depressing or discouraging one. Perhaps it’s too familiar.

Still, the thing passes the first test for me of a good scholarly work on literature: it makes me think I should read more Elizabethan literature. Especially Spencer and Marlow. Ever since, some time ago, I read William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, I’ve had in the back of my head that Foxe and some of the other early protestants would be fascinating. No doubt a crazy idea, that the texts themselves would disabuse me of fast. At any rate, I understand now why people were excited by ‘New Historicism:’ it could claim this book as its own.

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