Friday, December 15, 2000

Q&A Stephen Greenblatt: The Wicked Son

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date Approximate)

Stephen Greenblatt is the best known exponent of the approach to literary studies that has been dubbed "new historicism." Author of "Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture," and "Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World," his most recent book, co-written with Catherine Gallagher, is "Practicing New Historicism."

New historicists linked anecdotes to the disruption of history as usual, not to its practice: the undisciplined anecdote appealed to those of us who wanted to interrupt the Big Stories. We sought the very thing that made anecdotes ciphers to many historians: a vehement and cryptic particularity that would make one pause or even stumble on the threshold of history.

Stephen Greenblatt and Catherine Gallagher, "Practicing New Historicism"

HB: When I try to define new historicism, I think of Elaine Scarry, the literary critic, studying the crash of TWA Flight 007, and coming up with a conclusion about the effects of electromagnetic interference that the FAA has taken seriously. Is that a fair way of describing new historicism?

Monday, December 4, 2000

David Gelernter: The Second Coming of What?


David Gelernter: The Second Coming of What?

By Harvey Blume
The American Prospect,
December 4, 2000

In June, 1993, the prominent Yale computer scientist David Gelernter opened a mail bomb sent by Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who had singled Gelernter out as a leader of the technological revolution he despised. Badly hurt, Gelernter survived, and as a recent piece by him, "The Second Coming -- A Manifesto" ("") shows, his voice on matters of technology is as strong as ever. But during his long, painful convalescence, he began what amounts to a second career as right-wing political polemicist and culture critic. Picked for an unwanted celebrity by the Unabomber, he became something of a hero to conservatives -- an intellectual after their own hearts, an anti-intellectual sort of intellectual permanently at war with the liberal types conservatives see as dominating cultural discourse.

Gelernter's own contribution to conservative theory-building concerns a supposed transformation of the American establishment after World War II, culminating in what he calls "the coup of the intellectuals" during the War in Vietnam, which brought that war to a premature conclusion. Gelernter describes the takeover by intellectuals as a historic change in America's elite, full of consequences for how the country is governed. The old elite, in Gelernter's view, was in basic sympathy with the American masses; the new, intellectualized elite is hostile to them, as evidenced by its espousing the alien values of feminism and multiculturalism.