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In class we've been discussing at large the idea of historicism, which by google is defined as "the idea that social and cultural phenomena are determined by history." I agree with this simple definition, but as we discuss in class, I find there might be more to this idea than this simple definition, and I'd like to know if you guys think this definition does it justice, or if you think there is more to it than this.
I don't think this simple definition really gives what we learned about Historicism much justice at all. While the definition is true, it does not fully explain how we are supposed to understand Historicism which is to understand what was happening at the time a work was written and read it in the perspective of that time frame. Historicism is supposed to help us look at stories from other periods with a view that someone who lived in that time would have also had, rather than our own biases to what is going on in our current world and how it would apply.
@curtis To add to this, Historicism is much more complex than this one sentence definition, so I also believe this definition does not do it justice. Historicism has many parts to it. Yes, a part of it is looking at the history of a piece when considering a piece's meaning, but there is much more to it. There is the idea of good literature (poetry) and the suggestion that good literature must be timeless. This is an important point to consider because while historicism suggests that good writing should be timeless, it also stresses the importance of considering the historical context of the author and the writing.
@msar I agree that the definition(s) of historicism is vague and inaccurate, I think that historicism is given different meanings by a lot of people and because it's so vague. I've seen the definition of historicism be the one of Oxford dictionary, and I've seen other definitions of it be related to the bible. My point is that I don't think that any definition of the word will be accurate enough.
@klynnph, I think this is true because history has so many different perspectives. Since historicism judges literature based off of history that means that they have to pick one perspective from history, when there's actually multiple. I think this is why there's no set definition, because our knowledge of certain history is always changing with different viewpoints.
@xwing37 I think this brings up an interesting point about historicism. Since it relies on the idea of a work enduring through history, and history is non-singular, anything could be historicism. Of course there are limits, but because history is nearly as vague as literature (both stemming from either emotional or physical truth but distorted by people's viewings of it), historicism seems to lose a lot of its objective-feeling qualities. It seems like answering "what is literature?" with "a work that lasts through history" only prompts "what is history?", and then you're in a self-referential loop and there's no answer.
@salmon, this is true, that's why I like modernism more. Modernism looks for meaning and credibility in the text itself. While the reader's viewpoints can still distort the meaning of the text, I feel as if there's less that can go wrong. But in historicism there's more viewpoints that can come into play like I said in my previous post. While modernism has its flaws I still believe that it's an advancement from historicism. Modernism almost tries to remove the reader from the meaning as a whole, which I'm still a little unsure about. I've always been taught to view a piece from my perspective, but modernism says different. But I definitely think that historicism does create that infinite loop of questions as you said, and modernism may do the same. But I do believe that we are progressing in the right direction with these theories.
@curtis I agree that this definition does not reach the levels of which we discuss historicism in class. That definition as a statement I think is very true, " social and cultural phenomena are determined by history", but when using that to describe historicism, it does not do it justice. The definition suggests that authors write because of history, but in class we talk about how historicism is much deeper than that. The theory of historicism is very complex, it shows how 'valuable' a piece is based on the timelessness of the writing as well as analyzing the context of the piece. Viewing a piece through a historicism lense allows us to view it through a contemporary lense and judge it as if we were a person reading it as a modern work. So if we see history through literature, in a way, historicism isn't 'determined by history', it determines history.
I think its hard to fully understand the definition if you google it. Google gives you a simple definition and historicism has depth. Like many have said you need to include perspectives and context. google definition excludes that and makes the word mean less.
@berryberry I agree, though this theory was terribly difficult and once you read some of the readings and descriptions it starts to make more sense. When this chapter had started and this theory was introduced I immediately went to google to try and answer my question of what is this? But I was found with vague information and just not a solid answer so I agree with how google might exclude some of the more important information when it comes to a very complex theory.
@xwing37 I think that your ideas about the flaws of Historicism are great. Historicism does have a lot of drawbacks, however Modernism also has a lot of flaws, and I think that only by using aspects of both can a text be analyzed most accurately. I personally love Modernism's idea that a text has an objective meaning, however I also think that there will always be some influence from the surroundings that will make it into writing, simply because the historical surroundings of an author influences the author which then influences their writing.
@berryberry I feel like before this class and learning more of historicism, I never really thought of the bias of the information I was reading at all which really shocks me. Bias can completely change a stories meaning, even producing false information so knowing who the information came from and what was happening in the era is very important to the understanding of information.
I think where we are now in IM is a great time to come back to historicism because of these themes that are coming up in the book and during class discussions. I think what IM goes through is easily related to the real world during a time of hate and judgement on a race of people who did nothing to deserve it. I think it's a good time to go back and reflect on what makes IM act the way he does because of the time he is living in.
To me a large part of historicism is, like MangoMan said, that history is portrayed by the victors. By this i mean that history is generally difficult to completely rewrite, but is easy to skew. An example of this is that it is accepted that the Nazis were in the wrong during the war, yet imagine how the textbooks would be written if they had won the war. They would be heroes of the world. So I’m all with historicism, it must be considered that the historical context that we think we know may not in fact be The Whole truth
@mangoman I think this is a great point. Even though I’ve learned about the time period that Invisible Man takes place in I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of insight in the book by not knowing more of historical context. One instance of this was the statue at the college. I didn’t look into the meaning until I learned that it depicted Booker T. Washington.
I too would feel lost if I had no context while reading Invisible Man. To understand IM's actions and emotions, as well as others in the book, you have to know what that time period was like, and where the book was taking place in. This goes the same with any book, not just Invisible Man. If you have little to no historical context while reading, some things might come off as confusing, which can be frustrating at times. I am more a fan of the modernist point of view, but historicism plays a huge role which can't be ignored.
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