Looking At Different Theories Of Methodology Cultural Studies Essay

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New Historicism is the general term given to a wide verity of theories and methodologies that are historicist in orientation. Unlike prior forms of historicism, the new historicism is strongly influenced by poststructuralist theories of language and textuality and is indebted of Fredrrich Nietzsche, whose ''On the Uses and Disadvantage of History for Life'' set out the terms for a historicism that calls its own assumption in the question and rejects the dominant moods of historiography. Nietzsche recommends critical history as the form that could best combat the oppression of a present need (Uses 72).

Nietzsche's critic of morality in Genealogy of moral s brilliantly shows how moral values emerge and emerge along multiple and often scattered point in time and place. The Genealogical challenge to conventional ways of thinking about the past created the condition for "trans valuations of all values "It is also the theoretical foundation for Michel Foucault's Archaeological method, another anti historical approach to history. Foucault argues that genealogy is a fundamentally interpretive attitude towards the past "Genealogy does not pretend to go back in time to restore an unbroken continuity that operates beyond the dispersal of forgotten things … Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of people"(Nietzsche 146) .For Foucault, a historical event is not a stable phenomenon that captured by documentary evidence; nor is it the result of purposeful human action. It is the instead a sign of domination, of the shifting of power, the appropriation of a vocabulary turned against those who had once used it, a feeble domination that poisons itself as it grows lax, the entry of the masked "other"(Nietzsche 154) .

In Renaissance self fashioning (1980) Greenblatt draws on a Foucaulian notion of power of fashion a poetics of culture capable of reading the complex web like disposition of language, literatures and other sign systems that he finds in Renaissance literature. He reads Shakespeare's Othello as the supreme expression of the cultural mode of improvisation, a mode of self fashioning that entails the displacement and absorption of symbolic structures found in the culture at large and that is made possible by the "subversive perception of another's truth as ideological construct"(228) .

Identity in the Renaissance, according to Greenblatt, is not the matter of achieving or sustaining autonomy but a negotiating among social and cultural discourses whose determinations impose constrains on self fashioning. It is the task of New Historicist to map the various connections and relations between literary text and the social and cultural context. The result of these discursive negotiations and exchanges is the construction of what Tony Bennet calls a reading formation, a set of determinations that mediate the relations between text and context (Montrose 398).

Some notions of New Historicism can be traced fully in the plays of Harold Pinter and Sam Shepard. These phases include such plays as Caretaker and True West. Harold Pinter is the product of a post-war generation that has attempted to reject the evil of the twentieth century and present a new outlook on society. That is not to say that he is consciously didactic. Overly he states that he is not.

Rather, he expressed the experienced of man in frustration or revolt, nor of the vacuity of man faced with metaphysical absurdity. He expressed man in his fear, joy, humor, stupidity, ambition. He is concerned with the human condition as it is today. We should not ask what his plays "mean" but see them as theatrical experiences engaging and provoking an emotional and intellectual response from his audience. He states' I am not concerned with making general statement. I am interested in theater used simply as a means of self expression on the part of people engaged in it. … I can sum up none of my plays. I can describe none of them, except to say that is what happened. That is what they say. That is what they did (Scott 9).

In the Caretaker, Pinter's tales of two brothers and a tramp, Psychological needs as a motivating force is related to the actions of characters. Sam Shepard has proved himself to be one of the most prolific, original, and important playwright of his generation, having written over forty plays and having won nearly every major given out in the American theater. True West is, at first glance, a far more traditional narrative than those usually span by Shepard. It is the story of brotherly conflict, to emphasis the brothers being one half of a whole person.

Cultural poetics critics find the basis for their concerns as well as some of their assumptions in the writing of the twentieth-century French archaeologist, historian, and philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984). Foucault begins his rather complex and sometimes paradoxical theoretical structure by re defining of the concept of history. Unlike many past historian, Foucault declare that history is not linear (it does not have a definite beginning, a middle, and an end) nor is it necessarily teleological (purposefully going forward toward some known end).

Additionally, history cannot be explained as a series of causes and effects controlled by some many mysterious destinies or an all- powerful destiny. For Foucault, history is the complex interrelationship of a variety of discourses, the various ways-artistic, social, political, and on that people think and talk about their world. How these discourses interact in any given historical period is not random. Rather, the interaction is dependent on a unifying pattern Foucault calls episteme ( Bressler 220).


Using distinctive ideas of Greenblatt as the father of new historicism and Foucault as a eminent figure endorsing New historicist thinking, this study attempts to investigate the exercise of these ideas by the characters of the plays. The research also tries to accentuate some of the essential key concept stressed by these thinkers, and examine how the different aspect of New historicism, discourse, power, knowledge, identity, episteme, culture, economy are represented in these selected plays. In order to gain the purpose, the researcher tries to answer the following questions.

1- What are different aspects of New Historicism?

2- What is the role of power in Pinter's Caretaker and Shepard's True West?

3- How culture plays an important role in the work of these contemporary play writers?

4-What is the role of language and discourse of power in these selected plays?

5- Does any character shows that kind of discourse of power stated by Foucault?

6- Does the novel support the idea of identity?

7- If power is knowledge, how it can be gain?


There are two main reasons which makes this research important, the first reason is Pinter and Shepard themselves who are two of the most influential play writers in our times. As we know Pinter is famous for his comedy of menace. In his plays, The Room, The Birthday party, Caretaker, The Lover, The Homecoming, Old Times, No Man's Land, Pinter's portraying of difficulties of communication, jealousy, family hatred, and mental disturbance are evident. Shepard is famous for his continuing investigation of volatile relationship between family and disintegration of family. In this research the role of power is discussed. Power here means intellectual power and social agency. In modern society, one is successful who posses power.

The second, this research gives the chance to the researcher for having a deeper understanding of aspects of New historicism and its applications in Shepard's and Pinter's plays. The concept of power, language, identity, and culture has been discussed by many critics but in Pinter's and Shepard's play it took a considerable importance. Pinter's and Shepard's main concerned in their plays is to portray human relationship within limits of certain situations. The characters are so much haunted by their past and want to find some shelters to avoid threatening danger. Their characters are obsessive who do not want to listen or to understand but who want to be listened.


This project is to study Pinter's Caretaker and Shepard's True West in the light of New Historicism. Some parts of these plays are going to be perceived through significant concepts found in this realm.

Michael Payna's The Greenblatt Reader (2005) talks about Greenblatt most important writing of culture, Renaissance studies, and Shakespeare. It also features occasional pieces on subject as diverse as story-telling and miracles, demonstrating the range of his cultural interest.

In Madness and Civilization (1967), Foucault analysis the development of the distinction between madness and reason. In Discipline and punish (1975) he traces the changes that there have been in the way that societies punish those they consider to be criminals. These two books can be seen as a historical analysis of social conditions.

In the Archaeology of Knowledge (1972) Foucault assert that discourse determine the reality that we perceive. He wants to focus on the more abstract institutional processes at work which establish something as a factor as a knowledge.

Sara Mill's Michel Foucault fully analyses a refreshingly accessible guide to Foucault's most influential idea the context and the ways in which they have been put to use by a variety of critics. Examining such key concepts as power,, discourse, and madness.

In History of Sexuality (1978) Foucault argues that power is something which is performed, something more like a strategy than a possession, power must be read as a verb rather than noun.

Gregory Castel in Literary Theory (2007) discuses about Foucault and his theory of historical events which are not stable phenomenon that can be captured by documentary evidence, nor is the result of purposeful human action. It is instead a sign of domination of the shifting of power relations.

In Stephen Greenblatt(2008), Mark Robson examining exactly what New Historicism means and the relevance of New Historicism to all aspects of literary criticism . And develop Greenblatt's work on crucial topics such as self fashioning, social energy, resonance and wonder, and imaginations. Michael Scott in A case book (1986) Granted the research with some complete analysis of three important plays, The Caretaker, The Homecoming, and Birthday Party. It is about how cultural and social context that naturally effect dramatic performance and criticism. M.A.R. Habib (2008) in modern literary criticism and theory talk about the definition of the word culture that refers to the belief, ritual and practices of given social or ethnic group or nation. More generally the word has been used to refer to what is produced by human beings, as opposed the nature. Charls E. Bressler in Literary Criticism (2007) brings about definition of cultural poetics and attends toward a series of philosophical concerns that highlight the complex interconnectedness of all human activities. It redefines both a context and history.


In the 1980, political mood in both Europe and America swung to the right. The increasing unchallenged predominance of capitalism in the 1980, and 1990 overview the emergence of intensified popularity of New historicism, which called for the literary text to be situated not, Marxism criticism, which called for the context of an economic infrastructure, but within a super structural fabric and cultural discourse, with the economic dimension itself giving no priority and indeed treated as another super structural discourse.

One of the prime influences of New Historicism was Michel Foucault who saw knowledge as a form of power and analyzed power a highly defused and as not distinctly assignable to a given set of political or ideological agencies. Much of passes under the rubric of the New Historicism is not radically new, but represents a return to a certain foci of analysis as developed by previous tradition of Historicism. Historicism has been characterized by a number of concerns and features. Most fundamentally, there is an insistence that all system of thought, all phenomena, all institutions, all work of art, and all literary texts must be situated within a historical perspective.

In other words, text or phenomena cannot be somehow torn from history and analyzed in isolation, outside of historical process. They are determined in their forms and content by their specific historical circumstances, their specific situation in time and place. Hence we can not to bring to our analysis of Shakespeare the same assumption and methods that we brings to Plato; in fact that they belong to different historical period and different social, political, and economic circumstances will profoundly shape their notion of truth, of art, and polity. And hence whatever meaning we might attribute to their text. In other word literature must be read within the brother context of its culture, in context of other discourses ranging over politics, religious, and esthetics, as well as its economic context (Myers 27).

Foucault's work is largely concerned with the relation between social structures and institutions and the individual. His work is very critical of the notion that power is something which a group of people or an institution posses and the power is only concerned with oppressing and constraining. What his work tries to do is move thinking about power as repression of the powerless to an examination of the way that power operates within every relation, between people and institutions (Myers 70).

In Power/ Knowledge, Foucault describes knowledge as being a conjunction of power relations and information-seeking which he terms Power/Knowledge (Foucault 1980). He states in an essay entitled "Prison Talk" that" it is not possible for power to be exercised without knowledge not to engender power". He was interested in a discursive pathway by which power circulates within formation and tradition. His conception of power is an elaboration of the Nietzschean ''will to power'' and refers first and for most to representation of social agency. Power is knowledge and nowhere is the more clearly the case than in distinctive formation that constitutes discipline and punish.

Marxism theory generally used the term ideology to describe the means whereby oppressed people accept view of the world which are not accurate and which are not in their interests. Ideology for Marxist is the imaginary representation of the way things are in a society, and this fictive version of the world serves the interest of those who are dominant in society. Thus, an ideological view of society, might be one where the middle classes are portrayed as naturally more intelligent than working class, rather than a Marxist economic view which focus on the fact that school with the majority of the middle pupils have better facilities. From Marxist scholars, New Historicist learn that history is shaped by the people who lived in it, and they accepted Marxist's idea of the interconnected of all life. They also believe that what we do with our hands and how we make our money do effect how and what we think (Bressler 217-218).

As well as broadening the conventional definition of literature, Cultural criticism tends to ground the study of literature in a larger framework which include the economic institutions of literary production, the ideological context of prevailing belief, and broad political issues of class, race, and gender, and the operation of power. Hence cultural analysis tends to stress what is specific or unique in terms of times, place, and ideology to given culture and literary movement. Cultural study has expended its methodology beyond the conventional studies of reading and research to encompass field study, empirical observation, interviewing, active participation, and the interdisciplinary collaboration.

New Historicism is the name given to American branch of cultural poetics.

One of its originating voices, Greenblatt, believes that one's culture permeates both text and critics. Because all of society is intricately, inter woven, so are critics and text, both to each other and in and to the culture in which they live and in which text are produced. Because all critics believe that none of us can escape public and private cultural influences, each critic will formulate a unique for any given text (Myers 29).

The present study is concerned only Harold Pinter's Caretaker and Sam Shepard's True West, rather than their other plays or even Pinter's poems. Pinter and Shepard have numerous plays; therefore, it is not possible to cover all of their plays in this study. As a result, the researcher concentrates only in on these two selected plays which are very famous and suit the capacity and the approach which is chosen and the content of the study. These two plays can be studied from different approaches, Psychology, existentialism, post-modernism, and so on. But the researcher is not going to repeat what other has discussed about. So she chooses New Historicism's point of view in each of the selected plays.