If we come to consciousness within a language that is complicit with the social order, how can we conceive, let alone organize, resistance? This key question in the politics of reading and subcultural practice informs Alan Sinfield's book on writing in early-modern England.
New historicism has often shown people trapped in a web of language and culture; through agile and well informed discussions of writing by Shakespeare, Sidney, Donne, and Marlowe, Sinfield reassesses the scope of dissidence and control. The early-modern state, Christianity, and the cultural apparatus, despite an ideology of unity and explicit violence, could not but allow space to challenging voices. Disruptions in concepts of hierarchy, nationality, gender and sexuality force their way into literary texts.
Sinfield is often provocative. He `rewrites' Julius Caesar to produce a different politics, compares Sidney's idea of poetry to Leonid Brezhnev's, and reinstates the concept of character in the face of post-structuralist theory. He keeps the current politics of literary study always in view, especially in a substantial chapter on Shakespeare in the United States. Sinfield subjects interactions between class, ethnicity, sexuality and the professional structures of the humanities to a detailed and hard-hitting critique, and argues for new commitments to collectivities and subcultures.
This is a controversial, lucid, informed, and timely book by a leading exponent of cultural materialism.
`Sinfield is always lively and worth reading ... He is a historian yet very much a critic of the present moment, with strong gay and feminist interests, a spirited contempt for unexamined and conventional interpretations. What he says is for the most part controlled by considerable learning and, despite some excesses, by a residual caution ... engagingly lively book.'
London Review of Books
`Sinfield's book is an enjoyable and original explanation of canonical literature.'
`massively engulfing analysis ... It's exhilarating to meet such a buoyantly confident insistence on texts in real history'
Times Higher Educational Supplement
`What, though, praiseworthily distinguishes Sinfield is the passion, the wit and, above all, the deliberate impudence with which he challenges the textualised impudences of power ... His repeated dismantlings of notoriously popular critical unities such as power, rule, ruling class, protestantism, are timely.'
Times Higher Educational Supplement
`there is an infectious excitement about his writing, a running implication that something pertinent is being said'
Eric Griffiths, Times Literary Supplement
'a rigorous and sophisticated critical practice which is as different from press myths of 'political correctness' in the academic world as our real selves are from the pooves and lezzies the tabloids see us as ... Sinfield is a persuasive advocate of reading as a means to dissident empowerment.'
Gregory Woods, Gay Times, February 1993
'well-informed provocative book'
Critical and Cultural Theory Catalogue No. 3
`Anyone interested in the political consequences for New Historicist or cultural materialist reading practices should profit from reading this book. What is perhaps most striking about Sinfield's writing is his interweaving of the personal and the political. It is...the extent of his knowledge of diverse material parctices that enables Sinfield to consider and contest, as he says, 'the ideologies of gender and sexualities, ethnicity, the state, religion,
and writing' Few contemporary writers could handle the scope of such a project, so for this reason alone Sinfield is worth consideration by a much broader audience than Renaissance scholars.'
Literature and History
Theatres of war - Caesar and the vandals; cultural materialism, "Othello", and the politics of plausibility; when is a character not a character? Desdemona, Olivia, Lady MacBeth, and subjectivity; power and ideology - an outline theory and Sidney's "Arcadia"; "Macbeth" - history, ideology and intellectuals; history and ideology, masculinity and miscegenation - the instance of "Henry V"; protestantism - questions of subjectivity and control; Sidney's "Defence" and the collective-farm chairman - puritan humanism and the cultural apparatus; tragedy, God and writing - Hamlet, Faustus, Tamburlaine; cultural imperialism and the primal scene of US man - Daniel Boone country.
Number Of Pages: 380
Published: 24th September 1992
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 22.86 x 15.24
Weight (kg): 0.59