I was surprised in class to learn that several people dislike the process of historicizing, finding it more of an inhibitor than an aide. In my favorite English classes, the professors presented the historical background of the narratives or poetry being studied in an attempt to enhance our understanding of the pieces. I respond well to this type of analyzing because it offers me more than just my initial interpretation; I am given an additional focal lens through which I can enjoy the discovery of different perspectives and thus interpretations.
While studying Why Read?, I initially thought Edmundson shared the dissatisfied view that our discussion Wednesday touched briefly on, due to his chapter entitled “Literary Life,” in which he criticizes studying the historic context of literature. This topic recurred during the sections “History Now” and “Always Historicize?”. However, his musings were drastically contrary to his initial statements found in earlier sections. In the first, Edmundson states that “by studying history we can attach ourselves to human efforts and human energies larger than ourselves and bring our personal force into the great wave of unfolding, collective hopes” and that “without history to teach how hard it is…one is likely to be content with mere literary half-truths” (p 116, 118). Again, this is precisely how I view the practice of historicizing: it is an enhancing guide that ultimately broadens our literary experience. Understanding the complex, nuanced motives of the author and the time period that he or she was living in helps to color our original interpretation and gives us a foundation that we can more easily expand upon. Then in the later section he revisits his earlier negative views and sarcastically alludes that by concentrating on the past, readers fail to connect works with the present. I could not disagree more, as I have made clear. Then he shifts positions again and claims that “…historical interpretations …allows us to read a past text in more nuanced ways” (p. 119). For me, the last section of this book is almost obnoxious due to Edmundson’s consistent tendency to vacillate.
Why did Edmundson write his sections regarding historicizing (or any others, as indecisiveness is a common occurrence in this book) in this way? Do you agree with the way that I have read this final section? What are your feelings on the process of historicizing itself and how has it affected, negatively or positively, your study of literature?