I need to compose a short two page paper applying New Historicism, specifically Stephen Greenblatt's "Invisible Bullets" to Melville's, "Billy Budd".
I'm having trouble getting starting point to go from. Mainly subversion/power in Billy Budd.
S. GREENBLATT'S INVISIBLE BULLETS:
<br>In Shakespearean Negotiations, Stephen Greenblatt develops a praxis of literary analysis that attempts to rediscover literary texts as both the reflection and the creation of a given historical context. His intention, clearly, is "to look less at the presumed center of the literary domain than at its borders, to try to track what can only be glimpsed, as it were, at the margins of the text" (4). In his first chapter, Greenblatt defines this reciprocal process of historical influence and textual creation as the reflection of influences he identifies as "social energy" (4). He then applies this approach to seemingly unrelated texts, usually a chronicle and a play of the same period, to exemplify the trace of a particular form of social energy. It is very simple.
<br>What is problematic about this approach is that its simplicity belies a much more complex historiography than Greenblatt's analyses will admit. It is not my intention to merely disprove parts of Stephen Greenblatt's theory and its application. Instead, I will attempt to refine his criteria for social energy and social practice by extending the conceptual and historiographical method. This will inform a more comprehensive reading of Greenblatt's primary examples, Thomas Harriot's A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588) and Shakespeare's Henry V, both featured in his second chapter, "Invisible Bullets." Before a critique of Greenblatt's strategy can be made, it is necessary to understand his criteria for social energy and the appropriation of symbols.
<br>In "Social Energy," Greenblatt confesses his desire to "speak with the dead" (1). He intends to recreate a historical moment [page 273] through analysis of contemporary texts that operate synchronously. This moment of shared historical context manifests itself through an economy of linguistic and, as such, cultural currency and its consumption. Through the texts of a given period, one can trace the effects of social energy (6); that is, "a subtle, elusive set of exchanges, a net-work of trade-offs, a jostling of competing representations, a negotiation between joint-stock companies" (7). These traces are extant in metaphor, symbol, synecdoche, and metonymy (11). He is not so much interested in whether a play accurately reflects a social institution, but whether there is an exchange between the play and a given institution:
<br>Inquiries into the relation between Renaissance theater and society have been situated most often at the level of reflection: images of the monarchy, the lower classes, the legal profession, the church, and so forth. Such studies are essential, but they rarely engage questions of dynamic exchange. They tend instead to posit two separate, autonomous systems and then try to gauge how accurately or effectively the one represents the other (11).
<br>The exchange of social energy is limited by what he lists as "certain abjurations": "1. There can be no appeals to genius as the sole origin of the energies of great art. 2. There can be no motiveless creation. 3. There can be no transcendent or timeless or unchanging representation. 4. There can be no autonomous artifacts. 5. There can be no expression without an origin and an object, a from and a for. 6. There can be no art without social energy. 7. There can be no spontaneous generation of social energy" (12). Although this rubric seems plausible, it assumes relationships that are tenuous at best, or non-existent at the worst.
<br>Greenblatt's statement disallowing genius as the only source of the energy of art is ambiguous, if not unreasonable. If there is reciprocity of energy between society and the artist, then one of the two needs to initiate a particular discourse. Even if one were to suppose that "agents of exchange [...] appear to be individuals," but are "themselves the products of collective exchange" (12), there is artistic singularity that differentiates authors and the texts they produce. Indeed, the concept of symbolic acquisition presupposes such an exchange through artistic representation: [page 274]
<br>Symbolic Acquisition. Here a social practice or other mode of social energy is transferred to the stage by means of representation. No cash payment is made, but the object acquired is not in the realm of things indifferent, and something is implicitly or explicitly given in return for it. The transferring agency has its purposes, which may be more or less overt. (10)
<br>Greenblatt's implicit or explicit "transferring agency" further questions his concept of the somewhat neutral artist. He admits "[t]here can be no expression without an origin and an object, a from and a for" (12).
<br>The complex logical attempt to formulate art as the equal influences of the artist and society ultimately returns to the primary role of the artist. Accordingly, his concept of a "transferring agency" that recognizes an origin of some sort ultimately asks the question of artistic intention. Again, Greenblatt compromises his balance between artist and society by stating that "[t]here can be no motiveless creation" (12). From this point forward he uses the concept of intention as the fulcrum to support his assertions of social energy in Harriot and Shakespeare. Before analyzing the intentions Greenblatt identifies in A Brief and True Report and Henry V, it is necessary to examine his perspective on Elizabethan theater companies and the role of intention in the exchange of social energy.
<br>In the second section of "Invisible Bullets," Greenblatt states that "Elizabethan playing companies contrived to absorb, refashion, and exploit some of the fundamental energies of a political authority that was itself already committed to histrionic display and hence was ripe for appropriation" (40). Why would they, considering the dire consequences of such overt action? When John Hayward's The First Part of the Life and Reign of King Henry IV (1599) was published without having gone through the censor with a dedication to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, both Hayward and Essex were interrogated by the Privy Council (Guy 447-48). Attorney General Edward Coke maintained that Hayward's interpretation of the overthrow of Richard II was "that of a King who is taxed for misgovernment, and his council for corrupt and covetous dealings for private ends" (Guy 449). John Guy states that "Elizabeth's most serious objection to the work was its [page 275] popularity among the Londoners, which she took to imply her own unpopularity" (448). Hayward's interrogation was to be the last event to take place before the Privy Council officially charged Essex with treason (Guy 448).
<br>Shakespeare and his company were also honored with a Privy Council interrogation after the Essex faction commissioned them to perform Richard II on the eve of Essex's revolt. Subsequent quarto versions of the play were not allowed to include Richard's deposition (4.1) (Bevington 721). Certainly, this is an intense exchange of social energy, but it is doubtful that an Elizabethan theater company would purposely implicate itself in a potentially life and death controversy over treason. Nonetheless, Greenblatt is correct in identifying a transference of social energy between artist and society. Even without a clearly discernible intention, a work of art can both feed and consume such social energy.
<br>Although Greenblatt denounces the notion of an "autonomous artifact" (12), and since he cannot accurately determine an artist's intention, there is a kind of artifact that bridges the gulf in explaining the creation of the artist's work and the society from which and for which it is produced. This artifact is not autonomous in the sense that it cannot be interpreted or traced, but rather its composition is the flint upon which both artist and society are kindled. For Richard II, this artifact is constituted by the previous histories and plays dealing with the career of Richard II. The story itself is loaded with potential controversy; the play was produced in 1595 and then used by the Essex faction six years later. David Bevington best explains Shakespeare's reworking of the story: "When he wrote the play, Shakespeare presumably did not know that it would be used for such a purpose, but he must have known that the overthrow of Richard II was, in any case, a controversial subject because of its potential use as a precedent [page 276] for rebellion" (721). This conceptual potential, or Vorstellungsmà¶glichkeit 1, is that which an artist could use to create a work that is covert, yet socially energetic in Greenblatt's sense of an exchange between author and society. The frequency of this exchange has been explained best by Annabel Patterson in the second chapter of Reading Holinshed's Chronicles.
<br>Although Patterson specifically focuses on the Chronicles, and I will be returning to her work for my discussion of Henry V, she utilizes an approach that is also useful for the discussion of Harriot. She identifies Jà¼rgen Habermas' concept of communicative reason that occupies a region between the mind and the external world. In its final phase, it is termed à-ffentlichkeit (openness) 2 and it features an internal communicative function as well as an externalized influence upon the social institutions of government and economy (20). Patterson appropriates Habermas and the concept of à-ffentlichkeit in a very pragmatic way:
<br>Sites of à-ffentlichkeit work, Habermas claims, in two directions; the one internal, a kind of gathering and strengthening process for the opinions of their members, a process which he elsewhere calls, more strikingly, "radical democratic will formation"; the other external, by way of bringing influence to bear on the seemingly immune, self-regulating and self-sufficient systems of power and money, or government and the economy. (20)
<br>Patterson points out that, although Habermas has a modern, if not post-modern world in mind, his concept can and should be applied to Renaissance studies. Indeed, for Habermas, most contemporary thinkers "have lost all sense of historical perspective by forgetting their origins in early modern Europe" (20). It is no accident that Patterson's chapter is titled "Intentions." This brings us back to Greenblatt's preoccupation with authorial intention. It is not that the authorial intentions identified by Greenblatt are necessarily wrong, but they exclude the potential of Vorstellungsmà¶glichkeit and the flexible interplay of ...