The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning

Alan Liu

in Local Transcendence

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780226486956
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226486970 | DOI:
The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning

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This chapter argues that the New Historicism is primarily a form of elegy. It explores the lossless assemblage universe—with the aid of Sigmund Freud's “Mourning and Melancholia”—two antithetical, contemporary understandings of that universe. The most basic task of the New Historicism as a work of mourning is simply to verify the possibility of loss in an otherwise closed, lossless, post-historical universe. Modernism is that which expresses nostalgic “melancholia” in its sublime effort to present the “unpresentable,” while postmodernism expresses “jubilation,” Jean-François Lyotard posits, but the modern versus postmodern pairing here is structural rather than diachronic: the two stances coexist in the same condition of postmodernity. Antithetically, if the major key of such maniacs of postmodernity as Lyotard is jubilation, their minor key is clearly and keenly mourning—as in the paradigm of Auschwitz on the first page of Lyotard's The Differend.

Keywords: New Historicism; elegy; Sigmund Freud; mourning; melancholia; modernism; postmodernism; Jean-François Lyotard; jubilation; loss

Chapter.  4066 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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