Ravishing Tradition: Cultural Forces and Literary History

Ravishing Tradition: Cultural Forces and Literary History

Ravishing Tradition: Cultural Forces and Literary History

Ravishing Tradition: Cultural Forces and Literary History

Excerpt

In this book I study tradition as an issue of cultural forces with which we are bound to be preoccupied in every aspect of our being. My examples are drawn primarily from post-Renaissance Western drama, poetry, fiction, and criticism, but my reach (if not my grasp) extends to broader periods of time and also touches on matters of popular culture, social history, and contemporary politics. In my concern to emphasize some of the most important ways in which the past must be of compelling interest to us, I examine literary history in the context of forces such as war and slavery; technology and sexuality; repetition, imitation, stereotypy, and travesty; censorship, abduction, appropriation, and rape; and grief, protest, and ecstasy. In thus approaching tradition in terms of protean forces that must move, divide, inflame, and shatter us, this book also comprises a critique of more common ways of conceptualizing this term (such as those that define tradition in opposition to reason, progress, modernity, or postmodernism). In this regard I have been led to think through certain theoretical writings that are especially relevant to my topic, including works by Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, and Adrienne Rich.

The project derives in part from my last book (Abyss of Reason: Cultural Movements, Revelations, and Betrayals), in which I sought "to see interpretation in terms of urgencies, pulsions, gestures, historical desires, struggling oppositions, and impromptu deviations." It derives as well from my frustration with the stultifying way tradition has so often been invoked in recent "culture wars." Especially deplorable is how tradition is commonly reduced to a rhetoric of idealization and demon-

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