Catherine Gimelli Martin
Knowledge as Power versus Power as Knowledge
in Bacon's New Atlantis
It is easy to slide from “let us not oversimplify” into a theoretical justiﬁcation, or a tacit assumption, of history as just one damn thing after another—a historical nihilism which is becoming fashionable today, for obvious sociological reasons.
—Christopher Hill, “Puritanism, Capitalism, and the Scientiﬁc Revolution”
When Christopher Hill issued this warning against the increasing dominance of historical revisionism in the mid-seventies, he could hardly have suspected that the revisionists would soon be reinforced by their new literary counterpart: new historicism. 1. While the two movements employ different methods and historical paradigms, both agree that revolutionary change was something of an illusion. Power changes hands, but so locally and arbitrarily that in the end only power remains. By explaining away the existence of authentically new ideological formations or modes of thought, both historical revisionists and new historicists thus effectively regard history as “just one damned thing after another”: a force without real agents, ideals, or goals. However, as Hill rightly observes, this view of history has proved attractive for some “obvious sociological reasons, ” including the failure of the great political and social revolutions of the early twentieth century. These reasons also go far toward explaining the widespread currency of Stephen Greenblatt's “sub-____________________