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Voice, the New Historicism, and the Americas
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DAVID E. JOHNSON Voice, the New Historicism, and the Americas "If I were to dissolve in here," speculated the voice out of the drifting steam, "[. . .] what you saw tonight would vanish too. [. . .] The only residue in fact would be things Wharfinger didn't lie about. Perhaps Squamuglia and Faggio, if they ever existed. Perhaps the Thurn and Taxis mail system. Stamp collectors tell me it did exist. Perhaps the other, also. The Adversary. But they would be traces, fossils. Dead, mineral, without value or potential." Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 4g The Empire of the solitary Nile is only present beneath the ground, in its speechless Dead, ever and anon stolen away to all quarters of the globe, and in their majestic habitations;—for what remains above ground is nothing else but such splendid tombs. Hegel, The Philosophy of History This is writing that conquers. Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History In "murdering peasants: Status, Genre, and The Representation of Rebellion" Stephen Gteenblatt inscribes his own historicity; in his discussion of Book 5 of Spenser's The Faerie Queene, he writes: Artegall ta.kes the noblei coutse which is to petsuade and to negotiate; the violence—characteristically unleashed on those who are represented as pathetically vulnerable—is the prerogative of Talus who can no more receive dishonoi than can a cruise missile. (23) Arizona Quarterly Volume 48 Number 2, Summer 1992 Copyright © 1992 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 161 o David E. Johnson The reference to cruise missiles marks a particulat instance of what the new histoiicists call theii self-consciousness of theii histotical situation and situatedness. The sinceiity of such claims, whether they be explicit or couched in references to cruise missiles, is not at stake. I cite Greenblatt only to demonstrate a point which Hayden White makes in The Content of the Form: while considering the limits of historical narrative, White reflects on the "supposed want of objectivity" in chronicles and annals. Is it possible that their supposed want ofobjectivity, manifested in their failure to nattativize reality adequately, has to do, not at all with the modes of perception that they presuppose, but with theit failure to represent the moral undet the aspect of the aesthetic? And could we answet that question without giving a narrative account of the history of objectivity itself, an account that would already prejudice the outcome of the stoty we would tell in favoi of the moral in general? Could we evei nanativize without moralizing? (25) White's questions, when read in light of Gteenblatt's moralizing, suggest that the new historicism may not be so new. This essay exposes the new historicism's debt to the voice as the philosophical-cultural matrix that makes historical interpretation possible. In order to desctibe the new histoticist relation to the voice, this essay divides into three parts. Part one examines the new histoiicists' general claims to innovation; in so doing, it shows how theit notions of the subject and the state ate saturated by a Hegelianism that remains unremarked in theit texts. Part two, which focuses on the first few pages of Greenblatt's Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circuhtion of Social Energy in Renaissance Enghnd , locates the operative that makes history (i.e., histotical nattative ) possible and, consequently, that makes moralization inevitable: the voice. Patt three shifts the focus from the English Renaissance to the New Wotld, not in otdet to read the Renaissance discoutses of colonialism à h Greenblatt and othei new histoiicists, howevei, but to examine Tzvetan Todotov's The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other which, in spite of Todorov's citation of Emmanuel Levinas as the philosopher of the othet par excellence, remains an (Old) New World historical enterprise.1 New Historicism83 What will not be thematized in these pages, but which nevertheless should hang over them as a spectre, is a nonnanative but histotical wilting , a writing that to this day remains other to a Eurocentric (read: phonetic, alphabetic) undeistanding. 2 This piopetly New Woild writing would be the hieroglyphs of the Maya, the pictogiaphs of the Aztecs, the knot system of the Inca: these writings systems, like Chinese characters, are all insubordinate to the voice...