17 two novels chosen as a sample of a decade may

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17 Two novels chosen as a sample of a decade may sound more objective than a genre delimited by norms, but without a prior theory ordering it, any such procedure must be a stab in the dark. What the literary historian needs more than a model or a procedure of any sort is a set of intuitions already trained by experience in recognizing what is and what is not typical, and two ideational faculties, one for generalizing and one for throwing generalizations out the window when they aren't ratified by experiences broader than those that produced them. One can sympathize with Rothstein's sense that the worst thing a literary historian can do is to force texts into the procrustean bed of genre and pe- riod categories. But despite the opposing ways in which they are presented, there may not be much in the way of operational difference between what Rothstein rejects as "the Aristotelian brand" of procrusteanism and the brand he winds up advocating. Tragedy, in Aristotle's Poetics, is a genre that functions precisely like what Rothstein calls a core population, a set of texts with a family resemblance generated by different authors within a time frame, and what Aristotle thinks he knows about them is not deduced from foreknown general principles of aesthetics but is rather inferred from com- mon features in the texts and their reception. Whenever such "norms" of the population are "empirically discovered," that is, not defined into exist-
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169 Historiographical Speculations ence but inferred from (for example) features of earlier works that were most persistently imitated by later ones, those norms constitute a hypothesis about the population, a hypothesis that can be interrogated in terms of ear- lier, later, and non-core works, 18 a hypothesis that could be rejected, modi- fied, or (tentatively, until a better one came along) accepted. 19 This is all Aristotle's method really entails, rightly understood, though it is not easy to understand him rightly, and more tempting to read him in calcified form as he has been throughout the last five centuries through the distorting lens of Platonic dialectic. 20 Foucault, New Historicism, Historical Futilitarianism But what makes Rothstein's version of nominalism a cause worth pursu- ing—in however strange a manner—is the resurgence of a different form of nominalism bearing a postmodern battle dress in the form of the new his- toricism. The principal spokesperson for the new historicism, Stephen Greenblatt, continually insists that new historicism is not a theory or a set of doctrines but a practice ("Toward a Poetics of Culture" 1), but of course it is a practice based on a theory or a set of theories. 21 H. Aram Veeser identifies the following "key assumptions" that "continually reappear and bind to- gether the avowed practitioners" of new historicism: 1. That every expressive act is embedded in a network of material practices; 2. that every act of unmasking, critique, and opposition uses the tools it con- demns and risks falling prey to the practice it exposes; 3.
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Christopher Reinemann
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