Of course, literary history continues and shall continue, if literary history is construed in a sufficiently broad sense. This 'field' or 'discipline', as we all know, is capable of perhaps indefinite renewal. It does not now, on the whole, imagine itself to be a research program with well-defined methods and objects; so it is open to stimulation and provocation from theoretical inquiries in (for example) linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, psychoanalysis or historiography. In fact, literary history shows some signs of potentially limitless expandability in terms of both the theoretical and methodological resources it can draw upon and in the rapidly increasing number of traditional areas of scholarship and criticism that can be thematized as literary histories. Neither Foucauldian genealogy nor Derridean deconstruction are too outré for at least some literary historians, while symbolic anthropology or rigorous linguistics is welcomed by other. Even more encouraging for the vitality of the enterprise arc the many studies by philosophers, historians, and sociologists that aim at treating their fields by writing 'A Literary History of. .. 'Richard Rorty has recently suggested that there is no longer anything really novel about such perspectives. With regard to philosophy, for example, he claims that Derrida and Jonathan Culler have attempted to gain more plausibility for their versions of the deconstructionist project than is really warranted by claiming that 'our culture' draws a sharp distinction between literature and philosophy that must be called into question. Rorty's reply is, in effect, that we are all already ('always already', perhaps) deconstructors since such distinctions no longer really carry any weight in our 'high culture'. Rather than supposing that philosophy is necessarily bound to a 'classic' quest for unquestionable certainty and transparent clarity we all, it seems, either recognize or are on the verge of recognizing that philosophy also involves '[t]he Romantic insistence on breaking out of any proposed closure ... we would do well to see philosophy as just one more literary genre within which the Classic-Romantic opposition is prominent. We should not use "philosophy" as the same name of the classic pole of this ubiquitous opposition'. Every form of inquiry or discipline, Rorty suggests, periodically goes through a 'literary' or 'poetic' moment in which its texts becomes anomalous and obtrusive rather than normal exemplifications of a well-understood activity. In this sense, everything is literature and consequently everything becomes a theme for the literary historian, who will happen, (just incidentally) to have an academic appointment in literature, philosophy or sociology.
Copyright © 1988 Taylor & Francis. This article first appeared in Social Epistemology 2, no. 1 (1988): 3-19. doi:10.1080/02691728808578458.
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Shapiro, Gary. "What Was Literary History?" Social Epistemology 2, no. 1 (1988): 3-19. doi:10.1080/02691728808578458.