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“Afterword” by Arac. See also the similar critical exposition in Suresh Raval,
Metacriticism (Athens, GA, ±±), °“, especially °.
 Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human
Sciences,” in The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man, ed. Richard
Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore, ±·°), .
 The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Biographia Literaria, ed. James
Engell and W. Jackson Bate (Princeton, ±), II, ·“· and n.
 C. M. Wallace, The Design of Biographia Literaria (London, ±), ±±.
µ Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, II, µ“.
 See C. S. Lewis and E. M. W. Tillyard, The Personal Heresy in Criticism (Oxford,
±), especially Essay ±, and Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn (New
York, ±·), Appendix ±.
· Brooks, Well Wrought Urn, ·.
 J. Hillis Miller, “Stevens™ Rock and Criticism as Cure,” Georgia Review, °
(±·), .
 Ibid., “.
±° Daniel Aaron, “The Treachery of Recollection,” in Essays in History and
Literature, ed. Robert H. Bremner (Athens, OH, ±·), .
±± Quoted by Marx in Capital (New York, ±·), I, ·.
± Quoted by Godzich in Yale Critics, .
±
A point of reference
± J. Hillis Miller, “The Critic as Host,” Critical Inquiry,  (±··), , ·.
± Milman Parry, The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry,
ed. Adam Parry (Oxford, ±·±), .
±µ Ibid., , .
± John M. Ellis, The Theory of Literary Criticism: A Logical Analysis (Berkeley, CA,
±·), ±.
±· Ibid., ±·, ±µ.
± Miller, “Critic as Host,” µ.
± Ibid., ·.
° Parry, Making of Homeric Verse, ±±.
± Ibid., °. We are aware, of course, particularly from the work of Hayden
White, that the construction of a “picture” by historians is a narrativizing act
which imbeds in itself an interpretive structure. But the “great detail” which
underlies this narrativizing whole always exercises a counter-movement of
more or less extreme resistance. The best historians, and historical critics,
insist upon the signi¬cance of these details and matters of fact. See below
for a discussion of incommensurate detail.
 Ibid.
 Ibid., ±°, ±.
 Ibid., ±.
µ Ibid.
 The most complete analysis of the structures of human interests operating in
culture and its products is set forth in J¨ rgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human
u
Interests, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Boston, ±·±); see especially chapters , ,
and the appendix.
· Throughout this chapter the distinction between poetical “works” and po-
etical “texts” is being preserved. The former refer to cultural products con-
ceived of as the issue of a large network of persons and institutions which
operate over time, in numbers of different places and periods. “Texts” are
those cultural products when they are viewed more restrictively, as language
structures constituted in speci¬c ways over time by a similar network of per-
sons and institutions. Barthes™s critique of the concept of the poetical “work”
was a salutary move against the naive idea of poems as stable and de¬ned
objects. His related effort to install the concept of “text” in literary discourse
has much less to recommend it, since this concept “ while it has promoted
certain forms of dialectical thinking in criticism “ has also broadened the
gap between the empirical and the re¬‚ective dimensions of literary studies.
See Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text,” reprinted in Textual Strategies:
Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism, ed. Josu´ Harari (Ithaca, ±·), ·“±.
e
 Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry or The Defence of Poesie, ed. Geoffrey
Shepherd (London, ±µ), ±°.
 Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, II, ·“· and n.
° Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Arti¬cial (Cambridge, MA, ±).
± See Geoffrey Hartman, Criticism in the Wilderness: The Study of Literature Today
(New Haven, CT, ±°), µ, as well as Michael Sprinker™s critique of the
 Byron and Romanticism
contradictions in Hartman™s call for a resocialized criticism in “Aesthetic
Criticism: Geoffrey Hartman,” in Yale Critics, “µ, especially µ“°.
 Robert Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Ency-
clop´die, ±··µ“±°° (Cambridge, MA, ±·); Frederic Jameson, The Political
e
Unconscious (Ithaca, ±±).
 Jerome J. McGann, “Keats and the Historical Method in Literary
Criticism,” MLN,  (±·), “.
 The related paper is Jerome J. McGann, “The Monks and the Giants:
Textual and Bibliographical Studies and the Interpretation of Literary
Works,” in The Beauty of In¬‚ections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and
Theory (Oxford, ±µ), part , chap. ±.
±±
CHAPTER


History, herstory, theirstory, ourstory




Because “history” takes place as a matter of pluralities, it should always “
like Herodotus™ exemplary work “ be written in the plural. But of course
it is not, of course people tend to write Theirstories in the singular, tend
to write a history of something or other, and tend to suggest thereby
that history is integral, uniform, and continuous. We are all familiar
with Thesestories “ for example, with the commonplace view that there
are basically three theories of history, the degenerative, the progressivist,
and the cyclical (with due allowance made for the spiral variant, usually
imagined as moving in an upward rather than a downward direction).
Thistory, thus imagined, creates problems for people who work as
historians, a fact which people who work as anthropologists have been
pointing out to them for some time now. But history thus imagined is
worse still for people who write and study literature; indeed, the linear
imagination of history was probably the single most important factor in
separating literary work from historical studies in the twentieth century.
In literary criticism, for example, the classic argument against a his-
torical method in criticism has been that facts in poetry are not like
facts in history: a fact is a fact in history (whether we mean by the
term “history” the historical event or the historical text), but in poetry
facts transcend any one-to-one correspondence relation. In poetry facts
are taken to be multivalent, or as we sometimes like to say, symbolic.
They are open to many readings and meanings, and any effort to ex-
plicate them by a historical method, it is believed, threatens to trivialize
the poetic event into a unitary condition. Furthermore, to the degree
that a poem solicits a historical condition, to the degree that it seeks to
de¬ne itself locally and topically, to that extent, it is argued, does the
poem abandon its poetic resources. Byron™s “Fare Thee Well!” became
one of the most notorious pretenses to poetry in the language, so far
as the academy was concerned, precisely because the academy knew
that it was a poem written to his wife on the occasion of their marital

 Byron and Romanticism
separation, and because the academy therefore knew “ or thought it
knew “ what the poem meant. Its meaning is simple because its mean-
ing was simple; worse still, that meaning is and was sentimental and
mawkish.
I will return to the example of “Fare Thee Well!” at the end of this
brief essay. For the moment I want merely to emphasize that the his-
toricity of the poem is no more linear or unitary than is the historicity
of any other human event. The problem of understanding the histori-
city of poems is grounded in a misunderstanding of what is entailed in
facts and events, whether poetical or otherwise. Every so-called fact or
event in history is imbedded in an indeterminate set of multiple and
overlapping networks. The typical procedure in works of history is to
choose one or more points in those networks from which to construct an
explanatory order for the materials. Furthermore, works of history com-
monly cast that explanatory order in a linear form, a sequential order
of causes and consequences. These procedures are of course perfectly
legitimate heuristic methodologies for studying human events, but they
foster the illusion that eventual relations are and must be continuous,
and that facts and events are determinate and determinable in their
structure.
But in fact history is a ¬eld of indeterminacies, with movements to be
seen running along lateral and recursive lines as well as linearly, and by
strange diagonals and various curves, tangents, and even within random
patterns. Such variations are a consequence not merely of the multiplicity
of players in the ¬eld (persons, groups, institutions, nonhuman forces,
chance events, and so forth), but of the indeterminate variations in scale
and speed which operate in dynamic sets of events. Herodotus wrote
his Histories out of his understanding of the play of such variations, and
Tolstoy constructed War and Peace from a similar imagination. In our
day Marshall Sahlins™s Islands of History± used Captain Cook™s voyage to
Hawaii as a dramatic instance for showing how a set of events may be
seen to have different and antithetical meanings because the same set of
events is incommensurate with itself “ because the same set of events is,
appearances notwithstanding, not the same set of events, is not equal to
itself but is multiple.
In telling Thatstory Sahlins wrote History (a history, or perhaps
A-history). That is to say, he sought to de¬ne, for certain critical and
heuristic purposes, a structure of particular events. He produced a new
order of explanation which restored commensurability to the order of
events whose problematic character he had initially exposed. (The new
µ
History, herstory, theirstory, ourstory
order involves the introduction of anthropological categories into a his-
torical ¬eld.)
These matters are important for anyone interested in the relation of
history and literary work because facts and events in history are likewise not
integral or stable or commensurable with themselves. They are multiple,
and normative historical texts seek to regularize them only because such
texts are committed to using their materials to develop explanations and
to moralize events. These regularizing procedures are essential to the
tasks, for example, of history and philosophy; and while they operate
as well in poetry (for example, in a poem™s expository and ideological
materials), even the most rationally grounded poetical work “ Lucretius,
say, or Pope “ resists and scatters its regularizing orders.
This is why so many commentators have observed that poetry op-
erates as a kind of second nature (or, more exactly, an imitation of the
human world). As in the world it re¬gures, a poem (as it were) strives to
become the locus of a complex agenting structure. Facts in poetry there-
fore appear as facta, and the Latin form of the word reminds us, as the
English form does not, that facts are made things. The poem itself, the
arti¬ce of its madeness ( poiesis), is thrust forward as the sign under which
all its materials stand.
Brecht™s crucial re¬‚ections on epic theater have helped to remind us
that the ultimate subject of poiesis is the global event of the work: not
simply the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, but The Most Excellent and
Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. The Tragedy is the globe (in several
pertinent senses) that contains the tragic history, and when the Tragedy is
seen as such it appears, in its turn, as a complex event (or, more strictly,
set of events) carried out in a larger world.
In a poetical ¬eld we are asked to observe a play of complex inter-
actions between the various agents who are responsible for the poiesis.
Even lyric poems are “theatrical” in Brecht™s sense. Poiesis is the display of
active agents carrying out deeds which later agents (call them critics and
historians) remake through their subsequent acts of re¬‚ection. So, if it is
a fact that Byron wrote “Fare Thee Well!,” that fact was (and still is)
an event involving multiple agents and authorities. The writing of
“Fare Thee Well!” is only one act (or fact) in the much more complex fact
which (for example) literary critics are interested in when they study the
work that goes by the name “Fare Thee Well!” If we look even cursorily
at the printing history of the poem we discover very soon that “Fare Thee
Well!” is a work which will be only partly (and very narrowly) de¬ned by
the horizon of its composition and its composer.
 Byron and Romanticism
We have already examined some of the acts and events which are
comprised under the title of the lyric “Fare Thee Well!” The poem was
written by Byron, initially, but even that act summoned a larger context
that he had already partially imagined when he wrote the poem. But
Byron had not been able to summon in his own consciousness the entire
context of his work, or the ways in which other agents in the ¬eld of
Byron™s particular activities would make their own special contributions
to the fact we (think we) know as the poem “Fare Thee Well.” That
larger context, which includes various particular people and institutions,
is written into “ is assumed in the structure of “ the work we know as
“Fare Thee Well!,” though not all of what the work assumes was assumed
by Lord Byron, the titular workman who made the poem. What all this
means is that the poem is initially made in a certain way, and that we
can glimpse the complexity of its initial facticity by (for example) looking
at the different ways the poem was read by its various early readers:
by Byron, Lady Byron, Thomas Moore, John Cam Hobhouse, Words-
worth, Mme. De Sta¨ l, and many, many others. These different readings
e
overlap and converge at some points, but they veer away and differ at
others. The diversity is an index of the work™s factive heteronomy, and
when we remember that many different agents read and refashion the
work over time and across spatial and political boundaries, we begin to
glimpse the abyss of human agencies which underly everything we call a
fact. No one person or group of persons can control this enormous ¬eld
of human activities, all the agents are swept up by inertias in which they
have played their parts.
Normative historical texts try to regularize these complex eventual net-
works. The facts that come to us through these explanatory and moral-
izing agencies become those so-called empirical facts which most people
think of when they think about facts. When Coleridge said that “objects
as objects are ¬xed and dead,” he was referring to this kind of empirical
facticity. Coleridge was wise to distinguish the empirical from the phe-
nomenological order of things, as he did when he made that remark, but
he was less shrewd when he suggested that the empirical order comprises
“¬xed and dead” objects. The factive object of the empirical imagination
is itself a factum, a thing made to be (seen) in this way by certain agenting
processes. The “object as object” is not dead, even though the life it leads
is far removed from the life we solicit through poetry.
Among the Romantics, it was Blake who saw most clearly into the
peculiar reality of the fact. His understanding is nicely exposed in the
following passage: “The reasoning historian, turner and twister of causes
·
History, herstory, theirstory, ourstory
and consequences, such as Hume, Gibbon and Voltaire, cannot with all
their arti¬ce, turn or twist one fact or disarrange self evident action
and reality. Reasons and opinions concerning acts, are not history. Acts
themselves alone are history . . . Tell me the Acts, O historian, and leave
me to reason upon them as I please.” Blake™s distinction between facts
and reasonings underscores his view of the fact as a kind of deed or
event which opens a ¬eld “ which itself constitutes the opening of a ¬eld.
By contrast, reasoning upon the facts entails for Blake the emergence of
what Coleridge called the ¬xed and dead object. Blake™s reasoning is a
structure of thought which limits and organizes the active agencies of the
factive realm. The latter, for Blake, comprises the order of imagination “
with order in this sense principally signifying a performative rather than
a structural phenomenon.
These poetical orders increase one™s sense of the incommensurability
of facts, events, and the networks of such things.µ Poetry, in this view
of the matter, does not work to extend one™s explanatory control over
complex human materials (an operation which, as we know, purchases
its control by delimiting the ¬eld of view); rather, poetry™s function is
to “open the doors of perception,” and thereby to reestablish incom-
mensurability as the framework of everything we do and know. In this
sense poetry is a criticism of our standard forms of criticism “ which is,

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