Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 6 (Jan-Mar 1984) p. 67.


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The Concept of Literary History: A Marxist Critique

5. V. Pradhan

The foremost task of honest history is to discredit and drive out the futile or dishonest varieties1

— Sir Lewis Namier

S. CRANE'S Critical and Historical Principles of Literary History1 is one of the few outstanding theoretical works in English. In this pioneering work he reviews briefly the dominant tendencies in literary historiography and opposes to them his "Aristotelian" conception of history. But, although Crane describes accurately the surface-characteristics of the two most significant trends — "atomist history" and "organic history" -- he does not grasp their ideological significance. Moreover, his rather heavy style, and clumsy and verbose expression interpose a barrier between his meaning — not always profound—and the reader. In fact, he does not realize that the tendency of his own conception of history bears a certain family resemblance to the ones he denounces, reducing the whole controversy to the dimensions of a family quarrel. And finally, I would like to suggest that though the present socio-economic formation is not conducive to the growth of any but these three types or modish variations on them, new ground in literary history can perhaps be broken if a conscious effort is made to transcend ad hoc explanations, natutalism, positivism, and mechanical materialism in historiography.

January-March 1984 J$7


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