PREFACE
W
hy literary history? Modernism, it could be said, suffered his-
tory in public, and struggled against it in art. Postmodernism
renounced or parodied history in public, only to he haunted by it in
ethics and in conscience. As the past grows lighter, the future grows
weightier and more apocalyptic, and thus the whirligig of time brings
in his revenges. Never but in dreams are we free of history. And even
dreams are driven by the immediate needs of our lives and the condi-
tions of our dwelling. Having failed to escape metaphysics, we find our-
selves enmeshed in physics. Whatever transcendental entity may grant
us our existence, a chronotope-a dynamic nature composed of time
and force-molds it. These days, history enjoys vast prestige in satisfY-
ing a widespread nostalgia for the real.
So I need to restress the question: why literary history? Because the
real needs a counterweight if we are to enjoy it. Taine's unholy trinity
has returned to fashion-milieu, moment, even race-but with what
threatens to be an imperial dignity. Time is all-important; too often it
seems all-powerful as well. As several essays in this volume argue, his-
torical time needs productive tension with alter egos. Whether it be
the material reception by readers and editors, the hermeneutic dia-
logue of overlooked and recovered voices, or the critical resistance
that
otium
brings to occasions, literature provokes time to give itself to
us. History looms large-too large to be seen or felt in itself. Human
expressions do not so much make history as make history human; it is
our texts that shape events, turning them, for better or worse, into the
ongoing equipment of our experience.
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