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Local Transcendence

Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database

Local Transcendence

Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database

Driven by global economic forces to innovate, today’s society paradoxically looks forward to the future while staring only at the nearest, most local present—the most recent financial quarter, the latest artistic movement, the instant message or blog post at the top of the screen.  Postmodernity is lived, it seems, at the end of history.
            In the essays collected in Local Transcendence, Alan Liu takes the pulse of such postmodern historicism by tracking two leading indicators of its acceleration in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: postmodern cultural criticism—including the new historicism, the new cultural history, cultural anthropology, the new pragmatism, and postmodern and postindustrial theory—and digital information technology. What is the relation between the new historicist anecdote and the database field, Liu asks, and can either have a critical function in the age of postmodern historicism? Local Transcendence includes two previously unpublished essays and a synthetic introduction in which Liu traverses from his earlier work on the theory of historicism to his recent studies of information culture to propose a theory of contingent method incorporating a special inflection of history: media history.

408 pages | 33 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


“Following the magnificent achievement of The Laws of Cool, Alan Liu in Local Transcendence takes on the problem he astutely identified as deeply connected with the ‘cool’: the loss of historical grounding and consequent restructuring of identities by postindustrial corporations. Offering a rigorous yet humane critique of New Historicism and cultural criticism from the inside, he interrogates the possibilities for historical grounding in the age of information in a witty prose style and a capacious field of reference. Local Transcendence is required reading for anyone interested in the multiple conjunctions, oppositions, and synergies between information, historicism, and cultural context.”

N. Katherine Hayles, author of My Mother Was a Computer

Table of Contents

Introduction: Contingent Methods

1. The Power of Formalism: The New Historicism
2. Trying Cultural Criticism: Wordsworth and Subversion
3. Local Transcendence: Cultural Criticism, Postmodernism, and the Romanticism of Detail
4. Remembering the Spruce Goose: Historicism, Postmodernism, Romanticism
5. The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning
6. The Interdisciplinary War Machine
7. Sidney’s Technology: A Critique by Technology of Literary History
8. Transcendental data: Toward a Cultural History and Aesthetics of the New Encoded Discourse
9. Escaping History: The New Historicism, Databases, and Contingency

Works Cited

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