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Contemporary Critical Concepts and Pre-Enlightenment Literature

Edited By Larry Riggs

"Writers who worked before the beginning of rationalist universalism's triumphal period which may be ending now-explored issues of consciousness, ideology, and culture that recent criticism and critical theory, using various specialized vocabularies of concepts, have returned to the center of literäry and social criticism. These early modern figures often anticipated some of our clilemmas; How to manipulate an apparently quite mutable world and, at the same time, preserve belief in an immutable "centered" self? How to reconcile rationalist universalism with personal and cultural stability? Rene Descartes's postulate of man as the master and proprietor of an increasingly built world is fundamentally incompatible with his effort to underwrite man as a stable philosophical subject. Man's technical and linguistic mastery devours his "transcendent subjectivity." Students of literature are now using the ideas of what Larry Riggs calls "post-enlightenment thinkers"-Max Horkheimer, Jacques Lacan, Michael Foucault, Rene Girard, and others-to elucidate the implicit and explicit debates about rationalism that are embedded in literary works. This trend is most usefully seen as a renewal of contact with preoccupations that were quite current in medieval, Renaissance, and seventeenth-century European literature. To date, however, innovative criticism has focused an more recent literature. Some post-structuralists-most notably Jacques Lacan-have tried their hand at interpreting early works. Their ideas are interesting, but their knowledge of the periods in question is often weak. Manuscripts on Elizabethan and Restoration theater, French, Italian, and German writers of the medieval and Renaissance periods, and die seventeenth-century French dramatists and moralists are welcome. "