Towards a New Literary History of the Middle Ages

The critical practices of young American scholars during 1970s under the influence of J. Hills Miller, Paul De Man and Harold Bloom introduced a new era in the history of literary studies. These prominent figures of American Deconstruction (taught by Derrida at Yale University during 1969-70) challenged the established practices founded upon the basis of structural binaries/dichotomies.

In the field of Medieval Studies the hierarchy was crucially at work in the selection of the texts and authors. From the high/low, courtly/vernacular, sacred/profane, written/oral etc. Only the left-hand (structurally primary) agendas were selected and were included in the pedagogic programs. Even during its institutionalization, the founding scholars largely overlooked the ‘Problematic’ (controversy and inconsistency) immanent in such hierarchies. Under the impact of deconstruction and its fruitful academic responses from other fields, the then young Medievalists gradually included the ‘newness’ in their academic activities. Before the mid ‘ 70s these people were articulating their commitment to ‘rewrite’ the history of the Middle Ages through poststructuralist way.
For the first time, the young medievalists had a clear vision and the critical agendas revealed by the insights of deconstruction. The traditional/analytic agendas were redrawn in a horizontal way making the dichotomy not each others’ opposite but each others’ complement. Instead of preserving the enmity of such binaries they were treated as necessary and urgent for each other. In the subsequent years, the publication of “What is an Author?” by Foucault and “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes introduced thrilling new experiences which radically challenged the author as the authority on the meaning of a text. These critics defined an author as a historical construct responding to the complex ideological and discursive practices rather than transcending it. They further defined history as an interpretation of historical events or facts rather than the representation of the ‘real’. This renewed debate of the author, the history and the meaning of the text [that shifted to a commentary] finally appealed the cultural lefts of the time. Once these various critical attitudes came in the common ground of critical practices the environment finally gave rise to what we commonly call the ‘New Historicism’. With the rise of New Historicism and its application in the field of literary studies the disciplinary boundaries were erased (Radically redrawn) and new disciplinary boundaries were created which were based on the plurality, partiality, and horizontality or the textual indeterminacy.