If we come to consciousness within a language that is complicit with the social order, how can we conceive, let alone organize, resistance to that social order? This key question in the politics of reading and subcultural practice informs Alan Sinfield's book on writing in early-modern England.
New historicism has often shown people trapped in a web of language and culture. In lively discussions of writings by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Sidney, and Donne, Sinfield reassesses the scope of dissidence and control. The early-modern state, Christianity, and the cultural apparatus, despite an ideology of unity and explicit violence, could not but allow space to challenging voices. Sinfield shows that disruptions in concepts of hierarchy, nationality, gender, and sexuality force their way into literary texts.
Sinfield is often provocative. He "rewrites" Julius Caesar to produce a different politics, compares Sidney's idea of poetry to Leonid Brezhnev's, and reinstates the concept of character in the face of post-structuralist theory. He keeps the current politics of literary study in view, especially in a substantial chapter on Shakespeare in the U.S. Sinfield subjects interactions between class, ethnicity, sexuality, and the professional structures of the humanities to a detailed and hard-hitting critique, and argues for new commitments to collectivities and subcultures.
"A coherent and compelling politics of reading. . . . Sinfield is intervening in a cultural debate not merely about the meaning of the texts he considers but about the very nature of literary study itself. Though his reading of central Renaissance texts such as Sidney's Defence, Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Shakespeare's Othello, and Donne's lyrics are wonderfully agile and alert, the true stakes of his argument are the protocols of the institutions in which we read and study literature."—David Scott Kastan, author of Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time
"This is an important and urgently needed contribution to the field of culture criticism both in the U. K. and in the U.S.A. Until fairly recently, culture criticism on both sides of the Atlantic has been dominated by the cultural apparatus of the New Right. Sinfield's energetic and courageous intervention helps to break the silence of dissident communities and it is therefore a welcome rejoinder to the neo-conservative chorus."—Michael D. Bristol, author of Shakespeare's America, America's Shakespeare