What are the functions of culture according to Greenblatt and Forster?

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lprono | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Stephen Greenblatt is one of the first critics belonging to the New Historicism movement, which developed thanks to the poststructuralism of the 1960s and 1970s. Influenced by French critics Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser, New Historicists challenge ideas of a single and uniform culture and stress that culture is always a contested territory between the different social elements of an historical era. In his work on Elizabethan and Renaissance drama, Greenblatt has highlighted how this body of literature, including Shakespeare's texts, finally produce a legitimization of the ruling classes and institutions. In his Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980), Greenblatt concludes that, in the texts and documents he has analyzed, "the human subject itself began to seem remakably unfree, the ideological product of the relations of power in a particular society".

E. M. Forster belongs to an earlier period as he was born in 1879 and died in 1971. Therefore, he couldn't obviously have read the poststructuralist theorists that influenced Greenblatt. Yet, Forster too conceived culture as a struggle. This is well-depicted in his novels where he plays out the sterility and conformity of higher classes against the passion and warmth of more marginal subjects. Throughout his life, he supported actions against censorship in art and dedicated his posthumously-published novel Maurice to a "happier time" when people would be more receptive to its homosexual content. At the same time, Forster was, of course, very much a man of his times (though I may be influenced myself by the Neo-Historicist idea that subversion always include containment). As other Modernist writers, ForsterĀ used the idea of cultureĀ to confer order upon an increasingly fragmented and chaotic world. "Only connect" was a favorite motto of his and appeared as the epigraph to his novel Howard's End. In his critical study Aspects of the Novel Forster dismisses ideological concerns when analyzing a novel and concludes that, to judge a text successful, a critic must feel "affection for it". To Forster, one of the most important aspects of the novel is how it communicates universals, a term that New Historicists would challenge.

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