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Reviewed by Daniel J. Silver
Michael Rogin, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley, is an unabashed leftist who has made a career out of puncturing U.S. liberal pieties. Very popular in like-minded circles, Professor Rogin can be looked to as a reliable bellwether of the latest trends to issue from those precincts. And so it is telling that in recent years he has forsaken a more standard Marxian political and historical analysis for a style of cultural analysis currently voguish in humanities departments called "new historicism." The term "historicism" - once used pejoratively as a criticism of deterministic historical analysis - is now used to evoke a new willingness to interpret cultural artifacts historically, though in a way traditional historical critics would never recognize.
The new historicism represents a kind of marriage of convenience between the exhausted theoretical methods of "deconstruction" or "post-structuralism" and radical political commitment. Wedded to Marxian "ideology-critique" - that is, the exposure of the cultural contradictions of capitalism - as their essential worldview, the new historicists dress up these old ideas with a new sophistication. Yet unlike the older "social realist" critics, the new social critics are largely unintelligible to anyone outside of their elite circles. Indeed, Rogin's recent work is a case in point. Filled with rebarbative jargon and composed throughout in a densely self-referential academic idiom, Rogin's latest opus, …