Archive for February 7th, 2012

February 7, 2012

New Historicism

New Historicism is a school of literary theory that developed in the 1980s, primarily through the work of the critic Stephen Greenblatt, and gained widespread influence in the 1990s. The goal of the theory is to understand information by its historical context, and to understand cultural and intellectual history through literature. Michel Foucault based his approach both on his theory of the limits of collective cultural knowledge and on his technique of examining a broad array of documents in order to understand a particular time. New Historicism is claimed to be a more neutral approach to historical events, and to be sensitive towards different cultures.

‘Sub-literary’ texts and uninspired non-literary texts all came to be read as documents of historical discourse, side-by-side with the ‘great works of literature.’ A typical focus of New Historicist critics, led by Stephen Orgel, has been on understanding Shakespeare less as an autonomous great author in the modern sense than as a clue to the conjunction of the world of Renaissance theater—a collaborative and largely anonymous free-for-all—and the complex social politics of the time. In this sense, Shakespeare’s plays are seen as inseparable from the context in which he wrote.

February 7, 2012

Historicism

Historicism is doctrine that emphasizes the importance of history. It is a mode of thinking that assigns a central and basic significance to a specific context, such as historical period, geographical place and local culture. As such it is in contrast to individualist theories of knowledge such as empiricism and rationalism, which often discount the role of traditions. Historicism therefore tends to be hermeneutical (investigative of interpretations), because it places great importance on cautious, rigorous and contextualized interpretation of information and/or relativist (in support of the theory that knowledge is always relative to limitations of the mind), because it rejects notions of universal, fundamental and immutable interpretations.

The term has developed different and divergent, though loosely related, meanings. Elements of historicism appear in the writings of Italian philosopher G. B. Vico and French essayist Michel de Montaigne, and became fully developed with the dialectic of G. W. F. Hegel, influential in 19th-century Europe. The writings of Karl Marx, influenced by Hegel, also contain historicism. The term is also associated with the empirical social sciences and the work of Franz Boas. Historicism may be contrasted with reductionist theories, which suppose that all developments can be explained by fundamental principles (such as in economic determinism), or theories that posit historical changes as result of random chance. The theological use of the word denotes the interpretation of biblical prophecy as being related to church history. Post-structuralism uses the term New Historicism, which has some connections to both anthropology and Hegelianism.

February 7, 2012

Butterfly Scales

Butterflies are characterized by their scale-covered wings. These scales are pigmented with melanins that give them blacks and browns. Other colors like blues, greens, reds and iridescence are usually created not by pigments but the microstructure of the scales. This structural coloration is the result of coherent scattering of light by the photonic crystal nature of the scales. The scales cling somewhat loosely to the wing and come off easily without harming the butterfly.

February 7, 2012

Snake Oil

The phrase snake oil is as a derogatory term used to describe quackery, the promotion of fraudulent or unproven medical practices. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with questionable and/or unverifiable quality or benefit. By extension, the term ‘snake oil salesman’ may be applied to someone who sells fraudulent goods, or who is a fraud himself. The phrase originates with a topical preparation made from the Chinese Water Snake. Chinese laborers on railroad gangs involved in building the First Transcontinental Railroad first gave snake oil to Europeans with joint pain. When rubbed on the skin at the painful site, snake oil was claimed to bring relief. This claim was ridiculed by rival medicine salesmen, and in time, snake oil became a generic name for many compounds marketed as panaceas or miraculous remedies whose ingredients were usually secret, unidentified, or mis-characterized and mostly inert or ineffective.

Patent medicines originated in England, where a patent was granted to Richard Stoughton’s Elixir in 1712. Since there was no federal regulation in the USA concerning safety and effectiveness of drugs until the 1906 Food and Drugs Act and various medicine salesmen or manufacturers seldom had enough skills in chemistry to analyze the contents of snake oil, it became the archetype of hoax. The snake oil peddler became a stock character in Western movies: a travelling ‘doctor’ with dubious credentials, selling fake medicines with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence. To increase sales, an accomplice in the crowd (a shill) would often attest to the value of the product in an effort to provoke buying enthusiasm. The ‘doctor’ would leave town before his customers realized they had been cheated. This practice is also called ‘grifting’ and its practitioners are called ‘grifters.’

February 7, 2012

Bile Bear

Bile bears or battery bears are Asiatic black bears kept in captivity in China and Vietnam to harvest bile, a digestive juice produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. When extracted, the bile is a valuable commodity for sale as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The bears are also known as moon bears because of the cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chest. The Asiatic black bear, the one most commonly used on bear farms, is listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Animals.

February 7, 2012

Show Bible

A bible for screenwriters is a reference document used for information on a story’s characters, settings and other elements. Show bibles are commonly used in television series; new writers and freelancers are often referred to it when writing scripts for the show to ensure continuity with previous episodes; they’re also used by individual writers for books and movies to keep track of details.

However, according to writer and producer Jane Espenson, ‘Show bibles … just aren’t as important as you might think to the daily life of the [writing] staff. The truth is that once you’re living inside a show, you’re swimming as fast as you can from one island to the next, and there is neither the time nor the need to record decisions that have been made (these are in the scripts), or that are in the process of being made (these are in the notes taken in the room as the writers work).’

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