Synopses & Reviews
Blood. Invention. Language. Resistance. World. Five ordinary words that do a great deal of conceptual work in everyday life and literature. In this original experiment in critical semantics, Roland Greene considers how these five words changed over the course of the sixteenth century and what their changes indicate about broader forces in science, politics, and other disciplines. Greene discusses a broad swath of Renaissance and transatlantic literature—including Shakespeare, Cervantes, Camões, and Milton—in terms of the development of these words rather than works, careers, or histories. He creates a method for describing and understanding the semantic changes that occur, extending his argument to other words that operate in the same manner. Aiming to shift the conversation around Renaissance literature from current approaches to riskier enterprises, Greene also challenges semantic-historicist scholars, proposing a method that takes advantage of digital resources like full-text databases but still depends on the interpreter to fashion ideas out of ordinary language. Five Words is an innovative and accessible book that points the field of literary studies in an exciting new direction.
“There is nothing like Five Words
in current criticism. Grounded upon deep erudition, it represents a genuine breakthrough in critical methodology, conceptual history, and the social and cultural task of locating literature among the other discourses. Roland Greene’s efforts to relate and interrelate the implications of the ‘five words’ shape an overarching argument about critical semantics that will have great impact upon the entire field of literary study.”
“Roland Greene’s new book is a brilliant exercise in cultural and linguistic criticism. Drawing on broad study in half a dozen languages and serious engagement with recent developments in critical thought, Greene guides his readers through nuanced readings of a set of key terms that shape the emergence of modernity. He shows how such seemingly innocent words as ‘world’ and ‘invention’ hide entire galaxies of meaning that shape the culture of the early modern period. Along the way, he develops a set of critical paradigms that will influence our understanding of the intersection of language and culture far beyond the confines of this excellent study.”
“One of our leading theorists in the field of European Renaissance literature offers an absorbing and important discussion of five dynamical concepts, rooted in particular words, which underwent profound change in the age of Shakespeare and Cervantes. These writers do not merely designate the age: they are the most influential writers in the West, and the deepest users of the words that have shaped the mind of the West. To understand other cultures, we need to understand the limits and the range of our own culture. This book is a timely contribution to that effort.”
“Beautiful and evocative. . . . Written with the deep learning and associative sensibility of a true humanist and drawing on an astonishing range of works in order to capture the semantic explosion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Roland Greene’s book is itself both inventive and worldly.”
“[A] stunningly good book, erudite but lively, informed by a great depth and breadth of reading, and tackling difficult yet very important (some would say urgent) questions. It should be read by everyone with an interest in Renaissance literature, and in language itself.”
“[T]he chapters angular assertions work conceptually to deliver rather dazzling and unexpected insights. . . . His ability to illuminate texts as beleaguered as the initial sonnet of Sidneys Astrophil and Stella
or the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice
no less than a poem by Buchanan or a mixed-race account of the Spanish colonization of Peru confirms Greenes astonishing critical adroitness throughout.”
“[Greenes] unique approach allows for a range of insights—historical, cultural, and linguistic—that offer new ways of viewing the rise of modernity. . . . Highly recommended.”
"Five Wordss erudition and scope are indisputable as it draws on a vast store of sources ranging from Cicero to Philip Sidney, Antonio Viera to the Inca Garcilaso, not to mention Shakespeare and Cervantes."
"Greene explores each of his words through sensitive, detailed readings. . . . Five Words reminds us of the importance of individual critical intelligence and offers a strong example of such intelligence at work."
Now revised to include new words and updated essays, Keywords focuses on the sociology of language, demonstrating how the key words we use to understand our society take on new meanings and how these changes reflect the political bent and values of society.
About the Author
Roland Greene is the Mark Pigott KBE Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University. His most recent book, Unrequited Conquests: Love and Empire in the Colonial Americas, is also published by the University of Chicago Press.