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In this chapter, McGowan considers the importance of a frequently overlooked yet integral aspect of Slavoj Žižek’s work for literary criticism and theory: his antihistoricism. Whereas historicism, in treating literary texts as mere symptoms of their respective sociohistorical contexts, dismisses all claims to literary universality, Žižek’s work is valuable for literary studies, McGowan contends, not only because it insists on universality but because this universality, in contrast to older, New Critical claims of transhistorical continuity, is grounded on historical discontinuity and disruption—a disruption caused by the Lacanian objet petit a, the traumatic kernel of the Real that every historical context fails to negotiate. Adopting Žižek’s brand of disruptive universality, McGowan argues that literary texts are most valuable not for what they reveal about their cultural contexts but rather for how they break from these contexts in order to articulate what a culture cannot directly articulate about itself.

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