Alfred Hornung, ed. Obama and Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2016), 528 pp.
Apr13

Alfred Hornung, ed. Obama and Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2016), 528 pp.

Alfred Hornung, ed. Obama and Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2016), 528 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     American Studies have come a long way, as have American politics. In a geopolitical sense, the new millennium began on September 11th 2001, a date that has been regarded as marking the end of the American Century, and reached a decisive new stage with the election of Barack Obama in November 2008. At the convention of the American Studies Association in 2004, Shelley Fisher Fishkin in her Presidential Speech declared the necessity of Transnational American Studies. The historical moment had come to shift gears and negotiate the post-1989 geopolitical constellation after the official end of the East-West confrontation. While the West and liberal capitalism seemed to have won, and some authors such as Francis Fukuyama even fantasized about the end of history, this optimistic decade ended with 9/11. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economic success of China, and more generally shifting global power relations led leading members of important U.S. think tanks to speak of a multipolar world in which the U.S. is still the strongest nation, yet no longer in an unchallenged position. Transnational American Studies can be understood as a shift of focus within US-American Studies, and also as an opening up towards American Studies abroad. As the editor of Obama and Transnational American Studies writes: “The conception and proliferation of TAS by the American Studies Association and partner associations on a global scale were part of an intellectual and academic procedure to provide an egalitarian basis of scholarly cooperation in discussing the role of U.S. culture and politics in the world (Fishkin,; Hornung 2004)” (ix). The notion of transnationalism began its ascent after the debates about multiculturalism had reached their peak in the 1980s, yet can already be found in Randolph Bourne’s 1916 claim for a “Transnational America.” While the concept is linked to the call for the equality of different cultures, the focus on plurality within one nation is no longer able to capture the increasing divided and multiplied identities of people who continue to have allegiances with several countries at once. In a globalizing world, being characterized by increasing time-space compression and a high level of interconnectedness, digitalization and high-frequency trading, national boundaries no longer seem to be of the first priority. Moreover, American culture and literature have not only been made up of traces of many cultures from its beginning, but there have always been people who had allegiances to several nations, moving back and forth between them. The election of Barack Obama as 44th President of the U.S. can be understood...

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Brooke L. Blower and Mark Philip Bradley, eds., The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2015), 224 pp.
Apr13

Brooke L. Blower and Mark Philip Bradley, eds., The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2015), 224 pp.

Brooke L. Blower and Mark Philip Bradley, eds., The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2015), 224 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Over the past two decades the term, concept, and theoretical approach of transnationalism has been increasingly in vogue. “American studies has,” as Rüdiger Kunow aptly phrases it, “been entranced by the trans.”[1] At the same time, the transnational turn in American Studies and American History is in dire need of disentangling itself from an exceptionalist grasp without giving up its critical potential. Bryce Traister observes rather cynically that “transnationalist American Studies amounts to another version of the exceptionalist critical practice it would decry.”[2] However, the The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn heeds Winfried Fluck’s call, who defines the transnational turn’s goal as “the redefinition of the field of American studies as transnational, transatlantic, transpacific, hemispheric, or even global studies” and cautions Americanists not to run away “from the task and interpretive challenge for which it was created,” namely “the analysis of the cultural sources of American power.”[3] To this end, the editors Brooke L. Blower and Mark Philip Bradley assembled a diverse set of essays on a variety of iconic cultural productions. The American icons discussed range from paintings, photographs, artifacts, documents, songs and speeches to books and films. According to Webster’s dictionary definition, icons are “object[s] of uncritical veneration” and frequently emotional. This definition draws attention to the connection between icons and a culture of affect. In other words—and applied to a US-American context—icons condense, translate and emotionalize common beliefs or represent aspects or virtues that are perceived as national American characteristics. They offer themselves for emotional appropriation and ideological identification by emphasizing consensus over conflict.[4] Yet, what happens if the same icons are made subjects of “transnational methods, processes and contexts” (5) of investigation? Let me say as much at this point: Blower and Bradley rightfully call the result of their endeavor “surprising, unsettling, even subversive” (6). In good neo-historicist fashion the editors introduce the subject and agenda of their volume with a paradigmatic example. They refuse to read Grant Wood’s 1930 painting American Gothic, which has been described as “unmistakably, quintessentially American,” (1) through an “exceptionalist lens” (5) and instead subject the painting to a thoroughly transnational examination. They argue that Wood, inspired by journeys across the Atlantic, domesticated European architectural elements and experimented with sexual identity and desires in this particular painting. While the iconic status of American Gothic is hardly an issue to be debated, not all items studied in the collection of essays would...

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Udo J. Hebel, ed., Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), American Studies Monograph Series, no. 222. 644 pp.
Apr13

Udo J. Hebel, ed., Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), American Studies Monograph Series, no. 222. 644 pp.

Udo J. Hebel, ed., Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), American Studies Monograph Series, no. 222. 644 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     In his often-cited essay “Conceiving and Researching Transnationalism” Steven Vertovec broadly defined transnationalism in 1999 as the “multiple ties and interactions linking people or institutions across the borders of the nation-states” (447).[1] Since then, international and interdisciplinary scholarship has provided further insights on transnationalism as theory, concept, and experience. In the field of American Studies, Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s famous and influential call for “a transnational turn” in 2004 contributed to end of the so-called “American Century,” with researchers challenging long-established and multi-faceted boundaries and national foci over the past years and institutionalizing that very idea of a transnational turn in the first decade of the third Millennium. In June 2011, significant academic representatives in the ongoing debates about the “present state and future transnational agenda of the discipline of American Studies” (3) gathered at the University of Regensburg for the 58th Annual Conference of the German Association for American Studies. There they discussed and critically assessed from an international and interdisciplinary angle how “transnational approaches and comparative perspectives support and emphasize the exploration of multidirectional processes of cultural and political interaction and transfer” (4). Transnational American Studies, the conference topic, became also the title for the collection of the thirty papers chosen and developed out of that conference and published a year later by the Universitätsverlag Winter in Heidelberg. Edited by Udo Hebel, a leading German Americanist and current president of the University of Regensburg, Transnational American Studies with its overall 644 pages makes a substantial and insightful contribution to the debate as it documents numerous changes and challenges inherent in a transnational conception of American Studies at that time. In his nine-page-introduction, Hebel first quickly sketches “the multifaceted history of the theoretical paradigm of transnational American studies” (3) in a national and global context and then briefly touches on the three-day conference in Regensburg, the design of which corresponds to the setup of the book. The publication of the conference proceedings is divided into three sections, with the five keynote lectures in section one, twenty-four revised workshop papers in section two entitled “Voices, Perspectives, and Projects in Transnational American Studies” (145), and finally the six opening statements the panel discussions at the end of the conference. The later are compiled under the heading “Visions for Transnational American Studies” (613) and are grouped together with Klaus Benesch’s summary assessment. Overall, the contributors to Transnational American Studies come from four different countries and three continents, whereby keynote speaker Ian Tyrrell’s plenary paper adds a welcoming and...

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Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp.
Apr13

Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp.

Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     According to data released by China and the U.S., by the end of 2015, the U.S. had become China’s second largest trading partner, its largest export market, and the fourth largest source of imports to China, and China has exceeded Canada to become the largest trading partner of the U.S. for the first time. Maintaining a good China-U.S. economic relationship is vital for the well-development and prosperity of economies in both countries. Leaders in both countries are well aware of that. That’s why U.S. President Barack Obama travelled to China for the first time on November 16, 2009, not long after his assuming of office. In the Museum of Science and Technology, Shanghai, President Obama held a town hall meeting with Chinese youth. In his remarks, Obama traced America’s early relationship with China to 1784 when the commissioned ship Empress of China sailed to Canton, China.   In 1784, our founding father, George Washington[1], commissioned the Empress of China, a ship that set sail for these shores so that it could pursue trade with the Qing Dynasty. Washington wanted to see the ship carry the flag around the globe, and to forge new ties with nations like China.  This is a common American impulse—the desire to reach for new horizons, and to forge new partnerships that are mutually beneficial.[2]   By tracing America’s economic relationship with China to the eighteenth century, Obama wants to display to Chinese people how the U.S. and China have been closely related in an economic sense since the very early period of America’s foundation. However, he could have done an even better job in appealing to his Chinese audience had he known Caroline Frank’s book Objectifying China, Imagining America published two years after his speech, which shows with much material evidence that America’s commercial engagement with China could be dated back to a much earlier time—the 1690s. When America won political independence from Britain in 1783, the economic situation was desperate as the young nation was cut off from the profitable trade with the West Indies by Britain. Therefore, American merchants began to look elsewhere for new trade—the Asian market—and began trade with China. The Empress of China, for example, achieved great commercial success. This is the conventional historical discourse. Frank, however, dates the story almost a century earlier to the late seventeenth century, proving with material evidence and occasionally with personal anecdotes and individual life stories that colonial Americans went to China, where a massive market was believed...

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Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp.
Apr13

Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp.

Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     As to its scope, substance, and usability, this new reference work deserves nothing but praise. Interdisciplinary in perspective and over ten years in the making, The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia offers no fewer than 519 entries by 370 authors from sixteen countries on four continents[1]—an awe-inspiring achievement by Mark Spencer, a historian at Brock University in Canada, who edited and coordinated this megaproject. Of the 519 entries in the encyclopedia’s two hardcover volumes, 360 (almost 70 percent) are biographical, with considerable space being devoted to such leading figures as John Adams, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, David Ramsay, David Rittenhouse, Benjamin Rush, George Washington, and John Witherspoon, but fortunately also including articles on “lesser lights of the American Enlightenment” (xxxii), such as the botanist Jane Colden. The remaining 159 entries (about 30 percent) are thematic, covering a broad spectrum of topics in fields as diverse as politics, religion, philosophy, education, literature, music, painting, architecture, philanthropy, geography, medicine, agriculture, science, or technology (cf. xxxiii-xxxiv). Taken together, these entries form a comprehensive source of reference and a welcome addition to the monographs, anthologies, journals, and electronic databases that have traditionally been used to study or teach the period between roughly 1720 and 1820.[2] As to thematic inclusiveness, conceptual depth, and theoretical topicality, there are some caveats however. Although one might argue that a project of such magnitude, by necessity, must be incomplete, which is true enough, some of the absences in The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia clearly have deeper structural causes. That one looks in vain for biographical entries on Richard Allen, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, Briton Hammon, Lemuel Haynes, John Marrant, Ignatius Sancho, Venture Smith, or David Walker, for instance—African American and Afro-British writers[3] presented and discussed in seminal collections such as Black Atlantic Writers of the Eighteenth Century ([ed. Potkay and Burr] 1995), Unchained Voices ([ed. Carretta] 1996), or Genius in Bondage ([ed. Carretta and Gould] 2001), some of them mentioned in John Saillant’s article on “African Americans” (22-30)—can be traced directly to the lack of a thematic and conceptual entry on the “black Atlantic,” a key paradigm of cultural analysis in American studies, introduced by Paul Gilroy in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). Analogously, the neglect of the “red Atlantic”—explored in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750 (1987) by Marcus Rediker and The Many-Headed Hydra (2000) by Linebaugh and Rediker—helps...

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Peter Nicolaisen and Hannah Spahn, eds., Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood in the Age of Jefferson (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), viii + 256pp.
Apr13

Peter Nicolaisen and Hannah Spahn, eds., Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood in the Age of Jefferson (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), viii + 256pp.

Peter Nicolaisen and Hannah Spahn, eds., Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood in the Age of Jefferson (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), viii + 256pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Die Aufsätze, die hier zusammengetragen sind, basieren auf einer Konferenz, die zusammen mit dem Robert J. Smith International Centre for Jefferson Studies in Charlottesville, VA, vom John F. Kennedy Institut an der Freien Universität in Berlin organisiert wurde. Die Thematik ist durch den Titel vorgegeben. Neben einer Einleitung der Herausgeberin Hannah Spahn enthält der Band acht Beiträge, die eingerahmt sind durch einen allgemeineren Vortrag des US-amerikanischen Historikers Gordon S. Wood über „The Invention of the United States“ (23-41) und einem Epilog des gleichfalls in den USA beheimateten Historikers Peter S. Onuf zum Konferenzthema (S. 239-254). Wood[1] und Onuf[2] gehören zu den bekanntesten Historikern der US-amerikanischen Revolutionsgeschichte. Bedauerlicherweise beschränken sich beide auf Altbekanntes; und selbst da greift Wood gelegentlich daneben — etwa mit seiner Behauptung, dass die Benennung „Americans“ von den Briten 1775/76 erfunden worden sei; er nimmt dies auch als Beleg dafür, dass im Jahr der Unabhängigkeitserklärung die Kolonisten noch nicht zu einer eigenständigen Identität gefunden hätten (S. 25). Offensichtlich kennt er nicht die vielfältigen Ergebnisse und Thesen der Studie von Richard Merritt, der nachweist, dass die Kolonisten sich schon seit den 1740er Jahren in ihren Zeitungen „Americans“ nannten und Historiker der Kolonialzeit daraus richtig schlossen, die US-amerikanische Identität mit Nordamerika habe sich deutlich vor dem Siebenjährigen Krieg ausgebildet.[3] Überdies streift Wood die für die Konferenzthematik zentrale Problematik der regionalen, kolonialen und postrevolutionären Identitäten (S. 26) nur am Rande und thematisiert deshalb auch nicht die Problematik der Bewohner in den späteren Vereinigten Staaten als „Americans“ und Bürger ihrer Staaten. Meine eigenen Studien deuten darauf hin, dass sich der Amerikaner zuerst als Bewohner seines Staates, in zweiter Linie als Bewohner einer Region wie Neuengland oder den Süden und erst in dritter Linie als Bürger der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika verstand. Die mangelnde Tiefenschärfe bei der Erörterung der Problematik nationaler, einzelstaatlicher, regionaler und lokaler Identitäten weist auf ein Grundproblem dieser Aufsatzsammlung hin: Aus der Sicht des Historikers fehlt ihr zu oft die historische Präzision und Tiefendimension. Dass die Beiträge darüber hinaus die konfessionelle Bindung der Bürger ausblenden, die im achtzehnten wie im neunzehnten Jahrhundert einen wichtigen Aspekt ihrer eigenen Identitätsbildung ausmacht, überrascht nicht.   Möglicherweise ist dieses Defizit der Thematik des Bandes geschuldet: Die Begriffe „Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood“ stehen für zwei Konzepte, die sich in der Historikerzunft, soweit sie sich auf geistesgeschichtliche Themen konzentriert, großer Beliebtheit erfreuen. Allein der Göttinger Universitätskatalog wirft zu dem Thema „national identity“ für die Zeit von 2000 bis 2015 mehr als 950 Titel (Monographien und einzelne Artikel) aus.[4] Geschärft wird...

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Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations: German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century (Frankfurt am Máin: Lang, 2015), 418pp.
Apr13

Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations: German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century (Frankfurt am Máin: Lang, 2015), 418pp.

Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations: German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century (Frankfurt am Máin: Lang, 2015), 418pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Usually, book reviews evaluate whether a study provides an original, innovative, or new contribution to scholarship.  However, Kurt Mueller-Vollmer’s book almost exclusively reprints chapters and essays previously published (since the 1990s; in both English and German).  Thus, the question changes from originality to enduring significance.  My review also assesses the volume’s brief introduction as Mueller-Vollmer’s attempt to unify these essays under a critical umbrella and arrange separate essays into a coherent whole.   In this case, however, the whole amounts to less than the sum of its parts, because Mueller-Vollmer’s retrospective critical framing results in an overbearing, field-encompassing critique that sadly diminishes the scholarly merit of the essays collected here.  Also, the compilation lacks either the authorial or editorial attention that could have fleshed out a coherent argumentative progression.  Instead, readers encounter overlapping investigations of several spheres of German-American cultural transfer that repeat and loop back to earlier discussions of critical concepts, such as cultural transfer, literary discourse, literary field, and inscription.  Explaining this pattern, Mueller-Vollmer uses the “notion of multiple reflexion or mirroring (Wiederholte Spiegelungen),” derived from Goethe, in order to “yield a different view of the same phenomenon, revealing a different aspect of it” (9). Granted, network theory must by definition eschew linear narratives in favor of multiple spaces of interaction, contact, and transfer—creating inevitable intersections and imbrications.  This book, however, very basically repeats critical formulations and even entire sections almost verbatim.  For example, in chapter two, “Anglo-American Literature and the Challenge of Germany: Transcendentalism as a Problem in Literary History,” Mueller-Vollmer critiques Perry Miller deriving the nationalist origins of U.S. literary history and culture from the singular regional beginnings of New England Puritanism in his “monumental study” (68) The New England Mind:   The new emphasis on regional history did not change the basic assumptions characteristic of the traditional teleological view of American history. Consequently, Transcendentalism, and Emerson in particular, represent for Miller an end-phase in the evolution of Puritanism, a process that comprises the Puritan orthodoxy of the seventeenth century, the neo-Calvinist fundamentalist position of Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth and the Unitarian movement of the early nineteenth century. (69)   Miller’s characterization of Emerson’s notion of original sin in his essay “From Edwards to Emerson,” Mueller-Vollmer further asserts, seems to be “[a] curious way of putting things, since the ex-minister Emerson knew only too well, as would his German reader Friedrich Nietzsche later, what the concept of original sin meant and why he...

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Kendahl Radcliffe, Jennifer Scott, and Anja Werner, eds., Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond (Jackson, Miss.: UP of Mississippi, 2015), 270 pp.
Apr13

Kendahl Radcliffe, Jennifer Scott, and Anja Werner, eds., Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond (Jackson, Miss.: UP of Mississippi, 2015), 270 pp.

Kendahl Radcliffe, Jennifer Scott, and Anja Werner, eds., Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond (Jackson, Miss.: UP of Mississippi, 2015), 270 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Fields as diverse as postcolonial studies, diaspora studies, African American studies, American studies, intellectual history, sociology, and rock music studies have been influenced by the publication of Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness in 1993. Introducing his conception of the Black Atlantic as a counterculture of modernity, Gilroy urged his readers to rethink their notions of race, ethnicity, nationality, hybridity, and diaspora. He drew attention to “the rhizomorphic, fractal structure of the transcultural, international formation”[1] he called the Black Atlantic. Moreover, throughout his text he not only underscored the multilayered complexity of “those mongrel cultural forms” (Gilroy 3) created in the Black Atlantic world; he also warned against the constant lure of ethnic particularism and nationalism that might degenerate into a version of African American exceptionalism. By doing so, Gilroy presented himself as part of a tradition of black cosmopolitan intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. Gilroy’s idea of the Black Atlantic has not only been praised, but also vehemently attacked for its alleged shortcomings and insufficiencies. Some critics, for instance, have advanced the idea that by discussing authors such as Martin Delaney, Du Bois, and Wright in detail, Gilroy’s conception of the Black Atlantic eventually only reinforces the powerful mechanisms of American cultural imperialism. The vulgarity of this critique can legitimately be termed refreshing. However, the claim that American cultural imperialism directs and shapes black diaspora studies has had a certain impact on attempts to conceptually grasp the cultural forms of the Black Atlantic.   Instead of offering a simplistic, moralizing critique of former conceptions of the Black Atlantic, the essays collected in Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond seek to expand the idea of the Black Atlantic, and they moreover intend to offer new perspectives on forms of self-creation and self-invention in the Black Atlantic and beyond. In other words, these essays try to achieve two things. First, they want to expand the categories that have hitherto been associated with the Black Atlantic, as well as broaden our understanding of the processes of cultural, intellectual, and social transformations in the Black Atlantic world. Second, they contribute to an urgently needed redefinition of black intellectualism and the black cosmopolitan intellectual. Regarding the question of geographical boundaries, the editors contend: “Expanding the idea of the Black Atlantic beyond its traditional geographical boundaries to grasp black experiences more thoroughly allows us, furthermore, to include...

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Elisabeth Bronfen and Daniel Kampa, eds., Eine Amerikanerin in Hitlers Badewanne: Drei Frauen berichten über den Krieg; Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller und Martha Gellhorn (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2015), 360 pp.
Apr13

Elisabeth Bronfen and Daniel Kampa, eds., Eine Amerikanerin in Hitlers Badewanne: Drei Frauen berichten über den Krieg; Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller und Martha Gellhorn (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2015), 360 pp.

Elisabeth Bronfen and Daniel Kampa, eds., Eine Amerikanerin in Hitlers Badewanne: Drei Frauen berichten über den Krieg; Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller und Martha Gellhorn (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2015), 360 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Eine Amerikanerin in Hitlers Badewanne [An American Woman in Hitler’s Bathtub] features an intriguing collection of photographs and German translations of writings by three US-American women World War II correspondents. The reports by Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller, and Martha Gellhorn are complemented by introductions to each woman’s work and biography as well as an epilogue by Elisabeth Bronfen. As many of the compiled texts either had not been available in German at all or have only recently become accessible, one of the volume’s important contributions lies in enabling a broad German-speaking public to take a special look at World War II through the lens of popular American reportage. In the process, readers can observe how formative narrative and visual patterns were created by pioneering women. These patterns would have been considered foreign propaganda in Nazi Germany. Today, their striking familiarity to a German audience reveals the extent to which they have shaped the German collective memory of World War II. The volume makes a convincing case for the presence, persistence, and persuasive power of women correspondents who ventured into a traditionally male-centered and male-dominated space. While military action was still reserved for men, the present writings and photographs demonstrate how women lastingly influenced the international perception and understanding of the war, inverting what feminist scholars of visual culture have described as visual media’s tendency to reduce women to objects for male viewers.[1] In contrast to the many women who wrote and photographed in obscurity,[2] Bourke-White, Miller, and Gellhorn were not only accomplished writers and photographers but celebrities. Their carefully crafted public personae came across as patriotic heroines who bravely supported the war effort with pens and cameras rather than bombs and guns. The first part of the volume features photographs and writings by famous Life photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. In the selected excerpts, which were either taken from German versions of Bourke-White’s books[3] or specifically translated for this volume by Renate Orth-Guttman, she traces her journey from Moscow, where she was located when Germany first attacked the city in 1941, to North Africa, across Italy, and finally to Germany, where she visits Bremen, Kassel, Schweinfurt, Leipzig, and Dachau. Bourke-White’s reports for Life magazine served simultaneously as documentation of the cruelties of the war, as war propaganda, as entertainment, and as blatant self-promotion. Bourke-White describes how she strategically used her special status as an attractive, heterosexual woman in a male-dominated theater of war, creating a...

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Katja Kur, Narrating Contested Lives: The Aesthetics of Life Writing in Human Rights Campaigns (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 271 pp. 
Apr13

Katja Kur, Narrating Contested Lives: The Aesthetics of Life Writing in Human Rights Campaigns (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 271 pp. 

Katja Kur, Narrating Contested Lives: The Aesthetics of Life Writing in Human Rights Campaigns (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 271 pp.  Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     More than any other genre, life writing illustrates the interdependence of narrative strategies and cultural understandings of selfhood and recognition. Selves are performed narratively, through memories pieced together anew for an audience. To be believable, life narratives cater to cultural concepts of sincerity and authenticity; to evoke empathy, they employ culturally available plots from the literary realm. Treading this thin line between the literary and the sociocultural realms, a cast of interdisciplinary scholars from literary and cultural studies, rhetoric criticism, philosophy, and the social sciences have examined the narrative assemblage of cultured selves. Katja Kurz’s doctoral thesis, Narrating Contested Lives, contributes a new angle in this field. It examines life writing designed to incite activism, empathy, and involvement in international human rights campaigns. As vehicle of political activism, this form of autobiography builds on subjecthood in Western human rights laws and speaks for victimized groups.   Narrating Contested Lives develops an interdisciplinary view that roots in life writing and forages into philosophy, psychology and anthropology. The author locates the project in American Studies in a double sense, regarding, first, the reception context (human rights campaigns are directed at an American-European public), and second the transnational turn that views U.S. national culture in a greater continuum of cultural flows and mobilities (1, 43). Narrating Contested Lives thus demonstrates how literary studies lays bare the strategies of political activism. Kurz selects campaigns that deal with female genital mutilation (FGM), child soldiers, and sexual violence against women of ethnic minorities (6). She close-reads six cases of campaign-embedded collaborative life writing, including the books by Somalian top model Waris Dirie and Somali-German activist Korn, the child soldiers Ishmael Beah and Emmanuel Jal (the latter UK gospel musician and hip hop artist), and the women activists Halima Bashir in the “Save Darfur”-campaign and Somaly Mam, who became a media icon in the U.S. These are selected for their “contemporary, US-based production and reception, [as] bestselling auto/biographies […presenting] women and children as vulnerable groups in international law” (3-4). To show how life stories are made “legible to the public and how they attempt to gather support and empathy” (5-6), Kurz focuses on genre, narrative modes, and collaborations between activists and coauthors. She reads together the auto/biographies with the paratexts and the discourses of the campaigns at large to extrapolate the entanglement between lived experience, subjective truths, sincerity, trust, and authenticity (42). Narrating Contested Lives thus addresses how culturally remote and victimized identities are reassembled in conclusive narratives that present a...

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Markus Nehl, Transnational Black Dialogues: Re-Imagining Slavery in the Twenty-First Century (Bielefeld: transcript, 2016), 212 pp.
Apr13

Markus Nehl, Transnational Black Dialogues: Re-Imagining Slavery in the Twenty-First Century (Bielefeld: transcript, 2016), 212 pp.

Markus Nehl, Transnational Black Dialogues: Re-Imagining Slavery in the Twenty-First Century (Bielefeld: transcript, 2016), 212 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     ‘Postslavery Studies’ might be a more appropriate denominator for this relevant study that appeared in Transcript’s Postcolonial Studies series and focusses on the ways in which “second generation neo-slave narratives” (32) address the histories of the transatlantic slave trade and chattel slavery in seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century North America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa from distinctly “twenty-first-century perspectives” (19).[1] As the title suggests, in five of its six chapters Markus Nehl’s compelling monograph—originally submitted as a dissertation to Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany, in 2015—analyzes five well-chosen anglophone neo-slave narratives published during the first decade of the new century, discussing the novels’ contributions to ongoing transnational dialogues about the African diaspora, the history of slavery, and the role of (anti-Black) violence afflicted on and resisted by enslaved women. Published in close succession between 2006 and 2009, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother, Yvette Christiansë’s Unconfessed, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, and Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women not only deal with the historically “white-authored […] archive of slavery” through fictional writing (16). All of the narratives also speak to what Saidiya Hartman has called “the afterlife of slavery” in the United States (and beyond) today (quoted in Nehl 12). Consequentially, Nehl begins his well-structured study by briefly embedding its literary corpus into the current social, cultural, and political climate of the United States at the beginning of the new century when the election of the first Black U.S. president in 2008 was followed by the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM)—under the leadership of the queer Black women Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi and as a reaction to numerous cases of fatal police violence against young unarmed African Americans, such as Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Michael Brown in 2014 (13-14). Nehl clearly understands the novels he analyzes as important critical interventions into the pressing debate about racism and anti-Blackness in the United States today, a debate that his monograph also inevitably partakes in. Before delving into the five case studies, the introduction of Transnational Dialogues also gives a comprehensive overview over the study of the genre of neo-slave narratives (23-30) and proposes the notion of “a second generation of neo-slave narratives” (23) as a useful concept to describe the corpus at hand and distinguish it from earlier contributions to the genre from the 1960s to the 1990s (30-32). Discussing this new generation of neo-slave narratives that exceeds national boundaries and boundaries between genres, fiction, and non-fiction as well...

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Wilfried Raussert, The Routledge Companion to Inter-American Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), xv, 444 pp.
Apr13

Wilfried Raussert, The Routledge Companion to Inter-American Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), xv, 444 pp.

Wilfried Raussert, The Routledge Companion to Inter-American Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), xv, 444 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Inter-American or Hemispheric (American) Studies is one of the fields in the wider context of Cultural Studies, Area Studies, or Transnational (American) Studies that has rapidly evolved in recent decades to encompass and combine a wide variety of (sub-)disciplines like history, literary history, cultural history, social science, political studies, economy, religion studies, history of art, film- and media studies, and so forth, as long as they are focused on the Americas. Given the geological and biological past of the two continents, Inter-American Studies (henceforth: IAS) as the study of relations and interaction between some or many of the nations, cultures, regions and societies in the Western hemisphere should even have its foundation in geology, geography and biology. IAS is a vast field that shares the fuzziness of its borders with the disciplines and macro-disciplines mentioned above. Since the first major outline of its scope and disciplinary history in Ralph Bauer’s seminal “Hemispheric Studies,”[1] it has expanded even further, witness the foundation of the International Association of Inter-American Studies (IAS) and the establishment of study and research centers like the Centers for Inter-American Studies at the Universities of Bielefeld and Graz and similar ventures in Europe, the United States and Latin America. In this situation, the time has certainly come for overviews and handbooks that define the field and its disciplinary history and problems more comprehensively than even such admirable collections of essays like Levander and Levine’s Hemispheric American Studies can do.[2] Raussert’s Routledge Companion is therefore a most welcome publication, all the more since Routledge’s stated policy that their “Handbooks and Companions address new developments in the Social Sciences and Humanities, while at the same time providing an authoritative guide to theory and method, the key sub-disciplines and the primary debates of today”[3] makes one expect a foundational publication. What the volume is intended to achieve and does achieve, then, is a laudable and, indeed, formidable contribution to the field. At the same time, it shows the utopian side of such a project. A review of limited length cannot do justice to the scope of this book. The volume is divided into three parts: “Key ideas, methods, and developments,” “Theory put into practice: Comparative, relational, and processual case studies,” and “Power, politics, and asymmetries.” The vagueness of these titles indicates the editor’s difficulties in grouping the enormous number of 37 papers contributed to the volume, especially since there are numerous categorical overlaps. I will put my emphasis on the first part because it is here that...

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WINFRIED SIEMERLING, The Black Atlantic Reconsidered: Black Canadian Writing, Cultural History, and the Presence of the Past (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2015), 560 pp.
Jan25

WINFRIED SIEMERLING, The Black Atlantic Reconsidered: Black Canadian Writing, Cultural History, and the Presence of the Past (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2015), 560 pp.

Winfried Siemerling, The Black Atlantic Reconsidered: Black Canadian Writing, Cultural History, and the Presence of the Past (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2015), 560 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 With his Black Atlantic Reconsidered, Winfried Siemerling has produced a necessary milestone for Black Canadian studies and, possibly, has written his magnum opus. The recipient of the 2015 Gabrielle Roy Prize, awarded by the Association for Canadian and Québec Literatures (ACQL), it counts as a major intervention in the still burgeoning scholarly field of Black Canadian Studies. At the same time as it is geared towards students, teachers, and scholars, the study garners much of its appeal by its outspoken address, too, of “a much wider readership” (ix). In The Black Atlantic Reconsidered, Siemerling combines several “time-spaces” (3) to situate what we call “Black Canadian writing” today in “its diasporic black Atlantic and hemispheric contexts,” which is one of his longstanding projects (ix).[1] In doing so, he follows other scholars like George Elliott Clarke who have criticized Paul Gilroy’s lack of attention to Canada as part of transatlantic history. Siemerling’s ambitious project features a vast amount of material from different temporal, spatial, and linguistic dimensions, stretching from the early eighteenth century to the immediate present, over various geographical locales, with a particular focus on the interplay between Canada and the Caribbean, and including the two major languages of English and French.   Following its didactic outreach, the study makes a deliberate attempt to incorporate digital enhancement and learning at home and in the classroom via its companion website blackatlantic.ca. This website offers, for example, links to author biographies as well as an ever-changing row of author portraits on the right-hand side of the page visualizing the Black Canadian diaspora. Most importantly, the website offers a plethora of documents and documentation following the chapter outline. In this way, readers are able to access primary source material, articles, newspaper clips, videos, etc., for each (sub)chapter according to their personal interests in order to ‘dig deeper’ into the archive. Here, then, lies one of the important contributions of Siemerling’s volume, i.e. continuing the work of scholars and artists like Lorris Elliott and Clarke in unearthing, presenting, and making accessible the Black Canadian archive, as well as reinforcing its undeniable presence and undisputable importance for Black Atlantic (literary) history and research.[2] The archive becomes ever more palpable in the appendix’s timeline of works and authors (362-96), which lists close to 300 years of textual production. Overall, The Black Atlantic Reconsidered can be used in different ways and might cater to different needs: one can read it as one continuous narrative, as a scholarly investigation...

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KRISTINA GRAAFF, Street Literature: Black Popular Fiction in the Era of U.S. Mass Incarceration (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 274 pp.
Jan25

KRISTINA GRAAFF, Street Literature: Black Popular Fiction in the Era of U.S. Mass Incarceration (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 274 pp.

Kristina Graaff, Street Literature: Black Popular Fiction in the Era of U.S. Mass Incarceration (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 274 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 In the late 1990s, street literature novels emerged in urban areas in the United States and have since risen to popularity particularly among African Americans. So far, this kind of popular fiction has rarely been addressed by academia, and in the instances that street literature has attracted scholarly interest, the discussions largely center either on classificatory questions or on these novels’ potential as an educational tool for promoting literacy among adolescents from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds.[1] Kristina Graaff’s Street Literature: Black Popular Fiction in the Era of U.S. Mass Incarceration presents an attempt to comprehend this literary phenomenon outside of the already established critical discourse. Her interdisciplinary analysis acknowledges street literature as a genre in its own right and examines the interaction between its representational and material organization. It focuses on ‘the streets’ and ‘prisons’ as symbiotic spaces that figure prominently in the narratives as well as in the lives of the authors, publishers and readers. By investigating the narrative and social (re)configuration of these two spaces, the author convincingly argues that the genre essentially reflects and rewrites larger socioeconomic developments, e.g. the increasing dominance of neoliberalism and the so-called War on Drugs with its concomitant system of mass incarceration. Moreover, examining this genre as both a social practice and a literary phenomenon enables Graaff to show street literature’s inherent ambiguities if not, in some instances, its double standards, in that it criticizes the street-prison symbiosis narratively while the involved actors often rely on it economically.   In the first part of her study, Graaff introduces her conceptualization of ‘the streets’ and ‘prisons’ as the analytical framework undergirding her investigation. Her account of the current U.S. justice system is noteworthy in this context, as it places special emphasis on the processes that engendered the emergence of prisons as institutions of mass incarceration and continue to govern their maintenance. At the same time, the author critically examines the disproportionate imprisonment of African Americans within the current U.S. justice system and criticizes the mainstream media and their coverage for amplifying racial prejudices about criminality by habitually portraying black men as violent perpetrators. Instead of accepting these populist explanations, Graaff proposes alternative explanatory models that better account for the growth of the (black) prison population: Besides the War on Drugs with “its variety of penal policies that […] are discriminatorily implemented in black low-income neighborhoods” (49) and “are more punitive toward petty crimes” (52), she also zooms in on public and private stakeholders’ economic interest in the preservation of...

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FLORIAN BAST, Of Bodies, Communities, and Voices: Agency in Writings by Octavia Butler, (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 221 pp.
Jan25

FLORIAN BAST, Of Bodies, Communities, and Voices: Agency in Writings by Octavia Butler, (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 221 pp.

Florian Bast, Of Bodies, Communities, and Voices: Agency in Writings by Octavia Butler, (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 221 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 In April 2014, the Guardian caused a stir by announcing that two previously unpublished stories—a novella entitled “A Necessary Being” and a short story, “Childminder”—had been found among notes and papers at a library in San Marino, CA.[1] The author of these texts was none other than Octavia Butler, the first black woman writer to gain fame in science fiction and the first to receive a MacArthur Fellowship for outstanding achievements in writing. The pieces were published in June 2014, immediately triggering a multitude of reviews in magazines, newspapers, and blogs within and outside of academia as well as an initial round of academic articles. The renewed attention around Octavia Butler thus highlights her continuing relevance within and influence on the cultural landscape of the United States, not only as a black woman writer who has considerably changed the ways in which we define the genres of science fiction and of African American literature, but as an iconic literary figure whose artistry touches audiences “as limitless as the identities of the characters in her writing” (Hampton 248).[2] Thus, Florian Bast’s monograph arrives at a particularly exciting time in Butler scholarship.   In his book, Bast analyzes selected works of Butler’s oeuvre through the lens of a central philosophical category, agency, arguing that Butler’s writing encompasses numerous texts that are centrally engaged with exploring the intricate ethical and theoretical complexities of agency—not only as individual texts but also in intertextual dialogue with each other. In so doing, Bast asserts further by echoing Barbara Christian’s “Race for Theory,”[3] Butler’s work both contributes to theoretical conceptions of agency by engaging with ongoing philosophical debates around it and exposes “the consequences that such general conceptualizations [of agency] have on those who face (multiple forms of) oppression” (18-19). Agency, as Bast points out, has been and continues to be paramount to African American (women’s) literary history, particularly with regards to constructions of the body, of community, and of voice (each of which is addressed in one of the three analytical chapters in this study) as well as to issues such as subjectivity, freedom, racism, and sexism, among many others (12). Yet this study’s focus on agency not only brings to the forefront the complex dynamics of oppression and marginalization in Butler’s texts, a notion that resonates particularly with a doubly-marginalized writer of black feminist science fiction. Even more importantly, Bast utilizes a highly productive analytical tool that does justice to and allows for the multifaceted—and often highly ambiguous—intersections between Butler’s heterogeneous works,...

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STELLA BOLAKI and SABINE BROECK, eds, Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies (Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2015), Xii + 250 pp.
Jan25

STELLA BOLAKI and SABINE BROECK, eds, Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies (Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2015), Xii + 250 pp.

Stella Bolaki and Sabine Broeck, eds, Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies (Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2015), Xii + 250 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies is a collection of essays edited by Stella Bolaki and Sabrine Broeck in a transnational effort to show how the African American poet Audre Lorde’s (1934-1992) influential work has lived on. It is a volume that is based on a number of collaboratively organized conferences, workshops, and panels between 2012 and 2015, above all in England and Canada. The book is prefaced by Sara Ahmed’s very personal words, describing the meaning Audre Lorde has had in her own life as a woman “of color” (x) growing up in a white neighborhood in Australia. Ahmed’s “Foreword” makes evident that Lorde’s poetry, essays, and autobiography are political and have paved the way for radically voicing concerns about racism and sexism. It also reveals that the national is always already transnational since “the very ground of nations is shaped by histories of empire and colonialism” (xi). In times of a proliferation of the label “transnational,” Ahmed embraces a very down-to-earth definition that evokes the feminist idea of “the personal is the political”: “[…] the transnational is an actual lived space populated by real bodies. It is not a glossy word in a brochure but one that requires work. We have to work to learn from others who do not share our language. We have to travel out of our comfort zones, to open our ears” (xi). And this is precisely what the volume asks its readers to do. The editors of the collection describe their aim as exploring “the depth and range of Lorde’s literary, intellectual, and activist commitments by situating her life and work within transatlantic and transnational perspectives” (1). As early as in the introduction, readers begin to understand some of the dimensions of Lorde’s interest in connecting with black women across national borders, how the 1980s and the few years in the early 1990s brought her to Europe—above all to Germany, Switzerland, and England—and how concerned and even shocked she was to see racism and sexism on the rise again. People had connected tremendous hope with the destruction of the wall in Germany, but the racist attacks spreading across East Germany at the time motivated her and Gloria Joseph, her partner, to write a letter of protest to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and to ask: “Is this the new German version of ‘ethnic cleansing?’” (11). Such details of Lorde’s European activities have largely remained hidden, at least to those who are not actively involved in the preservation of Lorde’s legacy. They...

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STEFANIE MUELLER, The Presence of the Past in the Novels of Toni Morrison (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 270 pp.
Jan25

STEFANIE MUELLER, The Presence of the Past in the Novels of Toni Morrison (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 270 pp.

Stefanie Mueller, The Presence of the Past in the Novels of Toni Morrison (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 270 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 In Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (2007), Saidiya Hartman offers an insightful rumination on the ongoing structural and personal effects of slavery in the wake of the transatlantic slave trade. As she notes: “I, too, live in the time of slavery, by which I mean I am living in the future created by it” (133).[1] While Hartman has pushed generic boundaries for her considerations of racialized inequality, creating part autobiographical travelogue, part historiographical essay, part transnational sociological study, Toni Morrison has repeatedly and famously formalized her explorations of the legacies of slavery by turning to the genre of the novel. In order to analyze ways in which the Nobel laureate narrativizes the ongoing meaning of the apparatus of enslavement, Stefanie Mueller employs a sociological framework, approaching the following three novels: Paradise (1998), Love (2003), and A Mercy (2008).   The title of the monograph reviewed here takes its cue from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s Logic of Practice (1990)—in which he locates “the active presence of the whole past” in the concept of habitus (qtd. in Mueller 34). It is this concept that facilitates Mueller’s examination of the relationship between past and present, which she combines with another, long-established sociological interest in analyzing how individuals are implicated in larger social structures. In her introductory chapter titled “Thinking Relationally,” which lays the theoretical groundwork of the monograph, Mueller surveys the sociological concepts relevant to her readings of Morrison’s novels. The most central one is Bourdieu’s habitus—“the interiorization of the exterior” (30), or “embodied history” (44n35)—located at the” interface between field and practice, which it generates and which does indeed change the field” (31n22). According to Bourdieu, individuals internalize exterior/social and prior/historical structures (of inequality) and reproduce them in their minds and actions. Habitus is thus both “opus operatum” and “modus operandi” (qtd. in Mueller 33), i.e. effect of structural relations of a field as well as generative cause of practices.   The first of four chapters offering close readings of Morrison’s novels opens with a narratological analysis of different strategies of focalization in Paradise, employed to signal the fragile dynamics of collectivization among the female characters who, as those familiar with the text will recall, assemble in an isolated place Morrison calls the Convent, set apart from an all-black town named Ruby. Mueller conceptualizes the dynamics at play between Ruby and the Convent and the functions of the line drawn between these two places with recourse to Norbert Elias and John L. Scotson’s model as...

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MICHELE ELAM, ed., The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015), 246 pp.
Jan25

MICHELE ELAM, ed., The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015), 246 pp.

Michele Elam, ed., The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015), 246 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 In the last twenty years, the major influence of theoretical frameworks such as the “Black Atlantic”[1] and the “Black Diaspora”[2] has led to the transformation of African American Studies to a more internationally oriented academic field. While this transcultural perspective has provided new insights into the works of numerous African American writers and intellectuals, the case of James Baldwin proves particularly fruitful for this angle of research: Baldwin has not only spent years of his life in countries such as France, Turkey, and Switzerland, but he has also collaborated with (and been influenced by) numerous international artists and intellectuals, and he is one of relatively few African American writers whose work has received a broad international reception. If one adds to this fact the ongoing relevance of ‘Baldwinian’ answers to questions connected to race, gender, identity, and migration, there is hardly any ground to doubt Michele Elam’s introductory argument that Baldwin’s “prescient questioning of the boundaries of race, sex, love, leadership, and country assume new urgency” in what she calls “the ‘post-race’ transnational twenty-first century” (3).   Connected by this argument, The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin presents thirteen essays by distinguished scholars of (African) American Studies, which all aim to provide new “perspectives on Baldwin’s aesthetic practice and politics across genre, across gender, across the globe, and across the color line” (12). The volume is complemented by an introductory essay by editor Michele Elam, a ‘coda’ by D. Quentin Miller, and some additional scholarly sources (among them, a chronology of Baldwin’s life, a guide to further reading, and a list of Baldwin’s works). While the supplemental material is clearly informative for anyone with little knowledge about Baldwin, Elam’s introduction appeals to scholars who are already familiar with Baldwin’s best known novels, plays, and essays, and who have an additional interest in the lesser examined domains of his work and in the complex, often contradictory images that others have (and had) of Baldwin. Stating that Baldwin’s slipping between the categories and periodizations of literary history has frequently led to a simplification of his oeuvre, Elam highlights several underappreciated aspects of his work that are investigated further throughout the volume and create coherence between the individual contributions: Baldwin’s role as “one of the first black public intellectuals of the postwar period” (5); his complex understanding of how art can relate to social reality and activate its audience through its “ethical potency” (8); his groundbreaking conception of race and identity as socially and historically constructed; and his rich view of the...

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WERNER SOLLORS, African American Writing: A Literary Approach (Philadelphia, PA: Temple U P, 2016), 296 pp.
Jan25

WERNER SOLLORS, African American Writing: A Literary Approach (Philadelphia, PA: Temple U P, 2016), 296 pp.

Werner Sollors, African American Writing: A Literary Approach (Philadelphia, PA: Temple U P, 2016), 296 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 African American Writing, Werner Sollors’s latest book, commands attention for a variety of reasons: as a compilation of previously published essays, it brings to light within the covers of one single book the astounding scope, learning, and depth of Sollors’s scholarship in the field at hand. AAW begins with an essay on eighteenth-century slave narrator Olaudah Equiano and ends two centuries later with a discussion of African American writing in the age of an Obama presidency. Some of the essays originally appeared as introductions to critical editions, such as the Norton critical edition of Equiano’s Interesting Narrative and Du Bois’s Autobiography by Oxford University Press; others were contributions to publications with rather limited circulation, as in the case of Sollors’s riveting account of African American intellectuals and Europe between the two World Wars, which was first published as part of a special issue of an academic series by the University of Tours (GRAAT) and dedicated to the late Michel Fabre. One essay, on LeRoi Jones’s Dutchman, was taken from Sollors’s first book Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a “Populist Modernism” (1978), a pathbreaking study of Baraka’s metamorphosis from Beat to black poet based on Sollors’s dissertation at the Freie Universität Berlin; not only does this early monograph on Baraka stand out as a major achievement in the criticism of African American literature as ‘American’ literature, it also paved the way for the exceptional career of a German scholar of African American studies at two Ivy League universities, Columbia and Harvard.   Taken together, the twelve essays assembled here cover a large, impressive body of African American texts, both well and lesser known: from Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative and Charles Chesnutt’s plantation stories, to modernist novels such as Jean Toomer’s Cane, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Richard Wright’s Native Son; from programmatic essays (by Wright and Hurston) and a discussion of the influence of anthropology and sociology on African American writing, to Du Bois’s ambiguous account of his visit to Germany in 1936 and, finally, a survey of contemporary black literary responses to the notion of interracial kinship and a post-racial society (both concepts have been widely discussed after Obama’s inauguration as the nation’s first black president). The essays also display Sollors’s unique approach to African American writing, i.e., his attempt to understand the text under scrutiny as part of a larger transnational American modernist tradition without eclipsing its ethnic cultural specificity. This tendency is particularly apparent in a chapter on Jean Toomer’s Cane, in...

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CHRISTINA SCHÄFFER, The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Pride in African-American Children, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 60 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter Lang, 2012), 536 pp.;   GARY D. SCHMIDT, Making Americans: Children’s Literature from 1930 to 1960 (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2013), 318 pp.
Jan25

CHRISTINA SCHÄFFER, The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Pride in African-American Children, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 60 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter Lang, 2012), 536 pp.; GARY D. SCHMIDT, Making Americans: Children’s Literature from 1930 to 1960 (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2013), 318 pp.

Christina Schäffer, The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Pride in African-American Children, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 60 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter Lang, 2012), 536 pp. Gary D. Schmidt, Making Americans: Children’s Literature from 1930 to 1960 (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2013), 318 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 Christina Schäffer’s The Brownies’ Book and Gary D. Schmidt’s Making Americans are only two of the many recent contributions to an increasingly interdisciplinary field of research, which intertwines the study of children’s literature with children’s culture and a host of other academic disciplines, such as gender and media studies or the social and political sciences. In light of the explosion of publications related to children’s literature and childhood studies, Sarah Wadsworth has proclaimed another “Year of the Child,”[1] and according to John Wall this dynamic field is presently entering its “third wave.” After a first struggle for the recognition of children as social agents and subjects of human rights in the 1980s and demands for social equality since the late 1990s, children’s studies now aim to radically transform social structures and norms (Wall 70-71).[2]   As a result, there has been a steady chipping away at one of the most cherished myths of the late twentieth century—childhood innocence. In his seminal introduction to The Children’s Culture Reader (1998), Henry Jenkins explains that this powerful cultural construct, which developed from Romantic notions that children were not yet corrupted by society, served as a critique of the injustices and inequalities of Western industrial societies. By the late twentieth century, these ideas had given way to an understanding of children as pre-social, apolitical beings who needed to be protected from the dire realities surrounding them. Jenkins therefore calls for alternative models of children’s culture which acknowledge the ideological battles waged over such popular constructs and which recognize and advocate “children’s cultural, social, and political agency” (32).[3] Schäffer’s, as well as Schmidt’s, book responds to these developments and challenges, albeit in different ways.   With The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Pride in African-American Children, Schäffer provides a long overdue, comprehensive study of W. E. B. Du Bois’s efforts at launching the first monthly magazine by black authors for black children. The study contains five major chapters. Chapter two, “Genesis of a Magazine for the Children of the Sun,” introduces Du Bois’s objectives and, using the first issue from January 1920 as an example, the chief concerns, themes, and philosophical concepts behind it. Chapter three, “Taking Pride in Being Black: Strategies of Composing an African-American Children’s Magazine,” gives an overview of the magazine’s contributors and categorizes the contents of both text and image. Here, Schäffer highlights...

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ROBIN BERNSTEIN, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York and London: New York UP, 2011), 307 pp.
Jan25

ROBIN BERNSTEIN, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York and London: New York UP, 2011), 307 pp.

Robin Bernstein, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York and London: New York UP, 2011), 307 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 The idea of childhood innocence has become a naturalized element of discussions over race and rights, and, as Robin Bernstein shows in her discussion of Keith Bardwell, a justice of peace in Louisiana refusing to wed a white woman and a black man, the notion of having to “protect the children” oftentimes trumps other concerns within social debates—even if, as was the case in the Bardwell controversy, these children are wholly imagined at that particular point of the discussion (see 1 – 2). Arguing that the concept of childhood innocence has been central to the construction and negotiation of race since the nineteenth century, Bernstein highlights the binary construction of racial innocence in children: White children were imbued with innocence, black children excluded from it, while other children of color were erased from this racial binary altogether. Using a rich archive of written texts, illustrations, theater performances and artifacts of material culture (such as handkerchiefs or dolls), Bernstein traces and analyzes how “scriptive things” invited and shaped practices of conformation to anti-black ideology but also of resistance and re-appropriation.   In the introduction, Bernstein traces the development of the negotiation of childhood innocence from the Calvinist doctrine of infant depravity to the celebrations of childhood innocence such as by Locke (who famously declared children to be tabulae rasae) or Rousseau (whose Émile celebrated the idea of children’s uncorruptedness by civilization). The idea of children’s innocence took on an important turn in the nineteenth century, and it is this turn that lies at the base of Bernstein’s investigations of the role of racial innocence in the political processes of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Children were no longer seen as merely innocent, but became considered the embodiment of innocence itself, and as such were thought of as holy angels who could lead (inherently corrupted) adults to heaven. Importantly, however, the abstract idea of childhood (and childhood innocence) was comprised of white childhood, and the idea of the white angel-child both needed and created the need of its counterpart, the black “pickaninny.”   Methodologically, Bernstein works with a material culture approach of reading “scriptive things” (see 8–13, 69–91): an analysis of lived behavior in which cultural artifacts and the way they are used or denied to be used play a crucial role. In trying to read past performances of everyday objects by using archival and historical knowledge to determine which actions the scripted object invited and which ones it discouraged, this approach aims...

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CHRISTINE KNAUER, Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2014), 337 pp.
Jan25

CHRISTINE KNAUER, Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2014), 337 pp.

Christine Knauer, Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2014), 337 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 Christine Knauer’s Let Us Fight as Free Men is a welcome addition to the growing body of historical scholarship on African American soldiers and the role of war and black military service in the black struggle for racial equality in the twentieth century. While a number of historians have analyzed the ways in which World War I served to simultaneously consolidate and challenge white supremacy, there are no studies that provide a detailed analysis of such social and political dynamics in the post-World War II era. Christine Knauer’s important book begins to bridge that historiographical gap.   Her study concentrates on black activists’ efforts to integrate the U.S. military in the second half of the 1940s, on black military service during the Korean War, and on the multiple ways in which African American activists and commentators interpreted the meanings of that particular war and black soldiers’ role in it. However, readers also learn much about the contributions of black servicemen and servicewomen to the American war effort during World War II, an aspect of the book that serves as a backdrop for the thorough analysis of the decade following the conflict’s end. Combining methodologies and analytical perspectives drawn from social, cultural, and military history, Knauer mined a considerable number of archives and analyzed the press coverage of dozens of African American and white newspapers and magazines.   What distinguishes Knauer’s work from other studies on soldiers of color after World War II is her detailed account of the interrelationship between black military service and civil rights activism, as well as her insightful analysis of the efforts of black pundits and journalists to reshape the image of black soldiers as a means of challenging centuries of racist stereotypes. She skillfully uses gender as a theoretical concept to probe how such ideas as citizenship and civil rights were intertwined with notions of femininity and masculinity. Let Us Fight as Free Men thus shows not only how discrimination within the U.S. military prompted black servicemen and servicewomen to fight for full equality in the military and in U.S. society more generally, but also how African American activists and editors utilized it to challenge entrenched traditions of white supremacy. Most significantly, the study reveals a concerted effort on the part of African American journalists to counter white supremacist memory with their own version of the past and the present, stressing black soldiers’ manly heroism in the wars that the United States had fought and attempting to project a...

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AMY KATE BAILEY, Lynched: The Victims of Southern Mob Violence (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2015), 276 pp.;  TAMEKA BRADLEY HOBBS, Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida (Tallahassee: UP of Florida, 2015), 273 pp.;  MANFRED BERG, Popular Justice: A History of Lynching in America (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2011), 212 pp.
Jan25

AMY KATE BAILEY, Lynched: The Victims of Southern Mob Violence (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2015), 276 pp.; TAMEKA BRADLEY HOBBS, Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida (Tallahassee: UP of Florida, 2015), 273 pp.; MANFRED BERG, Popular Justice: A History of Lynching in America (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2011), 212 pp.

Amy Kate Bailey, Lynched: The Victims of Southern Mob Violence (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2015), 276 pp. Tameka Bradley Hobbs, Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida (Tallahassee: UP of Florida, 2015), 273 pp.   Manfred Berg, Popular Justice: A History of Lynching in America (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2011), 212 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 In July 2016, following the death of two African American men at the hands of police, black artists raised a flag in New York City eerily reminiscent of symbolic protest against mob violence perpetrated against African Americans during the Jim Crow era. The blocky white letters printed on black fabric read “A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday.” To protest and publicly condemn lynching, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hung a flag reading “A Man Was Lynched Today” followed by every reported lynching in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. From 1882 to 1965, white mobs killed thousands of black Americans, mostly black men between 20 and 40 years of age. Lynching was not solely a white on black crime. While the majority of lynch victims were African American, whites and other races and ethnicities also fell victim to mobs. The exact number of victims regardless of race and color will probably never be known, although not for the lack of trying on the part of researchers.   Over the last twenty-five years, sociologists, literary scholars, historians, and scholars of other disciplines have studied lynching in the United States extensively. The three books under review here add to this continuously growing field of study with different approaches, questions, and intentions. With the help of historical statistics, sociologists Amy Kate Bailey and Stewart E. Tolnay specify the identities of black lynch victims and identify commonalities and differences. By looking at four lynching cases in Florida in the 1940s, historian Tameka Bradley Hobbs uncovers the longevity of this form of violence and its painful and destructive legacy in the African American community. In contrast, historian Manfred Berg provides a sweeping historical overview of lynching in the United States.   Sociologists Amy Kate Bailey and Stewart E. Tolnay build on an earlier sociological study on lynchings in the U.S. South published by Tolnay and his colleague E. M. Beck. In A Festival of Violence (1995), the two developed an inventory of black lynch victims in ten Southern states to review the lists compiled by the NAACP, the Chicago Tribune, and the Tuskegee Institute. By sifting through newspapers, they managed to verify more than 2,400 deaths between the 1880s and 1930. Moreover,...

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MARCEL TRUDEL, Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage, Transl. George Tombs (Montréal: Véhicule Press, 2013), 323 pp.
Jan25

MARCEL TRUDEL, Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage, Transl. George Tombs (Montréal: Véhicule Press, 2013), 323 pp.

Marcel Trudel, Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage, Transl. George Tombs (Montréal: Véhicule Press, 2013), 323 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 George Tombs’s 2013 English translation of Marcel Trudel’s Deux siècles d’esclavage au Québec (2009) was fifty years overdue. Trudel’s magnum opus first appeared in 1960 under the title L’esclavage au Canada français and only first saw new editions in French in 2004 and again in 2009. Tombs has based his translation on this last version (13) which contains the 2009 text, Trudel’s preface and an introduction by the translator. However, both texts from 2009 and 2013 are by no means revised editions, as Trudel would still have it (13), but mere reprints of the original 1960s text, as Brett Rushforth has pointed out in his review (2005).[1] The translator does not hesitate to insert both Trudel’s work and his own in the vein of Canada’s “long denied” (7) history of black people. Indeed, the resistance to Trudel’s book was great when it first appeared in 1960. His insertion of slavery as both an established and encouraged fact from the beginnings of the settlement of what we call Canada today unveiled an inconvenient truth for nationalist historians at the time while at the same time challenging the powerful hegemonic narrative of a white settler society in New France. This revelation may well represent one of the reasons why the monograph has since become the authoritative source on slavery in New France and Quebec. In turn, this has also meant that its obvious shortcomings as well as most problematic assertions have been ignored and/or downplayed.   On the one hand, there are strong points to be made in favor of Trudel for which he should be commended: His comprehensive and ambitious study of slavery between some of the First Nations, Blacks, and European settlers, and the presence of black people in New France is certainly the first of its kind. Given that Robin Winks’s equally famous monograph from 1971 attempted to cover the whole of Canada, Trudel remains the sole authority on New France and Quebec, although Frank Mackey has recently published works on the history of slavery and black people in Montreal (2004; 2010). Trudel’s work was thus remarkable given the context of the beginning Quiet Revolution in Quebec, not only because the book established slavery as a fact that was heavily supported and maintained by religious elites, among others. Even today, to some extent, it explicitly and provocatively challenges the belief in a whitewashed history of the province by openly addressing métissage as a still “irritating problem” for many Québécois (230) and by directly linking common...

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Maria Loeschnigg, The Contemporary Canadian Short Story in English: Continuity and Change. CAT 7 (Trier: WVT, 2014), 381 pp.
Nov09

Maria Loeschnigg, The Contemporary Canadian Short Story in English: Continuity and Change. CAT 7 (Trier: WVT, 2014), 381 pp.

Maria Loeschnigg, The Contemporary Canadian Short Story in English: Continuity and Change. CAT 7 (Trier: WVT, 2014), 381 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 In spite of pessimistic forecasts regarding the future development of the Canadian short story by the Literary History of Canada in 1965,[1] the genre has flourished in the intervening decades since the book’s publication and has enjoyed ever-increasing recognition. In 2013, the Nobel Prize in Literature was bestowed upon a Canadian writer working solely within the genre,[2] thus also singling it out in the crowning of Alice Munro as the “master of the contemporary short story.”[3] And yet, despite the publication of more than twenty books on Munro’s short fiction in recent decades, the genre in Canada as such has hardly received comparable critical attention. Perhaps the abundant source material offered by its vibrant development since the “Canadian Renaissance” in the 1960s may explain the relative dearth of scholarly works comprehensively engaging with Canadian short fiction.[4] In the introduction to her contribution, Maria Loeschnigg stresses that the primary focus of some previous studies on the subject consisted of literary output up to the 1980s. Her own work endeavors to fill the gap that has opened in the interim, surveying the Canadian short story from the mid-1980s through the first decade of the twenty-first century. The result is indeed a very welcome addition to short story criticism. Loeschnigg, in the introduction, cogently embeds her book in the context of previous scholarship and pinpoints the major characteristics and structure of her own contribution. The approaches to important recent examples of the genre in Canada in the following seven chapters, as Loeschnigg herself muses, might indeed seem eclectic at first sight, ranging as they do from chapters dealing with a single author only (ch. 2), stories grouped by their authors’ gender (ch. 3), stories colored by their regional setting (ch. 4) as well as by globalization (ch. 5), stories by authors belonging to one ethnic group (ch. 6), genre experiments and transgressions (ch. 7), and, finally, the hybrid genre of the short story cycle (ch. 8). Seemingly a mixed bag, this particular cross-section is nonetheless persuasive, focusing on essential aspects of the genre in Canada today: its leading writer Alice Munro (who retired in the summer of 2013, just before she received the Nobel Prize); the predominance―both with regard to quantity and to quality―of female writers of the genre in Canada; the importance of region and “new regionalism” in the literature of the second-largest country on earth; the globalizing aspects of literature in a country of immigration where the term “multiculturalism” was first coined in the 1960s and where...

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Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann. Eds. Liminality and the Short Story: Boundary Crossings in American, Canadian, and British Writing (New York: Routledge, 2015), 282 pp.
Nov09

Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann. Eds. Liminality and the Short Story: Boundary Crossings in American, Canadian, and British Writing (New York: Routledge, 2015), 282 pp.

Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann. Eds. Liminality and the Short Story: Boundary Crossings in American, Canadian, and British Writing (New York: Routledge, 2015), 282 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 The concept of liminality is rather expansive, a fact that many of the contributors to Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann’s collection tend to convey. Predicated in part upon the premise that language and meaning are inherently fluid, Bergmann and Achilles assert in their brief preamble that the liminal presents a foundation for implementing “an innovative methodological perspective.” However, with so much basic research about frequently-taught, oft-anthologized works yet to be completed, one must consider the value of applying a somewhat amorphous theoretical construct to tales both canonical and obscure. In other words, this “perspective,” or set of perspectives, in some ways represents a return to the era of literary deconstruction. Thankfully, a number of the essays in this collection prove to be valuable contributions to the study of specific works as well as the short-story form itself. In the opening section, the editors offer a relatively clear explanation of liminality and its uses within the context of the short story form. They mention Arnold van Gennep’s The Rites of Passage and Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process (3), works that are referenced frequently throughout the book, and then explain how common thematic building blocks such as initiation and transition coincide with the methodology. This approach to short story theory is freeing, and it opens up a number of interesting possibilities for further study, but it is also necessarily abstract. Criticism written through the lens of liminality seems most efficacious when the foundational elements of story, such as plot and characterization, are at their most indeterminate or suggestive. In many respects, therefore, the essays here each contain a kernel of the postmodern and at times present a common problem: a broad definition of what constitutes the liminal reduces the descriptive usefulness of the method. The most utile sections and chapters of Liminality and the Short Story are those that rely upon concrete, direct examinations of specific texts. In that vein, Achilles and Bergmann offer an excellent selected bibliography at the end of Part I, providing a valuable point of departure for future scholarship. However, readers entirely unfamiliar with liminality would do well to begin with chapter four, Florian Zappe’s “In the Generic Interzone: On the Liminal Character of William S. Burroughs’s Routines,” an essay in which the author lucidly illustrates the nexus of literature and theory. Additionally, Zappe’s discussion of what Burroughs termed a “routine” is rather engaging and carries a number of analytical possibilities for readings of other works of fiction....

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Robert Paul Lamb,  The Hemingway Short Story: A Study in Craft for Writers and Readers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 233 pp.
Nov09

Robert Paul Lamb, The Hemingway Short Story: A Study in Craft for Writers and Readers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 233 pp.

Robert Paul Lamb,  The Hemingway Short Story: A Study in Craft for Writers and Readers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 233 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 The professional study of literature places demands on scholars that are not required of casual readers, who are free to read as quickly or inventively as they wish without any special obligation to the process. However, scholars are obligated to give each text a careful examination resulting in the rigorous formulation of intellectually verifiable propositions about literature. In the context of this critical assumption, Robert Paul Lamb’s The Hemingway Short Story scores well as an exercise in basic close reading and rather poorly in many of its conclusions about themes and ideas, especially when given a biographical formulation. For the most part, the book is a welcome contribution to two important dimensions of American literary study, the ever-swelling library of investigations into Hemingway’s fiction and the newly energized emphasis on the story as an important genre in American literature. Although Lamb’s title suggests a wide-ranging consideration of the complete canon of Hemingway’s short fiction, the book is actually a discussion of only five stories, each of them receiving both detailed analysis (generally perceptive and restrained) and broad thematic interpretation (often moving quite beyond available evidence).  Lamb is at his best in working close to the text, in essentially an old-fashioned New Critical approach, including detailed considerations of the manuscripts, composition, and publication history of each work.  However, Lamb’s work could have benefitted from a more thorough examination of the previous criticism on Hemingway’s short stories. For example, Lamb did not consult Jackson Benson’s  massive The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays[i] nor Michael Reynolds’ celebrated Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, a rich collection of scholarship presenting a spectrum of approaches to the vary stories under consideration.[ii] Lamb has not adequately considered the implications of Philip Young’s groundbreaking interpretation of “Big Two-Hearted River,” particularly with regard to Nick Adams’ war experiences and the therapeutic nature of ritualized activity that allows him, finally, to sleep.[iii] Arthur Waldhorn’s A Reader’s Guide to Ernest Hemingway exhibits great respect for the Hemingway’s text and admirable restraint in avoiding fanciful readings.[iv] Paul Smith’s A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway is still the best study of the composition and publication history of the short fiction, and it includes virtually all of the information that Lamb offers on the background of the stories.[v] It also includes an insightful discussion of various interpretative approaches to each work. Milton A. Cohen’s Hemingway’s Laboratory: The Paris In Our Time also is an important guide...

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Frank Gado, ed., William Cullen Bryant:  The Complete Stories (Hartford, Vt.: Antoka Press: 2014) 327pp.
Nov09

Frank Gado, ed., William Cullen Bryant: The Complete Stories (Hartford, Vt.: Antoka Press: 2014) 327pp.

Frank Gado, ed., William Cullen Bryant:  The Complete Stories (Hartford, Vt.: Antoka Press: 2014) 327pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 In many respects, Bryant has become a shadowy figure in the American literary canon. Students in academic classes may encounter “Thanatopsis,” but few others from Bryant’s verse output. They are even less likely to find specimens of his prose publications, and, among those, rarely find him represented by a short story. The American Writers Series volume of Bryant, edited by Tremaine McDowell (1935), includes only “A Border Tradition” and “The Indian Spring.” Frank Gado previously published two stories, “A Pennsylvania Legend” and “The Indian Spring,” in William Cullen Bryant: An American Voice (2006). Thus, Gado’s present edition fills a long-standing gap, supplying us, as it does, with the texts of Bryant’s thirteen stories, plus the “Preface” to The Talisman for 1828. The book could not have been prepared by a better editor than Frank Gado who has been championing Bryant’s causes for decades. Bryant’s stories are worth knowing as representatives of short-story themes during the early national era of American literature. They divide between the Sentimental and the Gothic; some focus on such then popular topics and tropes as the American landscape, Native American characters and circumstances, folk traditions that were appealing in American and other literary circles during the 1820s-30s. Stories like “A Border Tradition” and “A Pennsylvania Legend” connect with antecedent folklore, some of which has continued to wend its way into the present day. The uncertainties and, at times, violence that were part of American frontier life in young Bryant’s era also shape some of his fiction. Moreover, as Gado’s edition attests, Bryant’s stories are far removed from those narratives that seem to be chopped down novels, as is suggested by many specimen of the genre from the last decades of the eighteenth on through the first two decades of the nineteenth century. In contrast, Bryant’s stories have distinct and felicitous beginnings, middle sections, and conclusions. In this respect, his stories take deserved artistic rank with those of writers who are more generally cited as originators of the American short story as literary art: Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe. Bryant’s Gothic stories may hold out greater appeal than those of the sentimental stamp, though I admit to this preference as one of my own; as such they draw greater attention from students of American Romanticism to Bryant’s deft uses of Gothicism in some of his verse. Bryant’s abilities in narrative techniques are not customarily highlighted in discussions of his verse, which omission downplays or ignores his accomplishments in balladry and other types of verse narratives, just as his...

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Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015), 241 pp.
Nov09

Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015), 241 pp.

Paul Stephens, The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015), 241 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 As the digital media affect ever greater portions of everyday life, scholarly interest in their impact on cultural production has increased as well. Poetry is not usually associated with technological innovation, and recent studies such as Wesley Beal’s Networks of Modernism (2015) and James Purden’s Modernist Informatics (2015) limit their focus to narrative texts. Yet Marjorie Perloff’s seminal Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (1991) demonstrated at an early point that the challenges of the digital age have inspired a variety of responses among contemporary poets. While the medial and material dimensions of this strand of poetry have since been examined by various scholars, the more fundamental question of how poets have reacted to the abundance of information made available by the new technologies has not been addressed. Paul Stephens’s study approaches this question by tracing the notion of information overload and the poetic strategies it engendered from the early twentieth century to the present.   The study opens with a comprehensive introduction that examines the concept of information overload from a variety of perspectives. While Stephens admits to reservations about the term, citing the “antidemocratic attitude toward the production of information” and the “rejection of popular and mass culture” it might be taken to imply (16), he argues convincingly that it captures a widespread feeling and is therefore a useful tool for cultural inquiry. Stephens defines information by distinguishing it from knowledge, which involves understanding, on the one hand and from data, which can be meaningless, on the other. He points out that anxieties about information overload are almost as old as literacy itself but have exponentially increased in recent decades, changing human behavior in general and cultural production in particular (16). The Introduction contextualizes the concept in related debates around issues like the archival dimension of poetry, the role of information technology and digital interfaces, and the economy and pathology of attention. Stephens approaches these issues in a thoughtful, nuanced manner. Both optimistic and skeptical voices on the abundance of information and its social and psychological effects are taken into account.   The historical survey opens with a chapter on Gertrude Stein, whose psychological studies with William James and Hugo von Münsterberg acquainted her with the potential problems of information overload at an early point. The question of whether modernization requires a new kind of attention can be traced throughout her oeuvre, and Stephens identifies various answers to this question. On the one hand, Stein resisted the “pathologization of...

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Simone Knewitz, Modernist Authenticities: The Material Body and the Poetics of Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 249 pp.
Nov09

Simone Knewitz, Modernist Authenticities: The Material Body and the Poetics of Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 249 pp.

Simone Knewitz, Modernist Authenticities: The Material Body and the Poetics of Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 249 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 Within the larger context of modernism, the complex relationship between the material body and poetic expression is one of two analytical foci of Simone Knewitz’s study.  In order to examine this relationship in detail, Knewitz chose works by Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams, and, in a final chapter Jean Toomer, as the objects of her scrutiny.   As Knewitz argues, this is by no means an arbitrary selection, as “Williams was in daily contact with physical bodies […] and the epistemological question between self and world is at the center of his poetry.  Lowell […] has been literally subjected to her body, being reduced to her obesity by literary critics” (17).  Toomer, finally, was famously insistent that he did not want to be categorized by his “body”, i.e. by his partly African ancestry, but saw himself, in a color-blind fashion, as an American artist, who took his inspiration from works of art, not from his “race.” The second focus of Knewitz’s book concerns the question of “authenticity” in modernism.  Here, she acknowledges the historical nature of the term, and opts for the Romantic definition as “related to the search for an essential, inner, core—the real and truthful self—and notions of originality and identity” (19). However, she does not take the definition at face value, but as a starting point from which to deconstruct the concept in the tradition of Derrida, Butler, and Foucault. Thus, Knewitz also acknowledges that when it comes to Lowell’s and Wiliams’s claims about “the body as a locus of authenticity” she needs to “distinguish their position from [her] own” (20). The methodological solution to this essentially ironic interpretation of authenticity is her application of theories of “performance” and “performative language” to the poetry of Lowell, Williams, and Toomer. The main body of Modernist Authenticities is made up of five chapters, which all contribute to the argument that in modernism authenticity has to be seen as a performative, procedural concept, in spite of its relation to the apparently stable “materiality” of the body.  At the same time these chapters have the character of independent essays, full of background information and well-researched contextual findings.  In her chapter “Poetry and Materiality: The Flower as Modernist Trope,” we learn about the history of the trope of the flower and its cultural significance reaching back to classical antiquity. Then, the pastime and science of botany is presented as a “female” science (at least in the U.S.), and a poem by Longfellow is introduced as...

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Andrew S. Gross, The Pound Reaction: Liberalism and Lyricism in Midcentury American Literature (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2015)
Nov09

Andrew S. Gross, The Pound Reaction: Liberalism and Lyricism in Midcentury American Literature (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2015)

ANDREW S. GROSS, The Pound Reaction: Liberalism and Lyricism in Midcentury American Literature (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2015) Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 This book on the reactions to Ezra Pound’s Bollingen Award has itself won a prize, the Rob Kroes Publication Award by the European Association of American Studies. Since one of the effects of reading this book is a heightened sensibility to the politics involved in awards, I should begin by spelling out the implications of the Rob Kroes Award: it singles out an example of American Studies as a model for the way this “undisciplined discipline,” as Boris Vejdovsky puts it in the preface, is practiced in Europe. The expectations this might raise are completely fulfilled: the book is indeed a wonderful example of the kind of interdisciplinarity surrounding interpretations of literature and history that is one of the characteristics of American Studies: it brings together the study of poetry and its reception with what one might call a History of Ideas, intellectual history, or perhaps more narrowly, the history of “academic trends” (191) from 1949 to the end of the 1960s. It reads a number of literary and non-literary texts in the attempt to understand how well-known and lesser known writers negotiated the relation between the arts (in particular: poetry) and politics in the era of the Cold War. The introduction lays out the events that are fraught with ironies and contradictions: Early in 1949, a committee at the Library of Congress announced that the Bollingen Award for the best volume of poetry published during the last year would go to Ezra Pound for his Pisan Cantoes, written outside Pisa while imprisoned and awaiting a trial for treason. In radio broadcasts, letters, and poems Pound had openly supported Mussolini and Hitler during the war and had escaped a harsh sentence only because his attorney had pleaded insanity. At the time of the announcement, Pound was an inmate of St Elizabeths, a federal mental hospital in Washington whose director had diagnosed him vaguely as mentally unsound. That a man can be accused of treason and deterred by one arm of the government and be honored by another was one of the oddities that did not escape commentators in the ensuing controversy about the award. Why should a country that had just defeated fascist regimes in Europe honor a poet with fascist and anti-Semitic sympathies at home? The irony central to Gross’s book though is the fact that a poetry award that is so clearly political was subsequently defended largely by insisting on the autonomy of art and by declaring a separation of art from politics – to underline...

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Sascha Pöhlmann, Future-Founding Poetry: Topographies of Beginnings from Whitman to the Twenty-First Century, European Studies in North American Literature and Culture (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2015), 424 pp.
Nov09

Sascha Pöhlmann, Future-Founding Poetry: Topographies of Beginnings from Whitman to the Twenty-First Century, European Studies in North American Literature and Culture (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2015), 424 pp.

Sascha Pöhlmann, Future-Founding Poetry: Topographies of Beginnings from Whitman to the Twenty-First Century, European Studies in North American Literature and Culture (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2015), 424 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 Sascha Pöhlmann’s study of American poetry belongs to a currently growing body of scholarly works partaking in a ‘temporal turn’ in literary and cultural studies. Pöhlmann carves out a poetic mode within American poetry and poetics which, as he claims, finds a “crucial beginning” (41) with Walt Whitman and can be traced through the poetry of the twentieth and into the early twenty-first century. The author calls this mode “future-founding poetry,” appropriating a term Whitman used in his 1876 preface to Leaves of Grass (17). Pöhlmann defines “future-founding poetry as poetry that aims to actively mark and perform a beginning that is relevant to a combined imagination of both present and future” (2). His theoretical framework explicitly fuses the aesthetic and the political: The poets working in this mode “consider the future as a contested discursive space in which they can and should intervene through their own various symbolic and imaginative practices” (60). As Pöhlmann sets out to describe a tradition in American poetry that he sees beginning with Whitman, he seeks to avoid constructing a linear narrative; instead he envisions the works of the poets discussed as a continuum of shared aesthetic concerns, connected through “family resemblances” (18). The first five of Pöhlmann’s six chapters each center on single, exemplary poets. After first conceptualizing the framework of future-founding based on Whitman’s poetry and prose, Pöhlmann turns to the modernist poetry of William Carlos Williams, the African-American poet Langston Hughes, feminist poet Muriel Rukeyser and finally Allen Ginsberg’s countercultural future-founding imagination. The last chapter provides an exception to the established structure by tracing the mode of future-founding in the occasional poetry responding to the events of 9/11. Notably, Pöhlmann favors the term “beginning” over related and established concepts such as “newness” or “originality” to construct his theoretical framework, arguing that the concept of “beginning” enables a more productive model to engage with the poetics of temporality. A beginning, “time that is bounded and marked as meaningful” (11), denotes a point in time or a span in time; it is an event which points beyond itself and which not merely happens, but is made; beginnings can be repeated (with a difference) and are thus potentially iterative; they are also socially meaningful (12-13). From these conceptual clarifications, Pöhlmann derives the characteristics of future-founding: as indicated by the term “founding,” this poetic mode is concerned with the present as well as with the future; future-founding also denotes an ongoing procedure,...

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Mark Noble, American Poetic Materialism: From Whitman to Stevens, New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 2015. 242 pp. / Paul Mariani, The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016. 496 pp.
Nov09

Mark Noble, American Poetic Materialism: From Whitman to Stevens, New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 2015. 242 pp. / Paul Mariani, The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016. 496 pp.

Mark Noble, American Poetic Materialism: From Whitman to Stevens, New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 2015. 242 pp. Paul Mariani, The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016. 496 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2   Wallace Stevens’s poetry has frequently been regarded as philosophical[1] and used to support claims of a postmetaphysical age.[2] This encourages one to either read his work as part of a history of ideas or to attempt to write his literary biography. Both options tend to neglect his poetry—the first one for the sake of his ideas, the second for the events of his life. These two publications on Wallace Stevens deal with the resulting challenges of interpreting his poetry and give two snapshots of different approaches to contemporary scholarship on his work. Mark Noble’s critical study appeared in the Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture Series, which in recent volumes focused on new approaches to canonical as well as uncharted areas of American studies. He investigates the established poetic genealogy from Lucretius via Emerson and Whitman to Santayana and Stevens from the perspective of materialism “in order to sketch a short history of the atomized human subject” (2). The book consists of a theoretical introduction, four topical chapters dedicated to each of the poets, and a conclusion that connects the argument with the work of Gilles Deleuze[3] and Alain Badiou. Two of the essays collected here have been published previously,[4] which may account for occasional stylistic and argumentative inconsistencies. In line with his theoretical approach and argument in the tradition of the history of ideas, Noble uses an abstract language to elegantly convey important poetic genealogies. He speaks of a “vexed model of poetic vocation—one in which what charters the poet’s revisionary project coincides with what limits the intelligibility of every materialism” (3). His points of departure are Stephen Greenblatt’s 2012 The Swerve and Michael Serres’s The Birth of Physics (1977/2000) as two extreme interpretations of Lucretius, whose De rerum natura is used as a template for a history of ideas. Greenblatt defends secular humanism as Lucretian inheritance, whereas Serres argues that the fluidity in Lucretius destabilizes precisely the epistemological preconditions of secular humanism. One is led to ask how this volume’s focus on human materiality contributes to current debates on basic philosophical questions. The author’s aim is to recover materiality from the recent surge in “material culture studies” for a literary criticism inspired by the history of ideas. Elegantly synthesizing previous research on canonical authors and engaging with two contemporary theorists, the balanced work has by now become an important and well-known literary genealogy. It is...

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Marcus Münch, Building New Faith on New-Found Shores: Die religiöse Dimension in der Dichtung der Fireside Poets (Trier: WVT, 2016), 239 pp.
Nov09

Marcus Münch, Building New Faith on New-Found Shores: Die religiöse Dimension in der Dichtung der Fireside Poets (Trier: WVT, 2016), 239 pp.

Marcus Münch, Building New Faith on New-Found Shores: Die religiöse Dimension in der Dichtung der Fireside Poets (Trier: WVT, 2016), 239 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.2 Marcus Münch’s study of the “religious dimension” in the poetical works of William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes takes as its theoretical starting point  William James’s and John Dewey’s conceptualization of religion  as an ahistorical, mystical, individual attitude,  which is not necessarily connected to an exclusive set of religious practices and dogmata, but which includes broader interpretations of the term “religious,” in the sense of “attitudes that may be taken  toward every object  and every proposed ideal” (Dewey, qtd. in Münch, 6). From this premise, Münch derives three analytical distinctions for his study:  the direct involvement with “religious experience” of the poets themselves, the interpretation of their individual involvement as it is expressed in their works, and finally the role of the public and of institutionalized religion.   All in all, the study addresses the first two aspects fully and within a well-informed, broadly conceived contextual frame. The range of historical references and the number of different potentially influential “theologies” is impressive and testifies not only to the extensive research undertaken for this doctoral dissertation, but also to the central role of religion within US-American cultural history of the nineteenth century.  It feels very ungenerous to criticize that the third aspect, which examines actual historical religious practices and institutional frameworks, remains rather vague and limited to sporadic examples or general statements.  After all, this is understandable given the limits of what can be tackled in a dissertation project dealing with five individual authors, whose collective output amounts to several thousand pages of primary material, within a historical period ranging from the antebellum period to the Gilded Age.  Nevertheless, the monograph offers many interesting readings of hitherto generally under-studied texts and examples of the ways religion was “negotiated” in the works of the poets.  Münch’s readings reflect a general tendency towards what Harold Bloom called a “creedless” and “experiential” religious experience in American cultural history. In his first chapter, Münch identifies a development in Bryant’s oeuvre away from a rejection of Puritan doctrine in his youth, to an apparent acceptance of the basis of predestination, i.e. God’s absolute sovereignty and the sola fide principle. The young Bryant was repelled by the “horrible doctrine” of Puritan hell and expressed an alternative vision of death as peaceful “sleep”, for example, in his probably best known poem “Thanatopsis” (1815/17).  In Bryant’s later poems, however, Münch recognizes a renewed continuity with the Puritan dogma. Within this larger claim, he singles out poems...

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Courtney Q. Shah, Sex Ed, Segregated: The Quest for Sexual Knowledge in Progressive-Era America (Rochester: The U of Rochester P, 2015), 228 pp.
Aug31

Courtney Q. Shah, Sex Ed, Segregated: The Quest for Sexual Knowledge in Progressive-Era America (Rochester: The U of Rochester P, 2015), 228 pp.

Courtney Q. Shah, Sex Ed, Segregated: The Quest for Sexual Knowledge in Progressive-Era America (Rochester: The U of Rochester P, 2015), 228 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   In Sex Ed, Segregated, Courtney Q. Shah examines the early twentieth-century sexual education movement in the United States by exposing the debates surrounding sex ed and curriculum development in schools; how messages pertaining to sexual education were tailored for specific populations (men/women, girls/boys, working/middle class, black/white); and how groups with political agendas (e.g., Progressives, the YMCA, the military, the media, girls’ schools) tried to shape mainstream sex ed. As Shah adeptly illustrates, sexual education was, and still is, contoured by social, cultural, political, economic, religious, and scientific forces, and is never simply about education. More often than not, it is part of the arsenal of props deployed by American society to promote a specific hegemonic racial, gender, moral, or medical discourse. A revised version of Shah’s PhD Dissertation (“‘This Loathsome Subject’: Sex Education in Progressive-Era America,” University of Houston, 2006), Sex Ed, Segregated builds on the existing early twentieth-century sexuality, social hygiene/purity, and reproduction literature by mining under-examined sources, particularly those illustrating how sexual education was modified based on its target audience. In the early twentieth century, sexual education included instruction on a range of topics such as courtship, marriage, sexual intercourse, human anatomy and development, health, wellness, procreation, contraception, and venereal diseases, usually combining practical knowledge with the scientific and morals ideas of the era.  As Shah explicates, sexual education was, and still is, a product of its time. Thus, the sexual education of the first few decades of the twentieth century reflects its social context: Jim Crow, xenophobia, eugenics, class tension, World War I, and rapid social change (urbanization, industrialization, Progressivism, and the rise of the “New Woman” and “New Negro”). As Shah illustrates, sexual education texts were often modified for specific populations (titles, introductions, and illustrations were changed for black and white readers), and such alterations were based on racial assumptions and an unquestioned acceptance of racial difference. For example, while chastity and respectability were emphasized in African American texts, books published for white audiences focused on political and social hierarchies (white racial superiority) and eugenics (improving the national stock by encouraging reproduction among the “fit” and discouraging it among the “unfit”). Such manuals, however, also had certain elements in common: their religious and moral undertones, their emphasis on education and reform, and their faith in science, medicine, and technology. Moreover, they “normalized white male (middle class) sexuality and pathologized any departures from the white male norm” (x). Americans were far more divided when it came to the...

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Pekka Hämäläinen. The Comanche Empire. (New Haven: Yale UP, 2008), 512 pages. Gail D. MacLeitch. Imperial Entanglements: Iroquois Change and Persistence on the Frontiers of Empire. (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2011),  344 pages.  Karl-Hermann Hörner. Die Natchez: Staatenbildung am unteren Mississippi? (Neckenmarkt: Novum Pro, 2011), 238 pages.  Andrew H. Fisher. Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity. (Seattle: U of Washington P, 2010), 320 pages.
Aug31

Pekka Hämäläinen. The Comanche Empire. (New Haven: Yale UP, 2008), 512 pages. Gail D. MacLeitch. Imperial Entanglements: Iroquois Change and Persistence on the Frontiers of Empire. (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2011), 344 pages. Karl-Hermann Hörner. Die Natchez: Staatenbildung am unteren Mississippi? (Neckenmarkt: Novum Pro, 2011), 238 pages. Andrew H. Fisher. Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity. (Seattle: U of Washington P, 2010), 320 pages.

Pekka Hämäläinen. The Comanche Empire. (New Haven: Yale UP, 2008), 512 pages. Gail D. MacLeitch. Imperial Entanglements: Iroquois Change and Persistence on the Frontiers of Empire. (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2011),  344 pages. Karl-Hermann Hörner. Die Natchez: Staatenbildung am unteren Mississippi? (Neckenmarkt: Novum Pro, 2011), 238 pages. Andrew H. Fisher. Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity. (Seattle: U of Washington P, 2010), 320 pages. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   Sovereignty and agency have advanced to become central terms in Native American and Indigenous Studies. With different emphases, both center Native people and peoples as agents in political, social, economic, cultural, and intellectual terms that value, defend, and enact a particular form of autonomy and self-determination in respect to colonial powers or the U.S. settler nation-state. At the same time, particularly the notion of agency draws attention to how Native American nations do not simply occupy positions of resistance, adaptation, or cooperation, but are active in deploying different and variable strategies in maneuvering colonial impositions as well as in shaping the histories of the Americas from first contact to present-day U.S. in ways that are easily effaced by narratives of Euro-American progress. While these foci on autonomy, on the one hand, and active participation in the making of American histories, on the other, suggest different approaches to Native American histories, cultures, and politics—also indicative of differences in disciplinary approaches, since sovereignty is more firmly situated in cultural and literary studies as well as social and political sciences, agency more prominent in history—there is also a significant overlap between these terms. Most importantly, both analytic perspectives share the concern of lifting colonially imposed misconceptions of Native American peoples as apolitical, ahistorical, passive victims of Euro-American progress or unwitting collaborators to their own demise. A look at four selected works in Native American history then not only indicates the varied relations and tensions between forms of sovereignty and agency in practice and thought, but also should help to illuminate the breadth of these concepts and their historical variability. Centering sovereignty and agency in this Native history review essay thus aims at illuminating both the diversity of Native peoplehood and selfhood as well as the complex relations to European colonial powers and the U.S. settler nation-state that these works explore. Reviewing these four books with this emphasis further aims to add new perspectives to their respective individual reception. At the same time, it seeks to show how these four studies can be seen as indicative of a wider spread focus in Native American histories on formations of sovereignty and agency in different contexts that further point to the diversity...

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Elizabeth L. Wollmann, Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013), 271 pp.
Aug31

Elizabeth L. Wollmann, Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013), 271 pp.

Elizabeth L. Wollmann, Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013), 271 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   In Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City untersucht Elizabeth Wollman eine Untergattung des amerikanischen Musicals, die Musicalkenner meistens nur von ihrem verruchten Ruf her kennen und die auch nur selten in Studien zum amerikanischen Musical betrachtet werden, obwohl es sich mittlerweile um eine dominierende Untergattung handelt. Die Autorin entführt den Leser auf eine unterhaltsame Zeitreise in die zügellosen 1970er Jahre und gibt einen historischen Abriss über das für Erwachsene komponierte Musical, das spätestens seit der Premiere von Hair (1968) am New Yorker Broadway floriert. Wollmans Studie ist geprägt von einer informativen, sehr detaillierten Darstellung der selten besprochenen Untergattung des Musicals, deren Kontext sie beleuchtet und dabei auf ihre Verdienste im amerikanischen Theater aufmerksam macht. Wollman versteht ihre Untersuchung als kulturhistorische Darstellung des amerikanischen Musicals in den 1970er Jahren, das geprägt war von sexueller Revolution, dem Emanzipationsbestreben der Frau und der Debatte über die Gleichstellung Homosexueller. Was aber das feministische Musical mit dem Adult Musical zu tun hat, bleibt unklar. In I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road geht es um die Gleichberechtigung der Frau in der Gesellschaft, und beide sind mit Sicherheit familientauglich und haben nichts mit den Musicals der anderen Unterkategorien zu tun, in denen sexuelle Zweideutigkeiten und Pornographie sowie leichtbekleidete oder nackte Akteure das erwachsene Publikum begeistern. Das feministische Musical hat nichts mit dem von Jonathan Ward geprägten Begriff „adult musicals” zu tun, den die Autorin in der Einleitung zu ihrem Buch aufgreift. Sie definiert „adult musicals“ als Musicals mit vollständig unbekleideten Akteuren, angedeuteten freizügigen Aktivitäten, sexuellen Anspielungen oder explizit freizügigen Dialogen bzw. Nummern oder ausdrücklich sexuellen Inhalten in der Handlung. Wollman beleuchtet das amerikanische „adult musical“ in seinem historischen, kulturellen und künstlerischen Zusammenhang durch die verschiedenen Dekaden von seinem goldenen Zeitalter bis zu seinen heutigen Ausprägungen. Dabei versucht sie das Adult Musical aus verschiedenen Perspektiven zu betrachten und auch diverse Vernetzungen aufzuzeigen, indem sie zwei Musicals, nämlich Oh! Calcutta! und Let My People Come, gewissermaßen als rote Fäden die gesamte Studie durchziehen lässt. Auf einer begleitenden Website werden dem Leser Hörbeispiele und zusätzliches Bildmaterial geboten, auf die auch im Buch hingewiesen wird. Wollman ist Lehrbeauftragte für Musik am Baruch College in New York und hat in ihrem Buch The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair to Hedwig (2006) eine weitere Untergattung des amerikanischen Musicals untersucht. Auch ihre vielen Besuche des New Yorker Broadway machen sie zu einer Expertin auf dem Gebiet. Das Buch gliedert sich in vier thematisch gegliederte...

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Daniel Stein, Music Is My Life: Louis Armstrong, Autobiography and American Jazz, Jazz Perspectives (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2012), 349 pp.
Aug31

Daniel Stein, Music Is My Life: Louis Armstrong, Autobiography and American Jazz, Jazz Perspectives (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2012), 349 pp.

Daniel Stein, Music Is My Life: Louis Armstrong, Autobiography and American Jazz, Jazz Perspectives (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2012), 349 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   Based on his award-winning dissertation, Daniel Stein’s book is a timely and innovative addition to the vast amount of scholarly literature on Louis Armstrong. It is a welcomed intervention into the discourses established by biographies and music or jazz histories: Music Is My Life: Louis Armstrong, Autobiography, and American Jazz revolves around the musician’s various forms and practices of life writing and situates them within larger socio-cultural constellations and historical contexts. At the same time, it constitutes a methodologically and theoretically ambitious study that presents an inspiring take on autobiography understood as “a writing practice” (12) and on intermediality. Stein discusses Armstrong’s “autobiographics” (17) not only on the basis of the musician’s two autobiographies (Swing That Music and Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans) but also with regard to Armstrong’s published and unpublished letters, essays, interviews, recordings, articles, and his performances in e.g. music, film, photography, and stage acting. Stein’s approach to this wealth of material from the Armstrong archive as well as secondary sources speaks to both his thorough research and his excellent analytical skills. Armstrong emerges as prolific writer, chronicler of his life, and maybe even “jazz’s most productive autobiographer” (8). Music Is My Life sets out to understand Armstrong as “transmedial artist” and to trace “the intermedial effects of [his] autobiographical performances” (23). Stein lays out four goals for his study: to assess Armstrong’s role in the creation of his public persona, to contribute to the scholarship on “jazz autobiography” (William Kenney), to analyze jazz as an intermedial phenomenon, and to understand the historical constructions of “blackness” from the minstrel stage into the civil rights era (cf. 26-27). Against the backdrop of these objectives, the six chapters cover different aspects of Armstrong’s autobiographics while documenting his career and life writing. Stein starts out (chap. 1) with close readings of Armstrong’s reflections on New Orleans jazz traditions and especially “musicking” (Christopher Small), i.e. music making as activity and practice. He reads Armstrong’s personal account of his New Orleans years as intervention into jazz history, as an assertion of his position as cultural icon, and as a template for the public construction of his life narrative. The following analyses (chap. 2 and 3) focus on the performativity of Armstrong’s writing practices and the stylistic features of his texts and musical performances. Stein traces the musician’s literary influences and references to various traditions and narratives (e.g. the rags-to-riches formula or African American autobiography). He interrogates the tensions between Armstrong’s vernacular style,...

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Rauhut, Michael. Ein Klang Zwei Welten – Blues im geteilten Deutschland, 1945 bis 1990 (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2016), 366 pp.
Aug31

Rauhut, Michael. Ein Klang Zwei Welten – Blues im geteilten Deutschland, 1945 bis 1990 (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2016), 366 pp.

Rauhut, Michael. Ein Klang Zwei Welten – Blues im geteilten Deutschland, 1945 bis 1990 (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2016), 366 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   This book is the latest addition to Michael Rauhut’s series of publications on the topic of Blues and popular music in cold-war Germany. In contrast to most of the author’s previous works, Ein Klang – Zwei Welten sets out to examine the reception of Blues music not just in a specific area of Germany but seeks to compare the respective scenes in East and West Germany that formed around this music. After a brief introduction, Rauhut dedicates a short chapter to frequent misconceptions about Blues music and where these biases come from. The text’s main part is structured into four chapters, each of which is divided into five thematically linked subchapters, discussing and comparing key players of the German Blues scene, modes of interpretation and their political potential. Even though Rauhut makes clear from the beginning that his angle is very much that of a fan, he largely manages to convert his “subjective experience to scientific insight” (13). Except for the occasional romanticization of key figures like Günther Boas (54), he succeeds in not letting his fandom cloud his vision (13) but uses his exceptional knowledge of the German Blues scene to deliver an abundance of relevant information. The author excels when he compares different interpretations of Blues music; his assessment of the West German authenticity debates is especially interesting. By juxtaposing the various stances on what authentic Blues music is supposed to sound like (and how bizarrely they are intertwined with race) without explicitly voicing his own opinion, Rauhut’s bird’s eye view-style of writing cleverly exposes the absurdity of how a few white, privileged European music critics claimed absolute authority not just over the interpretation of Blues music but black experience as well. He does so by unearthing various Blues magazines and newsletters in order to shed light on the West German scene and by plowing through the vast amount of GDR-surveillance data available to him, thereby demonstrating how massively different and ideologically informed these individual networks of fans and musicians were. For example, the effort the intelligence agency of the Socialist Unity Party put into keeping such a marginal music at bay is quite impressive. Rauhut’s text, then, can be seen as a strong argument for the politically subversive potential of popular music, discarding the idea that it is too standardized and repetitive in order to have  any effect of the sort. However, the meticulous research that must have preceded this book is both its greatest quality and flaw, as it frequently...

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Anja Schäfers, “Mehr als Rock ‘n’ Roll: Der Radiosender AFN Mitte der Sechziger Jahre” Transatlantische Historische Studien 52. Ed. Hartmut Berghoff, Clelia Caruso, and Mischa Honeck. (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014), 454 S.
Aug31

Anja Schäfers, “Mehr als Rock ‘n’ Roll: Der Radiosender AFN Mitte der Sechziger Jahre” Transatlantische Historische Studien 52. Ed. Hartmut Berghoff, Clelia Caruso, and Mischa Honeck. (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014), 454 S.

Anja Schäfers, “Mehr als Rock ‘n’ Roll: Der Radiosender AFN Mitte der Sechziger Jahre” Transatlantische Historische Studien 52. Ed. Hartmut Berghoff, Clelia Caruso, and Mischa Honeck. (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014), 454 S. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   In ihrem Buch über den US-amerikanischen Radiosender AFN (American Forces Network) untersucht Anja Schäfers dessen Geschichte überaus gründlich und präzise, indem sie den Forschungsgegenstand aus den verschiedensten Perspektiven betrachtet. Ihre Studie schreibt nicht nur frühere Arbeiten fort, sondern darf vielmehr zu Recht als weiterführend angesehen werden. Die Historikerin beschäftigt sich mit der Gründung von AFN noch während des Zweiten Weltkriegs, im Jahr 1943 in Großbritannien, sowie mit der Inbetriebnahme des Senders in Deutschland mit der Sendeanlage in Ismaning bei München im Jahr 1945. Ferner setzt sie sich mit den sich wandelnden Programminhalten und der Wirkungsgeschichte der frühen Jahre des Senders auseinander. Schäfers betrachtet 1965 als ein Wendejahr, indem sie darlegt, dass der Sender danach seine nicht US-amerikanische Zuhörerschaft, darunter ein beträchtlicher Anteil von Deutschen, verlor. Die Gründe hierfür lagen erstens in den Servicewellen, die sukzessive in der ganzen Bundesrepublik eingeführt wurden und mit einer standardisierten Stundenstruktur ausgestattet waren. Hinzu kam die Aufnahme anglo-amerikanischer Popmusik in die Sender. Drittens wurden die Programme zunehmend in narrativer Form moderiert. Und schließlich wurden die Programme mit formatierten Kurzbeiträgen versehen. Daher ist es sinnvoll, dass Schäfers ihre Studie mit dem Jahr 1965 abschließt, gehört der US-amerikanische Radiosender ab diesem Zeitpunkt doch mehr und mehr der Geschichte an.  Zweifelsohne hatte AFN positive (Spät-)Folgen. Am deutlichsten ist dies an der „AFN-Generation“ der nach 1945 Geborenen zu sehen. Denn sie waren der Grund für die Richtungsänderung, die der Verbund der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten (ARD) der Bundesrepublik Deutschland weg von einem auf Bildung ausgerichteten Radio mit anspruchsvollen, stündlich alternierenden Inhalten hin zu einem „Populär-Radio“ und auf schnellen Service ausgerichteten Magazin vollzog. Geprägt wurde der neue, „frische“ Stil eines modernen Radios von einer Generation jüngerer, aufstrebender Hörfunkjournalisten, die allesamt über AFN-Hörerfahrungen verfügten und nunmehr begannen die Funkhäuser der ARD zu „infiltrieren“. Als prominentes Beispiel sei der deutsch-US-Amerikaner William McCreery Ramsey genannt, besser bekannt als Bill Ramsey. Er war ein Aushängeschild von AFN, begann als Discjockey, arbeitete nebenbei als Jazzsänger in diversen Clubs in Frankfurt und stieg schließlich zum landesweit populären Schlagerstar, TV-Entertainer und Schauspieler auf. Dass alle von Schäfers befragten Zeitzeugen, Publizisten und Literaten, darunter Günter Kunert und Wolfram Schütte, von AFN als Radiosender und dem völlig neuen Sound, den er spielte, noch heute begeistert sind, ist daher auch nicht verwunderlich. Und so kann es auch nicht überraschen, dass sie die von AFN verkörperte Mischung aus cool-lässigem Lebensstil, Modernität, dekretierter Lockerheit und Populärmusik—von Country über Rock ‘n’ Roll bis Swing und Soul,...

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Stefan Pavenzinger, The Voice of America. Die gesellschaftspolitische Vermittlerfunktion Johnny Cashs 1963-1972. (Trier: WVT, 2012), 408 pages.
Aug31

Stefan Pavenzinger, The Voice of America. Die gesellschaftspolitische Vermittlerfunktion Johnny Cashs 1963-1972. (Trier: WVT, 2012), 408 pages.

Stefan Pavenzinger, The Voice of America. Die gesellschaftspolitische Vermittlerfunktion Johnny Cashs 1963-1972. (Trier: WVT, 2012), 408 pages. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   Johnny Cash ist eine der herausragenden Künstlerpersönlichkeiten des 20. Jahrhunderts. Seine Jahrhundertstimme, der unverwechselbare Sound und ein Songrepertoire, das die Geschichten des Lebens und des Landes erzählt, haben den 2003 verstorbenen Country-Sänger zu einem Klassiker der populären Musik gemacht. Klassiker erleiden bekanntlich häufig das Schicksal, dass sie in Vergessenheit zu geraten drohen. Bei Cash kann davon keine Rede sein. Wie groß sein Einfluss auf die US-amerikanische und weltweite Popkultur eingeschätzt wird, lässt sich an den zahlreichen Büchern und Artikeln ablesen, die mittlerweile über ihn publiziert wurden. 2013 etwa erschien eine 700 Seiten starke Biographie aus der Feder des bekannten Musikjournalisten Robert Hilburn, die Cashs bewegtes Leben minutiös nachzeichnet und sein künstlerisches Schaffen bilanziert. Längst ist Johnny Cash auch zu einem Gegenstand der Wissenschaft geworden. In den meisten Arbeiten stehen die künstlerischen Aspekte, also die Musik, im Vordergrund. Cash, der 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas, auf die Welt kam und seine Kindheit und Jugendzeit auf den Baumwollfeldern seiner ländlichen Heimat verbrachte, hat sich selbst als Country-Sänger bezeichnet, wollte aber niemals ausschließlich auf diese Richtung festgelegt werden. Tatsächlich wird Cash in den Plattenläden jedoch bis heute fast immer unter Country, oder wie es früher hieß: Country & Western, einsortiert. Unter allen Preisen, die er im Laufe seiner Karriere gewann, bedeutete ihm die Aufnahme in die Ruhmeshalle der Country-Musik 1980 laut eigener Auskunft am meisten. Cashs Bandbreite wies aber von jeher über die engen Grenzen des Genres hinaus. Nahm er zu Beginn seiner Karriere bei Sun-Records in Memphis Mitte der fünfziger Jahre die Einflüsse des Rock and Roll musikalisch auf, wurde er in den sechziger Jahren von der aufkommenden Folkbewegung inspiriert. Sein grandioses Spätwerk, das ihm ab 1994 ein triumphales Comeback bescherte, entzieht sich der Kategorisierung noch stärker. So wurde Cashs 1996 aufgenommenes, zweites American-Album Unchained mit einem Grammy für die beste Country-Platte ausgezeichnet, während die zwei Jahre zuvor erschienenen American Recordings denselben Preis in der Rubrik „Best Contemporary Folk“ erhielten. Eine andere, weniger intensiv bearbeitete Forschungsrichtung nimmt die gesellschaftspolitische Wirkung des Künstlers in den Blick. Sie fokussiert naturgemäß stärker auf Textrepertoire, Auftreten und Äußerungen in der Öffentlichkeit sowie das soziale und politische Engagement. Mit Stefan Pavenzingers Münchener Dissertation liegt jetzt eine Arbeit vor, die diesen Aspekt in Johnny Cashs Leben und Werk zum ersten Mal systematisch und umfassend beleuchtet. Der Autor sieht die gesellschaftspolitische Bedeutung Cashs vor allem in seiner Vermittlerfunktion zwischen dem ländlich-konservativen und urban-liberalen Amerika. In den turbulenten sechziger Jahren habe es Cash geschafft, die beiden auseinanderstrebenden Seiten der US-Gesellschaft gleichermaßen anzusprechen und für sich einzunehmen. Die Arbeit...

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Barry Shank, The Political Force of Musical Beauty. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 344 pp.
Aug31

Barry Shank, The Political Force of Musical Beauty. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 344 pp.

Barry Shank, The Political Force of Musical Beauty. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 344 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   The intricate relationship between popular music and politics has been the subject of much scholarship since the 1960s. Civil rights songs, Riot Grrrl punk music and conscious rap, among many others, have been the focus of a vast body of research, documenting the significance of music in social movements throughout U.S. history and beyond. Rock and pop music has been hailed as a “weapon of cultural revolution” and as a means to social transformation,[1] while more nuanced arguments have acknowledged the music’s intrinsic nature as a mass commodity meant to be sold and consumed as part of the culture industry.[2] A negotiation of conflicting needs guides many of the questions that have been raised: How does music exert political influence? How do pop songs shape political thought and represent political ideas? How does music foster political belonging? Or, put another way: Can sound subvert? In The Political Force of Musical Beauty, Barry Shank approaches these questions in a strikingly new and refreshing way. Shank steers clear of the popular yet somewhat simplistic notion that music serves as vehicle for political actors to communicate shared political ideas and forward an agenda. He showcases the agency of music itself, the ways in which it “enacts its own force, creating shared senses of the world” (2), as he suggests in an introductory chapter titled, tongue-in-cheek, “Prelude.” The experience of musical listening, Shank purports, forms communities characterized by difference, not unity – and this pleasurable experience has both aesthetic and political implications. Putting aside the intentions of the artists and the identity of the listeners, he highlights how music’s political force pertains to its “capacity to combine relations of difference into experiences of beauty” (16). The experience of beauty, according to Shank, is an experience that allows the listener to recognize the possibility of change, a change for a “better future”: “a truly aesthetic musical act,” he claims, “is one that reveals the political significance of sounds previously heard as nothing but noise” (3). Shank uses case studies to illustrate how the power of music is located in beauty, and how musical beauty comes to life in the act of listening. The chosen examples – ranging from Moby’s sampling of Vera Hall’s version of “Trouble So Hard” on his track “Natural Blues” to the civil rights movement’s prominent “We Shall Overcome,” the sounds of Takemitsu Toro and Yoko Ono, the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” poet-rock star Patti Smith, Alarm Will Sound’s concert collage 1969, and TV on the Radio’s musical encounter with Tinariwen,...

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Amato, Viola (†). Intersex Narratives: Shifts in the Representation of Intersex Lives in Northern American Literature and Popular Culture. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2016. 304pp.
Aug31

Amato, Viola (†). Intersex Narratives: Shifts in the Representation of Intersex Lives in Northern American Literature and Popular Culture. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2016. 304pp.

Amato, Viola (†). Intersex Narratives: Shifts in the Representation of Intersex Lives in Northern American Literature and Popular Culture. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2016. 304pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   The success of Jeffrey Eugenides’s 2003 novel Middlesex directed attention to intersex as a topic in American Studies. At the time of its publication, this coming of age narrative of the Greek-American intersex protagonist Cal_lie was received against the background of poststructuralist approaches to gender and sexuality that had gained prominence within American Cultural Studies since the publication of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity in 1990. At the time of its publication, Middlesex was the first American novel with an intersex protagonist, and even today, 14 years later, there are still only few fictional narratives with intersex characters. Prior to the success of Middlesex, the emerging intersex movement of the 1990s paved the way for fictional representations of intersex and the academic debates that followed. Viola Amato’s insightful monograph Intersex Narratives: Shifts in the Representation of Intersex Lives in North American Literature and Popular Culture (2016) deserves credit for honoring and emphasizing the importance of the pioneering intersex movement. In her study, she contextualizes Eugenides’s representation of intersex with other texts of different media and genres that negotiate “intersex persons, intersex communities, and intersex as a cultural concept and epistemological category” (13); she includes memoirs, novels, and TV-series that came out between 1993 and 2014. In addition to an extensive reading of Middlesex, she provides analyses of the following shorter autobiographical texts from the intersex movement, Thea Hillman’s memoir Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word) (2008), Kathleen Winter’s novel Annabel (2010), and four episodes from the TV-series Chicago Hope, Emergency Room, House, and Grey’s Anatomy. Amato classifies her diverse corpus of texts as belonging to both “hegemonic intersex discourses and ‘counternarratives’” (14), but she does not claim that both stand in monolithic opposition to each other. To the contrary, she convincingly demonstrates how hegemonic discourses and counternarratives influence each other or to what degree they are interrelated.  Her thorough contextualization of these different realms of intersex discourses will necessarily lead to more nuanced academic readings of intersex representations in the future. Amato’s study builds on the observation that the year 1993 marks a paradigm shift in discourses on intersex. This shift occurred because persons with intersex variation started to organize politically and publish their writings in small publications. Next to chronology, the important reason for Amato to begin with these intersex voices is to put first-person-narratives of intersex writers at the center rather than to set the tone with analyses of texts by non-intersex writers....

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Jonathan Kirshner, Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2012), 280 pp.
Aug31

Jonathan Kirshner, Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2012), 280 pp.

Jonathan Kirshner, Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2012), 280 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   The 1970s are a truly legendary time in US history. Hardly any other period is so richly filled with the political and social changes that are crucial to the formation of both the era of the seventies and the country of the USA. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the women’s movement, the sexual revolution, the economic crisis, and of course the US involvement in the Vietnam War as well as the unsuccessful Nixon presidency turned American social norms upside down. The emergence of the new socio-political turns had a dramatic impact on the cultural forms created during the era, particularly on cinema. This is the subject that Jonathan Kirshner’s Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America brings to our attention. The book intelligently combines social and political history of the period with an analysis of the films created during the time and, in doing so, displays the relation between the two, arguing that the cinema of the 1970s was greatly influenced by the socio-political changes that were taking place in the US. Kirshner divides his account into eight parts, each of which in a relative chronology peels off the shell from the decade, revealing the innovations, tendencies, and themes characteristic of the seventies cinema. At the beginning of the book, however, the author clarifies that the seventies film was born in 1967 and lasted till 1976; therefore, the films he analyzes in the course of the book were created and released during that decade. The first chapter, “Before the Flood,” provides a historical overview of the time that preceded 1967. The author singles out three conditions that confined Hollywood: first, state censorship; second, the Great Depression that influenced the film production economically as Americans could not afford going to the movies; third, McCarthyism, i.e., the censorship provoked by Senator McCarthy who claimed that nobody and nothing should have put the values of the USA into question, including films. The chapter proceeds with a general overview of the decade when cinema was finally free from censorship, briefly noting the key socio-political events that took place and claiming that they found their reflection in the films. The greater examination is, however, scrupulously provided in the following seven chapters. Thus, in his second chapter, “Talkin’ ‘bout My Generation,” Kirshner draws parallels between the French New Wave and the New Hollywood, arguing that the latter was greatly influenced by the works of such young but talented directors as...

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Wieland Schwanebeck, Der flexible Mr. Ripley. Männlichkeit und Hochstapelei in Literatur und Film (Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau, 2014), 391 pp.
Aug31

Wieland Schwanebeck, Der flexible Mr. Ripley. Männlichkeit und Hochstapelei in Literatur und Film (Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau, 2014), 391 pp.

Wieland Schwanebeck, Der flexible Mr. Ripley. Männlichkeit und Hochstapelei in Literatur und Film (Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau, 2014), 391 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   Forgeries and fakes, Martin Doll observes, do not imitate originals but the attributions and attribution systems that define what counts as an original in a given historical and discursive context.[1] The same holds for impostors and con-men who play social roles in order to deceive. Real and fictional impostors therefore instructively foreground implicit and often overlooked social conventions, such as masculinity codes. This is the key argument Wieland Schwanebeck develops in eight densely argued but highly readable chapters on Patricia Highsmith’s most popular character: Tom Ripley. He features in five of her novels and in numerous adaptations for film, the stage and radio. The five Ripley novels, from The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) to Ripley Under Ground (1970), Ripley’s Game (1974) and The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980) to Ripley Under Water (1991), are exemplary for Highsmith’s subtle but profound interrogation of literary and cultural conventions (in particular gender-related ones) under the guise of bland realism. Schwanebeck’s study draws on recent approaches in masculinity studies and on narratology to address their presentation of gender, their interrogation of a dichotomy of original and copy, and their angle on concepts of conventional masculinity. The study opens with a brief cultural history of the conman and the impostor and an outline of the theoretical approach. Unlike the German Hochstapler, whose lasting literary fame Thomas Mann established with Die Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull (1922), the American con(fidence) man has turned into an ambivalent cultural icon for an egalitarian, competitive society: He violates the code of honesty and mutual trust yet embodies the ideal of the successful self-made man. Schwanebeck opts for the German term in order to put Tom Ripley into a larger intertextual and cultural context, one that includes, among many others, the picaresque tradition (chapter four), Thomas Mann’s novel, French, British and German screen adaptations of Highsmith, and art forgery (chapter five). Impostors and conmen outside fiction are, first and foremost, performers: Their success rests on the mastery of conventionalized social roles and the “scripts” of interaction, as Schwanebeck observes with reference to the sociologist Erving Goffman. Goffman’s theory of social interaction as role play points to the fundamentally narrative, performative and often literally textual nature of confidence tricks—playacting, forged documents and biographies, and confessional autobiographical narratives are essential components of successful imposture. The expertise of literary studies can therefore be brought to bear on this phenomenon with some justification, the study argues (53-55). This argument could have been developed with more confidence—no pun intended—since...

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Vanessa Künnemann, Middlebrow Mission: Pearl Buck’s American China (Bielefield: transcript, 2015), 283 pp.
Aug31

Vanessa Künnemann, Middlebrow Mission: Pearl Buck’s American China (Bielefield: transcript, 2015), 283 pp.

Vanessa Künnemann, Middlebrow Mission: Pearl Buck’s American China (Bielefield: transcript, 2015), 283 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   In an age when academic research suffers from information overload and attention deficit, we welcome studies that offer bird’s-eye-view perspectives of the present moment, or that make bold theoretical interventions. Yet we cannot do without projects that are the result of prolonged attention focused on a carefully chosen subject. Neither can we do without projects that revisit cultural phenomena that once held the attention of millions, yet are ignored by today’s scholars—often for ideological reasons. Vanessa Künnemann’s Middlebrow Mission: Pearl Buck’s American China is just such a project. Vanessa Künnemann has given her full attention to two overlapping cultural phenomena: the China mission movement at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century (supported by millions of people in the entire English-speaking world at a time when women’s suffrage drew mere thousands) and the fiction of Pearl Buck (which, read by millions, reassessed the mission movement). Continuing the tradition of feminist scholarship that once shifted Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin out of the academic freezer and into the nineteenth-century canon, alongside Melville’s Moby Dick, Künnemann in her meticulously researched new historicist project carves out a place for Buck in the expanded canon of twentieth-century American literature. The reinstatement of Buck, dismissed by critics as an unambitious writer of middlebrow women’s fiction, is no easy task. Künnemann has examined a wide range of aesthetic, ideological, and geopolitical factors that might explain Buck’s phenomenal success as well as the reasons for her dwindling popularity after she received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. Künnemann’s book is not a literary biography; it critically examines only those works by Buck (fictional biographies, articles, novels, short stories, and an autobiography) that foreground various religious and secular notions of the word “mission” in a trans-Pacific context, and that involve Americans and Chinese as both agents and objects of missions. The book’s overarching thesis is that Buck’s literary project was a secular extension of the religious mission to China embraced by her parents—a mission she challenged as fundamentally misguided and imperialist. Refusing to follow in her parents’ footsteps, Buck returned to the U.S. where she enacted the role of a self-appointed cultural go-between. Her mission was to convert the American reading public to a vision of China that did not need to be Christianized in order to enter modernity on a par with other nations. In order to be accepted in this role, Künnemann argues, Buck had to build her authority as a cultural insider in China and, at the same time, as thoroughly American. Responding...

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Judith Kohlenberger, The New Formula For Cool: Science, Technology, and the Popular in the American Imagination (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 345pp.
Aug31

Judith Kohlenberger, The New Formula For Cool: Science, Technology, and the Popular in the American Imagination (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 345pp.

Judith Kohlenberger, The New Formula For Cool: Science, Technology, and the Popular in the American Imagination (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 345pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1   In American Cool, Peter Stearns famously calls “cool” a “distinctly American” concept, which “permeates almost every aspect of contemporary American culture” and has “seized a central place in the American imagination” in its many manifestations.[1] If one takes Stearns’s argument at face value, then investigations into the many permutations of “coolness” should also hold a central place in American Studies. The only catch is, however, that pinning down the precise Americanness of “cool” is as difficult a task as defining “cool” itself, as the term has proven too elusive and vague to be easily compartmentalized. As Dick Pountain and David Robins have pointed out, “cool” may be “a philosophy, a sensibility, a religion, and ideology, a personality type, a behavior pattern, an attitude, a zeitgeist, a worldview” (17-18). Cultural artifacts are not inherently “cool,” but we certainly recognize their coolness when we see it; therefore, coolness is not a durable quality, but rather the product of attitudes, affective reactions, and aesthetic sensibilities. A popular sense as to what is “cool” and what not so much will change “from place to place, from time to time, from generation to generation” (Pountain/Robins 21). Judith Kohlenberger’s monograph The New Formula For Cool: Science, Technology, and the Popular in the American Imagination explores one of the most recent changes in the meaning of “cool,” a paradigm shift that has decisively shaped the landscape of American popular culture in the last two decades. While “coolness” has been extensively analyzed in relation to advertisement, fashion, music, and other expressions of youth and counterculture, it has now, the author argues, invaded the world of (techno)science and digital cultures. Rather than merely add new manifestations of “cool” in American popular culture to the vast archive of previously studied permutations of “coolness,” Kohlenberger wants to demonstrate that “recent popular cultural representations of (techno)science in mainstream American film and television are increasingly informed by a prominent focus on cool as an aesthetic and affective, rather than a cognitive or ethical form of scientific legitimation” (13). The aim of her study is thus twofold: on the one hand, it analyzes the use and effects of “cool” beyond its conventional, and well-studied, realms of thematic application, so as to contribute to the “ongoing dialogue between the scientific and the popular in contemporary American society” (15). At the same time, this book understands “cool” as a response to former discourses and sources of scientific legitimation and argues that “cool” challenges, or even replaces, traditional cognitive and ethical...

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Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), 232 pp. und Lee Konstantinou, Cool Characters (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2016), 384 pp.
Apr11

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), 232 pp. und Lee Konstantinou, Cool Characters (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2016), 384 pp.

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), 232 pp. Lee Konstantinou, Cool Characters (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2016), 384 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   What can the dandy tell us about criticism? He makes appearances in two recent works, Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique and Lee Konstantinou’s Cool Characters: Irony and American Fiction, both of which diagnose the exhaustion, in our times, of stances of critical suspicion associated with the academic humanities. For Felski, the dandy is the ego-ideal for the ethos of detachment and comprehensive skepticism prized in the academy: “[T]he dandy’s immaculate self-consciousness and disdain for sentimental effusions is perfectly attuned to the scholarly zeitgeist, allowing the critic to carve out a skeptical distance from the mainstream without lapsing back into an earnest language of reason and truth or old-school worship of art” (49). For Konstantinou, likewise, “the history of dandyism” is invoked as the historical origin for the ironist’s oppositional savvy, “which he uses to affirm his status as part of an elect minority, a master of the cultural or symbolic field” (30, 31). As font of irony and criticism, the dandy appears in both of these studies because they are less concerned with critique or irony as formal, logical, or argumentative problems than as subjective attitudes, ways of being. As Felski says, “[I]t is now the posture of the critic that carries disproportionate weight: ironic, reflexive, fastidious, prescient, an implacable foe of false dualism and foundational truths” (24, emphasis mine). Or, as Konstantinou puts it, “Irony is not a method…It is an ethos that consumes the whole person, a whole life” (16-17). “Irony” and “critique” are not of course identical, but, as these passages suggest, there is substantial overlap between them. Both are, in Konstantinou’s words, “characterological”—they reflect not a set of precepts but, rather, a certain kind of person. While for Felski the dandy has pride of place, for Konstantinou the more important figure is the mid-century “hipster,” who, in seminal accounts offered by such figures as Norman Mailer and Anatole Broyard, “seems like nothing less than an intellectual…someone whose ultimate weapon is his ability to manipulate meaning and confront the symbolic logic of social life” (57). But the most symptomatic instances of what Felski calls “suspicious reading” (she adapts the phrase form Paul Ricoeur’s well-known “hermeneutic of suspicion”) have neither the dandy’s grace nor the hipster’s rebellious panache. The characterological correlative of interpretation at its most suspicious is, rather, “the clinically paranoid individual” (35). The tendency Felski refers to might be summed up in David Bromwich’s[1] rueful observation, in 1996, of “the current orthodoxy in literary theory,...

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Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), viii + 228 pp.
Apr11

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), viii + 228 pp.

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), viii + 228 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   The Limits of Critique is a persuasive and passionate quarrel with the current state of literary studies. And who would be better equipped to pick this quarrel than Rita Felski, editor of New Literary History with a seismographic feel for the cutting edge of theory. At the core of her new book stands a way of reading—“against the grain and between the lines … to draw out what a text fails—or willfully refuses—to see”—that Felski (with Paul Ricoeur) calls a “hermeneutics of suspicion” (1, emphasis in the original). Better known as “critique,” this eminent scholarly practice has assumed a stifling dominance in our field. Felski, who concedes not being immune to its intellectual charisma and, indeed, made a name for herself as a practitioner of feminist critique, finds this situation not only unfortunate but in dire need for change. For despite its undeniable merits, which are nowhere as palpable as in the recent success stories of the academic institutionalization of feminism, postcolonial and queer studies, critique “has sidelined other intellectual, aesthetic and political possibilities—ones that are just as vital to the flourishing of new fields of knowledge than older ones” (190). Careful to not fall into the trap of performing a mere “critique of critique” that “only draws us further into [the] suspicious mind-set, … [the] endless regress of skeptical questioning” (9) which Felski seeks to overcome, the declared aim of her new book is to describe her subject in ways that expose the limits of critique and, ultimately, make room for other—restorative, resonant, trusting (151; 160; 9)—modes of reading. Limits thus stays in tune with Felski’s investment in giving thought to what does not belong to our usual scholarly repertoire. Is it not time, she asked in her previous book, to align our critical endeavors with literature’s affective affordances? To take seriously that readers are drawn to, moved by, enthralled, and at times even obsessed with literary texts because these texts harbor experiences of recognition, enchantment, shock, and knowledge?[1] In stark contrast to the “uses of literature” explored in her previous book, the mode of reading that Felski sees at work in the scholarly practice of critique thrives on critical distance and detachment from its object while being geared toward a singular end: disenchantment. And because critique defines itself by cool nay-saying rather than warm affirmation, the distinct pleasures that it provides—“the intellectual kick of detecting figures and designs underneath the text’s surface, the delight of crafting ingenious and counterintuitive explanations, the challenge of drawing together what...

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American Studies Today: New Research Agendas, eds. Winfried Fluck, Erik Redling, Sabine Sielke, and Hubert Zapf. Heidelberg: Winter, 2014. American Studies Monograph Series, no. 230. 475 pp.
Apr11

American Studies Today: New Research Agendas, eds. Winfried Fluck, Erik Redling, Sabine Sielke, and Hubert Zapf. Heidelberg: Winter, 2014. American Studies Monograph Series, no. 230. 475 pp.

American Studies Today: New Research Agendas, eds. Winfried Fluck, Erik Redling, Sabine Sielke, and Hubert Zapf. Heidelberg: Winter, 2014. American Studies Monograph Series, no. 230. 475 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   In his famous foundational essay of 1957, “Can American Studies Develop a Method,” Henry Nash Smith proposed “the study of American culture, past and present, as a whole.” Though he did not use the word “interdisciplinary” here, he suggested the context of cultural history for the study of his chosen example, the writer Mark Twain, and proposed a research agenda that held more general significance for the whole field: “What is needed is a method of analysis that is at once literary (for one must begin with an analytical reading of the texts that takes into account structure, imagery, diction, and so on) and sociological (for many of the forces at work in the fiction are clearly of social origin).” Sixty years later, it would appear to be somewhat more difficult to advocate such a clear-cut single research agenda for American Studies, a field that has been, as the editors of the volume at hand put it, “for many years . . . dominated and decisively shaped by revisionist approaches that emerged in the critique of the myth and symbol school and the liberal tradition” (ix), of which Smith was a prime representative. This critique led to a stronger focus on race, ethnicity, class, and gender and to a better understanding of American culture in international contexts. It is telling that Smith’s essay is quoted in American Studies Today as a version of American “exceptionalism” (47), a term that occasionally reappears here and that, as George Blaustein has reminded us, was brought into circulation by Stalin in 1929 when he dismissed as the “heresy of American exceptionalism” the notion that “communism might succeed in the United States without a violent revolution.” American Studies Today is envisioned as an attempt to go beyond the revisionists and “open up the field to a wider spectrum of questions that can (and should) be asked about America” (x). In this manner, the volume takes stock of new work that extends familiar current trends in American studies (transnationalism, transculturalism, globalization, postcolonialism, ecology, race, media, and visual culture). It also proposes less commonly practiced areas as new research agendas (relational sociology, the concept of recognition, ethics and aesthetics, “science | culture | aesthetics”) and advocates the expansion of studies in class and poverty. Any scholar interested in one or more of these twelve topics will find helpful guidance in the discussions of various broad fields through their representative scholarship and encounter thought-provoking presentations...

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Birgit Däwes, Alexandra Ganser, and Nicole Poppenhagen, eds., Transgressive Television: Politics and Crime in 21st-Century American TV Series (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter GmbH Heidelberg, 2015), 358 pp.
Apr11

Birgit Däwes, Alexandra Ganser, and Nicole Poppenhagen, eds., Transgressive Television: Politics and Crime in 21st-Century American TV Series (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter GmbH Heidelberg, 2015), 358 pp.

Birgit Däwes, Alexandra Ganser, and Nicole Poppenhagen, eds., Transgressive Television: Politics and Crime in 21st-Century American TV Series (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter GmbH Heidelberg, 2015), 358 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   Since the 1940s, television series have gradually become an experimental site to cross boundaries and break taboos in American culture. Contemporary American television series such as House of Cards, Veep, The Wire, Cashing In, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Hannibal have started a new trend which no longer follows the cultural traditions and social expectations, and have constructed a new beginning in visualizing and depicting transgression on cultural, political, ethnical, and technological levels. Nowadays, American transgressive television series can be considered as important sources for the research on American television and popular culture. Current research on transgressive television not only negotiates its relations with American quality television serials and its cross-field connections with the big screen as well as the Internet, but also draws attention to the changes and developments that transgressive television series have made in presenting politics and crime in the changing cultural and technological contexts. Transgressive Television: Politics and Crime in 21st-Century American TV Series is an up-to-date collection of sixteen essays presented at the conference “Transgressive Television: Politics, Crime, and Citizenship in Twenty-First-Century American TV Series” in Vienna (Däwes, Ganser, and Poppenhagen 9). The first section, “Paving Pathways,” lays out the foundation for the analysis of contemporary American transgressive television series. Birgit Däwes’s article “Transgressive Television: Preliminary Thoughts” addresses the transformations that American transgressive television series have made in recent years, not only in terms of plot and character complexity, but also in the transgression of the boundaries of “Self and Other,” “genre” and “form,” “reality and fiction” (24-26). By breaking cultural taboos with direct presentations of “violence, sex, and death,” and putting the “position of politics” at the core, transgressive television serials have become “an ideal laboratory” of American culture and “an operational principle of border-crossing and intersection” to reflect socio-cultural realities and to provide more possibilities for interpreting “cultural codes, norms,” “values,” and “transgressive identities” (24-28). In “The Countdown to Y2KTV and the Arrival of the New Serialists,” Gary R. Edgerton gives an overview of the evolution of American television series from the Network Era and the Cable Era to the Digital Era, and discusses the “technological, commercial, and social” changes in the development of the American television industry, focusing on the “show-runner model” of David Chase’s The Sopranos known for its transgression to cinematic presentations and its innovative market/customer-oriented model (36-40). As Edgerton points out, the development of a television series like The Sopranos has made television more “personalized, interactive, mobile, and...

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Jens Kabisch, Innocent Nation: Barack Obama und die Politik der Authentizität (Wien: Turia and Kant, 2013), 381 pp.
Apr11

Jens Kabisch, Innocent Nation: Barack Obama und die Politik der Authentizität (Wien: Turia and Kant, 2013), 381 pp.

Jens Kabisch, Innocent Nation: Barack Obama und die Politik der Authentizität (Wien: Turia and Kant, 2013), 381 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   In Innocent Nation, Jens Kabisch examines how President Barack Obama’s quest for “authenticity” has influenced American politics, while also shedding light on the country’s cultural history of what he regards as the longstanding virtue of authenticity in U.S. society. Regarding authenticity as a “dispositive” that revolves around such characteristics as honesty, truthfulness, and uniqueness, Kabisch argues that it was especially President Obama who rekindled the old topos of authenticity and made it the center piece of his political program as a candidate and as President. According to Kabisch, the struggle against the “inauthentic” and the evocation of “true” authenticity is as old as the American nation itself and entered the country’s political discourse in the Early Republic. During the presidential election of 1824, for instance, Andrew Jackson accused his opponent John Quincy Adams of being an aristocratic elitist, who did not care for the welfare of the common man. This denunciation of what many Americans deemed a form of artificiality that smacked of corrupt European noblemen echoed the political rhetoric of the American Revolution and has been part of U.S. political discourse throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Evocations of the authentic, however, were highly ambiguous and were claimed by many different groups, including socialists, conservatives, and neoliberal capitalists. But it was especially at the turn of the twenty-first century, Kabisch argues, that the discourse of the authentic became particularly powerful. Due to a combination of a number of developments, including changes in America’s consumer society, where “authenticity” began to trump quality, and the impact of 9/11, whose political aftermath called into question the sincerity and integrity of President George W. Bush, a new “politics of truthfulness” emerged after 2001. First focusing on the election of 2008, Kabisch examines which political and ideological premises undergirded Barack Obama’s uses of this new popularity of authenticity. In subsequent chapters, Kabisch analyzes the ways in which President Obama used the topos of authenticity to legitimize his administration, while also shedding light on its uses in America’s “war on terror” between 2000 and 2010. Kabisch’s phenomenological descriptions of America’s political culture of authenticity and its intellectual origins make for a fascinating read, and the focus on President Obama—in particular on his autobiographies and political statements as well as his body as text—is well chosen. However, even though Kabisch explains early on that it was not his aim to write a general history of authenticity in U.S. politics, one would have wished to learn more about the ways in which this...

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Katharina Gerund and Heike Paul, eds. Die Amerikanische Reeducation-Politik nach 1945: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf ‘America’s Germany’ (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 303 pp.
Apr11

Katharina Gerund and Heike Paul, eds. Die Amerikanische Reeducation-Politik nach 1945: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf ‘America’s Germany’ (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 303 pp.

Katharina Gerund and Heike Paul, eds. Die Amerikanische Reeducation-Politik nach 1945: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf ‘America’s Germany’ (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 303 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   In the epilogue to Katharina Gerund and Heike Paul’s edited volume Die Amerikanische Reeducation-Politik nach 1945: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf ‘America’s Germany’ Winfried Fluck writes: “Reeducation and Americanization cannot be viewed separately” (291; my translation). Fluck’s statement fittingly reflects the content, agenda, and structure of the volume. At the same time, it phrases a task and challenge for a book that aims at an interdisciplinary exploration of US reeducation politics. On the one hand, the volume needs to tackle the tension between focusing and zooming in while, on the other hand, catering to the awareness that reeducation and/or reorientation opens up a broad and complex range of multi-layered and multi-disciplinary trajectories. The volume approaches this task by collecting contributions from different disciplines such as history, cultural studies, film and media studies, literary studies, and didactics as well as from a likewise broad array of concepts, theories, and methods. These voices highlight different modes of cultural transfer and processes of political, social, and cultural entanglement and thereby focus on different agents and different time frames after 1945. The articles engage in an investigation of cultural (and ideological) transfer, contextualize and explain both the institutions and agents of transfer themselves as well as perspectives on them with larger political, social, and cultural desires of these times—a desideratum also phrased by Fluck in the epilogue. Phenomena and especially their conceptualizations (be they political, cultural, or scholarly) depend on, and are shaped by, the respective time of production—an awareness that, within American Studies, became widely circulated at the latest with the advent of memory studies to the discipline. In the introduction to their volume, Gerund and Paul state that reeducation has “in political and scholarly discourse unfolded lasting impact and received manifold attention” (7). The editors not only justify the publication of a volume tackling a field that continues to have relevance in contemporary political, social, and cultural German and American realities. They also—and refreshingly so—point to the fact that the volume does not claim to fill a full-fledged research gap but locates itself in a field that has already produced substantial research. Gerund and Paul’s introduction provides a precise and comprehensive research report, which despite its adequate brevity, succeeds in embedding the volume within scholarly debates about prominent concepts ranging from Americanization vs. Westernization and Americanization from above and below to, among others, Stunde Null as radical break vs. focal point within longer developments, cultural diplomacy, and agency. The editors thus locate the volume within the well-established field...

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Konrad Linke, Das Tulare Assembly Center: Alltag in einem Lager für Japanoamerikaner im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2014), 276 pp.
Apr11

Konrad Linke, Das Tulare Assembly Center: Alltag in einem Lager für Japanoamerikaner im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2014), 276 pp.

Konrad Linke, Das Tulare Assembly Center: Alltag in einem Lager für Japanoamerikaner im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2014), 276 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   In February of 1942, two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the forced relocation and incarceration of about 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living on the Pacific Coast of the United States. The internees lost most of their property and many spent more than four years in the camps, even though the majority of them (62%) were American citizens. This so-called Japanese-American Internment during World War II is generally viewed today as one of the greatest injustices committed by the U.S. government in the twentieth century. Yet it took the government more than four decades to formally apologize for this action. President Ronald Reagan finally signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 admitting that the internment had been based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” and granted a small monetary compensation to individual internment camp survivors. With his book Das Tulare Assembly Center: Alltag in einem Lager für Japanoamerikaner im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Konrad Linke furnishes us with a new contribution to the rich body of scholarship on the Japanese-American Internment that has been developing since the 1950s. In his historiographical review, the author elucidates the many topics previous studies have addressed, including the measure’s constitutionality, the role of Congress and the courts, the executive branch, and the military, as well as the significance of race and ethnicity, forms of accommodation and resistance, and the part anthropologists played in documenting it (2-7). What makes Linke’s study new and different is both its focus on Tulare, a previously rather unexplored internment camp in California,[1] and his methodology. His approach consists of a combination of Alltagsgeschichte (Lüdtke) and microhistory (Ginzburg), along with “thick description” (Geertz) and a decentralized analysis of power structures (Foucault) and social force fields (Thompson) (9-18). His declared goal is “to examine the complex interrelation of normative structures and objective circumstances, on the one hand, with subjective perception and action, on the other”[2] (1). The author does not want to downplay the power of the military in controlling the internees’ life and also takes a close look at the role of the so-called civilian property manager, Nils Aanonsen—a Norwegian American who was appointed to manage the camp on behalf of the Western Defense Command (WDC). Nonetheless, his main focus is on the agency of the confined Japanese Americans themselves. According to the evidence he found, the internees were not passive victims but constantly tried and to some...

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Michael Patrick Cullinane and David Ryan, eds., U.S. Foreign Policy and the Other (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2015), vi + 244 pp.
Apr11

Michael Patrick Cullinane and David Ryan, eds., U.S. Foreign Policy and the Other (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2015), vi + 244 pp.

Michael Patrick Cullinane and David Ryan, eds., U.S. Foreign Policy and the Other (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2015), vi + 244 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4     Michael Cullinane and David Ryan’s U.S. Foreign Policy and the Other is a welcome contribution to a growing body of literature on the importance of views of the other in American history. In U.S. diplomatic history, this approach constitutes an important facet of an ideological and cultural turn, which has been in the ascendancy at least since Michael Hunt’s Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy and which effectively tries to assess in how far cultural attitudes and views—in contrast to more quantifiable national security interests—influence foreign policy making.[1] The contributions to this volume cover the entire span of American history, from the colonial period to the war on terror. Within that timeframe, the articles single out seminal events and periods in U.S. domestic history, but more consistently in its foreign policy, including the American Revolution, the nineteenth century focus on the Western Hemisphere, the Spanish-American War and its aftermath, both World Wars, and the Cold War. As often with such collections, the quality of the articles varies slightly. Several pieces are broad, sweeping, and conceptual, whereas others focus on more closely delimited historical examples. On the whole, however, the editors have managed to recruit an impressive array of specialists, many of them established specialists in their respective fields. While readers who know their works will undoubtedly be familiar with their arguments, it is still worth re-encountering these contributions in the context of this collection because it is so focused on the issue of hetero-stereotypes, i.e. images of the other, and therefore allows for interesting comparisons. It is also obvious that the editors have taken care to select contributions on some of the key topics and themes that one might expect in such a volume. Thus, Walter Hixson returns to the origins of the American experience, explaining how “the formation of American national identity depended in part on [the] identification of Indians as a unitary and savage foe. Indian removal and indiscriminate warfare thus became synonymous with the formation and achievement of U.S. nationalist aspirations.” (28) Hixson also acknowledges that “opposition to British authority” was the second source of early American national identity, a theme that is further explored in Jack P. Greene’s contribution. Greene argues that British settlers in North America were pushed to enact their own national identity because the citizens of the metropole were “othering” them as uncultured and uncouth. This reading complements the work of T. H. Breen and others who have argued that the development of...

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Ann Laura Stoler, ed., Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination (Durham: Duke UP, 2013), 365 pp.
Apr11

Ann Laura Stoler, ed., Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination (Durham: Duke UP, 2013), 365 pp.

Ann Laura Stoler, ed., Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination (Durham: Duke UP, 2013), 365 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   Ruins are traditionally seen as the sublime remains of empires such as ancient Greece, Rome, or the Maya. This collection takes a slightly different look at ruins. Rather than emphasizing the romantic nostalgia evoked by sublimely framed edifices, the authors of this volume are interested in ruins as “petrified life,” as “traces that mark the fragility of power and the force of destruction.” They want to analyze ruins “as sites that condense alternative senses of history,” and they add to this the term “ruination” to describe the “ongoing corrosive process” of imperial formations “that weighs on the future” (9). The term is inspired by Michelle Cliff’s use of it as referring to the process by which vegetation reconquers former human habitations in the (post)colonial climate of the Caribbean (19-20). Stoler’s most recent edition, which follows upon collections that similarly subject the postcolonial world to critical ethnographic scrutiny (Haunted by Empire; Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power), settles squarely between various vibrant critical fields such as the postcolonial study of the colonial past, critical heritage studies, and ecocriticism, to name the three most important ones. Written under the impact of the recent military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the scandalous violations of human rights at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the essays in this volume are dedicated to showing, as Stoler writes in her introduction, both “the enduring quality of imperial remains” and the status of these imperial leftovers as cultural heritage, but even more so to showing “what people are left with”: the “aftershocks of imperial assault” (9). How, she asks, “do imperial formations persist in their material debris, in ruined landscapes and through the social ruination of people’s lives?” (10). The nine essays which cover a geographical range from the Americas to India, the Congo, South Africa, and Palestine are headed by Stoler’s theoretically and politically incisive introduction in which she spells out the concerns of the volume: “to broach the protracted quality of decimation in people’s lives” and to document “the grossly uneven distribution of pollution, waste disposal, and biowaste among impoverished populations in the United States and worldwide” (11). The perhaps most original critical work of this timely scholarly intervention consists in its disentanglement of the complicity of world heritage practices with what the authors call the “ruination” of human beings. While “colonialisms have been predicated on guarding natural and cultural patrimonies for populations assumed to need guidance in how to value and preserve them,” this book suggests nothing less than that the deep-felt...

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Hubert Zapf, Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts (London and Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2016), 312 pp.
Apr11

Hubert Zapf, Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts (London and Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2016), 312 pp.

Hubert Zapf, Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts (London and Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2016), 312 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   In Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts, Hubert Zapf aims at a new approach of literary analysis in the field of environmental studies. Although ecocriticism as part of the humanities is an emerging field, literature studies in general find themselves left out of the discussion about how to lead sustainable lives and make an impact on environmental issues such as climate change. Zapf, therefore, critically approaches the concepts of literary theory, ecology and cultural studies, offering a new and innovative perspective on how to read literature and see the sustainability of texts through the concept of cultural ecology. Cultural ecology in this sense “looks at the interaction and living interrelationship between culture and nature, without reducing one to the other” (3), rejecting both purely anthropocentric as well as ecocentric theories of cultural and social studies. By boldly applying this concept to literary texts, Zapf enhances the understanding of literature as a transcultural medium, acknowledging cultural differences of authors and works while highlighting the similarities that make these texts sustainable and ecological. With this approach, Zapf establishes literature as a leading medium for the deconstruction and reconstruction of cultural knowledge and ecological thought. The first part focuses on theories regarding ecology, cultural ecology and sustainability. While explaining the interconnectedness of literature and the environment, Zapf also emphasizes literature’s responsibility towards societies’ understanding of ecology and culture as well as dualisms, such as the nature-culture dichotomy, created by society. In order to provide literary pieces to support these ideas, Zapf draws from a wide range of texts, including works that seemingly do not fit within an environmental realm at first, showing the true potential of literature as a cultural medium, and defining it as an “imaginative space in which dominant developments, beliefs, truth-claims and models of human life are being critically reflected and symbolically transgressed in counter-discourses to prevailing economic-technoscientific forms of modernization and globalization” (27-8). With an emphasis on poetry in this first part, Zapf analyzes the connection between literary works, sustainability and ecological culture. Emily Dickinson’s “A narrow Fellow in the Grass,” Linda Hogan’s “To Light,” and A.R. Ammons’s “Reflective” all share the idea of the interconnectedness of the human and the non-human world or the natural and the cultural realm. These examples show a written art form of cultural behavior and human interaction with nature, providing a vehicle for creative ambiguity in the nature-culture divide. The second part of Hubert Zapf’s book, “Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology,” focuses on the development of ecocriticism and its relation to both critical...

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Sylvia Mayer and Alexa Weik von Mossner, eds., The Anticipation of Catastrophe: Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture. American Studies—A Monograph Series 247. (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 227 pp.
Apr11

Sylvia Mayer and Alexa Weik von Mossner, eds., The Anticipation of Catastrophe: Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture. American Studies—A Monograph Series 247. (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 227 pp.

Sylvia Mayer and Alexa Weik von Mossner, eds., The Anticipation of Catastrophe: Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture. American Studies—A Monograph Series 247. (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 227 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   For years, scholars and activists, most prominently among them Bill McKibben and Robert Macfarlane, have expressed their astonishment at the global dearth of creative engagement with anthropogenic climate change. Now that the second decade of the twenty-first century has brought on a seemingly never-ending outpouring of cultural production imaging ‘life, the universe, and everything’ in times of advanced climate change, this surge of texts has also generated a plethora of productive concepts, theories, and approaches—from eco-materialism to multi-species studies—providing scholars with adequate tools to critically interrogate the dynamic interplays of politics, economics, ethics, affect, aesthetics, and materiality as well as the intricate entanglements of the human with the non-human—to name but a few of the research foci—in narratives of environmental crisis. While the majority of these academic conceptualizations have initially emerged in the institutional framework of the environmental humanities and related disciplines, American Studies has, slightly belatedly, begun to participate in this endeavor quite copiously. Sylvia Mayer and Alexa Weik von Mossner’s edited volume The Anticipation of Catastrophe: Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture is a convincing example of one such conceptual contribution to the study of environmental crisis.[1] Taking their cue from the work of risk scholars such as, e.g., historian Arwen Mohun, anthropologist Mary Douglas, political scientist Aaron Wildavsky, and, most prominently, sociologists Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck, The Anticipation of Catastrophe narrows down its conceptual and topical lens on the research of environmental crises in North America to the exploration of risk narratives. Following Beck’s conceptualization as laid out in his World at Risk (2007; 2009), risk is understood by the contributors as the “perceptual and cognitive schema in accordance with which a society mobilizes itself when it is confronted with the openness, uncertainties and obstructions of a self-created future” (4). This conceptual grasp presumes that future crises cannot be foreseen, gauged, or controlled in twenty-first-century Western risk societies, in which the systemic effects of modernization continuously and quasi-autonomously (re)generate a wide array of unprecedented hazards. Yet, the prevalent risks within a particular culture are not axiomatic scenarios that exist a priori but are selected out of a wide array of possible future disaster situations and come into being through their imaginative staging in cultural narratives, which—other than risk statistics—manage to involve the audience emotionally. The Anticipation of Catastrophe does not stop short at the mere application of previous risk scholarship to environmental risk in North American literature and...

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Karen L. Kilcup, Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924 (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 2013), 512 pp.
Apr11

Karen L. Kilcup, Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924 (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 2013), 512 pp.

Karen L. Kilcup, Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924 (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 2013), 512 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4     Karen Kilcup’s astute investigation into the environmental dimensions of the works of a heterogeneous set of nineteenth-century American women writers contributes to scholarship in American women’s writing, ecocriticism, and feminist rhetoric while also expanding the scope of each of these fields. In the American tradition of nature writing that runs from Henry David Thoreau and John Muir to Barry Lopez and Annie Dillard, the primary objective has been to develop self-awareness through close observation of nature and to reflect critically on the terms of that self-awareness so as to extend empathy to the nonhuman world. Kilcup identifies a lesser known tradition of American environmental writing authored by women who “often perceived ‘nature’ and ‘the environment’ within a complex framework of embodied and social experience” (2). The women she portrays were all acutely aware of their own physical and mental enmeshment in the world that surrounded them, whether they lived a rugged life on the Western frontier or earned their living in urban environments. Importantly, Kilcup’s selection of primary texts consciously moves “beyond white middle-class women’s writing,” including works by “women of color, working-class women, and non-Protestant women” (5), thus offering a kaleidoscope of culturally inflected understandings of nature and human-nature relationships that challenge and significantly enlarge the accepted canon of American environmental writing. Furthermore, the culturally rich and ethnically diverse archive of environmental writing that Kilcup has uncovered is not only comprehensive in terms of its authors; Fallen Forests also highlights the multiplicity of genres as well as the development of hybrid genres “ranging from Cherokee oratory to travel writing, the slave narrative, diaries, polemical texts, sketches, novels and exposés” (5). Kilcup’s deliberately wide and open definition of environmental writing allows her to include the voices of women who might otherwise not have been noticed. She explores the intersections and inevitable mixing of these different forms of storytelling, and she goes far beyond reading them as chronicles of a bygone time in American environmental history or even as forgotten treasures of nature writing. Highlighting their political and activist dimensions, she understands American women’s environmental writings as the result of a deliberate foregrounding of individual subjective experience, and she constantly reminds us that individual experiences of the natural world are circumscribed not only by gender and sexuality, but also by ethnicity, race, class, age, health, and geographical location. The multifaceted tradition of environmental writing that Kilcup uncovers begins in 1781 when the Cherokee Beloved Woman and political activist Nancy...

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Michael Ziser, Environmental Practice and Early American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 224 pp.
Apr11

Michael Ziser, Environmental Practice and Early American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 224 pp.

Michael Ziser, Environmental Practice and Early American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 224 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   Arriving on the heels of editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors’s A New Literary History of America (2009), Michael Ziser’s Environmental Practice and Early American Literature provides a fascinating new perspective on the influence of nonhuman agency on literary history. Ziser’s analysis marks a groundbreaking contribution to the recent “material turn” in ecocriticism, as he reinterprets early American literary history by examining the significance of nonhuman actors. Rooted in New Historicism, this study draws on current methods in science studies and sociology, most importantly Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory, as well as the work of environmental historians such as William Cronon and Richard White. Rethinking and combining these theoretical approaches, Ziser elaborates the ways in which nonhuman objects can be represented in literary productions and in how far their appearance in these productions can legitimately be understood as agency. He succeeds in this attempt to varying degrees. The monograph was composed to a great extent from essays and articles originally written and published elsewhere between 2004 and 2008, a fact that accounts for the, at times, rather vague connections between separate chapters. Nonetheless, the individual analyses bring forth intriguing arguments. Each of the first four chapters centers on the literary representation of one specific environmental practice, including the cultivation of tobacco and staples, orcharding, and bee-lining. The fifth and final chapter of the book illustrates the significance of the georgic mode for early American literature, concluding in a brief examination of nineteenth-century agricultural magazine culture as its final articulation. Laden with theory, Ziser’s introduction, aptly titled “More-than-Human Literary History,” a reference to David Abram’s concept of the “more-than-human,” makes for a dense but no less illuminating read. His elucidation of the study’s overall goal and its theoretical foundations not only serves as a potent opening to the analysis, but also provides an effective introductory guideline for the field of material ecocriticism. The first environmental practice analyzed is the cultivation of tobacco and its representation in early English accounts of the New World. Ziser comprehensively demonstrates in how far the plant claims agency as “a source of disembodied counter-imperial rhetorical power” (25). He illustrates this in a close examination of King James I’s pamphlet Counterblaste to Tobacco, published in 1604. King James attacks the newly introduced commodity for its seemingly subversive potential. He fears that his own sovereignty might be at stake, as many of the ideological and symbolic powers usually monopolized by royal authority are now also ascribed to tobacco. Central to his argument are the shifting relations of power due to...

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Linford D. Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (Oxford/New York: Oxford UP, 2012, 2014), 312 pp.
Mar15

Linford D. Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (Oxford/New York: Oxford UP, 2012, 2014), 312 pp.

Linford D. Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (Oxford/New York: Oxford UP, 2012, 2014), 312 pp. Amerikastudien / American Studies 61.2     Im Zentrum der anregenden Studie des an der Brown University lehrenden Historikers Linford Fisher stehen die unterschiedlichen und facettenreichen Modi, mit denen Native Americans im südöstlichen Neuengland zwischen 1700 und 1820 dem christlichen Glauben begegneten, ihn ablehnten oder annahmen und auf ihre ganz eigene Art modifizierten. Dabei stellt Fisher die Selbstbestimmung („agency“) der Native Americans ganz in den Mittelpunkt seiner Analyse, die auf einer beeindruckend breiten und vielfältigen Quellengrundlage basiert. Die ersten beiden Kapitel konturieren die historischen Hintergründe und Rahmenbedingungen, vor denen die Interaktionen zwischen Native Americans und den christlichen Kolonisten zu sehen sind. In Kapitel 1, Rainmaking, rekonstruiert Fisher die europäischen Bemühungen, das Christentum unter den Native Americans zu verbreiten, wobei er insbesondere John Eliot in den Blick nimmt. Es sei ihnen noch bis in die ersten Dekaden des 18. Jahrhunderts gelungen, ihre traditionelle Lebensweise beizubehalten, ehe dann in diesem Zeitraum die evangelistischen Bemühungen nochmals erheblich intensiviert worden seien. Eben diese Evangelisierungsbemühungen stehen im Zentrum des zweiten Kapitels. Es gelingt Fisher auf überzeugende Weise, die Komplexität dieses Prozesses der Auswahl, Aneignung und Ablehnung christlicher Glaubensinhalte darzustellen, die in hohem Maße durch den spezifischen soziokulturellen Kontext in Neuengland bedingt waren. In Übereinstimmung mit anderen Forschungsergebnissen der jüngeren Zeit – hier ist etwa an die Arbeiten von Felicity Jensz oder Rachel Wheeler zu denken – war es vor allem der Zugang zu Bildung, der den Übertritt zum Christentum attraktiv werden ließ. In diesem Zusammenhang ist auch das fünfte Kapitel von Bedeutung, in welchem Fisher das Bildungsbemühen nach der Erweckung analysiert. Der Bildungserwerb war stets mit dem Bestreben verbunden, hierüber eine gewisse Eigenständigkeit und Handlungsfähigkeit zu erhalten. Im dritten Kapitel steht dann die Erweckung („awakening“) im Mittelpunkt des Interesses. Das titelgebende Indian Great Awakening sieht Fisher als das Resultat eines Zusammenwirkens von einerseits über dreißig Jahren Missions- und Evangelisierungsbemühungen und andererseits der wachsenden Anstrengungen der indianischen Gemeinschaften, „education, literarcy, and acceptance“ (S. 67) innerhalb der kolonialen Gesellschaft zu erwerben. Die eigentlichen Aneignungsprozesse werden von Fisher nuanciert und gründlich dargestellt, wobei er zu höchst aufschlussreichen Beobachtungen gelangt. So zeigt er etwa, dass die Interaktionen zwischen den christlichen Geistlichen und den indianischen Stammesgemeinschaften zu durchaus innovativen Glaubenspraktiken führten, wie z.B. zu lebhaftem Gesang oder anderen individuelle Ausdrucksformen während des Gottesdienstes. Linford Fisher plädiert im vierten Kapitel für den Begriff „affiliation“, um die vielfältigen Erweckungserfahrungen von Native Americans, zu beschreiben. Im Gegensatz zur religiösen Bekehrung („religious conversion“) sei „affiliation“ nämlich besser geeignet, die ganze Handlungspalette der Reaktionen im Kontext des Indian Great...

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Steve Longenecker, Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North (New York: Fordham UP, 2014), 246 pp.
Mar15

Steve Longenecker, Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North (New York: Fordham UP, 2014), 246 pp.

Steve Longenecker, Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North (New York: Fordham UP, 2014), 246 pp. Amerikastudien / American Studies 61.2 Steve Longenecker’s micro-historical study attempts to carve out the significance of Gettysburg beyond its role as the site of a three-day Civil War battle, or its place in the name of Lincoln’s address as he dedicated the Soldier’s National Cemetery. Longenecker seeks to uncover Gettysburg by shifting the focus away from the stifling legacy of the war and to the town as representing small-town America in the antebellum Border North (1). Longenecker’s project is to read Gettysburg through the lens of three key terms—refinement, diversity, and race—in order to demonstrate that this small town was indicative of antebellum trends and tendencies in the larger Border North as well as on the national level (1). In so doing, Gettysburg hovers between the special and the ordinary: while it was “typically American” in subscribing to a “pursuit of material gain and improvement” (i.e., refinement), Longenecker calls Gettysburg “unusually diverse and modern” (33) for its rural setting. Relating the key terms to their significance for and within religion and religious practices in this “intriguing” (33) town of Gettysburg is supposedly the core of Longenecker’s study. As the chapters progress, however, one might argue that what he calls once “race,” “diversity,” or “war” might actually be at the heart of the matter. Longenecker’s outline is straightforward. He first introduces Gettysburg and its inhabitants, its history and development, and, most importantly, its various religious congregations. He then moves on to highlight the different characteristics of refinement, diversity, and war “in theory” and “in practice” (chs. 2 and 3), as well as their interplay with lived religious practices in Gettysburg: refinement as “the quest for improvement” (1) among the middle-class touched, for example, the church buildings as well as “polished worship” (2); diversity in Gettysburg, for Longenecker, comprises not only denominational but also doctrinal, educational, and ethnic diversity (3). The war’s impact on religion in town, so Longenecker’s conclusion, was only “moderate” (5), in the sense that most congregations recovered rather quickly and resumed their “routine” after July, 1863 (5). Therefore, the actual battle only figures in the last chapter, and although there is a factual account of the lead-up and its course of action, the focus is put on its aftermath and direct impact on the inhabitants and religious communities. This is part of Longenecker’s strategy to de-nationalize the Battle of Gettysburg and to contradict the superlatives of historiography that have contributed to turning it into an American lieu de mémoire. The book chapters are interspersed...

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Lawrence I. Berkove and Joseph Csicsila, Heretical Fictions: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2010), 271 pp.
Mar15

Lawrence I. Berkove and Joseph Csicsila, Heretical Fictions: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2010), 271 pp.

Lawrence I. Berkove and Joseph Csicsila, Heretical Fictions: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2010), 271 pp. Amerikastudien / American Studies 61.2   For many people, the name “Mark Twain” is synonymous with American humor. Therefore, it is worth noting that this book says very little about humor, in fact the term’s entry in the index is shorter than that on “hell.” Berkove and Csicsila regard Twain’s gift of narrative and humor as simply a surface feature that served to establish and maintain his popular appeal, but does not have enough weight to justify Twain’s status as “one of literature’s most accomplished writers” (xiv). Similarly, the authors pay virtually no attention to the regional and historical dimensions of Twain’s work that are a mainstay of traditional scholarship. Instead, it is their ambition to identify the fundamental values, convictions, and the literary strategies which establish the unifying bond that connects all of Twain’s writings and thus provides a consistency to his work that is the true hallmark of the literary artist. In this endeavor, entertaining episodes of life in the West, adventures along the Mississippi River, the pranks of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and imaginary excursions into the world of King Arthur are nothing more than means to an end. Twain’s main purpose, the authors contend, is to “expose life as a cruel hoax” (136) and to identify “an ingenious, deceptive, and malevolent” (11) God as its cause.   To substantiate their ideas, Berkove and Csicsila take on the task of explaining how religion, and more specifically Calvinism, served as a powerful, if painful, catalyst for Twain’s literary imagination. The authors’ approach is plausible and promising. In his noteworthy observation about the role of religion in the United States, Tocqueville stated that “there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”[1] The statement appeared in the American translation of Tocqueville’s book in 1838, three years after the birth of Mark Twain, or rather Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and may serve as a reminder that nineteenth-century American culture in general, and American literature in particular, unfolded under the influence of a powerful belief system.   In view of this situation it may be surprising to see that, as Berkove and Csicsila note in their introductory chapter, the topic of religion has been “mentioned in Twain studies” (3), but has rarely been pursued with sufficient intensity.[2] It is perhaps a telling sign that even A Companion to Mark Twain, a standard reference book from 2005, does not feature an essay on...

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Alfred Hornung, ed., American Lives (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), xvii + 563 pp.
Feb18

Alfred Hornung, ed., American Lives (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), xvii + 563 pp.

Alfred Hornung, ed., American Lives (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), xvii + 563 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   This volume edited by Alfred Hornung includes the five keynote lectures plus twenty-four workshop presentations from the 2012 DGfA annual conference on “American Lives” held at the University of Mainz. The collection delves into the myriad variations of American (auto-) biography with its complex, multi-layered modes of story-telling, its various forms and functions, its conceptual frames and narrative strategies to produce authenticity and credibility. And it does so with a vast historical reach, from indigenous and colonial texts to contemporary life writing across genres and media.  E-lives, blogs and other social media formats are considered as well as film, photography and graphic story-telling. The first part of the book presents the keynote lectures of the conference. Sidonie Smith offers a compelling account of how Hillary Clinton’s bestseller Living History (2003) shapes a convincing political persona of representative American-ness by drawing on variants of the Bildungsroman, the conventional First Lady Memoir, the buddy story, the celebrity confession and the war memoir. Thomas Bender examines recent biographies about public intellectuals Reinhold Niebuhr, Richard Hofstadter and Christopher Lasch with a focus on intellectual creativity: the formations and transformations that ideas undergo before they appear in print. The contributions by Craig Howes and Birgit Däwes share an interest in Native American life writing. Howes explores nineteenth-century indigenous Hawaiian self-representations as responses to colonization and missionary endeavors while Däwes probes into the emancipatory potential of staged Native American biography. Finally, Siri Hustvedt ventures into the borderlands between life writing and life science where she discusses how the “hard” and “soft” truths of science and art are affected by the choice of first, second or third person narrative.   The following section has a focus on historical variants of (auto-) biographical writing. Patrick Erben traces how the anniversary poems of Francis Daniel Pastorius can be read as a form of immigrant autobiography which deliberately seeks to establish religious community and personal affiliation in a colonial setting. The uneasy relations between Christian ethics and slavery are discussed by Carsten Junker who reads Samuel West’s unpublished memoirs in dialog with letters from the author’s brother. Kirsten Twelbeck and Hannah Spahn both discuss how life writings help us understand race relations in the context of the Civil War and the Reconstruction period. The diary of Esther Hill Hawks, a white doctor, and the autobiography of Eliza Potter, an Afroamerican hairdresser, offer intriguing insights into the resonances of race and gender, the public and the private, as well as of national identity, social activism and the ambivalences of recognition. This section of...

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Alexandra Wagner, Wissen in der Autobiographie: Zur narrativen Konstruktion von Wissensordnungen in US-amerikanischen autobiographischen Texten (Trier: WVT, 2014), 232 pp.
Feb18

Alexandra Wagner, Wissen in der Autobiographie: Zur narrativen Konstruktion von Wissensordnungen in US-amerikanischen autobiographischen Texten (Trier: WVT, 2014), 232 pp.

Alexandra Wagner, Wissen in der Autobiographie: Zur narrativen Konstruktion von Wissensordnungen in US-amerikanischen autobiographischen Texten (Trier: WVT, 2014), 232 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   The field of autobiography studies, as Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson have proposed, has taken on “virtually intergalactic” proportions in the past few decades (ix), enlivened by the growing recognition of the interdependencies and fragmentations of writing subjects through fields such as postcolonial studies,[1] ecocriticism, and disability studies. Alexandra Wagner’s Wissen in der Autobiographie: Zur narrativen Konstruktion von Wissensordnungen in US-amerikanischen autobiographischen Texten adds to this ever expanding field by examining the interconnections between literature and knowledge through the genre of autobiography. In her elegant study, Wagner investigates the ways in which the genre shapes the production and representation of knowledge, considering autobiography as a specific knowledge system characterized by a poetics of knowledge (as developed by Jacques Rancière and Joseph Vogl) situated between fact and fiction (3). The book is organized into five main sections. Following an introduction and general overview of the role of narrative and knowledge in autobiography (section II), Wagner theorizes narrative points of view, motivations, the role of the addressee, and temporal and spatial dimensions of autobiographical writing (section III). In section IV, which takes up about half of the study, Wagner pursues close readings of (mostly) American autobiographical texts to exhibit the various orders of knowledge in the genre. She closes with an exemplary reading of Dave Eggers’s What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Deng. A Novel (2007)as a contemporary example of the fusion between fact and fiction in autobiographical writing that serves to recap some of her study’s major claims. Genre, according to Wagner, goes beyond mere classification of texts, providing frames and formulas for the organization and production of knowledge (22). An investigation of poetic knowledge construction in autobiography, as she asserts, not only offers insights into autobiographical narrative as a practice of self-assurance but may also shed light on the possibilities, limitations, and formations of knowledge systems in general (11). Wagner’s emphasis on the poetic dimensions of autobiography aims to serve as a corrective to the more common linkage of the genre in popular perception with facticity rather than fictional creation (23). This focus, as she seeks to demonstrate, opens up new avenues toward understanding autobiographical texts: setting aside dichotomies of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, she instead concentrates on genre specific modes of (re)presentations of autobiographical knowledge through an analysis of narrative structures (24). Narrative has a mediating function in the production, dissemination, and communication of meaning (20), and it is shaped by a tension between knowing and non-knowing and the...

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Mita Banerjee, Color Me White: Naturalism/Naturalization in American Literature (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 484 pp.
Feb18

Mita Banerjee, Color Me White: Naturalism/Naturalization in American Literature (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 484 pp.

Mita Banerjee, Color Me White: Naturalism/Naturalization in American Literature (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 484 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   A serious, comprehensive consideration of “race” in US American Naturalism is long overdue. Mita Banerjee’s study Color Me White addresses the issue squarely in a manner that is both original and insightful, contributing towards filling this lacuna in earlier research. Yet, the innovative character of her book is not limited to its subject matter; it resides at least as much in its fresh, transdisciplinary approach to the topic. Taking her cue from the court’s verdict in In re Ah Yup (1878) that resorted to “the literature of the country” for determining the meaning of the term “white person, ” Banerjee reads legal and literary discourses as mutually illuminating projects seeking to ascertain which racial and ethnic groups should be considered “white,” thus gaining the right to own property (including land) as well as the right to marry white persons. Around 1900, these considerations were triangulated by yet another discipline: medicine, in particular hygiene. Both legal and literary inquiries into matters of “race” thus inspect not only the petitioners’ hands and teeth, but also their food, their kitchens and living rooms, as well as their clothing. Curiously, from today’s perspective, the question of the claimants’ proficiency in English appeared much less important. But this is in fact one of the central points Color Me White makes: racialization is a historical, as well as a regional, specific practice. What might matter in one case—in addition to the instances already cited, “beauty” and religion, for example—might be dismissed in another. Neither is the “whiteness” or “non-whiteness” of specific ethnic or national groups a foregone conclusion.  Thus, Syrian, Indian, and Japanese individuals were granted whiteness at some times and in some places, but not in others. Such “de-racing” and “re-racing” processes are by no means historically unidirectional, as the re-racialization of Arab Americans after 9/11 attests. Color Me White discusses the canonical texts of literary Naturalism ranging from Stephen Crane’s Maggie to Frank Norris’s and Upton Sinclair’s works. In these novels, the whiteness of some ethnic communities, such as Lithuanian Americans in The Jungle, is established through their distinction from other, similarly situated social groups, here Irish Americans, who are portrayed as lacking in terms of hygiene as well as morality. Interestingly, the verdict of naturalist fiction does not always tally with that of contemporary courts. Where Irish Americans were well on their way to whiteness around 1900, partly as a result of their decision to distance themselves from African Americans, as Ignatiev and Jacobson among others have shown, they are re-raced in Sinclair’s...

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Ana Maria Manzanas and Jesús Benito, Occupying Space in American Literature and Culture: Static Heroes, Social Movements and Empowerment (New York/London: Routledge, 2014), 170 pp.
Feb18

Ana Maria Manzanas and Jesús Benito, Occupying Space in American Literature and Culture: Static Heroes, Social Movements and Empowerment (New York/London: Routledge, 2014), 170 pp.

Ana Maria Manzanas and Jesús Benito, Occupying Space in American Literature and Culture: Static Heroes, Social Movements and Empowerment (New York/London: Routledge, 2014), 170 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   This intellectually ambitious and intelligently provocative study puts into analytical practice what its authors call a “spatial turn in literary theory.”  They situate their book at the “intersection of geography, literary criticism, and cultural criticism” (2-3), and, in doing so, display not only considerable expertise in a wide spectrum of contemporary theory (from Giorgio Agamben to Slavoj Zizek), but are also able to make literary texts speak theoretically and politically. In addition, they show the aesthetic implications of much contemporary political thought and the practice of recent political movements. Re-thinking “space” and its function thus provides the link between the widely different spheres of their inquiry, creating a field of discourse in which political theory, literary text(s) and the actual experience of the historical moment interrelate and interact. Who owns or occupies what space in times like ours, marked by the dynamics of migration and the space-dissolving and border-defying (but also border-reinstating) processes of globalization? To what extent can space not only be the locus of repressive order, but also of radical refusal, even an agency for creative change in political thought, in the practice of literature, and of political protest? Can there be imagined or practiced alternatives to the way “space” is conceived in the narratives of contemporary neoliberal politics? What is curious about this study, then, is the fact that although it claims much for literature and the imagination, its concerns are not primarily literary. Rather it is driven by a consciousness of political and social crisis in the face of non-functioning political systems, the social impact of an economic policy of financial austerity, or the influx of “alien” immigrants that nations in Europe and elsewhere are either unwilling or unable to accommodate. And yet the book appears to place trust in the power of the aesthetic: It is based on the assumption that objects of the imagination (literature, film, or art) may anticipate, even shape, reality since they are driven by a desire for change beyond the realm of the aesthetic (yet inclusive of it).  Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” frames Manzanas’ and Benito’s study—they discuss it in their opening and then again in a concluding chapter called “From Bartleby to Occupy Wall Street: The Politics of Empty Spaces.” Melville’s story thus establishes the book’s focus, allowing its authors to advance and exemplify concepts concerning the aesthetic as much as the political relevance of space. Here, as elsewhere, they acknowledge their indebtedness to Doreen Massey who,...

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Arno Heller, Wo sich Amerika erfand: Große Erinnerungsorte in Neuengland (Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag, 2015), 352 pp.
Feb18

Arno Heller, Wo sich Amerika erfand: Große Erinnerungsorte in Neuengland (Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag, 2015), 352 pp.

Arno Heller, Wo sich Amerika erfand: Große Erinnerungsorte in Neuengland (Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag, 2015), 352 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   Auf der Suche nach Gemeinsamkeiten jener vielfältigen Facetten, die nicht mehr kommentarlos unter dem allzu vereinheitlichenden Begriff einer US-amerikanischen Kultur zusammenzufassen sind, wird man neben anderen Aspekten unweigerlich auf eine gewisse Faszination, wenn nicht gar Obsession mit dem Konzept des Anfangs und des Anfangens stoßen, die den kulturellen Mainstream und sein Verständnis von Geschichte und Identität ebenso prägt wie subkulturelle und gegenkulturelle Positionen. Das Konzept des Gründungsortes spielt hierbei eine besondere Rolle, und Orte werden gerne zu Stätten gemacht, indem man sie mythisch überhöht, ganz gleich, ob es im Namen einer nationalen Identitätsbildung oder deren Gegenbewegung stattfindet, egal ob Plymouth Rock oder Woodstock. Die Konstruktion dieser Gründungsorte findet oftmals konkret über diskursive und materielle Praktiken statt, die Geschichtsschreibung mit musealer Aufarbeitung und Ausstellung verbinden und dabei immer eine gewisse Kontinuität zur Gegenwart und zu gegenwärtigen Identitäten herstellen (und sei es durch die Inszenierung eines Bruches mit der Vergangenheit). In seinem Buch Wo sich Amerika erfand spürt Arno Heller einigen dieser Erinnerungsorte dort nach, wo sie in den USA vermutlich in der größten Dichte zu finden sind, nämlich in Neuengland. Es ist ihm dabei elegant der keineswegs leichte Brückenschlag zwischen akademischer Kulturwissenschaft (mit literarischem Fokus) und landeskundlicher Aufarbeitung gelungen, die das Buch für mindestens zwei Zielgruppen gleichermaßen interessant macht, ohne diese gegeneinander auszuspielen. Wo sich Amerika erfand ist zunächst einmal ein Reiseführer im besten Wortsinn, der eine wertvolle erzählerische Ergänzung zu jenen immer bildlastigeren Büchern darstellt, die Touristen zwar Karten, Daten und eine Liste sehenswerter Orte bieten, zugleich aber kaum mehr als einen knappen Absatz Text pro Eintrag aufweisen und sich höchstens noch einige wenige einführende Seiten zur allgemeinen Geschichte leisten. Auch Hellers Buch enthält zahlreiche Farbbilder, teilweise vom Autor selbst fotografiert, die in sehr guter Qualität und an geeigneter Stelle sinnvoll den Text illustrieren, aber auch nicht mehr tun wollen als dies. Die konkreten Fragen, mit denen sich analoge und digitale Reiseführer gerne beschäftigen – das kommentierte Kartenmaterial, das Touristen zu Sehenswürdigkeiten, Hotels, Souvenirläden und gutem Kaffee bringt – überlässt ihnen Heller gerne; er kümmert sich stattdessen um die narrative kulturhistorische Aufarbeitung und Einbettung eines Ortes im größeren nationalen, nicht selten auch globalen Kontext, und somit um jene Geschichte und Geschichten, die ein Reiseziel vielleicht überhaupt erst wirklich als Ort erfahrbar machen. Hellers Buch ist jedoch nicht nur im Gepäck Neuenglandreisender gut aufgehoben, sondern erfüllt einen zweiten Zweck gleichermaßen überzeugend: Es bietet eine grundlegende Einführung in die Kulturgeschichte der USA, die Studierenden der Amerikanistik für einen ersten Überblick ebenso nützlich sein wird wie als Orientierungspunkt für...

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Kevin Pelletier, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum Literature (Athens: U of Georgia P, 2015), 272 pp.
Feb18

Kevin Pelletier, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum Literature (Athens: U of Georgia P, 2015), 272 pp.

Kevin Pelletier, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum Literature (Athens: U of Georgia P, 2015), 272 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   The turn to religion in literary studies over the past decade has yielded many fruitful insights, especially in scholarly understandings of sentimental culture.  When Ann Douglas turned serious attention to sentimentalism in The Feminization of American Culture (1977), she established a narrative in which a “masculine” and serious-minded Calvinism gave way to a “feminine” and soft-hearted sentimentalism.[1]  Jane Tompkins challenged Douglas, but left the basic paradigm—from Calvinism to sentimentalism—in place.[2]  Both books depicted a vague evangelical Protestantism behind sentimentalism.  The lack of distinction or theological depth in these accounts was recognized as a problem, but was seldom, if ever, addressed.[3]  Only now are scholars beginning to reveal the religious complexities and nuances of sentimental culture.  In The Altar at Home (2014), Claudia Stokes reveals the powerful effect of Methodism and the Second Great Awakening on sentimentalism.[4]  Kevin Pelletier’s new book, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism, likewise turns to “the fiery evangelical context in which American sentimentalism developed” (38).  Demonstrating against Douglas and others that “there is no clean break between hard-line Calvinist theology and the more moderate forms of belief that sought to replace it,” Pelletier sets a fear of God’s vengeance at the center of abolitionist sentimentalism (12). Pelletier’s idea that fear might be a forceful presence and an enduring feature of sentimentalism radically departs from usual understandings of this culture and its literature.  Scholars most often see an “autotelic” view of love and sympathy at work: that is, depictions of love produce love; representations of sympathy spread sympathy.  Some scholars call this approach modeling.  By modeling scenes of love and compassion, sentimental writers hope to reproduce that response in readers.  And indeed, sentimental novels often seem filled with contagious scenes of weeping, where right feeling is not just demonstrated, but replicated.  Yet as Pelletier points out, focusing on such scenes actually prohibits scholars from seeing the many times when such responses fail.  What happens when the heart hardens despite being surrounded by proper sentimental scenes?  Sentimental novels, Pelletier demonstrates, worried constantly about how to move the unmoved, and they turned to a fear of God as their answer.  The “apocalypse,” as Pelletier defines it, counted as any “suspended threat” of divine judgment and wrath: “Apocalypse is a warning that God would scourge reprobates for their sinful ways but never an actual depiction of this scourging” (12).  Where sympathy would not suffice, God’s threats could move readers from fear to love in the cause of abolition. In making this claim, Pelletier does important work distinguishing among multiple...

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Michael Millner, Fever Reading: Affect and Reading Badly in the Early American Public Sphere (Durham, NH: U of New Hampshire P, 2012), xxii+188 pp.
Feb18

Michael Millner, Fever Reading: Affect and Reading Badly in the Early American Public Sphere (Durham, NH: U of New Hampshire P, 2012), xxii+188 pp.

Michael Millner, Fever Reading: Affect and Reading Badly in the Early American Public Sphere (Durham, NH: U of New Hampshire P, 2012), xxii+188 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   It is perhaps not surprising that the last two decades have seen a renaissance of public sphere criticism.  After all, in these unstable times, the idea of a realm dedicated to disinterested conversation and rational deliberation holds a kind of redemptive promise.  Here individuals can occupy a space beholden to neither state nor private interests, in which participatory democracy plays out principally through what Nancy Fraser calls “the medium of talk.” Even as recent studies celebrate the public sphere, however, they have also been sharply critical of its limitations.  Despite its claims to universality, participation in the public sphere has historically rested with white propertied men.  And while “talk” has been its acclaimed component, public sphere engagement has been enacted principally through the disembodied medium of print.  In this way, it has systematically excluded those individuals who lacked both access to print culture and the means for claiming an abstract universality—that is women and people of color.  In more recent years, scholars have complicated these notions of an exclusive unified realm of white men by pointing to the presence of subaltern or counterpublics and by examining the ways that performance, affect, and voice have all contributed to the creation of the public sphere. Michael Millner’s Fever Reading is a recent and welcome addition to this latter scholarship.  Lucidly argued and elegantly written, Fever Reading makes a case for a public sphere of embodiment and emotion, what Millner occasionally calls “a public sensorium.”  But rather than seeing this as an alternative to the realm of discursive communication and rational judgment, Millner sees embodiment as enabling precisely the kinds of critical practices—reflection, evaluation, judgment—that public sphere proponents embrace. To make this argument, Millner focuses on the phenomenon of “bad reading”—reading that is fevered, addictive, distracted, overly absorbing, and so forth.  This is precisely the kind of reading that cultural custodians (both in the early American period and today) posit as detrimental because it “dissolve[s] critical distance and undercut[s] the possibility of reflection—elements thought essential to a proper public sphere and good citizenship.”  But Millner argues that the opposite is true—that bad reading practices are, in fact, “critical, reflective, and essential to modern democracy…” (xiii). Millner’s counter-intuitive claims rest on the idea that the emotions generated in bad reading are important diagnostic tools, ways of evaluating the surrounding environment.  Borrowing from research in the experimental sciences and particularly the work of William Reddy, Millner posits that emotional reactions allow readers to navigate complex...

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Anita Wohlmann, Aged Young Adults: Age Readings of Contemporary American Novels and Films (Bielefeld: transcript, 2014), 280 pp.
Feb18

Anita Wohlmann, Aged Young Adults: Age Readings of Contemporary American Novels and Films (Bielefeld: transcript, 2014), 280 pp.

Anita Wohlmann, Aged Young Adults: Age Readings of Contemporary American Novels and Films (Bielefeld: transcript, 2014), 280 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   Anita Wohlmann’s insightful study on “aged young adults” brings together the concepts of age/aging and youth in a very productive way, and by so doing adds a new dimension to age studies. In five thematically clustered chapters, the author closely examines seven contemporary (2001-2011) American narratives—four novels and three films—via an approach that she terms “age readings.” An age reading reveals references to age in fictional narratives to be more than simply descriptive, and examines their metaphorical function that often revolves around “norms, ideals, and expectations” (70). Aged Young Adults is grounded in a solid theoretical basis of age/aging studies and profits from drawing on theories by eminent age scholars. Wohlmann’s reading of her primary material combines analyses of the fictional material with approaches from cultural studies, sociology, and developmental psychology. Consequently, individual chapters follow a “dialogic organization” (76) that illustrates the reciprocal influence between fictional narratives and “the socio-cultural environment” (30). Thus, analytical observations about the fictional narratives prompt theoretical reflections, which in turn actuate further critical examinations. Chapter one, “Age and Aging in Theory and Practice,” lays out the theoretical background and basis for the age readings that follow in the next four chapters. The first analytic cluster, chapter two, entitled “Conflicts of Timing,” examines Joel Zwick’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) and Sam Mendes’s Away We Go (2009). The two works are connected by their focus on the characters’ age crises, as well as on the “disciplinary function of age discourses” (91). Chapter three, entitled “Living Across the Life Course,” analyzes Tom Perrotta’s Little Children (2006) and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2002). This chapter’s focus lies on age as a flexible marker and the “shifting meanings of adulthood” that are presented by the works, as well as on the role of age norms and how they affect imaginaries of the life course. “Mental Health and Age,” chapter four, offers an examination of the various links between mental health, consumer culture, age/aging, and entrepreneurial selves in Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision (2005) and Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis (2003). The last analytic chapter, chapter five, entitled “Positive Age Metaphors,” examines Miranda July’s The Future (2011) and It Chooses You (2011), emphasizing particularly the aspects that unfold possibilities to reevaluate “notions of time, the future, [and] age or aging” (249). As can be seen from her selection of works, the novelty of Wohlmann’s approach, in the ever rapidly expanding multi-disciplinary field of age/aging studies, lies in the fact that her study focuses on chronologically young characters between the...

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Walter Benn Michaels, The Beauty of a Social Problem: Photography, Autonomy, Economy (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), Hb. Xiii, 230 pp., 8 color plates, 28 halftones, 4 line drawings.
Feb18

Walter Benn Michaels, The Beauty of a Social Problem: Photography, Autonomy, Economy (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), Hb. Xiii, 230 pp., 8 color plates, 28 halftones, 4 line drawings.

Walter Benn Michaels, The Beauty of a Social Problem: Photography, Autonomy, Economy (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), Hb. Xiii, 230 pp., 8 color plates, 28 halftones, 4 line drawings. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   Walter Benn Michaels’s new book, The Beauty of a Social Problem, is dedicated to the work of a generation of younger photographers and visual artists—most  of them born after 1965—and  in particular to these artists’ shared belief in the autonomy of the work of art. At first glance, Michaels’s own interest in this notion of autonomy does not seem primarily theoretical, though theory does play a major role in his book, but also and in fact ultimately political. One of the central ideas behind his book is that the “separation” of the work of art “from the world” (xii)—from its subject and from its reader or beholder—might function as “an emblem of the relation between classes and also of the escape from that relation, of the possibility of a world without classes” (ibid.). This is a bold claim, to be sure, although The Beauty of a Social Problem is everything but a practical political manifesto (and Michaels never claims that he wanted to write one); rather, it is a prolonged theoretical meditation on the possibilities of thinking about the connection between the art world, on the one hand, and the social world on the other. For Michaels, contemporary photographic art and art theory present a particularly promising field to do so. Given the conceptual scope of the book, readers of The Beauty of a Social Problem will come across a number of political arguments and theoretical claims about the function of art and literature that Michaels has pursued throughout his career (for example, intentionality and meaning; the critique of the reader/beholder; social inequality vs. cultural diversity). But they will also come across a series of careful and often surprisingly unexpected close-readings of both contemporary artists (including, amongst others, Jeff Wall, Brian Urich, Arthur Ou, and Viktoria Binschtok) and classics in the history of photography (Walker Evans, August Sander, Paul Strand) that notably extend, and in many cases complicate, the range of arguments Michaels has become notorious for making, one of them being the relationship between photography and literature itself, and Michaels’s tendency to prioritize the former over the latter as his object of inquiry. The Beauty of a Social Problem consists of five main chapters: four lengthy pieces on the theory and history of photography and the visual arts (larger portions of which were previously published in journals) and a shorter final chapter, “Never Again, or Nevermore,”—at first sight somewhat inconsistent with the rest—focused...

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Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith, eds., Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (Durham: Duke UP, 2012), 400 pp.
Feb18

Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith, eds., Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (Durham: Duke UP, 2012), 400 pp.

Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith, eds., Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (Durham: Duke UP, 2012), 400 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   To scholars considering Afro-Pessimism as seriously as Sebastian Weier recently proposed in Amerikastudien/American Studies, a collection of essays titled Pictures and Progress will seem surprising.[1] Editors Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith announce their volume as an exploration of the ways “African Americans adopted and utilized photography in all its cultural forms to represent a new people, a new period, and new modes of black thought” (9-10). Instead of focusing on “structural white enslavism” (Weier 430), Pictures and Progress reminds its readers of the liberating potential of nineteenth-century photography. Its authors study a medium that produced authority, individuality, and micro-narratives of citizenship. Eleven substantial essays examine African American visual culture, cultural history, and literature. In between, four highly useful mini-chapters (“snapshots”) focus on the lives and oeuvres of early black photographers Augustus Washington, Thomas Askew, A.P. Bedou, and J.P. Ball. Wallace and Smith’s compelling introduction argues that the camera “helped to define the ethos of the era as well as direct the path of African American advancement” (15). Following Frederick Douglass’s explicitly optimistic thoughts on pictorial practices, the editors and most of their contributors imagine a “much more autonomous African American viewer” than the one Du Bois’s theories of “double consciousness” imply. They outline consumers “seeking progress and improvement through a study of the self objectified as image” (8).  Laura Wexler, for instance, concentrates on Douglass’s performances in his photographic portraits. She reads this “string of images” as expressions of Douglass’s determination to “insert himself” into the nation’s future (37). Ginger Hill explores Douglass’s theories of selfhood and the camera. In her essay, Douglass’s writings appear as “struggles with representation” (72) and as attempts to establish “iconicity […] in the face of the tragic” (71). Building on this foundation, the collected essays examine key literary and photographic texts of the African American nineteenth century. Augusta Rohrbach contributes a piece on Sojourner Truth’s negotiations with “shadow and substance.” Michael Chaney discusses Linda Brent’s “camera tactics.” These, Chaney finds, operate in a field where “the camera and the mulatta come together to form a composite machine for sustaining power relations through acts of seeing and being seen” (128). Along similar lines, Gabrielle Forman speculates on “mulatta genealogies” in the framework of slavery, freedom, and photographic culture. Smith discusses DuBois’s photographs for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair; she finds images “denaturalizing the assumed privilege of whiteness” (292) and “pushing subjectivity past the color line” (293). Wallace contributes a fascinating essay...

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Kathleen Loock and Constantine Verevis, eds., Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 272 pp.
Feb18

Kathleen Loock and Constantine Verevis, eds., Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 272 pp.

Kathleen Loock and Constantine Verevis, eds., Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 272 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   In Storytelling in Film and Television, Kristin Thompson describes remakes, adaptations, and sequels as both “the recycling and expansion of existing narratives.”[1] In other words, and contrary to critical voices that reduce processes of cultural reproduction to commercially-driven acts of copying, Thompson points out how these cinematic forms are characterized by serial patterns of repetition and variation. This serial understanding of cultural reproduction is also emphasized in Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions. The volume, a collection of papers originally held at a conference at the University of Göttingen in 2010, provides a variety of critical perspectives on remakes and adaptations that “contest the idea that the remake is a debased copy of some superior original” (2). As the editors point out in their introduction, the twelve contributions seek to get a grasp on “these diverse and yet similar processes of cultural reproduction and the positive potential of ‘retromania’ in our contemporary media climate” (12). Combining the interdisciplinary perspectives of American Studies, film and television studies, as well as fan studies, the volume approaches the phenomenon from three different angles, which also make up its thematic sections: Filmic adaptations of canonical literary texts (“Adapt”), remakes of cinematic classics (“Remake”), and fan-made video productions (“Remodel”). Frank Kelleter’s “‘Toto, I Think We’re in Oz Again’ (and Again and Again): Remakes and Popular Seriality” is not only the first essay in this section, but also an excellent starting point for the entire volume. Combining textual analysis and theoretical overview, Kelleter reads the series of transmedial Oz adaptations against the backdrop of twentieth-century American popular culture and within the context of what he calls “popular seriality.” Instead of treating the different Oz-versions in terms of “original and adaptation,” Kelleter argues that “we find opportune serializations across different artistic channels” (23). Therefore, rather than reading L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel as the “original” Oz-text, Kelleter treats The Wonderful Wizard of Oz already as a “retelling” of traditional fairy tales and thus as one of many instances in the larger (serial) field of popular culture (19). Kelleter explores various facets of the popular series, but also uses his analysis of the countless Oz narratives to call for a more complex academic understanding of adaptations and remakes in general. Rather than merely asking “how a given serial text reflects the cultural situation and intentional structures of its time,” Kelleter proposes an understanding of remakes that emphasizes the agency of a given popular series “in enabling its own cultural realities and intentional follow-ups”...

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Cornelia Klecker, Spoiler Alert!: Mind-Tricking Narratives in Contemporary Hollywood Film (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 172 pp.
Feb18

Cornelia Klecker, Spoiler Alert!: Mind-Tricking Narratives in Contemporary Hollywood Film (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 172 pp.

Cornelia Klecker, Spoiler Alert!: Mind-Tricking Narratives in Contemporary Hollywood Film (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 172 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   The book, originally conceived as a dissertation, is dedicated to the exploration of a phenomenon that has become a staple of popularity in contemporary Hollywood film since the 1990s and that has provoked critical commentary by a variety of scholars for the last ten years.[1] Klecker’s stated goal in the introduction to salvage Hollywood film from accusations of solely producing dumb, flat, one-dimensional entertainment by pointing out the narrative sophistication and intellectual stimulation of what she calls mind-tricking narratives may therefore seem unwarranted. In her words, “mainstream phenomena are well worthwhile an in-depth academic discussion” (15). This should go without saying and should therefore not necessarily be the objective but the basis for analysis. Nonetheless, it is this obvious desire to convince the reader of the artistic value of the films she analyzes that animates the author’s attempts to describe and categorize the elements and qualities that characterize mind-tricking films and by which they enrich the narrative possibilities of the medium. While the resulting observations are eminently worthwhile, what seems to be missing occasionally is a consideration of the cultural function that mind-tricking narratives fulfill. Beyond pointing out how “intricate and demanding” (15) these films are, one could interrogate what the films’ flattering of viewer sophistication is used for.      In the second chapter of the book, Klecker is at pains to establish the uniqueness of mind-tricking narratives in comparison to standard Hollywood fare. Following Bordwell, she argues that, just like art cinema, they violate an essential quality of classical narrative films, namely the emphasis on the clarity of causality. Mind-tricking narratives are radical in featuring resolutions that completely undermine the viewers’ assumptions about what they have seen so far by withholding crucial information. Klecker defines this essential characteristic as “an extreme case of a surprise gap that causes a radical correction of hypotheses that occurs once the gap is disclosed in the end of the film” (27). Examples include The Sixth Sense (1999), Fight Club (1999), Memento (2000), Identity (2003), or Shutter Island (2010). She acknowledges that every narrative, film or otherwise, works on the principle of withholding and releasing narrative information. Hence, her insistence on the radicalness of mind-tricking narratives is first and foremost a question of degree rather than an absolute. Despite relying on Bordwell’s observations on film narratology, she also has to acknowledge his skepticism of the subversive or innovative potential of mind-tricking narratives. Bordwell sees them as basically conforming to the tenets of classical cinema. He writes about one of the “genre’s” essential representatives, Christopher...

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Martin Holtz, American Cinema in Transition: The Western in New Hollywood and Hollywood Now (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2011), 539 pp.
Feb18

Martin Holtz, American Cinema in Transition: The Western in New Hollywood and Hollywood Now (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2011), 539 pp.

Martin Holtz, American Cinema in Transition: The Western in New Hollywood and Hollywood Now (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2011), 539 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.3   The Western was never dead. Few movie genres have been such popular targets for critical obituaries and then have been found, upon closer inspection, to be very much alive, albeit in qualitatively quite diverse manifestations. Not only is there a continuous outpour of Westerns, there is also a continuous critical reception thereof. And although the monograph under review here does not initially stand out—it is neither transnational, transdifferent, transmedial nor of any other prefixed conviction—but appears rather conventional, it has a lot to commend it. The starting point is not the Western, but Hollywood. The underlying research interest of Holtz’s book is “the transition that Hollywood has undergone over the last forty years” (2), or more precisely, the changes and continuities from New Hollywood (which he dates 1967-1976) to what he calls Hollywood Now (which for him begins 2001 with the caesura of 9/11). “For an evaluation of ‘Hollywood Now,’” Holtz argues, “it thus seems to be beneficial to compare it with its formative years, which are regarded as so different in character yet already anticipated much of what has happened since” (3). For this comparison, he continues, a genre-theoretical approach is most useful because “genres are by nature transitional, paradigmatically mirroring the developments of Hollywood as a whole” (4), especially one of its most fundamental ambivalences: “American cinema has always clung to established formulas, eager to build on successes of the past” (4), yet realizing that renewal is inevitable in order to remain successful and economically viable. Hollywood’s development, in other words, is characterized by the same dialectic that characterizes genre development: difference and repetition. According to Holtz, then, the Western is simply the best genre for this comparison because it is prototypical, perennial, and, most importantly, negotiates a “national mythology” (4). For Holtz, the history of the Western is the “history of Hollywood in general” (4). This ambitious research interest is guided by three overarching arguments: first, that “the historical development of genres is influenced by a complex set of factors which transcends the simplicity of a single theoretical model” (5); second, that “the development of the American cinema from New Hollywood to Hollywood Now is marked by a consistency in terms of artistic inventiveness and ideological ambiguity despite changing historical backgrounds, industrial structures, artistic profiles, and audience compositions” (5); and third, that “the Westerns continue to be an eminently relevant form of cultural expression which paradigmatically reflect the complexities of American cinema” (5). Of these three, the second is...

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Laura Bieger, Ramón Saldívar and Johannes Voelz, eds., The Imaginary and its Worlds: American Studies after the Transnational Turn (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College P, 2013), 312 pp.
Feb17

Laura Bieger, Ramón Saldívar and Johannes Voelz, eds., The Imaginary and its Worlds: American Studies after the Transnational Turn (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College P, 2013), 312 pp.

Laura Bieger, Ramón Saldívar and Johannes Voelz, eds., The Imaginary and its Worlds: American Studies after the Transnational Turn (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College P, 2013), 312 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2   The collection of papers in The Imaginary and its Worlds was developed out of a conference hosted at the John-F-Kennedy-Institut of the Freie Universitӓt Berlin in the summer of 2009 to honor the scholarly career of Winfried Fluck. Fittingly, the contributors here consider ways in which conceptions of the “imaginary” have shaped American studies both during and after the “transnational turn,” as that idea became institutionalized during the first decade of the twenty-first century. About half the contributors here are from Germany and half from elsewhere, and one of the most valuable aspects of this critical anthology involves its illumination of different ways in which the term “social imaginary” has been used and the different intellectual traditions it evokes. As Fluck himself observes, whereas for Cornelius Castoriadis the “radical instituting imaginary” was “the source of the self-creation of society ex nihilo,” for other scholars, such as Charles Taylor, the notion of a social imaginary has tended in the direction of “interpellation and subjection” (259), particularly in its more recent uses. In their introduction, Laura Bieger, Ramón Saldívar and Johannes Voelz observe that whereas the Lacanian imaginary has worked through misrepresentation, the genealogy of the imaginary in Germany has been influenced more by Wolfgang Iser’s reception theory, and indeed it is that exploration of “the imaginary through the lens of reception aesthetics” that constitutes Fluck’s major contribution to this field (xxv). Saldívar’s own essay emphasizes Fluck’s debt to Iser (12), while Fluck himself in his “coda” lays stress on how literary texts are above all “aesthetic objects” (238). The fact that they “continue to provide an aesthetic experience,” even though the “historical situation” framing their conditions of production may have changed, has the effect of ensuring in Fluck’s eyes that the Fredric Jameson maxim “‘always historicize’ [. . .] cannot solve the problem of interpretive conflict” (238). For Fluck, such “interpretative disagreement and conflict” is not “an irritating problem but, quite the contrary, an indispensable resource” (257), one that locates the value of cultural texts in relation to their transhistorical afterlife. The German tradition of American studies that Fluck espouses, as we see here, has tended always to be intertwined with the shifting horizons of reception theory. This has lent it a vestige of philosophical idealism that has served to differentiate it from more popular Marxist approaches, grounded as they are in social and economic contexts. Herwig Friedl’s essay in this collection, “William James versus Charles Taylor,” establishes...

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Winfried Fluck, Donald E. Pease, and John Carlos Rowe, eds., Re-Framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies (Hanover: Dartmouth College P, 2011), 460 pp.
Feb17

Winfried Fluck, Donald E. Pease, and John Carlos Rowe, eds., Re-Framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies (Hanover: Dartmouth College P, 2011), 460 pp.

Winfried Fluck, Donald E. Pease, and John Carlos Rowe, eds., Re-Framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies (Hanover: Dartmouth College P, 2011), 460 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2   The late 2000s and early 2010s saw a considerable number of monographs and edited collections reconsidering the nexus of transnational and global American studies. Coming out of a discipline that tries to move beyond the exceptionalist legacy of Cold War American studies, transnational American studies questions established and new directions in the discipline alike, including frequently its own project and the legacy it builds on. The articles collected in Re-Framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies exemplify this trend by bringing together methodologically and thematically diverse articles that self-critically position themselves within a field in transition. The book is the result of a series of conferences that were financed through a research grant procured by scholars at the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Free University of Berlin, and the University of Potsdam, and collaboratively organized with John Carlos Rowe at USC and Donald Pease at Dartmouth College. Consequently, the list of contributors reads like a “who is who” of American studies in and around Berlin circa 2007 with a few international contributors including Rowe and Pease, as well as Nancy Fraser, Macarena Goméz-Barris, Peter D. O’Neill, and William Arce. As suggested by the reputation of the editors and the contributors who include many major forces in the reshaping of American studies, the book contains a number of excellent contributions to the field that will be essential reading for anyone seeking to enter it, and will add new perspectives to those already invested in it. The book is divided into four sections consisting of four (and in one case five) chapters each and an almost fifty page introduction by Donald Pease, in which Pease reviews the state of transnational and global American studies with remarkable lucidity, offering an overview over a diverse field that reveals both Pease’s profound knowledge and his investment in a more political direction for American studies. Although the first sentence proclaiming the “transnational turn” to be “the most significant reimagining of the field of American studies since its inception” (1) might signal otherwise, Pease is nevertheless careful to not be overly celebratory of transnational studies as the final step to get away from American Exceptionalism. Instead, he reviews work done over the past two decades, examining it from a range of different perspectives in order to illuminate its many different agendas, as well as the historical forces that shaped and continue to shape transnational approaches in American studies. While positioning the transnational project as part of a...

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Hartmut Lutz, Contemporary Achievements: Contextualizing Canadian Aboriginal Literatures (Augsburg: Wißner, 2015), 334 pp.
Feb17

Hartmut Lutz, Contemporary Achievements: Contextualizing Canadian Aboriginal Literatures (Augsburg: Wißner, 2015), 334 pp.

Hartmut Lutz, Contemporary Achievements: Contextualizing Canadian Aboriginal Literatures (Augsburg: Wißner, 2015), 334 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2   The front cover of this outstanding collection shows a beadwork turtle designed by Anette Brauer with Canada’s national symbol, the maple leaf, on its back. The animal here echoes Turtle Island, a term used by many native tribes such as the Anishinaabe and Iroquois to denote North America, and by extension texts such as Thomas King’s The Back of the Turtle, and, more generally, well-known creation stories such as Beth Brant’s Mohawk version “This is History,” in which the earth is always shaped and built on the back of a turtle. The cover of Contemporary Achievements thus hints at the “Canadian cultural mosaic” and at the “Indigenous inhabitants on whose ancestral lands, Turtle Island, the beautiful mosaic was […] based” (23). As such, this book does not exclusively study Canadian and Canadian Aboriginal histories and their relations. It also examines the role of the people and peoples who populate(d) Turtle Island and had an impact on its politics, cultures, literatures, academia, and knowledge in the context of Canada’s multiculturalism policies, transnational relations and interactions with Europe and the United States. Most importantly, the “process of recognition and assertion of the Aboriginal presence in Canadian culture” (10). Celebrating these processes and achievements is Hartmut Lutz, whose expertise in American and Canadian Studies, and especially in Native American and First Nations scholarship, is reflected in the excellent compilation that is Contemporary Achievements. As a professor and guest professor at many distinguished universities in Germany, Canada, the United States, Poland, and Finland, among others, and with an extensive list of awards and publications, longstanding Indigenous Studies scholar and expert Hartmut Lutz delivers a major contribution not only to the SALC (Studies in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures) series, but to the interdisciplinary and challenging field of Indigenous Studies as a whole. The essays in this collection have all originally been published in a diverse range of internationally highly acclaimed journals and edited volumes. They have now been compiled into the edition at hand and have been organized into five thematic clusters all striving towards one major aim, namely to survey, contextualize, and give credit and voice to Canadian Aboriginal authors and texts. Lutz’s introduction, entitled “About this book,” addresses the history of the manuscript, gives thanks to colleagues and friends who have contributed in one way or another to the making of this volume, and provides a brief overview of the contents of the book. “Surveys of Canadian Native Literatures,” the first section of the volume, opens with an essay entitled “The Beginnings of Contemporary...

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Oliver Scheiding and Martin Seidl, eds., Worlding America: A Transnational Anthology of Short Narratives before 1800 (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2015), 245 pp.
Feb17

Oliver Scheiding and Martin Seidl, eds., Worlding America: A Transnational Anthology of Short Narratives before 1800 (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2015), 245 pp.

Oliver Scheiding and Martin Seidl, eds., Worlding America: A Transnational Anthology of Short Narratives before 1800 (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2015), 245 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2   Anthologies are by nature provocative: the chosen selections will always impress some and dismay others, and, by prioritizing certain writers and values, editors make literary and political statements. There is nothing hidden, however, about the agenda behind Worlding America.  Rather than aiming to create or revise a pedagogical canon (in the mode of the Norton, Heath or Bedford anthologies), this slim collection is designed to make and illustrate a critical statement about the untapped abundance of short narratives that fall within the broad category of early American writing. It is therefore an invaluable resource for two overlapping areas of scholarly interest: the evolution of the American short story and new perspectives on early American writing. Because of the sheer diversity and the plot-driven designs of the narratives, the anthology is also a great read. The thirty selected narratives, which range from two to fifteen pages in length, are grouped into five categories: Life Writing, Female Agency, The Circum-Atlantic World, Cultures of Print, and Ghost Stories. These overlapping and eclectic subheadings reflect the anthology’s aim of being suggestive rather than exhaustive. Like boxes containing boxes, each category is divided into smaller subgroups, so that, for instance, what is meant by “Cultures of Print” becomes clarified by the section’s further division into Orientalism, Migrant Fictions and Sensationalism, each of which is represented by two texts. Under Sensationalism, for example, we find a fictionalized account of a man who murdered his family because he believed God commanded it, and a revenant love story set in Italy, pirated from a French collection, and published anonymously in an American periodical. For those familiar with Brockden Brown’s Wieland and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the connections are appealing, and despite the editors’ assertion that this anthology is not simply an Ur-context for the emergence of the American short story, the material certainly could be used to that end. The critical headnotes mostly skirt such teleological goals and focus instead on the peculiarities of early American literary culture, including the importance of eighteenth-century periodicals in shaping these brief, plot-driven narratives, and the prevalence of literary piracy and other forms of recycling that complicate the notion of authorship.  Within the subdivided structure of the anthology we find some predictable themes and genres: captivity narrative and slavery are there, for instance. But accounts from different locales, times, and cultures are thoughtfully juxtaposed so that adjacent to the dramatic account of New England’s Hannah Duston, who scalped her captors, is the...

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Sebastian Emling und Katja Rakow, Moderne religiöse Erlebniswelten in den USA. “Have Fun and Prepare to Believe!” (Berlin: Reimer Verlag, 2014), 266 pp.
Feb17

Sebastian Emling und Katja Rakow, Moderne religiöse Erlebniswelten in den USA. “Have Fun and Prepare to Believe!” (Berlin: Reimer Verlag, 2014), 266 pp.

Sebastian Emling und Katja Rakow, Moderne religiöse Erlebniswelten in den USA. “Have Fun and Prepare to Believe!” (Berlin: Reimer Verlag, 2014), 266 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2   Can spirituality be expressed through “modern religious experience worlds?” The answer is in the affirmative. Are religions, when marketed to appeal to broad audiences, inevitably watered down? Not necessarily. The volume documents the outcomes of the DFG-funded project “Moderne religiöse Erlebnisgesellschaften” at the Institute for Religious Studies at the University of Heidelberg and is the first publication in the new book series Transformierte Religionen. The authors, Katja Rakow and Sebastian Emling, present their field research of two key evangelical organizations in the U.S.: the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, and the Creationism Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Lakewood is currently the biggest neo‐pentecostal megachurch in the U.S. attracting over 43,000 people to its seven services each week. In 2005 it moved into a former basketball arena with 9,000 parking spaces, an auditorium featuring 16,000 seats and a huge stage framed by two artificial waterfalls, providing space for a choir, orchestra, and three big screens. Aided by over 4,000 volunteers, the church is headed by Pastor Joel Osteen—the so-called “Smiling Preacher” (Washington Post, January 2005) and “a religious specialist and entrepreneur on the American market of religion” (10)—which also makes the church the site of his eponymous and (inter)nationally broadcasted TV-show. In turn, Lakewood serves both the local and the (inter)national community (96-103). As Rakow comments, the structure and atmosphere of the building is deliberately left neutral and reminds her more of a conference venue than a church (11). A similar observation about the lack of resemblance to a church is made by Emling, who compares the Creationism Museum to a shopping mall (15). Within the first five years since its opening in 2007, the museum has attracted over five million visitors and is led and financed by Answers in Genesis (AiG) with Ken Ham serving as its president. AiG is the most influential and successful American Young Earth-Creationism organization, a Christian-apologetic body with over 300 employees, its own monthly magazine (Answers), and over 900 international radio stations (121). The 6,200m2 complex located at Interstate 275 features not only the museum, a cafeteria, and book and souvenir store but also outdoor facilities such as a lake and a petting zoo. Taken together, the authors make three crucial claims and thereby revise scientific and common preconceptions of evangelicalism especially held by Europeans: First, against the tendency to portray them as hard-liner, conservative fundamentalists who denounce modern technology,[1] both authors present evangelical organizations as heterogeneous, complex, adaptive, and innovative religious providers on the competitive American...

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Felix Krämer, Moral Leaders: Medien, Gender und Glaube in den USA der 1970er und 1980er Jahre (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 416 pp.
Feb17

Felix Krämer, Moral Leaders: Medien, Gender und Glaube in den USA der 1970er und 1980er Jahre (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 416 pp.

Felix Krämer, Moral Leaders: Medien, Gender und Glaube in den USA der 1970er und 1980er Jahre (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), 416 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2     On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot by a deranged man, John Hinckley, Jr. This well-known tidbit of US-American history is one of the examples Felix Krämer uses to illustrate the production of what he calls “moral leadership” in the televised evening news. He locates this figure at the intersection of media production, white hegemonic masculinity, and the new religious politics in the 1970s and 1980s. In contrast to earlier Presidents, like Richard Nixon who, after his resignation, had become so ill he was sent to the hospital and was portrayed in the news as a frail, sickly, and defeated body (119), Reagan “proved” his virility by walking upright into the hospital (159-163, 176-178). There, he was “born again,” not only by surviving a punctured lung and heavy blood loss, but also as an exemplary leader who bested the erratic attack of a madman and showed the magnanimity to forgive him (180). Hinckley, the shooter, who inspired by the movie Taxi Driver had sought to impress actress Jodi Foster through his action, was declared legally insane. In the media coverage, Hinckley and Reagan came to symbolize violent, immoral anomy and decisive, moral leadership respectively, inscribing the dichotomy between good and evil into the public discourse (163-167). In the figure of Reagan, the combination of virility and virtue crystalized, making his blood a relic, the bartering of which made the evening news in 2012 (385).   Felix Krämer is a historian focusing on North America, discourse analysis, and gender studies. The reviewed book, written in German and published in 2015, was adapted from his dissertation submitted to the Westfälische-Whilhelms University, Münster in 2012.In Moral Leaders, Krämer undertook the herculean task of analyzing two decades of evening news of the three major US-American TV stations ABC, CBS, and NBC, translating the audio-visual discourse not only into text but also into German. Critical of an apparent crisis of masculinity during the 1970s and startled by the emergence of the New Christian Right at the end of that decade (386, 387), Krämer studiously examined the evening news to figure out how the media facilitated the enjoining of religious virtue and virility and produced a dispositive of (male, white, heterosexual) moral leadership, cumulating in the figure of the President as pastor.   The first three chapters of the book follow a loosely chronological order, moving from the media portrayal of various insurgent movements and related topics in the 1970s to the emergence of the new...

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Saskia Hertlein und Hermann Josef Schnackertz, eds., The Culture of Catholicism in the United States, American Studies – A Monograph Series 213 (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), 396 pp.
Feb17

Saskia Hertlein und Hermann Josef Schnackertz, eds., The Culture of Catholicism in the United States, American Studies – A Monograph Series 213 (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), 396 pp.

Saskia Hertlein und Hermann Josef Schnackertz, eds., The Culture of Catholicism in the United States, American Studies – A Monograph Series 213 (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), 396 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2   Wie kann man gleichzeitig ein guter Amerikaner und ein guter Katholik sein? Diese Frage treibt katholische und nicht-,  ja antikatholische Amerikaner seit über 200 Jahren um: Auf der einen Seite die dogmatische, hierarische und autoritäre Institution der Kirche mit ihrem unfehlbaren Oberhaupt in Rom, der überdies absoluter Herrscher eines eigenen Staatswesens ist, auf der anderen Seite das selbsternannte neue auserwählte Volk Gottes mit seiner Tradition eines auf Protestantismus, Liberalismus, und englische Tradition gegründeten Demokratie- und Freiheitsverständnisses. Diese durch die katholischen Massenmigrationen des 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts zusätzlich angefeuerte aporetische soziokulturelle Grundkonstellation sorgt weiterhin, auch im 21. Jahrhundert, für gesellschaftspolitischen Zündstoff, obwohl die schlimmsten Konflikte, die sich im Laufe der Zeit immer wieder gewaltsam entluden, ausgestanden scheinen. Der Grunddissens zwischen Katholizismus und „Amerikanismus“ wurde noch bis 1965 durch die Spezifik der vor allem von Papst Leo XIII. und der Neuscholastik entwickelten katholischen Staatsdoktrin verschärft, nach der eine Trennung von Staat und Kirche nicht zuletzt in einem Staat mit katholischer Mehrheit nicht in Frage kam. Erst die Erklärung über die Religionsfreiheit des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils hat diese kirchlich-naturrechtliche Selbstpositionierung der römischen Kirche  aufgehoben und damit faktisch einer Amerikanisierung der Weltkirche im Sinne einer kooperativen Trennung von Staat und Kirche ohne laizistische Ideologie den Weg gebahnt. Dennoch bleibt der Katholizismus aus mancherlei Gründen ein Fremdkörper im kulturellen Organismus der Vereinigten Staaten, wie der inhärente Antikatholizismus aktueller amerikanischer TV-Serien belegt. Eine mit herausragenden Kennern der Kulturgeschichte des amerikanischen Katholizismus besetzte Konferenz der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt unter Federführung des leider viel zu früh verstorbenen Kollegen Hermann Josef Schnackertz  und Saskia Hertleins hat sich dieser vielschichtigen Problematik angenommen und ihre Ergebnisse nun in einem profunden Sammelband vorgelegt. Leider fehlt dem Band eine systematische Historisierung dessen, was in der US-amerikanischen Geschichte eigentlich unter Trennung von Staat und Kirche verstanden wurde, und wie sich die katholische Kirche jeweils dazu verhielt.  Das 19. Jahrhundert kannte im Grunde keinen wall of separation, eine Doktrin, die erst seit 1948 die verfassungsrechtliche Basis für die kirchenpolitischen Entscheidungen des United States Supreme Court bildet. Für die katholische Kirche und den Katholizismus hatte dies ambivalente Folgen. Man profitierte einerseits von der Abkehr von identitätspolitischen Vorstellungen, die Protestantismus und amerikanische Freiheitstradition einfach gleichsetzten. Auf der anderen Seite engte die mehr und mehr auf Abgrenzung denn auf Kooperation setzende staatskirchenrechtliche Doktrin des obersten Bundesgerichts die Spielräume katholischer Selbstentfaltung ein. Doch davon später. Nach einer knappen Einleitung, der es freilich an einer präzisen Definition, ja sogar überhaupt an einer Diskussion der beiden zentralen...

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Brycchan Carey and Geoffrey Plank, eds., Quakers and Abolition (Urbana, Ill: U of Illinois P, 2014), 233 pp.
Feb17

Brycchan Carey and Geoffrey Plank, eds., Quakers and Abolition (Urbana, Ill: U of Illinois P, 2014), 233 pp.

Brycchan Carey and Geoffrey Plank, eds., Quakers and Abolition (Urbana, Ill: U of Illinois P, 2014), 233 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2     As Gary Nash writes in the final chapter of Quakers and Abolition, “The story of Quaker leadership in the abolition movement has been known and proudly recounted by Friends and friends of Friends for two centuries […] yet public consciousness [about their activism] remains largely as it was in the days of our grandparents” (209).  While Nash intends this quote to introduce his own exploration of the memory of Quaker antislavery, it also serves as a fitting conclusion to this volume, highlighting one of the chief accomplishments of the work as a whole. To those scholars unfamiliar with the Religious Society of Friends or with its work on behalf of antislavery, Quakers and Abolition provides an excellent introduction.  Each chapter illuminates important aspects of the history and theology of Quakerism, deftly navigating the reader through the at times perplexing features of Quaker faith and practice.  At the same time, this volume proves much more than a primer or summary, and scholars well versed in the history of abolitionism will learn much from its contents.  Editors Brychan Carey and Geoffrey Plank bring together an impressive set of scholars whose contributions offer a richer and more complex portrait of Friends’ involvement in and leadership of the transatlantic antislavery movement than we have to date. Too often, as in the 2006 film, Amazing Grace, Friends have been reduced to a mere presence in more mainstream scholarship regarding abolition.  Silent, stoic, (and somewhat stodgy), they remain stock characters in the drama of antislavery.  They are witnesses to the action but rarely its protagonists; as a result, they often linger at the margins and in the shadows of the narrative.  What’s more, even those authors who highlight the Society’s involvement with antislavery tend toward an overly simplistic understanding of Friends: too often, these Quakers are good, moral, unyielding—the voice and conscience of a people.  While appealing in its positivity, this portrayal is equally as distortive and erases the wide range of actions (and inaction) by Society members.  There are, of course, notable exceptions—scholars such as David Bryon Davis and Christopher Brown, both often cited by the volume’s contributors, highlight the complex political, economic, and social terrain navigated by worldly Friends—but by and large, two-dimensional caricatures have prevailed. Quakers and Abolition seeks to correct these reductive analyses.  Each of the essays grew out of presentations from the stimulating and productive “Quakers and Slavery, 1657-1865” conference organized by Carey and Plank and held in Philadelphia in 2010.  Taking place over three days...

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Ulrich Rosenhagen, Brudermord, Freiheitsdrang, Weltenrichter. Religiöse Kommunikation und öffentliche Theologie in der amerikanischen Revolutionsepoche (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2015), 370 pp.
Feb17

Ulrich Rosenhagen, Brudermord, Freiheitsdrang, Weltenrichter. Religiöse Kommunikation und öffentliche Theologie in der amerikanischen Revolutionsepoche (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2015), 370 pp.

Ulrich Rosenhagen, Brudermord, Freiheitsdrang, Weltenrichter. Religiöse Kommunikation und öffentliche Theologie in der amerikanischen Revolutionsepoche (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2015), 370 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2   Die Heidelberger Dissertation im Fach Systematische Theologie des lutheranischen Pfarrers und als Dozent am Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions der University of Wisconsin in Madison/Wisc. tätigen Ulrich Rosenhagen präsentiert sich als Anwendung des aktuell intensiv diskutierten Konzepts der sogenannten Öffentlichen Theologie auf das historische Beispiel, die religiös aufgeladene Rhetorik im Vorfeld und Verlauf der Amerikanischen Revolution ca. 1763-1783. Gerade die Evangelische Kirche von Kurhessen-Waldeck, der sich Rosenhagen eng verbunden fühlt (S. IX), ist mehrfach in den letzten Jahren mit vehementen Plädoyers zu dieser Form der Theologie hervorgetreten, die Lehrkonzepte Martin Luthers aufgreift.[1] Rosenhagen argumentiert in gewisser Weise pro domo und zugunsten der Bedeutung eigener Positionen, Praktiken und Prämissen, wenn er der protestantischen Religion, deren prominenten Vertretern, den Pfarrern, und biblisch verbrämter Rhetorik in Britisch-Nordamerika bzw. in den gerade formierten USA eine wesentliche Rolle bei den entscheidenden Phasen der Revolution zuschreibt. An dem Punkt ist zu bedenken, dass diese positive Einschätzung aus der  sichernden Rückschau der Sieger in der Geschichte erfolgt: unter heutigen Verhältnissen könnten in bestimmten Weltgegenden, auch in den USA, Geistliche, die ihre Gemeinden zum Kampf gegen tradierte Obrigkeiten und Machtverhältnisse aufrufen, als sogenannte ‚Hassprediger’ oder Befürworter einer fundamentalistischen Propaganda bezeichnet werden, die für weltliche Ziele die allgemein akzeptierte Autorität religiöser Basistexte instrumentalisieren.   Rosenhagen vermittelt den Eindruck, dass ausschließlich protestantische Pfarrer im Neuengland der 1770er Jahren das Beste für ihre bedrängten Schäflein zumindest verbal erkämpfen wollten, jenes Beste allein durch den Protestantismus in Nordamerika entstanden und in der protestantischen Religion die Einheit von Glaube und Freiheit gegeben sei.   Diese Thesen sowie grundlegende Begriffe und Forschungsansätze werden in der Einleitung (S. 1-37) und im ersten Teil mit der Hinführung zum eigentlichen Untersuchungsobjekt (S. 41-62) kurz vorgestellt, ehe dann eine bekannte Karikatur von 1769 An Attempt to land a Bishop in America die anglikanische Bischofskontroverse aufgreift und über die Stamp Act Crisis von 1764 zur Rezeption eines zum Massaker aufgeblähten Scharmützels in Boston 1773 überleitet. Die Unabhängigkeitserklärung der 13 Kolonien von 1776, der Schlüsseltext, der den eigentlich revolutionären, den alles verändernden Akt der Unabhängigkeit darstellt und vollzieht, steht in unmittelbarer Nachbarschaft zu Zeugnissen von sekundärer Bedeutung, die mit konkreten militärischen Ängsten und sozialen Traumen korrespondieren, die auch in der Jeffersonschen Erklärung angesprochen werden. Rosenhagen beschäftigt sich mit Flugblättern des Kontinentalkongresses, mit denen deutsche Militärs im Dienste Königs Georg III. unter Verweis auf den zürnenden alttestamentarischen Gott zum Desertieren und zur Übernahme amerikanischer Genüsse (Landeigentum, Freiheit, Sicherheit) bewegt werden sollten. (S. 63-124).   Besondere Beachtung schenkt der Autor in Teil II...

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Stephanie Kirk and Sarah Rivett, eds., Religious Transformations in the Early Modern Americas (U of Pennsylvania P, 2014), 360 pp.
Feb17

Stephanie Kirk and Sarah Rivett, eds., Religious Transformations in the Early Modern Americas (U of Pennsylvania P, 2014), 360 pp.

Stephanie Kirk and Sarah Rivett, eds., Religious Transformations in the Early Modern Americas (U of Pennsylvania P, 2014), 360 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.1     The history of empire and religion in the Americas remains as politically relevant as ever. Pope Francis, as the first Latin American pope, was reminded of this last year when he first apologized for the “grave sins committed against the native people of America in the name of God” during his tour of Latin America, and then generated protests a few months later when he canonized Junípero Serra, the controversial eighteenth-century Franciscan friar and missionary in California loved by some and accused by others of suppressing Amerindian culture and imposing Christianity by force. Over the past 30 years, scholars have sought to understand the history of religion in the Americas in increasingly nuanced ways that move beyond mere accusations, apologies or apologetics. One of the most recent contributions to this scholarship is the new essay collection Religious Transformations, which considers not just how European Christianity shaped the peoples and cultures of the Americas, but how their experiences in the Americas reshaped European religious traditions and practice. In Religious Transformations, editors Stephanie Kirk (Spanish Dept., Washington University of St Louis) and Sarah Rivett (English Dept., Princeton University) have brought together renowned scholars to analyze and compare the histories of Ibero-Catholic and Anglo-Protestant empires through what they call the “provocative” lens of religion. The comparative colonial context is uniquely suited to this task. The essays in this cross-disciplinary volume reflect on the complexity and variety of the colonial world in its intimate relationship to Christian belief and practice, “while also maintaining nuanced attention to the particularities of a diverse range of communities and experiences” (20). Through case studies examining cartography, demonology, or missiology among others, each of the essays examines how “Christianity changed as a result of Atlantic transit into new forms of faith, ecclesiology, and theology” (1). One of the main interests of the collection is to problematize the common assumption that Anglo-Protestantism alone brought modernity to the New World—a part of the exceptionalist paradigm reinforced by the “Black Legend,” according to which the Spanish regime was particularly brutal and cruel towards Native peoples while the English were more benign. The articles in the book seek to present new connections across what has been seen as “an Anglo-Protestant versus an Iberian-Catholic paradigm,” emphasizing how they were parallel endeavors, linking “religious ideas and legal government to the organization and maintenance of a colonial community that also sought to extend its boundaries through missionary projects” (21). For communities seeking new beginnings in New Spain or New...

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Heike Brandt, Invented Traditions: Die Puritaner und das amerikanische Sendungsbewusstsein [Schriften der Forschungsstelle Grundlagen Kulturwissenschaft. Bd. 4] (N.P.: Verlag Karl Stutz, 2011), 292 pp.
Feb17

Heike Brandt, Invented Traditions: Die Puritaner und das amerikanische Sendungsbewusstsein [Schriften der Forschungsstelle Grundlagen Kulturwissenschaft. Bd. 4] (N.P.: Verlag Karl Stutz, 2011), 292 pp.

Heike Brandt, Invented Traditions: Die Puritaner und das amerikanische Sendungsbewusstsein [Schriften der Forschungsstelle Grundlagen Kulturwissenschaft. Bd. 4] (N.P.: Verlag Karl Stutz, 2011), 292 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2     “Uppon the first sight of New-England, June 29, 1638”                           Hayle holy-land wherin our holy lord                         Hath planted his most true and holy word                         Hayle happye people who have dispossest                         Your selves of friends, and meanes, to find some rest                         For your poore wearied soules, opprest of late                         For Jesus-sake                                                 . . .                         Come my deare little flocke, who for my sake                         Have lefte your Country, dearest friends, and goods                         And hazarded your lives o’th raginge floods                         Posses this Country; free from all anoye                         Heare I’le bee with you, hear you shall Injoye                         My Sabbaths, sacraments, my minestrye                         And ordinances in their puritye.                                                                                     Thomas Tillam                             Escaped from the house of bondage, Israel of old did not follow after the ways of the Egyptians. To her was given an express dispensation; to her were given new things under the sun. And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people—the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. Seventy years ago we escaped from thrall; and, besides our first birthright—embracing one continent of earth—God has given to us, for a future inheritance, the broad domains of the political pagans, that shall yet come and lie down under the shade of our ark, without bloody hands being lifted. God has predestinated, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are the pioneers of the world; the advance-guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours. . . . Long enough, have we been skeptics with regard to ourselves, and doubted whether, indeed, the political Messiah had come. But he has come in us, if we would but give utterance to his promptings. And let us always remember that with ourselves, almost for the first time in the history of earth, national selfishness is unbounded philanthropy; for we can not do a good to America but we give alms to the world. Herman Melville, White-Jacket (1850)     Intellectuals wince at the jingoistic rhetoric prevalent in American oratory, especially when unctuous politicians running for high office invoke lofty metaphors of the “Citty upon a Hill”: We Americans are a chosen people on an errand to bring freedom and democracy...

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Abram C. van Engen, Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (New York: Oxford UP, 2015), xii + 311 pp.
Feb17

Abram C. van Engen, Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (New York: Oxford UP, 2015), xii + 311 pp.

Abram C. van Engen, Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (New York: Oxford UP, 2015), xii + 311 pp. Amerikastudien/American Studies, 61.2     Anyone who picks up a copy of Sympathetic Puritans might wince at what purports to be something of an oxymoron: “Sympathetic Puritans”? Are you kidding me? Whatever happened to H.L. Menken’s old gibe, “A Puritan is one who is afraid that someone, somewhere, is having fun,” or: when the Puritans arrived on New England’s shore, they first “fell on their knees and then on the Indians.”? Clichés about witch-crazed Puritan killjoys and hardnosed Indian haters are more popular than ever, and Professor van Engen’s fine book, I am afraid, is not going to change anyone’s mind reared on Jonathan Edwards’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, let alone Hawthorne’s obligatory high-school read, “Young Goodman Brown” or his classic The Scarlet Letter (A+). If anything, Adam Simon’s and Brannan Braga’s serialized TV drama Salem (2014), now in its third season, will only boost our national obsession with dour superstitious Puritan zealots who gave us Cotton Mather, Salem witchcraft and, yes, Thanksgiving! To be sure, van Engen’s Sympathetic Puritans is about none of the above. Quite to the contrary, it posits that a “Calvinist theology of sympathy shaped the politics, religion, and literature of seventeenth-century New England” and that the manifestation of “fellow feeling and mutual affections” among the elect served as visible markers to distinguish the community of saints from carnal hypocrites (2). As is well known, the early seminal conflict between John Cotton’s sudden Pauline conversion and Thomas Shepard’s preparational theology constituted the stone of stumbling in the formative Antinomian Controversy. It pitted the followers of John Cotton and Anne Hutchinson with their emphasis on a rapturous conversion (like that of Paul on the road to Damascus) against those who embraced a gradualist conversion morphology as codified in the “preparationism” of Shepard and his father-in-law Thomas Hooker. The latter defined the ordo salutis as a drawn-out process of successive stages—contrition, humiliation, vocation (grace), justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification—which became normative in New England. They knew that undergoing conversion could be an emotional rollercoaster of the first order. For instance, the posthumously published account of Joanna Drake’s harrowing experience, in The Firebrand Taken Out of the Fire (1647, 1654), testifies to the agony of one caught in the maelstrom of self-condemnation engulfing the rock of assurance. Those familiar with Thomas Hooker’s oft-reprinted vademecum Poor Doubting Christian Drawn unto Christ (1628) or with John Bunyan’s popular allegory Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) can testify to Christian’s doleful encounter with Giant Despair and the Slough...

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Jan Stievermann, Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity: Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures in Cotton Mather’s “Biblia Americana” (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 493 pp.
Feb17

Jan Stievermann, Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity: Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures in Cotton Mather’s “Biblia Americana” (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 493 pp.

Jan Stievermann, Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity: Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures in Cotton Mather’s “Biblia Americana” (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 493 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.2     Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity is a rarity in this day of ideologically inflected cultural history, a lucid fusion of textual, intellectual, theological, and literary history that confirms Jan Stievermann’s place among the very best historians of early America on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the hands of someone less talented than Stievermann, a description of how Cotton Mather developed his commentaries on the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles (Song of Solomon), Isaiah, and Jeremiah for the “Biblia Americana” he spent so much of his life preparing could easily become unreadable.  Here, instead, we have a book that is informative, interesting, and astute at every turn.   Stievermann’s purpose of this book is three-fold: first, to identify the writers on whom Cotton Mather drew in developing his commentary; second, to identify the challenges—exegetical, historical, theological, and the like—Mather was facing and how, in the context of those challenges, he juggled his sources; and third, to place Mather in the “evidentialist” turn of c. 1700, that is, the moment when orthodox Protestants began to rely on external (historical) evidence to validate the singularity of the Bible as divine revelation.   Not that Mather ever doubted the principle that the Bible was perceived and understood through a spiritual sense or that he questioned the orthodoxy he inherited from the Reformed tradition.  But the times demanded something else by way of proof, a transition Stievermann sees through the lens of Hans Frei’s The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (1974).    Each of these tasks required not only close attention to the manuscript commentaries, which Stievermann has published separately, but also to the many writers on whom Mather depended—some more than others, for like Calvin before him, he borrowed source material from compilations or commentaries that his contemporaries had assembled.   What emerges from all this work is an excitingly astute survey of pan-European exegetical and historical scholarship on ancient Israel, biblical geography, philology (before there was such a field), natural history, and the like, scholarship in the service of reaffirming or, as in the case of Grotius, challenging the singular authority of Scripture.  But for Stievermann, all of this information is prolegomena to his real purpose, namely, to establish Cotton Mather’s modernity—or proto-modernity—as someone who began to practice a “representational-factualist model of biblical realism” even as he remained a thoroughly traditional exegete who took for granted “the absolute veracity and infallibility of biblical narratives” and a  Christianized reading of the Hebrew Bible (7).  Moreover,...

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ELIZABETH MADDOCK DILLON, New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1949-1849 (Durham and London: Duke UP, 2014), 368 pp.
Jan04

ELIZABETH MADDOCK DILLON, New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1949-1849 (Durham and London: Duke UP, 2014), 368 pp.

ELIZABETH MADDOCK DILLON, New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1949-1849 (Durham and London: Duke UP, 2014), 368 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.1   In New World Drama, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon aims at nothing less than a conceptual and methodological re-conceptualization of early American theatre and drama. Her study critically addresses, challenges, and revises the coordinates that have traditionally informed scholarly debates in this field. In fact, theatre and drama have been routinely exempted from most deliberations of early American literature. In contrast to the few critics who have focused on a performative tradition that simultaneously envisions and enacts “America” as concept and reality, Dillon works within a transatlantic framework which allows her to develop a new critical narrative “that is colonial and Atlantic in scope rather than solely national and one that focuses on scenes of representation, embodiment, and erasure in theatrical spaces as well as the layered and contrapuntal performances of colonial relations therein” (223). Published in Duke University Press’s prestigious New Americanists series edited by Donald E. Pease, Dillon’s book thus adds to the growing body of scholarship in transnational American studies. It is no surprise, then, that the chronological reach of Dillon’s study—which begins with the execution of King Charles I. in London in 1649 and concludes with the mid-nineteenth-century theatre riots in New York City—sits uneasily with common periodizations of early American literature that usually focus on a post-revolutionary struggle for cultural emancipation from British and European role models. Her choice to begin her study at the height of Puritan rule in England and to end it with the democratic clamor of antebellum theatre riots is an apt one since it allows her to illustrate what she perceives as the central developments in theatre and drama in a circum-Atlantic world.          Building on the recent transnational turn in American studies, Dillon’s introductory chapter outlines the methodological premises and core arguments of her study. It argues that the Atlantic world of the seventeenth to the eighteenth century saw the rise of a “performative commons.” This new way of imagining collective identities, Dillon claims, is the result of transforming an earlier collective form of ownership and access to limited public resources into the abstract notion of a collectivity that imagines itself as the carrier of “popular sovereignty” and fundamental political rights. For Dillon, this new “virtual body” has less a material than an aesthetic and figurative shape. Informed by Jacques Rancière’s theories of spectatorship and Erving Goffman’s notion of audience participation, Dillon locates the formation of this “performative commons” in scenes from playhouses around the Atlantic rim where audiences become actively involved in...

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CLAUDIA HOLLER AND MARTIN KLEPPER, EDS., Re-Thinking Narrative Identity (Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2013), 209 pp.
Jan04

CLAUDIA HOLLER AND MARTIN KLEPPER, EDS., Re-Thinking Narrative Identity (Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2013), 209 pp.

CLAUDIA HOLLER AND MARTIN KLEPPER, EDS., Re-Thinking Narrative Identity (Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2013), 209 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies 61.1     The concept of narrative identity has made a remarkable career in the past few decades. Philosophers, psychologists, and literary scholars as diverse as Paul Ricoeur, Donald Polkinghorne, and Paul John Eakin have contributed to its wide transdisciplinary proliferation, and it is hard to imagine what literary and cultural studies would look like without it. One might even argue that “narrative identity” is by now so firmly established in contemporary narrative theorizing and analysis that many of its once innovative, provocative assumptions have turned into shopworn slogans—“life as narrative” (Jerome Bruner), “how our lives become stories” (Eakin), the “storied self” (Dan P. McAdams), and so forth. The present volume takes its departure from these interdisciplinary certainties and asks whether we have to revise and expand the concept in the wake of recent disciplinary approaches as well as far-reaching changes in our life-worlds that include matters of globalization and migration, bio-technological developments, and gender-related transformations. The volume thus sets out to reinvestigate and reframe narrative identity in the light of these issues as well as with regard to “new concerns in narrative literature, new arguments in philosophy and psychology and new approaches in narratological research” and asks how these may “add to our notion of narrative identity” (4). In short, the volume addresses the precariousness of the concept of narrative identity at a moment in time at which identities seem more fragmented, pluralized, relational, and de-essentialized than ever before. Rethinking Narrative Identity zeroes in on these questions by suggesting a conceptual framework that highlights the significance of perspective and persona in research on narrative identity. The volume’s ten chapters present contributions from a variety of (inter‑)disciplinary angles, from psychology (Mark Freeman, Gabriele Lucius-Hoene) through philosophy (Wolfgang Kraus, Norbert Meuter), and linguistics (Jarmila Mildorf), and has a strong foothold in literary and cultural studies (Martin Klepper, Rüdiger Heinze, Kim L. Worthington, Eveline Kilian, Eva Brunner, Nicole Frey Büchel). While the discussed material includes a number of non-fictional texts (e.g., narrative interviews), the majority of the articles are concerned with literary fiction and autobiography, very much in keeping with the Ricoeurian notion that literature often provides the aesthetic and ethical models for all other forms of identity construction through storytelling. The volume’s conceptual framework is laid out in Martin Klepper’s substantial introductory chapter on “Rethinking narrative identity: Persona and perspective,” which alone is worth getting the book. In it, Klepper outlines the crises that the notion of narrative identity has undergone as well as the challenges and aporias it has...

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CHRISTINE MARKS, “I Am because You Are”: Relationality in the Works of Siri Hustvedt (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 234 pp.
Jan04

CHRISTINE MARKS, “I Am because You Are”: Relationality in the Works of Siri Hustvedt (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 234 pp.

CHRISTINE MARKS, “I Am because You Are”: Relationality in the Works of Siri Hustvedt (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 234 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies 61.1   In her study “I Am because You Are”: Relationality in the Works of Siri Hustvedt (2014), Christine Marks analyzes Hustvedt’s fictional and non-fictional works, including the latest novel The Blazing World (2014). Marks approaches Hustvedt’s works with an intersubjective focus which presupposes that Hustvedt “finds intersubjectivity to be the basis for a healthy development of the self and scrutinizes the detrimental effects of American society’s failure to promote relational identity formation” (2). Identity for Hustvedt, as Marks argues, is “relational, focusing on the interdependencies that shape identity and the physical connectedness between self and world” (3), thus she creates “relational models of identity” (3). Marks’s analysis of the relationship of self and other, that is, of the relationality of the characters in Siri Hustvedt’s fiction, is based on an extensive discussion of relevant philosophical theories as put forward by, for example, Friedrich Hegel, Martin Buber, Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emanuel Levinas, Jacques Lacan, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Mikhail Bakhtin. Concepts such as the master-slave constellation, the mirror stage, the power of the gaze, and dialogism serve as starting points for an in-depth and well-versed discussion of Hustvedt’s fiction, which often also draws on selected essays by the author. The study, originally submitted as a dissertation in American Studies at the University of Mainz, proceeds from a detailed chapter on philosophies of intersubjectivity via a discussion of vision and the visual arts in Hustvedt’s work, to a systematic analysis of identity and the boundaries of the body that are questioned in cases of hysteria and anorexia nervosa, and finally to a discussion of attachment, loss, and grief and how characters in Hustvedt’s fiction deal with the sudden emptiness of place through the absence of the other. Photography is one of the media used in Hustvedt’s fiction to delineate the unstable positions and identifications of self and other. Although photography, just like the mirror image, might suggest an authentic and true representation of the self and then may potentially fill the hole in the self, it is used by Hustvedt to show how such images can contradict one’s own self-image and how they potentially distort the subject because of the subjective choice of “an isolated fragment” (91). Photographs, because they hardly ever correspond to people’s self-image, indicate “a feeling of absence, fragmentation, and disorientation” (93), as Marks observes with reference to Iris Vegan, the protagonist of Hustvedt’s debut novel The Blindfold (1992). The power of the self is given up in the moment of transition from being...

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BIRGIT M. BAURIDL, Betwixt, Between, or Beyond? Negotiating Transformations from the Liminal Sphere of Contemporary Black Performance Poetry (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 326 pp.
Jan04

BIRGIT M. BAURIDL, Betwixt, Between, or Beyond? Negotiating Transformations from the Liminal Sphere of Contemporary Black Performance Poetry (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 326 pp.

BIRGIT M. BAURIDL, Betwixt, Between, or Beyond? Negotiating Transformations from the Liminal Sphere of Contemporary Black Performance Poetry (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), 326 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies 61.1   Representing the “first study of contemporary black performance poetry from the viewpoint of transnational American Studies” (back cover), Birgit Bauridl’s Betwixt, Between, or Beyond? pursues two overall goals: first, the study intends to demonstrate “the significance of performance poetry for the American cultural landscape” by discussing it in the light of key issues, terms, and concepts arising from cultural studies, such as memory, identity, and the emergence of communities across national boundaries, including a transnational American Studies framework; second, it aims to illuminate the reciprocal advantages of employing ideas from performance studies and transnational American Studies to understand performance poetry (273). Bauridl’s approach of viewing performance poetry through the double-lens of performative studies and transnational American studies, on the one hand, and her use of performance poetry as a platform to negotiate various ideas and concepts relevant to performance poetry, on the other hand, give it due critical weight to performance poetry and also show her extensive and detailed knowledge of theories and performance poetry as well as their respective historical developments. The first chapter, “Taking Notes: Roots, Perspectives, and Goals,” serves as a general introduction to her following chapters and covers a lot of ground. It touches upon diverse issues such as her definition of the term “contemporary performance poetry,” her quest for ‘material’ in rural and urban America and the difficulties of establishing a corpus of performance poetry, a short history of performance poetry (here: slam poetry) from its emergence in the 1980s to the present, and the ‘transnational turn’ in American Studies. Having established the necessity of looking at “contemporary black performance poetry from the vista point of the transnational” (49) and defining “the transnational” as a “‘category of analysis’” (49), Bauridl moves on to discuss and adapt concepts from performance studies to the needs of performance poetry, especially the concept of liminality. Chapter 2, “Rehearsal: Fine-Tuning the Concept,” first provides the readers with an overview of the multifaceted ‘discipline’ of performance studies, its emergence, the major figures and their theories, and important critical debates. It then presents a heterogeneous group of concepts that are relevant to her discussion of performance poetry, including Erika Fischer-Lichte’s concept of Aufführung, and the concepts of ritual, liminality, and social drama, which were primarily developed by Victor Turner and Richard Schechner. “Fine-tuning” these concepts to fit performance poetry in the subchapter entitled “Approaching Performance Poetry,” she argues, for instance, that performance poetry displays characteristics of the ritual and, most importantly, occurs...

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MATTHEW STRATTON, The Politics of Irony in American Modernism (New York: Fordham UP, 2013), 304 pp.
Jan04

MATTHEW STRATTON, The Politics of Irony in American Modernism (New York: Fordham UP, 2013), 304 pp.

MATTHEW STRATTON, The Politics of Irony in American Modernism (New York: Fordham UP, 2013), 304 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.1   We live in a post-ironic age, or so much contemporary criticism would have us believe. Ironically enough, however, as Matthew Stratton points out in The Politics of Irony in American Modernism, the discourse on the obsolescence and end of irony is hardly new. Its repeated pronouncement must be understood, he argues, as “recurrent symptoms of a chronic disease within the body politic” (3) that has seen irony invoked in lieu of the issues that are actually under debate. Stratton’s book argues that an analysis of the uses of the term “cast as much light upon the values of the user […] as it does upon the object of the characterization” (8). The Politics of Irony in American Modernism is thus precisely about the question of what the various uses of the term irony really meant and which politics were mobilized or obscured through invoking it. To speak about irony all too often involves exclusive definitions of irony, and indeed the study of modernist irony is no exception. A prime example of this may be Franco Moretti’s suggestion that though irony is an “indispensible component of any critical, democratic and progressive culture, its modernist version has a dark side with which we are not familiar enough.”[1] It is precisely these attempts to say what irony “had” or “was” that Stratton’s study counteracts by its insistence on reading irony in its specific usages. Modernism in Stratton’s reading is a “particularly influential period where ‘irony’ exploded as a term to describe features not only of life and art of the possibilities for aesthetics to orient the lives of social individuals toward political goals” (5). Stratton is not interested in defining the highly complex term “irony” and looking for it in modernist novels; rather, his—let it be said straight away, excellent—study traces the “particular ways in which writers in both canonical modernism and mass culture (with no particular divide adduced between them) used the term ‘irony’ to describe themselves, their texts, and their world” (10). The term irony is used, as Stratton points out, by different authors and critics in different ways for different ends, but in all of these individual manifestations of modernist irony, “the concept […] came to represent intersections between politics and aesthetic practices” (13). In other words, it is a form of mobilizing literature’s integral potential as a praxis “to bring about, affect, and effect the field of ‘the political’” (14). Stratton’s four chapters span forty years from the 1910s to the 1950s. The first chapter, “The...

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JAMES NAGEL, Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories: Kate Chopin, Grace King, Alice Dunbar-Nelson & George Washington Cable (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2014), 208 pp.
Jan04

JAMES NAGEL, Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories: Kate Chopin, Grace King, Alice Dunbar-Nelson & George Washington Cable (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2014), 208 pp.

JAMES NAGEL, Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories: Kate Chopin, Grace King, Alice Dunbar-Nelson & George Washington Cable (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2014), 208 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.1   James Nagel, a prolific scholar with many books on nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction to his credit, among them a monograph on contemporary short story cycles, has turned his attention to collections of short stories published in the Deep South between the late 1870s and 1900. Focusing on four collections of stories reflecting the very complex social reality of New Orleans, he provides close readings of more than fifty stories by one male and three women writers. Their fiction, in complementary fashion, captures the unique blend of ethnic and linguistic diversity shaping this city and its hinterland in Louisiana. His analyses of the first story cycles of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin and the early New Orleans story circle of Alice Dunbar-Nelson are preceded by a detailed explication of the historical context, with special emphasis on the social regulations concerning racial divides and conventional arrangements like plaçage, which fostered the originally frequent disregard of these barriers in the rigid social caste system there. Nagel explains how the Code Noir observed in the French colony remained in effect under American rule and persisted after 1865 when the racial stratification was disregarded and collapsed into two classes even prior to the adoption of the Jim Crow laws. Nagel also clarifies the different uses of the ambiguous term “Creole” in nineteenth-century texts, referring either to the descendants of French and Spanish colonials or to “Creoles of color,” and provides many instructive comments on and corrections of readings by earlier interpreters (of the stories by the four writers) which have overlooked specific social conventions. One of his primary concerns seems to be to demonstrate the cohesion of the four volumes chosen, and his argument for each book thus includes observations on the recurrence of types and characters, of constellations of figures and their preoccupations, on themes and motifs, and the functional use of the perspective of characters in whom the individual authors are primarily interested. In his appreciation of the narrative art of the four writers, Nagel illuminates the problems and often tragic consequences of social restrictions, including the prohibition of interracial relationships in the most private sphere of life. The sequence of the names of the authors in the subtitle of the book does not correspond to the order in which they are treated, as Nagel first considers Old Creole Days, Cable’s first collection, which apparently “initiated the use of the Crescent City as a subject for cyclic...

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GARY SCHARNHORST ED., Twain in His Own Time (Iowa City, U of Iowa P, 2010), 348 pp.
Jan04

GARY SCHARNHORST ED., Twain in His Own Time (Iowa City, U of Iowa P, 2010), 348 pp.

GARY SCHARNHORST ED., Twain in His Own Time (Iowa City, U of Iowa P, 2010), 348 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies 61.1   The anthology Twain in His Own Time is the first volume of a series called Writers in Their Own Time edited by the eminent scholar Joel Myerson. The series has so far anthologized the memories of the contemporaries of sixteen American authors—among them Frederick Douglass, Emily Dickinson and Abraham Lincoln. According to Myerson, the goal of the series is to foster a holistic understanding of “the lives of American writers” by “[p]roviding the best first-hand accounts—published and unpublished, adulatory and critical—written by both famous and forgotten contemporaries.”[1] Gary Scharnhorst, the editor of Twain in His Own Time, is a distinguished scholar of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and a leading Twain scholar, who has published four volumes about the prominent American writer. Among these publications is an authoritative collection of Twain’s interviews that was printed by the University of Alabama Press in 2006. Twain in His Own Time features an introduction by Gary Scharnhorst, a detailed chronology of Twain’s life and a bibliography as well as an index. The heart of the anthology is the ninety-four anecdotes that contemporaries of Twain remembered about their encounters with the American writer. The memories span over a time of several decades and are organized chronologically. They voice the recollections of such gravitational figures of Twain’s life like his mother, his daughters, fellow pilots of the Mississippi River, his illustrators E.M. Kemble and Dan Beard, as well as politicians and coeval literary figures. The lengths of the memories range from one to six pages. For every recollection, Scharnhorst provides a short introduction, which situates the anecdote in the fitting historical moment of Twain’s life. With the anthology Twain in His Own Time, Scharnhorst wants to cut through the veil of Mark Twain’s carefully constructed public persona. Like almost every successful artist, Twain was a marketing genius and meticulously controlled the materialization of his artistic self. Scharnhorst postulates that the selected ninety-four recollections of Twain’s contemporaries pierce through his public mask. He argues that the assembled voices of diverse contemporaries will enable readers to see Mark Twain in a new, much more sophisticated light. He states further that this collaborative biographical method will capture the complex personality of Mark Twain in a way no single biography can. The mosaic pictures that the diverse anecdotes provide expand the limited perception of any biographer. In this sense, one of the implicit goals of the anthology Twain in His Own Time, as well as the series Writers in Their Own Time,is...

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BABETTE BÄRBEL TISCHLEDER, The Literary Life of Things. Case Studies in American Fiction (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2014), 292 pp.
Jan04

BABETTE BÄRBEL TISCHLEDER, The Literary Life of Things. Case Studies in American Fiction (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2014), 292 pp.

BABETTE BÄRBEL TISCHLEDER, The Literary Life of Things. Case Studies in American Fiction (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2014), 292 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies 61.1   Of the current scholarship driving the material turn in literary studies, Babette Tischleder’s The Literary Life of Things is a major contribution to critical efforts intent on disentangling the complicated relationship between American fiction and material culture. Using a dual narrative trajectory, the study not only expands current theories informing thing studies and material culture but demonstrates the pervasiveness with which object-oriented ontologies informed American fiction from the mid-nineteenth- to the twenty-first century. In the first trajectory, the introduction offers a précis of current criticism discussing what is at stake when we as humans claim that the very things that are not human impact our lives but also have a life of their own. In a refreshing move that foregrounds the semantics of “life” over that of “things,” Tischleder calls attention to the psychological implications that inform the fictional representation of subject/object relationships as they unfold in both space and time.Positioned this way, the studytakes measure of the mostly Marxist driven field of thing theories and their various object-centered arguments. Moving deftly from Arjan Appadurai and Igor Kopytoff’s take on commodification and the social life of things to Marcel Mauss and John Frow’s competing notions of gift economies, the author’s argument for the importance of matter’s agency is motivated by two thinkers in particular. On the one hand, The Literary Life of Things gains much of its momentum from Bruno Latour’s almost giddy praise of literary studies in Reassembling the Social (2005), where he argues that unlike empirical data, literature provides a “freer” environment for exploring material life. On the other hand, Tischleder also takes a page from Hannah Arendt’s classic The Human Condition (1958) and its postulation that the tangibility of experience is a key feature of world-making just as the material process of reification is crucial for turning actions into the stuff of future memories. Calling on an array of theorists, ranging from D. W. Winnicott to Gaston Bachelard to Pierre Bourdieu, the book asks readers not only to find new ways that include nonhuman objects into our interpretive calculus of knowledge production but to consider the question of how fiction enables objects to come alive in rather than around us. The study’s second trajectory consists of five case studies in which the author puts her working questions into action by tracking the nexus between the human and the material in select works of American fiction. The application of contextual sources and interdisciplinary methodologies cannot hide the influence of Bill Brown’s seminal...

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KRISTEN CASE, American Pragmatism and Poetic Practice: Crosscurrents from Emerson to Susan Howe (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012), xv + 160 pp.
Jan04

KRISTEN CASE, American Pragmatism and Poetic Practice: Crosscurrents from Emerson to Susan Howe (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012), xv + 160 pp.

KRISTEN CASE, American Pragmatism and Poetic Practice: Crosscurrents from Emerson to Susan Howe (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012), xv + 160 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies 61.1   In her study of “the seeds” (xi and xii) and “the echoes of pragmatist thinking” (xiii) in American poetry, Kristen Case traces parallels in the ways that a number of pragmatist thinkers and five famous American poets have understood the relationship between writing and reality (the “picture of mind and world” xiv). Over the course of six chapters, she relates the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey, and Henry David Thoreau to poetic texts by Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, and Susan Howe. Thereby, in texts from pragmatism’s (pre)history to contemporary poetic production, she traces “a particular epistemology […] in which mind and world are understood as inseparable, and the human being is regarded as, in Thoreau’s terms [in his essay “Walking”], ‘an inhabitant, or part and parcel of Nature’” (Case xi). Case is by no means the first scholar to devote attention to the nexus between pragmatism and poetry. As she duly notes, Richard Poirier’s Poetry and Pragmatism (1992), Jonathan Levin’s The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism and Literary Modernism (1999), and Joan Richardson’s more recent A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein (2007) are important explorations of the subject. American Pragmatism and Poetic Practice builds on the groundwork laid by these and comparable studies and fills in some of their gaps by including “philosophers who have received less attention from literary critics (Dewey, Peirce, and Thoreau) and poets who are not generally considered among the inheritors of this tradition (Moore, Olson, and Howe)” (xii).  The first chapter functions as an introduction to the subsequent analyses and presents an ingenious study of starting points of pragmatist thought in Matthew 7:16-20: Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.   Titled “‘By Their Fruits’: Words and Action in American Writing” (1-20), the chapter traces metamorphoses of the biblical metaphor over the course of more than 170 years. Case introduces basic tenets of pragmatism by following the emergence of a philosophical “turn to practice (variously defined) as...

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SABINA MATTER-SEIBEL, Contending Forces: Romantraditionen amerikanischer Schriftstellerinnen 1850-1900, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 61 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter land, 2013), 622 pp.
Jan04

SABINA MATTER-SEIBEL, Contending Forces: Romantraditionen amerikanischer Schriftstellerinnen 1850-1900, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 61 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter land, 2013), 622 pp.

SABINA MATTER-SEIBEL, Contending Forces: Romantraditionen amerikanischer Schriftstellerinnen 1850-1900, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 61 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter land, 2013), 622 pp.   Amerikastudien/ American Studies 61.1   Mit Contending Forces: Romantraditionen amerikanischer Schriftstellerinnen 1850-1900 hat Sabina Matter-Seibel einen längst fälligen Beitrag zur Erforschung des sentimentalen Genre in der Frauenliteratur vorgelegt. Im Fokus ihrer Untersuchung stehen nicht mehr allein Subversion und Widerstand in einer Vielzahl von Romanen weißer und afroamerikanischer Autorinnen, sondern auch das komplexe Zusammenspiel sowohl hegemonial-dominanter als auch subversiv-marginalisierter Konventionen, Sprachen und Lesarten. Matter-Seibel baut auf der feministischen, genderorientierten und revisionistischen Forschung der 1990er Jahre auf, die zu einer kontinuierlichen Neubewertung der Frauenliteratur und in Vergessenheit geratener Autorinnen und ihrer Werke beigetragen hat. Es mag zu Zeiten des transnational turn überraschen, dass der Fokus ausschließlich auf amerikanischen Texten und nationalen Belangen liegt. Es ist jedoch eine der besonderen Leistungen der Studie, einen äußerst dynamischen, erhellenden und sinnfälligen Dialog zwischen kanonisierten, erforschten Romanen amerikanischer Schriftstellerinnen und weniger bekannten Autorinnen zu entfachen. Die Studie beeindruckt außerdem durch ihre große Breite und die Detailliertheit der Textinterpretationen der ausgewählten Romane, wobei sich Herangehensweisen des New Historicism und der Rezeptionsästhetik gelungen ergänzen. Indem sich Schriftstellerinnen der Tradition des sentimentalen Romans bedienen, argumentiert Matter-Seibel, schreiben sie gegen androzentrische Machtpositionen an, partizipieren daran aber zugleich, was unweigerlich zu ideologischer Verstrickung und zu einem Schwanken der Autorinnen „[z]wischen Ohnmacht und Ermächtigung“ (41) führe. Wie Matter-Seibel betont, ist die auktoriale Partizipation eine zweifache: sie umfasst weibliche Körper und Ideen bzw. Werte. So entstehen vielschichtige Texte, deren Gesellschaftsentwürfe und Gesellschaftskritik gleichermaßen auf materiellen und ideellen Aspekten basieren. Trotz der Hybridität der Romane ist für Matter-Seibel letztendlich die sentimentale Tradition bestimmend, wodurch ihre Studie stark durch Genre und Periodisierung geprägt ist. Diese methodische Ausrichtung birgt trotz der Betonung der ideologischen Ambiguität und dialogischen Verflochtenheit der ausgewählten Romane die Gefahr einer gewissen Homogenisierung, die den produktionsästhetischen – ganz besonders den intellektuellen und philosophischen – Ansprüchen und Leistungen der Schriftstellerinnen nicht immer gerecht wird. Ferner impliziert diese Herangehensweise eine nicht unproblematische linear-teleologische Sicht auf die untersuchten Romane innerhalb der Zeitspanne von 1850 bis 1900, wenn Matter-Seibel etwa konstatiert, dass die nachlassende Autorität des sentimentalen Romans mit einer zunehmenden Ablösung der Schriftstellerinnen von „herrschenden literarischen Konventionen und den Erwartungen des Lesepublikums“ (571) einhergeht.           Auf das einleitende Kapitel, welches neben Forschungsstand, Fragestellung und Methode die Auswahl des Textkorpus erläutert, folgen vier Interpretationskapitel mit den Themenkomplexen „Frauenfrage,“ Wirtschaft und Arbeit, Reformliteratur als moralische Instanz und „Afroamerikanische Variationen.“ Jeder Themenbereich wird durch jeweils relevante sozio-historische Kontexte eingeführt, wobei Kapitel 2 zur „Frauenfrage“ grundlegende (hetero)normative Begrifflichkeiten, Ideologien und weibliche (Mittelschichts-)Ideale, wie etwa die der separate spheres, true womanhood, Ehe und Mutterschaft, self-possession, das „natürliche“ Wesen der...

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LAWRENCE BUELL, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014), xii + 567 pp.
Jan04

LAWRENCE BUELL, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014), xii + 567 pp.

LAWRENCE BUELL, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014), xii + 567 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 61.1   Debates around the Great American Novel (GAN) have been going on for a century and a half, with periods of greater or lesser efflorescence. We are now in a time of heightened and, one suspects, enduring interest in the topic, given a number of factors: ongoing identitarian debates around the novelistic canon; contestations of the very legitimacy of universalizing constructs like the GAN; an inveterate American fixation with lists and rankings; and, not unrelated to these factors, the internet’s maieutic role in the proliferation of all manner of discourse and data—websites, wikis, blogs, surveys, etc.—and advanced information technology’s growing capacity to quantify literary reception as we see, for example, in the “computational criticism” being developed at the Stanford  Literary Lab but also in social media.   For the record, the inaugural formal intervention into the politics of the GAN occurs in 1868, when novelist John W. De Forest, in an essay in The Nation, offers a brief prescription of what such a singular work might entail. Not surprisingly, he comes up with an essentialistic model. Such a work must be a “tableau” that depicts “the American soul” and, after briefly dismissing works by Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, settles his nomination on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), though not before flagging its idealized characterizations and flawed plot (qtd. in Buell 24).   Lawrence Buell’s views on the GAN owe little to the essentialization of De Forest and likeminded others who have contributed to GAN discussions. Indeed, his considerable breadth of reference and the exegetical nuance of his readings confirm what he announces in his title: though notionally a project that will yield a category containing precisely one work, the GAN critical enterprise is actually rather different; the objective of revealing the GAN is a kind of “dream” to be pursued, but not one that will yield any sort of apodictic result. As Buell acknowledges in his introduction, the whole “GAN idea” is “absurdly oxymoronic if taken too solemnly,” if it attempts to discern “the one single once-and-for-all supernovel” (5).   Strangely, The Dream of the Great American Novel is the first monograph-length study of this complex field of literary production and reception and, given this complexity but also the extraordinary richness of the tradition, any fulsome first treatment of the topic will be long, and Buell’s is long and intricate. Studies in the GAN are of course studies of canon (de)formation and reception aesthetics, but Buell resolutely ties The Dream of...

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