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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