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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