JACE WEAVER, The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000-1927 (Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2014), XIV + 340 pp.
Feb27

JACE WEAVER, The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000-1927 (Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2014), XIV + 340 pp.

JACE WEAVER, The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000-1927 (Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2014), XIV + 340 pp. Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.1 The dust jacket of this handsomely designed hardcover shows (parts of) Cherokee artist America Meredith’s ‘naïve’ painting “St. Brendan: He Came, He Saw, He went Back Home.”  This tongue-in-cheek title is a very fitting and witty comment on Weaver’s study because it ironically echoes Julius Caesar’s famous imperialist statement veni, vidi, vici, but unlike the Roman emperor, the Irish saint made no attempt at conquest. The painting shows St. Brendan and seven monks leaving North America. Near the shore there are three Indigenous individuals who resemble the Eastern Algonquins sketched by John White on Roanoke Island more than four hundred years ago, and even the coastline recalls the mappings of the times. The Natives on the green continent are watching the departure, two of them waving goodbye, another just pondering. One of the monks in Brendan’s vessel is waving a white handkerchief at the Indigenes, while the others are facing east, praying, reading, watching a seagull, or scanning the horizon. The saint in the bow with his bishop’s biretta and crosier is also facing east towards Europe, while behind him there’s another monk leaning over the ship’s side looking at a smiling green whale on whose back the entire vessel appears to be resting. Absorbing the curious monk’s attention is a tiny pink turtle on this side of the ship, riding on the whale’s back. Well-known from Haudenosaunee and other First Nations’ creation stories, the turtle seems to indicate that there is an American presence on its way to Europe, just as the memories of Brendan’s presence might linger with the Indigenes who are waving him goodbye: traces of a polite visit, long before the Columbian Exchange began. In recorded history, however, there were no such peaceful encounters that left the Indigenes unscathed and resulted in the Europeans going “back home” peacefully and empty-handed. Quite to the contrary, as Weaver’s study shows. In his preface, Jace Weaver positions himself biographically and in relation to the research of earlier studies, and he gives as his objective “to restore Indians and Inuit to the Atlantic world and demonstrate their centrality to that world, a position equally important to, if not more important than, the Africans of Gilroy’s black Atlantic” (xi). So it is against Gilroy’s foundational work[1] that Weaver’s book needs to be read as well as against a host of earlier studies dealing with history and literature related to American Indigenous people, who were involved in that Atlantic world...

Read More
JOSEPH F. KETT, Merit: The History of a Founding Ideal from the American Revolution to the 21st Century (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 2013), 344 pp.
Feb27

JOSEPH F. KETT, Merit: The History of a Founding Ideal from the American Revolution to the 21st Century (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 2013), 344 pp.

JOSEPH F. KETT, Merit: The History of a Founding Ideal from the American Revolution to the 21st Century (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 2013), 344 pp.   Analyzing notions like religious pluralism,[1] republican virtue,[2] or the pursuit of happiness,[3] historians of U.S. intellectual history have repeatedly engaged with complex notions associated with the founding of the nation. In doing so they not only deliver what has come to be called “conceptual histories”[4] but usually also aim to demonstrate how these histories relate to the current understanding and relevance of respective ideas. Joseph F. Kett adds merit to this ever-growing list. With that, he tackles a concept that, despite its prominence in public discourse, has never really been systematically researched. The author maintains that one explanation for this imbalance lies in the contentious debate about how merit can best be measured. Kett’s book, therefore, not only presents an intellectual history of merit itself but just as much, or even more so, a history of the various ways Americans have sought to establish and assess merit.   Without necessarily re-asserting American Exceptionalism, Kett points out that merit has long been considered particularly important in the United States. Due to the lack of a hereditary aristocracy, all stratification of society including politics, the military, and the professions, could only be acceptable on the basis of merit. Thomas Jefferson memorably coined the phrase “natural aristocracy” of the “talented, virtuous and wealthy” (47). John Adams, on the other hand, was skeptical: He worried about how, for example, it would be possible to distinguish between mere popularity and true merit (cf. 48). Adams was particularly concerned if it was left up to society—or worse, “the multitude”—to decide this question (261). Thus Adams’s criticism already hits on two key problems of dealing with the concept of merit: The difficulty of comprehensively defining it and subsequently identifying it correctly. Kett’s analysis reveals a close connection between these two challenges. What we recognize as merit, of course, heavily depends on what we value as worthy. While it might be possible to measure intelligence or a specific skill in marks and grades, how do we measure the merit of character? While the former might, to a certain extent, be broken down into fields of knowledge or ability, it is a lot more difficult to establish what exactly is (a) good character.   The author approaches this tension both historically and sociologically. First, he explores how the emphasis has changed over time as merit was defined in various ways. During the Revolution and the Early Republic, the concept of merit was closely tied to the concept of character, a term...

Read More
FRANK BARON, Abraham Lincoln and the German Immigrants: Turners and Forty-Eighters, Yearbook of German-American Studies, Supplemental Issue, Vol. IV (Topeka, KS: The Society for German-American Studies, 2012), 254 pp.
Feb27

FRANK BARON, Abraham Lincoln and the German Immigrants: Turners and Forty-Eighters, Yearbook of German-American Studies, Supplemental Issue, Vol. IV (Topeka, KS: The Society for German-American Studies, 2012), 254 pp.

FRANK BARON, Abraham Lincoln and the German Immigrants: Turners and Forty-Eighters, Yearbook of German-American Studies, Supplemental Issue, Vol. IV (Topeka, KS: The Society for German-American Studies, 2012), 254 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 60.1 In Abraham Lincoln and the German Immigrants: Turners and Forty-Eighters, Frank Baron aims to tie together two important strands of research on nineteenth-century America that had previously been mostly dealt with independently. While the bulk of Lincoln studies only cursorily glanced at German immigrants, by far the most numerous group of newcomers in antebellum America and thus a major factor in any ambitious politician’s calculations, German-American studies rarely found Lincoln at the center of their attention. Yet Baron claims that in the years leading up to the 1860 presidential election the eventual Republican candidate not only “recognized the power of the German vote” but there even was a “quiet alliance between German-Americans and Abraham Lincoln” (3). Ironically, the structure of Baron’s book reflects the aforementioned problems of historiography. While the first half almost exclusively deals with certain aspects of German-American political participation in the United States (Lincoln only makes a short appearance when he meets with German dignitaries on a trip to Kansas in 1859), the final three chapters mostly cover the well-known stories of Lincoln’s nomination and election, without offering too much new insight into the role German-Americans played in the process. In between, though, the author presents a brief yet intriguing analysis on Lincoln’s efforts to secure the German immigrant vote for his party, and ultimately, for himself. When Baron speaks of German-Americans he often, albeit not always, really means members of Turner societies and the so-called Forty-Eighters, whose revolutionary experience and love of freedom forced (or at least incited) them to emigrate to the United States and made them natural allies of the antislavery Republican party. Baron starts out by giving a short history of the New York Turner Society that greatly benefits from his access to previously unused sources from the organization’s archives. With the Turners’ attention shifting from labor-related issues to the antislavery movement after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska-Act in 1854, Baron directs his own focus to the free states’ campaign against slavery in Kansas. He finds that Germans, often of Turner or Forty-Eighter background, were eager to participate in the Emigrant Aid Societies’ efforts to send free settlers to the contested territory. Some of them even joined John Brown in his battles with slaveholding ‘border ruffians’ from neighboring Missouri. Rather unexpectedly, Baron then moves on to the nativist challenge of immigrant power in the United States. The Know-Nothings of the 1850s were deeply suspicious of beer-drinking, strange-talking, and often...

Read More
WALDEMAR ZACHARASIEWICZ and CHRISTIAN FEEST, eds., Native Americans and First Nations: A Transnational Challenge (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2009), 259 pp.
Feb27

WALDEMAR ZACHARASIEWICZ and CHRISTIAN FEEST, eds., Native Americans and First Nations: A Transnational Challenge (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2009), 259 pp.

WALDEMAR ZACHARASIEWICZ and CHRISTIAN FEEST, eds., Native Americans and First Nations: A Transnational Challenge (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2009), 259 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 60.1 This book revisits indigenous issues through a transnational lens and is a major contribution to this field. It connects the study of colonial history and politics, cultural contacts, and neo/colonial with postcolonial practices of representation across the Atlantic and across North American borders. Borders that we know do not exist for a number of indigenous nations, for example the Blackfeet (Canada) or Blackfoot (United States), as illustrated in Thomas King’s wonderful short story “Borders,” and the Mohawk at Akwesasne, as highlighted through trafficking across the St. Lawrence in the challenging film Frozen River (dir. Courtney Hunt, 2008). The book discusses recent key topics within Indigenous Studies from transnational and transcultural perspectives, such as indigenous knowledges and settler bio- and geopolitics, especially in connection with globalization, migration patterns, and flow of goods, moneys, culture, and intellectual property. This book is thus a timely addition to the scholarly works in indigenous Studies that take up ‘transnational challenges.’This book is thus a timely addition to the scholarly works in Indigenous Studies that take up ‘transnational challenges,’ with a collection of interdisciplinary articles that are the result of a research colloquium at the University of Vienna in 2006. It was organized by Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, himself a longstanding scholar of transnational American and Canadian Studies and Christian Feest, Europe’s foremost ethnologist in the field, then director of the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna. In his introduction, Zacharasiewicz gives an overview over the history of Native Studies in Europe as well as the essays by eminent Native Studies scholars and younger colleagues. Nancy Bunge starts the collection with her essay “The Wheeler Family and the Intimate Middle Ground,” in which she uses Richard White’s concept of the ‘middle ground’ —the relationships between Native people and settlers concerning political and economic aspects—and extends this concept to long-lasting intimate relations between these cultures. On the basis of archival documents, she describes the story of the missionary Leonard Wheeler and his family who lived among the Ojibwe in Wisconsin between 1842 and 1866, a cultural contact marked by appreciation and sympathy, respect for resistance to conversion, critique of government politics toward Native people, and gradually changing Eurocentric attitudes of Wheeler and his family. This essay largely remains in a descriptive historiographic mode and therefore wants some more theoretical discussion of the “intimate middle ground” as also a more critical stance towards remaining condescending attitudes and acts of the Wheelers. In her essay “Going Native: Emily Carr’s Road to Regeneration,” Carmen Birkle outlines cultural contact...

Read More
KORNELIA FREITAG and BRIAN REED, Modern American Poetry: Points of Access
Feb27

KORNELIA FREITAG and BRIAN REED, Modern American Poetry: Points of Access

KORNELIA FREITAG and BRIAN REED, Modern American Poetry: Points of Access. (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), xii + 236. Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.1 What do Terry Eagleton and Marjorie Perloff have in common? As the introduction by Kornelia Freitag and Brian Reed points out, both scholars deplore students’ unwillingness to attend to the linguistic specificities of poetry. Instead, they tend to offer “bizarre” (7) (Perloff) opinions about the supposed meaning of poems without engaging with questions of form. Implicit in Eagleton and Perloff is the assumption that this was different in the past, therefore one might well ask: “What has happened?” (8). This is not the question the introduction addresses, though. Instead, it tackles the slightly different question why there has been a steady increase in publications concerned with the teaching of poetry ever since the 1920s. The rise of creative writing programs, the decline of the New Criticism and its appreciation of formal analysis, the marginalization of poetry within American Literature, the rise of approaches that stress cultural conditions such as feminism, postcolonialism, and queer theory are a somewhat contradictory array of factors: Why are there more and more books on teaching poetry if it is deemed less important to teach? Perhaps it has been deemed increasingly difficult to teach? Somewhere in the introduction’s depiction of developments in the literary and educational fields, there lurks the suspicion that perhaps these pedagogical books have not been very effective: either teachers have not managed to convey the skills considered missing, or students do not care and prefer their own approaches anyways.   The good news is that there is a vibrant interest in American poetry, both in terms of production and in terms of reception. And, as the eleven contributors to the book testify, there are scholars and teachers who believe that they can provide points of access to poetry including an engagement with form and language. Their contributions are listed chronologically according to the poetry they discuss, beginning with Lisa Simon’s “Teaching War Poetry: A Dialogue Between the Grit and the Glory,” which briefly discusses an excerpt from Joel Barlow’s “Columbiad”, and ending with Martina Pfeiler’s article on Slam Poetry. There are different ways of grouping these texts—the introduction distinguishes between three essays on single poets (Dickinson, Stein, O’Hara), three essays on groups of writers (Imagists, Confessional Poets, Indian-American Poets), and four essays reporting directly on teaching experiences and sharing didactic insights. For the purposes of a critical discussion, however, it seems appropriate to ask what the contributors consider as advisable access points and how they suggest using them.   There is, for instance, the didactic question as to whether one begins...

Read More
VÉRONIQUE BRAGARD, CHRISTOPHE DONY, and WARREN ROSENBERG, eds., Portraying 9/11: Essays on Representations in Comics, Literature, Film and Theatre (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001), 176 pp.   MICHAEL C. FRANK and EVA GRUBER, eds., Literature and Terrorism: Comparative Perspectives (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012), 276 pp.
Feb27

VÉRONIQUE BRAGARD, CHRISTOPHE DONY, and WARREN ROSENBERG, eds., Portraying 9/11: Essays on Representations in Comics, Literature, Film and Theatre (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001), 176 pp. MICHAEL C. FRANK and EVA GRUBER, eds., Literature and Terrorism: Comparative Perspectives (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012), 276 pp.

VÉRONIQUE BRAGARD, CHRISTOPHE DONY, and WARREN ROSENBERG, eds., Portraying 9/11: Essays on Representations in Comics, Literature, Film and Theatre (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001), 176 pp.  MICHAEL C. FRANK and EVA GRUBER, eds., Literature and Terrorism: Comparative Perspectives (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012), 276 pp.  Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.1 On September 11, 2013, the official memorial ceremonies in New York had found a quiet routine. Laura Petrecca noted in USA Today that the anniversary had “diminished” over the years: “The news coverage is less. The sadness and anxiety aren’t as palpable;” and Marc Santora wrote in The New York Times that the memorial ceremony at the World Trade Center site “has taken on the familiarity of ritual.”[1] At the same time, academics continue to engage in the effort of locating 9/11 within history, both nationally and transnationally. In spite of many recurrent themes and topoi (such as the exceptionalist discourse on ‘national trauma,’ or the tacit correlation between mourning and patriotism, or even military action), the debates about the role and relevancy of 9/11 continue to evolve into new directions and to unearth original or previously unnoticed trends of discourse. The recent academic book market mirrors this trend, with publications such as Christian Kloeckner’s, Simone Knewitz’s and Sabine Sielke’s encyclopedic and rewardingly diverse collection, Beyond 9/11: Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Twenty-First Century U.S. American Culture (Frankfurt: Lang, 2013), or Georgiana Banita’s insightful monograph study Plotting Justice: Narrative Ethics and Literary Culture after 9/11 (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2012). If these and the two volumes to be addressed here are any indicator, the public interest in the attacks and their long-term reverberations is far from being exhausted.   The memorialization of 9/11 in contemporary forms of fiction, poetry, graphic novels and comics, film, theater, performance, and the visual arts has become a widely transnational venture, and especially a transatlantic one, as these two collections also illustrate. Portraying 9/11, edited by a Belgian and American team of editors, features eleven articles from the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and Literature and Terrorism, edited by two scholars based at Konstanz, brings together eleven German and two U.S.-American perspectives. In the introduction to Portraying 9/11, the editors briefly address current paradigms of approaching the events—e.g., of the “domestication” of 9/11 (Žižek) or the “semiotic greed” (Packard) by which it expands into other discursive fields—and emphasize the continuing relevance and scope of their exploration: “[i]f one can conceive the existence of a so-called ‘9/11 literature,’ one must therefore acknowledge that it is vast, entails many permutations, and continues to expand. Whether approaching the calamities directly or via metonymy, in terms of trauma, culture or...

Read More
MICHAEL FUCHS and MARIA-THERESIA HOLUB, eds., Placing America: American Culture and Its Spaces
Feb27

MICHAEL FUCHS and MARIA-THERESIA HOLUB, eds., Placing America: American Culture and Its Spaces

MICHAEL FUCHS and MARIA-THERESIA HOLUB, eds., Placing America: American Culture and Its Spaces (Bielefeld: transcript, 2013), 213 pp.  Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.1 The discussion of geographical as well as cultural, literary, and political spaces and places has attracted a lot of attention in the humanities over recent decades. Ever since Henri Levebvre, Edward Soja, Michel Foucault, Doreen Massey, and many others have opened the discussion, which has become subsumed under the name of the spatial turn, space has assumed a central position in critical discourses across scholarly disciplines. Space, these theorists argue, needs to be discussed whenever time and history are, for time and space are inseparable; space is marked by time and history, while time becomes palpable only in and through space. The volume that Michael Fuchs and Maria-Theresia Holub present is positioned within this discourse and contains various texts, which examine the central question of where and when America can be located or placed (cf. 10), thus considering the place of the United States’ both in space and in time. The editors refer back to the extensive spatial narrative of the United States (as in the New World, the frontier, the City Upon a Hill, etc.) that has shaped the American conception or understanding of self—American identity—as a people and nation. This spatial narrative, they argue, is intricately linked to “both a specific moment and place in time” (9), namely the foundation of the United States of America. Thus, space and time co-constitute American identity, or rather identities. Only during the last century has the mystification of America’s spatial narrative ceased and a more honest scholarly examination begun, which acknowledges both Native American sufferings and modern life in North America and includes a glance across U.S. borders. The volume’s first of four parts, “Constructing America from Afar,” includes two reflections on American Studies as a discipline. It opens with a (re)positioning of American Studies as a discipline within a transnational, Leopold Lippert even argues “postnational” (24), context. The transnational scope and practice of American Studies is thus defined programmatically for the entire volume. Lippert proposes the transnational as a “theoretical move, as a scholarly performance rather than a field of study” (26) and goes on to explain performance as “a continuous reenactment that is never a literal repetition” (28) of any one act. The transnational, therefore, expands the field of scholarly interest and prompts scholars to renegotiate and perform knowledge and “explore postnational knowledges” (24) in what Lippert calls a transnational turn. His turn thus entails a new approach and practice in American Studies. Many turns have been proclaimed in cultural studies over the past decades, of which...

Read More
GREGOR HERZFELD, Poe in der Musik: Eine versatile Allianz, Internationale Hochschulschriften
Feb27

GREGOR HERZFELD, Poe in der Musik: Eine versatile Allianz, Internationale Hochschulschriften

GREGOR HERZFELD, Poe in der Musik: Eine versatile Allianz, Internationale Hochschulschriften 590 (Münster: Waxmann, 2013), 232 pp.  Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.1 This monograph represents the published version of a Habilitationsschrift in musicology accepted at Freie Universität Berlin in 2012. It is encouraging to see that a musicologist focused his postdoctoral dissertation on a subject area which, to a large extent, has been the prerogative of literary scholars and cultural historians but which, doubtless, benefits from the input of further disciplines. As the author points out, it is rather surprising that musicologists have, so far, scarcely contributed to researching the overwhelming number of music-related adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s works and biography (cf. 11). As at least 1,200 compositions have been documented, a monograph can only indicate trends and discuss case studies. Thus, Herzfeld’s central goal and claim reside in demonstrating the versatility of Poe adaptations across centuries, national boundaries, genres, styles, and readings of the author’s and his works’ meanings and transnational cultural significance (cf. 11, 19 et passim). The monograph maps new territory by combining the perspectives and insights of music history, literary scholarship, social sciences, and the history of aesthetics (cf. 13) in the attempt to fathom trends within Poe adaptations regarding atmosphere, constructedness, biography, gender, song, and musical setting (cf. 12). Throughout the study, Herzfeld thus reflects on Poe’s aesthetic theories (as expressed in “The Philosophy of Composition,” “The Poetic Principle,” and his review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales) along with contexts and readings provided by the areas of interest listed above. Unfortunately, the author does not consider adaptation theory or intermediality theory at all and thus disregards current scholarly discourse that could have added analytical depth to his, albeit often impressive and well-written, detailed descriptions and insightful interpretations of Poe’s texts and of their adaptations by composers (see, for instance, Herzfeld’s unanswered, presumably rhetorical question regarding differences between adaptation and appropriation [188], which has been discussed by theorists).[1] Among other things, the outdated belief in the artistic primacy of the source text, which has given way to regarding adaptations as works of art in their own right, remains unaddressed (cf., for instance, 20). Herzfeld begins his study with Claude Debussy’s opera fragment La Chute de la Maison Usher (for which the composer also wrote the libretto based on Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”) as this permits explaining that Poe’s popularity in France predates his acceptance in his country of origin; he subsequently also discusses Poe in relation to other French composers such as Maurice Ravel and Olivier Messiaen. As an Americanist, looking at Poe reception from a transnational perspective would be an attractive...

Read More
FRED TURNER, The Democratic Surround: Multimedia & American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties.
Feb25

FRED TURNER, The Democratic Surround: Multimedia & American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties.

FRED TURNER, The Democratic Surround: Multimedia & American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties. (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2013), 365pp. Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.1 (2015)   In 2006’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner connected the rebellious energies behind The Whole Earth Catalog—offering star charts, guidelines for growing-your-own, and a communal withdrawal from big business and big government—to some of the founding figures of the Digital Revolution. The same method of linking two unlikely cultural formations, along with the same overtones of historical irony, shapes his recent “prequel” (10), The Democratic Surround: Multimedia & American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties. In a narrative supported by rigorous research and yet still eminently readable, Turner extends his media genealogy backwards in time, showing how the immersive “multi-image, multi-sound-source media environments” (3) we associate with 1960s counterculture, “designed to expand individual consciousness and a sense of membership in the human collective” (8), in fact originated with a group of cold warriors looking for a mode of communication that would reinforce democracy in both the individual and the national character. With the phrase “democratic surround,” Turner coins a term to reach across the “different incarnations” of these immersive multimedia experiences and to express their binding interest in both modeling and actively producing a democratic society (9). In the 1930s and 40s, Turner begins by reminding us, American social scientists worried about the stultifying effects of mass media increasingly saw devices like film, radio, and newspapers as potential organs for fascist propaganda. Turner thickens this familiar story with a representatively graceful movement from one scene to another: a glimpse at the twenty-two thousand gathered for a fascist rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939 helps establish the threat of totalitarian politics at home, while Theodor Adorno’s infamous claim that the chorus of jazz music encourages conformity to the social collective reappears as a provocative example of intellectuals’ critique of mass culture. Taken together, moments like these help Turner establish the causes and consequences of this era’s deep-seated fear of the ‘authoritarian personality’ in more complex terms than they are often treated. Chapter two, in many ways the central articulation of the book’s principles, then demonstrates how a “culture and personality” (54) school of anthropologists, psychologists, and journalists in the United States joined with government organizations like the Committee for National Morale in order to identify a corresponding mode of communication capable of shaping non-authoritarian personalities. Believing “the key to building both a democratic personality and a democratic culture was the transformation of apperception,” figures like Margaret Mead and her husband Gregory Bateson sought to develop immersive experiences...

Read More

Mission Statement

At the meeting of the editorial board in the fall of 2015, the general editor Oliver Scheiding suggested to establish the new position of review editor. I am honored to announce that with the current issue I have joined the editorial team and serve as the first review editor of Amerikastudien / American Studies. As of issue 59.1 (2014), reviews have been available exclusively online, with the effect that access and visibility have increased considerably. Online publication also offers the chance of moderately extending the list of reviews. I would like to take advantage of this change by introducing the arrangement of reviews in groups related to disciplinary subfields and / or themes. Readers will find the particular focus in the rubrication(s) heading the list of reviews that is still offered in each printed issue. Predictably, there will be exceptions to the rule. On the one hand, such categorization depends on the ample availability of respective reviews and thus may not always be possible. On the other hand, any strict observation of rubricating all reviews might lead to the unwanted neglect of such publications that either do not fit into any common category or that fall under a rubric that happens to have been chosen in a recent issue. As has been pointed out by the general editors past and present, a journal strongly relies on the active participation of its readers for providing a vital space of lively exchanges of ideas and critical debates in our field. I would therefore like to thank our readers who have contributed to this exchange by offering their expertise by way of writing reviews or recommending books that should be considered for review. As to the future, I would like to encourage all readers of Amerikastudien / American Studies to join the discussion—vociferously! Christa Buschendorf Review...

Read More
Jared Gardner, The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture. Reviewed by Matthew Pethers
Nov09

Jared Gardner, The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture. Reviewed by Matthew Pethers

JARED GARDNER, The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2012), 203 pp. Reviewed by Matthew Pethers  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) In surveying the field that Jared Gardner’s essential new book intervenes into, an optimistic observer might adapt his chosen title to offer the headline: “The Rise and Rise of American Magazine Studies.” Whether best seen as an adjunct of the recent turn to book history, an outcrop of intellectual history, or, in Gardner’s view, as a consequence of the digital era’s “return [to] […] increasingly miscellaneous, anonymous, fragmented, collaborative and decidedly non-novelistic writing” (161), it is the case that a steadily growing scholarly interest in American periodical culture seems to be evident. The last few years alone have seen the publication of significant monographs such as James Landers’s The Improbable First Century of ‘Cosmopolitan’ Magazine (2010), Mark Noonan’s Reading ‘The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine’: American Literature and Culture, 1870-1893 (2010) and Susan Goodman’s The Republic of Words: ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ and its Writers, 1857-1925 (2011). Yet as the titles of these works clearly indicate, much of the focus of recent periodical research has been on single magazines. This is certainly true for the more specific domain of early American magazine studies, where perhaps the most widely-cited book of the last decade has been William C. Dowling’s Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson: Joseph Dennie and ‘The Port Folio,’ 1801-1812 (1999). The contemporary monographs to come closest to an overview of this period are: Mark Kamrath and Sharon Harris’s co-edited volume Periodical Literature in Eighteenth-Century America (2005), though as a collection of essays that is necessarily piecemeal; and Catherine O’Donnell Kaplan’s Men of Letters in the Early Republic: Cultivating Forums of Citizenship (2008), though that subordinates its myriad insights into a range of magazines to a broader argument about post-Revolutionary sociability. In short, what we lack for the late eighteenth century, as well as for other periods, are systematic, comprehensive accounts of American magazine culture that directly address the distinctiveness of periodical writing and production. Which is precisely why Gardner’s The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture deserves to be dubbed indispensable.   As the most sustained and persuasive analysis of the early American magazine’s cultural significance that we possess, and as the most detailed account of its repeated failure to prosper, Gardner’s book is notable for its ability to draw broad conclusions and strong claims from the material it treats. More specifically, Gardner develops the argument that late eighteenth-century American culture privileged what he calls the “editorial function” (x) over the more individualistic modes of self-expression we have...

Read More
Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism; Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812; Paul Gilje, Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812. Reviewed by Jasper Trautsch
Nov09

Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism; Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812; Paul Gilje, Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812. Reviewed by Jasper Trautsch

NICOLE EUSTACE, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2012), xvii + 315 pp. ANDREW LAMBERT, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812 (London: Faber and Faber, 2012), 538 pp. PAUL GILJE, Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 437 pp. Reviewed by Jasper M. Trautsch Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) The traditional American narrative of the War of 1812 emphasizes that British maritime practices—mainly interferences with American neutral trade and the impressment of seamen from American merchant ships on the high seas—caused severe Anglo-American tensions in the early nineteenth century such that Republicans—in power in the United States since 1801—felt the need to declare war against the former mother country in 1812 in order to defend the nation’s honor. In the following so called ‘Second War of Independence,’ the U.S. Navy was able to win some impressive naval battles against the hitherto undefeated Royal Navy, the traditional story continues, and thus made Great Britain acknowledge American sovereignty in the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. The War of 1812 produced military heroes such as James Lawrence, David Porter, Stephen Decatur, and Andrew Jackson and thus promoted American nationalism, such that the initially divisive war ushered in the so-called Era of Good Feelings, the classical American interpretation concludes.   On the occasion of the bicentennial of the conflict, three works appeared that fundamentally call the assumptions of this narrative into question. Nicole Eustace, Associate Professor of History at New York University, called the war “a grave American embarrassment” (31), in which diplomatically and militarily the United States achieved nothing and which was marked by disastrous military failures on the American side. Andrew Lambert, Professor of Naval History at King’s College, London, found that “after a litany of defeats all along the Canadian border, the capture and destruction of Washington, bankruptcy and the loss of several warships, including the national flagship; the peace settlement had been a fortunate escape” for the American government (1-2). As both authors concur that America did not ‘win’ the War of 1812, they seek to understand—yet in different ways—why it boosted American patriotism and why it has been publicly remembered as an American success story. Paul Gilje, Professor of United States History at the University of Oklahoma, in the third book under review in this article, by contrast, seems at first glance to keep up the traditional American narrative of the War of 1812 when emphasizing Britain’s violations of American neutral rights and impressment on the high seas as the causes for America’s declaration of war. Possibly without intending to...

Read More
Alison Clark Efford, German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era. Reviewed by Frank Baron
Nov02

Alison Clark Efford, German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era. Reviewed by Frank Baron

ALISON CLARK EFFORD, German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 267 pp. Reviewed by Frank Baron  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014)   With persistent attention to the role of German-Americans before and during the Civil War, it is refreshing to see a study that encompasses this important era but also explores the decade that followed. Efford undertakes the critical examination of the German-American commitment to African American suffrage and citizenship. Her thoroughly documented research takes advantage of the entire range of published and archival resources and delineates an era that begins with the 1848 revolution and concludes with the contested presidential election of 1876. The study highlights the ‘German Triangle,’ Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin and, in particular, the metropolitan centers: Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. Efford considers this segment of the Midwest worthy of special attention because of a prevalent view that here German-Americans held the power of swing voters. The German newspapers of the Midwest, published in the cities of the ‘Triangle,’ provide valuable evidence of representative political positions and their evolution. Efford identifies an unexpected shift in what she considers the captivating image of the ‘freedom-loving’ German-American, “an immigrant man who asserted the value of cultural diversity while he took on slavery” (54). In the 1850s, the outspoken radicals were the major spokesmen for their ethnic community. They went beyond Abraham Lincoln’s moderate position on race; they demanded the abolition of slavery and advocated citizenship and voting rights for freed African Americans. Nationally, German-American Midwesterners had reshaped the party that brought Lincoln to power. During the Civil War, the reputation of Germans as ‘freedom loving’ increased. The momentum of such reputation advanced the voting rights for freed slaves, contributing in 1870 to the passage of the fifteenth amendment, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.   Ironically, the year 1870 can also be seen as a significant turning point in the German-American support for voting rights. It was the year of the Franco-Prussian War, in which Bismarck could claim a decisive victory over France. The Iron Chancellor took steps to unite Germany and thereby achieved one of the goals for which the Forty-Eighters had fought. A nationalistic fervor pervaded German immigrant communities throughout the United States. The strong empathy for the fatherland had consequences for the immigrants’ attitudes toward African Americans. Influenced by Germany’s successful unification, German-Americans retreated from their support of black voting rights and reframed the debate in favor of national reconciliation. The shift also involved a movement away from the focus on equality to a view of ethnic superiority. In Efford’s view, this shift relegates the popular image of...

Read More
Christine L. Ridarsky and Mary M. Huth, eds., Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Reviewed by Franziska Schmid
Nov02

Christine L. Ridarsky and Mary M. Huth, eds., Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Reviewed by Franziska Schmid

CHRISTINE L. RIDARSKY and MARY M. HUTH, eds., Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights (Rochester: U of Rochester P, 2012), 245 pp. Reviewed by Franziska Schmid  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) The nineteenth-century American cultural landscape bears witness to a large variety of reform movements. Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights, edited by Christine L. Ridarsky and Mary M. Huth, approaches the diverse field of American women’s involvement in these reform movements from a historical perspective. In outlining the multifaceted struggle for equal rights, the collection of essays focuses on the life and work of one outstanding figure among women reformers: Susan B. Anthony. The seven essays compiled in this volume explore the manifold sides of Anthony’s involvement in various reform movements such as women’s rights, temperance, and antislavery. While the collection successfully conveys a differentiated picture of the interconnectedness and involvement of this wide range of nineteenth-century reform movements and Anthony’s influence on them, it remains vague in positioning itself in existing scholarship. More direct theoretical explications and references would have been indispensable for demarking the innovativeness of the collection’s approach and for drawing a concise and distinguished picture of Anthony.   Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights is divided in four parts: ‘Constructing Memory,’ ‘Anthony and Her Allies,’ ‘Broadening the Boundaries of the Equal Rights Struggle,’ and ‘Reconstructing Memory.’ Four out of seven essays are concerned with portraying Anthony and her involvement in various reform movements, whereas the three remaining essays are devoted to shedding light on the lives and works of lesser known activists and their involvement with the struggle for equal rights of marginalized groups such as Native Americans or African Americans. The collection employs memory politics, both in the sense of constructing a certain story and reconstructing that story as history, as its structuring principle. The first essay by Lisa Tetrault investigates Anthony’s role as a historian and her fascination with creating and controlling future generations’ memory of the woman suffrage movement. In “We Shall Be Remembered,” Tetrault proposes to rethink the image drawn of Anthony and the suffrage movement along the lines of memory construction. The essay gives a careful account of the long and tedious process of compiling the History of Woman Suffrage, authored by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Susan B. Anthony. In unearthing “surprisingly unknown” (16) details about the editorial process of the History, Tetrault points to the importance of collaboration among women’s rights activists and to their collaboration with other reform efforts, such as the abolitionist movement, in achieving their cause of universal suffrage. While the collection initially...

Read More
Brenda Gayle Plummer, In Search of Power: African Americans in the Era of Decolonization, 1956 – 1974. Reviewed by Elizabeth West
Oct26

Brenda Gayle Plummer, In Search of Power: African Americans in the Era of Decolonization, 1956 – 1974. Reviewed by Elizabeth West

BRENDA GAYLE PLUMMER, In Search of Power: African Americans in the Era of Decolonization, 1956 – 1974 (New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 2013), 372pp. Reviewed by Elizabeth West  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014)   In this historical study of the overlapping but often presumed separate African American Civil Rights period and the Era of Decolonization, Plummer shows that these pivotal movements were related and that black leaders saw the future of African Americans tied to Africans in the future decolonized world. In Search of Power is a needed reminder to scholars and students focusing on this period and the aftermath that while we rightly examine the parallel struggles of blacks in America and those in Africa and the colonized Americas, the struggles were not identical and the failed expectations for African American rights in the United States can be better understood by looking at the relationship of these two struggles. Plummer’s study is a comprehensive one: the book is organized into nine chapters that are encased by introductory and concluding chapters that build the framework for the body of the book and offer a coda that reflects on the implications of the findings in this scholarship. The author methodically outlines the book’s aim to investigate how and why the anticipated changes for African Americans during the almost twenty year Decolonization Era, 1956 – 1974, went ultimately unrealized. Plummer’s study is grounded in careful research, evident in the vast primary and secondary sources from which she draws. This includes black newspapers and magazines from the era under study, government archives, private communications, and she also addresses the works of contemporary historians, sociologists, and political scientists to offer a highly critical look at this age.   Plummer cogently captures the milieu of her study’s beginning, particularly weaving a history that shows how academia, intellectualism, literature, politics, and economics of the late 1950s reflect “A Great Restlessness” as she entitles chapter one. Here she explains the historical setting that gave rise to leaders and institutions such as Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, and to reactions such as black expatriation. She then shows how these dynamics converged to influence black American interests in the affairs of continental Africans and Africans across the globe. Plummer’s insightful summation of Henry Kissinger’s assessment of the nation’s problem with racial discrimination underscores her reading of the eventual failure to realize the 60s aspirations for racial equity. Plummer cites Kissinger’s 1957 response to Urban League director Lester Granger regarding his policy paper on the race problem. Kissinger wrote to Granger that his paper suggested “‘the manner and method of presenting our case rather than to the...

Read More
Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Reviewed by Kristina Baudemann
Oct19

Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Reviewed by Kristina Baudemann

THOMAS KING, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2013), 287 pp; (originally published in Canada by Doubleday, 2012) Reviewed by Kristina Baudemann  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014)   Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America is not a historical account of the indigenous peoples of North America, nor does it qualify as anthropological or socio-political study; it is a manifesto in the tradition of Charles Eastman’s The Indian Today (1915), D’Arcy McNickle’s They Came Here First (1949) and Vine Deloria Jr.’s Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) and as such a must-read for every student, scholar, and aspiring scholar of Native American and Postcolonial Studies. Discarding the cloak of objectivity usually required for writing that wants to be taken seriously, King provides a narrative of North American dealings with Native affairs that reaches from the past to the imagined future(s): after exploring the realm of legends (the 1861 massacre of 295 whites in Almo, Idaho, that never happened), simulacra (Hollywood policies, cowboys, and Indians), and political travesties (broken treaties, residential school grievances) King proceeds to shed light on the ongoing political repressions by asking “What do Indians want?” (193; 215).   The question is, of course, ironic. To King, the term ‘Indian’ amounts to Tolkien’s ‘One Ring.’ Thus, instead of answering the question, King subverts it, which is in line with the book’s general subversion of familiar history, and asks instead: What do whites want? The answer—“Land. Whites want land” (216)—is at the heart of colonialism and imperialism, which leads King to end his book on a critical commentary on two major land claims settlements, the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in the USA and the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Settlement Agreement in Canada that have influenced the life of every indigenous person in North America and that will have an impact long into the future.   The Inconvenient Indian is a book that professes a distinct consciousness of the reader. Thomas King’s narrative voice openly performs as an authorial instance that strings together selected moments of what has come to be commonly known as North American history to a surprisingly coherent whole in spite of (or because of) interjections of the thoughts and critical objections of King’s partner, Helen Hoy, and his son Benjamin, as well as King’s own anecdotes and sarcastic comments, all of which slow down the narrative pace and loosen up what would otherwise have been a dense web of historical facts. This is after all one of the remarkable things about King’s book: it can...

Read More
Keith Clark, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry. Reviewed by Julie Naviaux
Oct19

Keith Clark, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry. Reviewed by Julie Naviaux

KEITH CLARK, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2013), 264 pp. Reviewed by Julie Naviaux  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) Clark begins his latest literary study, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry, with a claim that calls for a complete reframing of Petry’s oeuvre: that Boston University’s Ann Petry archive demonstrates, through Petry’s letters and records, that she was much more politically minded and involved than previous critics have acknowledged. Clark argues that Petry’s writings should not be pigeonholed in the genre of Naturalism, nor should she be endlessly compared and subordinated to male writers such as Richard Wright. Unlike many of her contemporary male writers, who were interested in representing African American male protagonists as equally masculine to their white counterparts, Clark argues for what he terms a “radical aesthetic agenda,” which includes questioning “essentialist definitions of gender for male protagonists” (4) and demonstrates how the lives of WASPs “can be as nightmarish and pathological as those blacks confined to a plantation” (5). This is just one among many new looks that Clark takes at Petry’s fiction that makes his study a must-read for students and scholars of American literature, particularly those interested in the understudied works of authors publishing between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement.   To date, Hazel Arnett Ervin’s 2005 The Critical Response to Ann Petry contains the most comprehensive collection of reviews of Petry’s work and criticism on her fiction from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Ervin’s collection captures the development in Petry criticism over several decades. Early Petry criticism focused on the inability of black, often female, characters to achieve the American Dream. Petry critics such as Vernin Lattin, Richard Yarborough, and Bernard Bell analyzed The Street against its contemporary texts If He Hollers Let Him Go and Native Son to assert that it was another example of a naturalist text but one authored by a woman writer and with a female protagonist. Later critics, such as Marjorie Pryse and Calvin C. Herton, began analyzing Petry’s black female characters in The Street in contrast to Lutie, the novel’s black female protagonist, addressing failures of Lutie’s and, more general, black women’s motherhood. More recently, Nellie McKay, Kimberly Drake, and Heather Hicks place Petry back in conversation with Wright, Himes, and Ellison claiming that, through her female protagonist, Petry demonstrates the complex meanings and double standards of women’s lives and experiences. Although The Street is by far Petry’s most analyzed text, some critics have examined Country Place and The Narrows for their critiques of whiteness as a race and therefore also a part of the social constructions...

Read More
Babette Bärbel Tischleder, The Literary Life of Things: Case Studies in American Fiction. Reviewed by Martin Brückner
Oct13

Babette Bärbel Tischleder, The Literary Life of Things: Case Studies in American Fiction. Reviewed by Martin Brückner

BABETTE BÄRBEL TISCHLEDER, The Literary Life of Things: Case Studies in American Fiction (Frankfurt: Campus, 2014), 292 pp. Reviewed by Martin Brückner Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014)   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 (cf. 18-22), Tischleder calls attention to the psychological implications that inform the fictional representation of subject/object relationships as they unfold in both space and time. Thus positioned, the study takes 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...

Read More
Dieter Schulz, Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz
Oct13

Dieter Schulz, Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz

DIETER SCHULZ, Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism (Heidelberg: Mattes, 2012), 308 pp. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) In 2013, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society bestowed its highest honor—the “Lifetime Achievement Award”—on Dieter Schulz and thus recognized him as one of a very small group of scholars whose work has fundamentally shaped our understanding of Emerson and the Transcendentalists. Schulz, who now finds himself in the company of such luminaries of Transcendentalist scholarship as Kenneth Walter Cameron, Robert Richardson, Barbara Packer, Stanley Cavell, and Lawrence Buell, is the first scholar from outside the United States to receive the award. The Emerson Society’s decision is all the more remarkable considering that Schulz’s writings on Emerson and Thoreau have so far not been widely available internationally. His monograph Amerikanischer Transzendentalismus: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller (1997), while considered a benchmark introduction in German-speaking countries, has not been translated into English, and even the majority of his numerous essays on the Transcendentalists have been published in venues that are most often dismally ignored outside of German academe. To make things more complicated, some of them were written in German without having been translated into English. While experts have long been in the know (as the choice by the Emerson Society’s award committee attests), the publication of Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism finally fills the urgent need of collecting the key essays of Schulz’s oeuvre on Transcendentalism in a nicely edited English-language paperback edition.   Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves collects eleven of Schulz’s essays on Emerson and Thoreau written between the mid-1990s and 2010, two of which are published here for the first time. They are framed by two articles on Puritan precursors to Transcendentalism (Roger Williams and John Cotton) and two articles on twentieth-century followers (William Carlos Williams, and Martin Walser, whom Schulz presents as deeply indebted to Whitman). Schulz’s take on the Transcendentalists in these essays further develops ideas from his 1997 book, and, indeed, his critical project here is thematically continuous with his earliest publications from the early 1970s. Throughout this decade-spanning intellectual endeavor, Schulz has developed a mature, distinct voice, which comes to full fruition in these essays: he abstains from the attempt to score points with claims that are original at all cost and instead articulates positions that combine clarity—even a proclivity for the commonsensical—with at times unexpected insights gained from connections drawn to the Western philosophical tradition, including most centrally the Presocratics, Saint Augustine, George Berkeley, and Hans-Georg Gadamer.   While his early work was dedicated to the...

Read More
Karen A. Weyler, Empowering Words: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser
Aug11

Karen A. Weyler, Empowering Words: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser

KAREN A. WEYLER, Empowering Words: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America (Athens: U of Georgia P, 2013), 311 pp. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   In Empowering Words: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America, Karen A. Weyler gives a fascinating account of non-elites’ strategies—primarily collaborative writing and sponsorship by patrons and editors—to get their texts published during the radical expansion of American print culture from 1760 to 1815. Weyler’s book focuses on “those Americans without the advantages of an elite education, social class, or connections, who relied largely on their own labor for subsistence” (4) and “experienced significant constraints on their liberty and labor” (5). For many of the laborers, near-illiterates, slaves, indentured servants, unenfranchised, and women, whose texts Weyler considers, gaining access to print would have been impossible without elite support, first and foremost because most of them were poorly educated and could not write. In eighteenth-century America, “nonelite individuals often read reasonably well without being able to write much beyond their name, if that,” but their immersion in oral culture in many cases ensured that “being unable to write did not mean that one was unfamiliar with the rhetorical tropes or commonly expressed religious sentiments of the time” (7). Weyler sums up her observations concerning different degrees of literacy in an early statement that amounts to the book’s main thesis: “Participation in early American literary culture did not require functional literacy but rather a functional understanding of literacy and how it operated in Anglo-American culture” (8; emphasis in orig.).   What enables Weyler to trace the history of this highly heterogeneous group’s textual production is extensive archival research on ephemeral media (pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers), where outsiders published their captivity narratives, poems, formal addresses, and essays. Her inquiry takes us into hitherto unexplored territory not only in social terms but also in geographical terms, in her forages into archives outside of New England centers of cultural production. In methodological terms, Weyler usefully draws on what Jerome McGann calls ‘materialist hermeneutics,’ a recent approach that brings together the kind of text-based interpretation that literary scholars are most familiar with and book historians’ alertness to the materiality of texts.   Chapter one (“Mourning New England: Phillis Wheatley and the Broadside Elegy”) is devoted to a well-known writer who has a secure place in U.S. literary histories. In focusing on Phillis Wheatley’s early work rather than on her celebrated Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), Weyler is able to sketch in great detail the strategies that allowed Wheatley to become the first African American to publish a book of poetry. These strategies included her participation...

Read More
Annette Kolodny, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery. Reviewed by Johannes Fehrle
Aug11

Annette Kolodny, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery. Reviewed by Johannes Fehrle

ANNETTE KOLODNY, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery (Durham: Duke UP, 2012), 448 pp. Reviewed by Johannes Fehrle Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   Annette Kolodny is no stranger in U.S. Americanist circles. Her 1980 article “Dancing Through the Minefields” has been called “the most reprinted essay in American feminist literary criticism;”[1] her seminal studies The Lay of the Land (1975) and The Land Before Her (1984) were major mile stones in ecofeminism; and her teaching, as well as her 1992 article “Letting Go of Our Grand Obsessions: Notes Towards a New Literary History of the American Frontiers,” have left their marks on Western and Early American literary and cultural criticism. Due in part to Kolodny, young scholars have increasingly included in their examinations of ideas of the West and its contact zones works of early American literature as well as works written in languages other than English. Given these achievements, Kolodny sets a high bar for her latest work when in the first lines of her prologue, a kind of personal genesis of the book, she positions In Search of First Contact as the endpoint of a fifty year career as a researcher.   In Search of First Contact brings together contact narratives from Native American and Norse oral traditions. Kolodny’s aim is to locate the first contact between America’s Native inhabitants and its first know European would-be colonizers, not so much in geography, but in cultural history. Much of the monograph deals with the political and identificatory use of the Vikings as imagined ancestors in nineteenth-century America, including histories of the many forgeries and misinterpretations of archaeological evidence this search for and identification with the ‘Northern races’ has led to over the past two hundred years. One of the basic premises of Kolodny’s work is already hinted at in her monograph’s subtitle, namely that there exists an Anglo-American anxiety concerning historical roots. For Kolodny, the interpretation of first contact narratives is clearly political, and her monograph is in part a political intervention in the discursive struggle surrounding the interpretation of the ‘discovery’ of the New World, which has too often been part of a veiled attempt to write Native American out of history and thereby justify the attempted genocide against them. In her attempt to set the historical record straight, it is part of Kolodny’s politics to treat her Native ‘sources’ with respect and responsibility. As she writes in her prologue, she consulted with her Native “helpers” (7) and asked them to correct her account of their stories and gave them last say over...

Read More
Lawrence Buell, The Dream of the Great American Novel. Reviewed by Frank Gado
Aug11

Lawrence Buell, The Dream of the Great American Novel. Reviewed by Frank Gado

LAWRENCE BUELL, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Cambridge, MA; London: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2014), 567 pages. Reviewed by Frank Gado Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) As treated in this ambitious study, the term Great American Novel recalls the overcooked noodle in the sink, elusive in direct proportion to the intensity of the effort to grasp it. Buell acknowledges the difficulty at the outset—only to then leap over it. Avowing that no single constellation of features can define what a broad range of writers have striven to achieve, he promises “not just a series of free-standing essays about N number of books,” but an examination partitioned according to four defining concepts, which he variously labels “templates,” “scenarios,” “recipes,” or (his preference) “scripts.” What might underlie these divisions as variations of an identifying American ‘dream,’ however, never emerges; consequently, the volume actually does consist of free-standing discussions that track no consistent thesis.   As the first and “surest guarantee of GAN candidacy,” Buell cites “a kind of master narrative,” repeatedly imitated and reinvented. How curious, then, that he neither delineates a profile of any such rudimentary narrative scheme in his immediate choice for the accolade, The Scarlet Letter, nor explains his claim of its recurrence in any of its alleged progeny, among which he lists Adam Bede, The Damnation of Theron Ware, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, As I Lay Dying, a quartet of Updike novels, and even two dramas by Suzan-Lori Parks, In the Blood and Fucking A–. In what wildly distorted sense does Hester’s emblem function across more than sixteen decades as the “generative force” of a “master-text” somehow accommodating Celia Madden, Catherine Sloper, Isabel Archer, and Addie Bundren? It requires a heap of misreading to pledge them in the same sorority. In like manner, Hester’s scarlet bodice is elevated into a cultural “defining symbol,” reiterated in such diverse manifestations as the stain on Monia Lewinsky’s dress and, even, Mitt Romney’s sponsorship of healthcare legislation while Massachusetts governor. How can meanings so inconstant be said to define? Still more astonishing, Buell credits Hawthorne’s tale with having spawned numerous treatments of the “ordeals of immigrant transplantation,” from James’s The Europeans to Bharati Mukherjee’s The Holder of the World. Whatever the ordeal driving The Scarlet Letter may be (and Buell no more exfoliates its core meaning than does Hawthorne) it does not stem from immigrant transplantation.   Script Two, “Aspiration in America,” gathers what Buell calls “up-from” stories, tracing to Benjamin Franklin’s mythic Autobiography (a debatable lineage: it is obviously not a novel, and although its tale of upward mobility confirmed a basic American...

Read More
Nina Reid-Maroney, The Reverend Jennie Johnson and African Canadian History, 1868-1967. Reviewed by Nele Sawallisch
Aug04

Nina Reid-Maroney, The Reverend Jennie Johnson and African Canadian History, 1868-1967. Reviewed by Nele Sawallisch

NINA REID-MARONEY, The Reverend Jennie Johnson and African Canadian History, 1868-1967 (Rochester: U of Rochester P, 2013), 186 pp. Reviewed by Nele Sawallisch Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   In 1971, historian Robin Winks wrote the authoritative book on the African Canadian experience, covering three and a half centuries of the history of black people in Canada.[1] Although Winks’s survey has remained the most extensive work on this topic until today, it has also been a challenge to the emerging field of Black Canadian Studies: while on the one hand, it brought the history of Blacks in Canada to the fore and accused the falsified Canadian self-image as the ‘safe haven’ for black refugees from U.S.-American slavery, Winks’s book also offered disappointing conclusions. Winks subscribes to the myths of black lethargy and passivity as well as to an alleged lack of a “national heritage” to build a stable African Canadian identity (477), thereby ignoring and misinterpreting his own findings on black contributions to Canadian history. Therefore, historiography on Blacks in Canada has also meant writing in response to generalizing assumptions such as those propagated by Winks. Reid-Maroney’s The Reverend Jennie Johnson and African Canadian History, 1868-1967 can be read as such a response. It represents an effort to shed light on one chapter of Canadian history that, as a whole, has remained at the margins of national historiography for centuries. In fact, only in recent decades have scholars such as James Walker, Afua Cooper, George Elliott Clarke, and many others come to unearth the contributions of Blacks in Canada, claiming a place for them in Canadian textbooks, university curricula, and, on a larger scale, public memory. With this first full-fledged study of the Reverend Johnson’s life, Reid-Maroney engages in a process of “restoration” (x), of bringing back to our attention the story of one individual who, despite her unusual life (in more than one respect), has consciously been ‘lost’ in history.   Jennie Johnson was born in Dresden in 1868, one of the small settlements established in the first half of the nineteenth century by black refugees from U.S.-American slavery in Canada West, with deep roots in abolitionism on Canadian soil. By settling there, Johnson’s grandmother and grandfather, a fugitive himself, were at the heart of that “transatlantic debate about the political meaning of immigration to Canada West” (5). Johnson’s growing up in a tightly-knit community of former slaves and their descendants marked her and her struggle for black civil rights as an adult. From her extraordinary “resurrection”(58) as a seemingly stillborn child at birth, Jennie Johnson went on to lead a most unusual life for a woman in...

Read More
Caroline Wagter, “Mouths on Fire with Songs:” Negotiating Multi-Ethnic Identities on the Contemporary North American Stage. Reviewed by Kurt Müller
Aug04

Caroline Wagter, “Mouths on Fire with Songs:” Negotiating Multi-Ethnic Identities on the Contemporary North American Stage. Reviewed by Kurt Müller

CAROLINE DE WAGTER, “Mouths on Fire with Songs:” Negotiating Multi-Ethnic Identities on the Contemporary North American Stage, Cross/Cultures: Readings in Post/Colonial Literatures and Cultures in English, Vol. 163 (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2013), 356 pp. Reviewed by Kurt Müller Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   The present study takes its starting point from the observation that “in spite of flourishing theatrical activity across the North American stage, ethnic and indigenous dramatic productions continue to be neglected by scholarship” (xiv). Although there has been an ever increasing output of critical studies in that field over the past decades, De Wagter’s book represents a pioneering effort both with regard to its large scope and wealth of material and its methodological approach. Taking a cross-national and cross-ethnic comparative perspective, the study analyzes a corpus of twenty-five plays by sixteen different Canadian and U.S.-American playwrights of diverse (indigenous, African, and Asian/South Asian) and often mixed ethnic backrounds. The approach is based on the assumption that in spite of their great differences, all these plays and their authors “share typical markers of postcoloniality” (xv) and thus also share a common agenda: the deconstruction of the binary conceptions imposed by the colonialist discourse systems of ‘white’ Western culture. The theoretical foundation of the study is provided by the paradigm of postcolonial studies, a paradigm that replaces the (essentialist) multicultural model of basically static and fixed cultural identities with the more flexible and dynamic notion of identity construction as an ever-continuing process of change and ‘hybridization’, while at the same time stressing the ‘oppositional,’ ‘subversive,’ or ‘transgressive’ (etc.) potential of that process.   The study is divided into an introduction, four main chapters and a conclusion. The introduction provides the reader with a detailed and systematic exposition. Locating its own project within the contexts of the existing scholarly efforts relevant to the field, the study continues with a short but concise characterization of the historical origins and ideological implications of the American Dream and the idea of multiculturalism as the national founding myths of the United States and Canada respectively. This is followed by an equally concise overview of the multi-ethnic theater scene in both countries that stresses the close interrelationship between the social changes effected by the dynamics of immigration on the one hand and the development of a multi-ethnic theater on the other.   Reflecting on the terminolgy used in the study, the introduction furthermore discusses the problematic ideological implications of such terms as ‘multiculturalism,’ ‘melting pot,’ or ‘mosaic,’ adopting here the critical position and terminology of Stuart Hall who offers the term “multi-ethnic” as a concept “more appropriate to describe inter- and...

Read More
Arnold Krupat, “That the People Might Live”: Loss and Renewal in Native American Elegy. Reviewed by Joanne van der Woude
Jul28

Arnold Krupat, “That the People Might Live”: Loss and Renewal in Native American Elegy. Reviewed by Joanne van der Woude

ARNOLD KRUPAT, “That the People Might Live”: Loss and Renewal in Native American Elegy (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 2012), 242pp. Reviewed by Joanne van der Woude Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   Arnold Krupat, an authority in Native American autobiography, applies his analytical acumen to several different genres in his most recent book, reading widely in a tradition that he himself has helped to canonize. His insights are pithy—the main text runs only 170 pages—and will serve as jumping-off points for future scholars, one hopes, rather than as the definitive readings of an evocative selection of texts. Krupat is less interested in literary themes or figures of speech than in what “genres […] behaviorally […] do or functionally seek to bring about” (13; emphasis in orig.). Genres, in his definition, which is worth citing at length, must accomplish certain psychological, ritual, and religious ends: “to help bring about the appropriate ‘feeding,’ placating or ‘releasing’ the spirits of the dead, aiding their journey to the spirit land, commemorating or, indeed, helping the living to forget them. They also […] function to console the living, raise their spirits, and restore healthy communal relations, that the People [a collective of Native Americans] might live” (13).   Only when they fulfill these functions does Krupat consider (most of) the examined performances, ceremonies, speeches, autobiographies, and poems as ‘elegies.’ Although he refers to other important literary studies of the elegiac form (by Peter Sacks, Jahan Ramazani, and Max Cavitch) and thoughtfully engages Freud’s ideas of mourning and melancholia, this behavioral interpretation short-changes the Western tradition, which also defines elegies psychologically— they are “to praise, lament, and console”—both with regards to the deceased and the bereaved.[1] This matters because the European and Native elegy are thus more alike than Krupat thinks, in that they both contain programs for communal emotions, and Native expression thus need not (necessarily) be considered in a rarified realm of its own. Instead, Indian elegy could have benefitted from a consideration that charts its engagement(s) with white ways of textual mourning: for instance, the very first piece of poetry published by a Native American was an elegy in Latin and ancient Greek for Thomas Tacher, a Puritan minister, by a Harvard student known as Eleazar. Now, the mere mention of this poem is relegated to an endnote (n. 39, p. 206), which appears—probably through no fault of Krupat’s—in nearly illegibly small font.   However, there are many other things to love about this book, among them Krupat’s deft handling of ideas such as exile and Freud’s notion of melancholia. “Exile,” writes Krupat, should be seen as “a disruption in the...

Read More
Wilfried Raussert and Graciela Martínez-Zalce, eds., (Re)Discovering ‘America’: Road Movies and Other Travel Narratives in North America/(Re)Discubriendo ‘America’: Road movie y otras narrativas de viaje en América del Norte. Reviewed by Julia Roth
Jul28

Wilfried Raussert and Graciela Martínez-Zalce, eds., (Re)Discovering ‘America’: Road Movies and Other Travel Narratives in North America/(Re)Discubriendo ‘America’: Road movie y otras narrativas de viaje en América del Norte. Reviewed by Julia Roth

WILFRIED RAUSSERT and GRACIELA MARTÍNEZ-ZALCE, eds., (Re)Discovering ‘America’: Road Movies and Other Travel Narratives in North America/(Re)Discubriendo ‘America’: Road movie y otras narrativas de viaje en América del Norte, Inter-American Studies/Estudios Interamericanos, Vol. 6 (Trier: WVT; Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2012), 242 pp. Reviewed by Julia Roth Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   The volume (Re)Discovering ‘America’ pursues an ambitious objective. In the introduction the editors Wilfried Raussert (Bielefeld University) and Graciela Martínez-Zalce (University of Guadalajara) state that there is a re-emergence of road movies. As there are surprisingly few systematic studies on the road movie as a genre and far fewer on its relation to other literary, cultural, or cinematic traditions such as the travel narrative or the U.S.-American frontier myth, the volume at hand follows a path-finding critical endeavor in examining this little-studied form. Moreover, the editors seek to approach the traditionally U.S.-American and Hollywood-centric genre through an inter-American theoretical lens of ‘transculturality.’ Pursuing the aim of “widen[ing] American studies to the studies of the Americas” (7), the book includes “new and alternative road movies” (as stated on the book cover) from Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The authors place particular emphasis on analyzing the ways in which place and identity in alternative road movies are constructed through mobility as attempts to rediscover ‘America.’   Unlike in numerous other cultural studies publications claiming to be transcultural or transnational in scope, the proclaimed inter-American perspective is taken seriously here. The contributors to the volume analyze U.S.-American, Canadian, and Mexican movies and the volume includes an equal share of texts in Spanish and English (with a summary in the other language, respectively). The fact that such bilingual projects are still rather an exception than the rule implicitly alludes to the problem of the dominance of English in studies on the Americas whereby established scholars from the United States are ‘allowed’ to exclude other perspectives (because they are not in English).   Raussert and Martínez-Zalce further expand the methodological lens of ‘transculturality’ one can usually find as a new phenomenon in American and cultural studies by tracing the key concept of transculturality back to Latin American (and particularly Caribbean) thinkers who had worked out the concept long before it was turned into a ‘turn.’ Referring to Cuban theorist Fernando Ortíz, who came up with the concept of ‘transculturality,’ the editors suggest that “postnational discourses in North America Studies […] as well as the border discourses in German American Studies, are surely indebted to Ortiz’s earlier concept” (6). Theoretician Ángel Rama, who expanded Ortiz’s concept in his examination of narrative transculturation (which he saw most accomplished in the work...

Read More
Irina Bauder-Begerow and Stefanie Schäfer, Learning 9/11: Teaching for Key Competences in Literary and Cultural Studies. Reviewed by Wolfgang Hochbruck
Jul28

Irina Bauder-Begerow and Stefanie Schäfer, Learning 9/11: Teaching for Key Competences in Literary and Cultural Studies. Reviewed by Wolfgang Hochbruck

IRINA BAUDER-BEGEROW and STEFANIE SCHÄFER, Learning 9/11: Teaching for Key Competences in Literary and Cultural Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2011), 302 pp. Reviewed by Wolfgang Hochbruck Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) This is a fascinating collection of essays. Simultaneously, it is a puzzling conglomerate of didactic and educational contentions and hypotheses. The very title, Learning 9/11, seems to state a necessity for an overhaul of traditional learning systems and methodologies in the wake of fundamental changes wrought by the effects of the 9/11 attacks. Not that there is unanimity about the importance of 9/11: Michael Butter and his co-editors have claimed that 9/11 did not change the world, and Stephan Packard and Ursula Hennigfeld have bid farewell to the catastrophe[1] that had originally triggered a plethora of cultural responses and a subsequent host of scholarly commentaries. Many of these cultural responses displayed a self-conscious (or unselfconscious) sense of inadequacy to begin with, and most of them have duly been forgotten by now. Most of the scholarly assessments will probably meet a similar fate. Case closed?   Not necessarily. The present collection, edited by former research assistants Bauder-Bergerow and Schäfer, at least partly in response to their own training in the Hochschuldidaktik program of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, looks like a resolute response to the lurking suspicion that more than just the towers of the World Trade Center fell that day. Arguably, the ensuing (inter-)national paranoia in the United States and at least for a while also in parts of Europe still calls for a realignment of whole systems of teaching and learning. So the editors “propose to revive the connection between ‘learning about culture’ in higher education and ‘learning culture’ as a competence-based path to life-long learning and participation in society” (10). Which sounds good. And ominous.   Good, because one rather obvious reason for the efficacy of the 9/11 assassins was the breathtaking lack of cultural competence on the part of cultural analysts, researchers, and ultimately security personnel in identifying and eliminating the threat that eventually led to the spectacular success of the attacks. The first instance of “Learning 9/11”, one might claim, took place on board Flight 97, where a handful of passengers and crew gained a tragic insight into the limited agency they still had regarding their own lives—and acted on that.   Ominous, because more often than not the editors and contributors alike seem to share the basic twenty-first-century German fear to tread in any other mode than softly. The response offered in the introduction is the focus on “key competences” that are identified as “reading, writing, intercultural and media competences” (14, cf. 10). Is that...

Read More
Daniel Horowitz, Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World. Reviewed by Günter Leypoldt
Jul28

Daniel Horowitz, Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World. Reviewed by Günter Leypoldt

DANIEL HOROWITZ, Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2012), xii + 491 pp. Reviewed by Günter Leypoldt Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   Almost from its eighteenth-century beginnings, the rise of a commercialized literary market has polarized critics into despisers and defenders—those who associate ‘mass culture’ with the mindless consumption of easy pleasures (in contrast to the emancipatory pleasures of a high-cultural aesthetic) and those who praise ‘popular culture’ for its down-to-earth connection with the soul of common folk (in contrast to an austere and detached avant-garde). Daniel Horowitz’s Consuming Pleasures, an intellectual history of post-WWII cultural criticism in the United States (in transatlantic perspective), seeks to historicize this dichotomy by tracing a shift from the despising to the defending attitude between the 1950s and the 1970s. He suggests that during this period “writers came to envision popular culture and consumer culture in fresh and provocative ways,” which led them to critique “cultural hierarchies and moralistic approaches to commercial culture” and to emphasize “playfulness and pleasure” (1) as legitimate goals of literary-aesthetic reception. It does not come as a surprise that the 1960s weakened some of the more rigid cultural hierarchies, but Horowitz contextualizes the shifting critical climate in a number of significant post-WWII developments: the social transitions that accompany the rise of consumer culture, the changing position of literary criticism as a source of cultural legitimacy within the humanities and social sciences, the tensions of political ideologies in the Cold War period, and an evolving sense of what it means to speak about the popular.   Horowitz’s main interest lies in the changing views of consumption, an interest he pursued in two of his critically acclaimed earlier books. His study on The Morality of Spending: Attitudes towards the Consumer Society in America, 1875-1940 (Baltimore, 1985) showed how the economic transformation of the United States between the Gilded Age and WWII was accompanied by a profound dread of the commercialization of life: where an earlier generation of nineteenth-century social critics (from Tocqueville to Veblen) framed the moral dangers of money with images of a lower-class lack of restraint, early twentieth-century observers worried about how the rise of a consumer culture might reduce the American middle classes to passive followers of emotionally empty conventions. In The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979 (Amherst, 2004), Horowitz then traced the intellectual’s suspicion of unrestrained consumption into the second half of the twentieth century. The present volume seems to be a companion piece of sorts, focusing on how the more traditional moralistic attitude of cultural consumption was gradually displaced by a...

Read More
Anja Werner, The Transatlantic World of Higher Education: Americans at German Universities, 1776-1914. Reviewed by Annette G. Aubert
Jul28

Anja Werner, The Transatlantic World of Higher Education: Americans at German Universities, 1776-1914. Reviewed by Annette G. Aubert

ANJA WERNER, The Transatlantic World of Higher Education: Americans at German Universities, 1776-1914 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013), xiii + 329 pp. Reviewed by Annette G. Aubert Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) In the nineteenth century, a total of 9,000 to 10,000 American students attended Germany’s best universities. A growing number of German and American scholars have been exploring how the influences of German education shaped America’s higher education system during that time, while acknowledging the limitations of attempts to duplicate German educational paradigms. One of the earlier research efforts in this area was Jurgen Herbst’s German Historical School in American Scholarship (1965), a broad investigation of the influence of German higher education on the American disciplines of history, religion, philosophy, and the social sciences. Three decades later a group of German and American scholars contributed to a collection of articles edited by Henry Geitz, Jürgen Heideking, and Jurgen Herbst under the title German Influences on Education in the United States to 1917 (1995), in which they explored German educational influences on America, from nursery schools to universities, and in individual disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts. Also, in Americans and German Scholarship, 1770–1870 (1978), Carl Diehl described in broad strokes the effects of German education on Americans who studied in Germany during that period.   Anja Werner has written a noteworthy addition to this topic in the form of a comprehensive analysis of the nineteenth-century American student migration to Germany. By addressing an important gap in the history of American higher education, she clarifies our understanding of the lives of American students attending German universities at Göttingen, Halle, Leipzig, and Heidelberg from 1776 to 1914. Using a range of archival sources to establish a comprehensive description of American student life abroad, Werner adds telling details on student migration patterns, the makeup of student communities in the American colonies, and aspects of academic networks, details that previous scholars have glossed over.   Academic networking is the prominent theme in this book. Werner provides valuable insights in the form of both statistical data and biographical information and considers a broad range of topics such as gender diversity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, economic factors, and even military history. While her book cannot be viewed as a significant break from previous research, Werner has made an important contribution to the research of American student life in Germany in terms of personal educational experiences.   In the first of eight chapters, Werner reviews five periods in American educational reform, touching on topics such as military conflicts and the history of Southern higher education. She reminds us that “the South also left its imprint on student...

Read More
Werner Sollors, The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s. Reviewed by Christa Buschendorf
Jul28

Werner Sollors, The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s. Reviewed by Christa Buschendorf

WERNER SOLLORS, The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014), 400pp. Reviewed by Christa Buschendorf Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) Distance may distort our view on history. In the case of the post-World War II era, the success story of German economic recovery and democratic reeducation has come to dominate our understanding of the emergence of the postwar order. We focus on the outcome, a prosperous Federal Republic of Germany reintegrated into Western Europe, rather than being aware of the utterly vanquished country staggering out of the catastrophe of the war and its atrocities. In taking us back to the general atmosphere and the common experiences of ordinary people (Germans, Americans, Europeans, survivors of the Holocaust, soldiers, refugees, etc.) living in occupied Germany in the years from 1945 to 1948, Sollors recaptures a past that is by now unfamiliar to most of us, especially the younger generation. His Tales of the 1940s draw on a wide variety of sources, including published and unpublished personal documents such as letters, (revised) diaries and (post festum edited) autobiographies; various media, such as newspaper articles, photographs, cartoons; official data, such as the famous denazification questionnaire, government statistics and reports; as well as fictional narratives in the form of novels, short stories, and movies. Instead of expressing relief of having survived devastation, all these contemporary voices convey a deep sense of suffering either experienced or witnessed, and, consequently, they disseminate a mood of profound anguish. The tales they tell are deeply upsetting. As Sollors explains, the expression ‘the temptation of despair’ occurs in Georges Bernanos’s 1926 novel Sous le soleil de Satan. Grappling with the Christian deadly sin of losing hope, it obviously hit the nerve of the postwar decade, so that the German translation Die Sonne Satans—published in a rororo paperback edition in 1950—instantly became a bestseller (7).   The Temptation of Despair is far from being yet another history of postwar Germany. Each of the six chapters focuses on significant everyday-life experiences—liberation, life in ruins, confrontation with the notion of collective guilt, denazification, black market, etc. —as each chapter takes its departure from a specific date that in turn is connected to a particular source. Chapter two, for example, is entitled “May 7, 1945,” a date that refers not only to the capitulation of Germany but also to the publication of Life magazine’s cover story on “The German People,” which contained an iconic photograph by the English documentary photographer George Rodger with the caption “A small boy strolls down a road lined with dead bodies near camp at Belsen.” In the context of the documentation of liberated...

Read More
Carl H. Nightingale, Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities. Reviewed by Maria Daxenbichler
Jul28

Carl H. Nightingale, Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities. Reviewed by Maria Daxenbichler

CARL H. NIGHTINGALE, Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 2012), 536 pp. Reviewed by Maria Daxenbichler  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   In Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities, Carl H. Nightingale traces the development of urban segregation from ancient cities to the twenty-firstcentury. He argues that from the seventeenth century onward, race became the most important component of urban segregation and that it has become a worldwide phenomenon because cities have been, and still are, interconnected. The main profiteers of racial urban segregation have been the white inhabitants of cities. They intentionally created institutions such as “governments, networks of intellectual exchange, and […] the modern capitalist real estate industry” (5) to create and uphold racial segregation. This institutional structure rests on “more broadly held beliefs, ideas, and customs” (7) that sustain its power.   The color lines segregation draws are never clear, Nightingale argues, because the segregation of cities—which are by definition places of human interaction—is a paradox. The “ideas, interests, and practices people mobilize for or against segregation are complex” (10), and the powers that keep segregation in place constantly have to negotiate between their interests and movements of resistance. Nightingale points out that the ways segregation affected cities are diverse and messy, yet he argues that there are “long-distance connections” (10) between segregationists around the world. While he writes that a transnational analysis of these connections offers “richer contexts for comparisons between cities” (10), Nightingale does not focus on comparing cities’ histories but rather on the connections between them.   The segregation of cities has always been a means by which elite groups enhance their power and wealth (2); only the definition of who constitutes the dominant group changed. Nightingale argues that institutional racial segregation of cities started in British colonies in India. The attempt to make settlements for only white people had already been practiced in the earliest settler colonies in the Americas. However, only the “demographic, economic, and political circumstances” (55) of the East India Company in Madras at the end of the seventeenth century made city officials build a wall around “Christian Town,” which was designated to Europeans, to separate it from “Black Town” (61), which was designated to Indians. In the early eighteenth century, they replaced the term ‘Christian’ to define themselves with ‘white,’ following a trend that had started in British colonies in the West Indies and America. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Atlantic slave trade had connected the categories ‘black’ and ‘white’ to the concept of race and made it “one of the most successful concepts in global...

Read More
Miles Orvell and Klaus Benesch, eds., Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue. Reviewed by Gerd Hurm
Jul28

Miles Orvell and Klaus Benesch, eds., Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue. Reviewed by Gerd Hurm

MILES ORVELL and KLAUS BENESCH, eds., Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2014), 245 pp. Reviewed by Gerd Hurm Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) Paradoxes provide great tools for challenging well-trodden mental paths and for creating alertness in slumbering minds. Henry David Thoreau’s classic “The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us” awakens readers into awareness that seeing may not be directly translated into insight and that what you see may not necessarily be what you get. Cities are a paradigmatic case in point. What you see in a city need not be of its own urban making. In their compelling essay collection Rethinking the American City, editors Miles Orvell and Klaus Benesch also challenge readers promptly with a paradox by urban historian Mike Davis. Contradicting conventional assessments of the relationship between the current climate crisis and contemporary American cities, Davis holds that “the single most important cause of global warming—the urbanization of humanity—is also potentially the principal solution to the problem of human survival in the later twenty-first century” (xii). At first glance it seems inadequate to call darkness light, suggesting that the unsustainability evident in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, or Phoenix will provide the solution to our environmental crisis. Since the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Communiqué, we have been aware of the admonition that “the future of our globe will be won or lost in cities of the world” (30) and that, as a consequence of this observation, adjustment, and change in cities is inevitable. Davis’s paradoxical solution that cities may provide the means to overcome the climate crisis can be addressed on two levels. What Davis argues is that the horizontal expansion of urban sprawl as one of the major causes of climate change is actually driven by an “anti-urban” or “suburban” impulse (xii). What he suggests as a solution is to follow the “classically urban” impulse to integrate work, recreation, and home life in compact dense neighborhoods and thus move toward a virtuous urban ecological future.   The Davis paradox can then be understood as a question of defining ‘urban’ properly. What a city means and how it functions is a key question. However, this question still remains unanswered in urban studies even after the much promoted ‘spatial turn’ in recent decades. As Dolores Hayden rightly points out in her foreword to the volume, “definitions of key terms such as space, place […] urban, and suburban remain controversial” (viii). It is therefore also one of the aims of the volume to make sense of the “messiness” in the meaning of “space and place” (xv)....

Read More
Reiner Smolinski and Jan Stievermann, eds., Cotton Mather and Biblia Americana – America’s First Bible Commentary: Essays in Reappraisal. Reviewed by Tibor Fabiny
Jun01

Reiner Smolinski and Jan Stievermann, eds., Cotton Mather and Biblia Americana – America’s First Bible Commentary: Essays in Reappraisal. Reviewed by Tibor Fabiny

REINER SMOLINSKI and JAN STIEVERMANN, eds., Cotton Mather and Biblia Americana – America’s First Bible Commentary: Essays in Reappraisal (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck and Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic 2010), 593 pp. Reviewed by Tibor Fabiny Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014) Written between 1693 and 1728, Biblia Americana, the longest book of the most prolific American Puritan Cotton Mather (1663-1728), had to wait for more than three hundred years until its publication was realized thanks to the scholarly perserverance and accurate scholarship of its editors: Reiner Smolinski of Georgia State University, USA, and Jan Stievermann of the University of Tübingen (now at the University of Heidelberg). Six huge folio-sized holograph manuscripts, though not undamaged, were preserved in the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society of Boston. The editorial plan is to publish this huge work, the oldest comprehensive commentary on the Bible composed in British North America, in ten volumes as a transatlantic joint venture of the prestigious theological publishers of Mohr Siebeck and Baker Academic.   In 2008, an international conference was held in Tübingen. The twenty “essays in reappraisal” are the tangible fruits of this conference. This book is a proper companion to the series and powerfully offers a revisionist image of this New England polymath, a ‘New Mather’ whose intellectual heritage has unfortunately been grossly misinterpreted. Impressive current scholarship uncovers the massive scholarship of this eighteenth-century intellectual giant. The earlier disrespect came mainly from the one-sided interpretation of Mather’s participation in the notorious Salem witchcraft hysteria of 1692 but, as Harry Stout remarks in the Preface, “[t]he Mather revealed in the unpublished ‘Biblia Americana’ is not your grandfather’s Mather of witches and hysteria, but an incredibly erudite interlocutor of Enlightenment learning” (x). The publishing of the ten volumes, also in digitalized form, can only be compared to the edition of The Works of Jonathan Edwards of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University.   The first, as well as the last, essay in the collection is by Jan Stievermann, the co-editor of both the text and the twenty papers and it serves a general introduction to Cotton Mather and his Biblia Americana. We learn from this erudite and carefully written study that Mather published over four hundred works in his lifetime, of which he considered his unpublished Biblia Americana the most important of his works. His interdisciplinary commentary marks the beginning of historical criticism, well before the advent of German high criticism. Mather used several Bible translations simultaneously, including, of course, the original Hebrew and Greek texts, the Septuagint, Jerome’s Vulgate, and the Aramaic Targums. He had to face the emerging rationalism of the mid-seventeenth century represented by...

Read More
Edward Watts and David J. Carlson, eds., John Neal and Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture. Reviewed by Klaus H. Schmidt
Jun01

Edward Watts and David J. Carlson, eds., John Neal and Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture. Reviewed by Klaus H. Schmidt

EDWARD WATTS and DAVID J. CARLSON, eds., John Neal and Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture (Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2012), xxxiv + 319 pp. Reviewed by Klaus H. Schmidt Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014) In many a review, claiming the importance of the volume under discussion is little more than a rhetorical strategy. In the case of John Neal and Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, it simply reflects the facts. As an experimental writer, contentious critic, unconventional editor, and fearless reformist, John Neal (1793-1876) played a central role in the cultural matrix of the early national period and in the transatlantic negotiation of an emerging literary marketplace. Equally influential as a proponent of literary nationalism, pioneer of American historical fiction, advocate of women’s rights, and new type of regionalist, he helped pave the way for a phenomenon later known as the American Renaissance. That an intellectual ranked by Edgar Allan Poe as “among our men of indisputable genius,”[1] remembered by Nathaniel Hawthorne as “that wild fellow,”[2] and praised by Margaret Fuller as “truly a man”[3] could ever be written out of literary history would have been unthinkable in his time. As late as 1962, Hans-Joachim Lang was unable to imagine that Neal’s place in American literature was bound to become insecure: “It would be an exaggeration to say that John Neal […] is a neglected author. He was too forceful a personality […] to be easily forgotten […].”[4] What Lang still labeled an “exaggeration” must now be called an understatement.[5] This is evidenced by the fact that the present volume turns out to be the first collection of critical essays ever published[6] on this key figure of nineteenth-century American culture. Its publication should in particular be of interest to German Americanists, whose scholarly interventions have been instrumental in preventing Neal’s oeuvre from sinking into obscurity.[7] **** As the editors explain in their acknowledgments, the idea for this collection was formed during the Sixth Biennial Conference of the Society of Early Americanists in Hamilton, Bermuda (March 4-7, 2009). While none of the seventy-two panels were dedicated specifically to Neal, “seven papers discussed his work” (ix). Convinced that these papers were striking proof of the author’s relevance to current research, Edward Watts and David J. Carlson decided to offer a textual platform for further investigation. The contributors the editors finally managed to bring together in this collection make for a productive mix of specialists like Carlson, Elmer, Fleischmann, Orestano, Richter, Watts, and Weyler, whose publications account for almost half of what has been written on Neal in the last three decades,[8] and scholars like Hayes, Holt, Insko, Merlob, Pethers, and Sivils, who look...

Read More
Philip F. Gura, Truth’s Ragged Edge: The Rise of the American Novel. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser
May25

Philip F. Gura, Truth’s Ragged Edge: The Rise of the American Novel. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser

PHILIP F. GURA, Truth’s Ragged Edge: The Rise of the American Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 352 pp. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014) When Philip F. Gura, the author of Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical (2005) and editor of Early American Literature, publishes a book subtitled “The Rise of the American Novel,” this marks an event in Early American Studies. And when the dust jacket tells us that this book presents “a comprehensive and original history of the American novel’s first century” that “paint[s] a complete and authoritative portrait of the era,” expectations run high. In what ways, the expectant Early Americanist asks, does Gura challenge and revise the accounts bequeathed to us by the groundbreaking revisionist studies of the 1980s by Jay Fliegelman, Emory Elliott, and Cathy N. Davidson, the challenges posed to these seminal works by, among others, Larzer Ziff, Grantland S. Rice, and Michael T. Gilmore as well as the more recent transnational turn in American Studies?   What is most irritating about Gura’s latest book is that he does not even attempt to provide an answer to that question. Instead, he understands his own contribution as a response not to these studies but to “Alexander Cowie’s 1948  history The Rise of the American Novel,” which, Gura tells us, “still remains, along with Richard Chase’s 1957 classic The American Novel and Its Tradition, one of the most thorough and well-regarded studies of its kind” (xviii-xix). In building on this scholarship from the 1940s and 1950s, Gura’s “hope is that bringing women and African American novelists into the discussion will result in the fullest understanding yet of the early American novel” (xix). Reading large parts of Truth’s Ragged Edge, one is led to believe that the last thirty years of literary scholarship on the early American novel never happened. What Gura does here is not just contribute to the ‘trade gap’ diagnosed by Eric Slauter (that literary critics read and cite historians but not vice versa); it constitutes an all-out boycott.   This has palpably negative consequences, which already become apparent in the first chapter (“Beginnings”) of the first part (which covers the years 1789 to 1850). There, Susanna Rowson’s sentimental novel Charlotte Temple is described as nothing but “a simple morality tale” (21) that apparently lacks the internal tensions and antipatriarchal undercurrents identified by Fliegelman and Davidson a quarter century ago. Equally disappointingly, Gura’s discussions of novels here and elsewhere all too often amount to little more than biographical sketches of their authors, plot paraphrases, and attempts to pin down the “message” (13) or “point” (22) of each literary work. When...

Read More
François Specq, Laura Dassow Walls, and Michel Granger, eds., Thoreauvian Modernities: Transatlantic Conversations on an American Icon. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz
May25

François Specq, Laura Dassow Walls, and Michel Granger, eds., Thoreauvian Modernities: Transatlantic Conversations on an American Icon. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz

FRANÇOIS SPECQ, LAURA DASSOW WALLS, and MICHEL GRANGER, eds., Thoreauvian Modernities: Transatlantic Conversations on an American Icon (Athens: U of Georgia P, 2013), 310 pp. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014) In June 2009, Thoreau scholars from the United States and Europe (mostly France) convened in Lyon—“the first ever such meeting on European soil devoted to Thoreau,” as the organizers insist (xi). Thoreauvian Modernities: Transatlantic Conversations on an American Icon is its outcome. Several of the sixteen contributions present compelling new ideas on hotly debated topics in recent Thoreau scholarship, particularly regarding Thoreau’s intense preoccupation, in his later life, with recording the particularity of his natural surroundings. While Walden remains a touchstone for virtually all the critics in this collection, it is his Journal and “Kalendar” project that elicit the most fascinating readings. A few of the contributors, particularly Michel Granger, William Rossi, and David Robinson, focus on the book’s nominal topic—Thoreau’s relation to modernity—by negotiating Thoreau’s critique of modernity with his modern conception of knowledge. But one clearly senses the editors’ effort to graft a common theme onto a diverse set of inquiries. While readers interested in a systematic study of Thoreau’s position vis-à-vis modernity should not expect too much from Thoreauvian Modernities (they might instead turn to the recent studies by Shannon Mariotti and Clemens Spahr as well as to the essays compiled by Jack Turner in the The Political Companion), [1] this does not make the book less worthwhile. The exigencies of marketing academic events and publications all too often require making false promises, but in this case ample compensation is offered by the book’s—less marketable—quality of bringing together an international roster of experts whose common topic is quite simply Thoreau.   Before considering a few of the more striking essays assembled here, some words are in order regarding an editorial decision that yields problems more severe than the collection’s packaging. It seems accurate to refer to the book as conference proceedings rather than as an essay collection. Though surely revised with great care after their initial presentation at the conference, the pieces collected by the editors retain the somewhat provisional character of conference talks. The essays’ main text seldom exceeds fifteen pages; in many cases it amounts to no more than ten. Brevity can be a virtue if it is the result of willful condensation, but here it tends to keep the authors from presenting fully developed arguments. Consequently, Thoreauvian Modernities collects spirited statements rather than landmark essays. Strangely, this feel of the provisional even affects some of the more extended pieces, like co-editor Laura Dassow Walls’s otherwise fascinating “Walking West, Gazing East:...

Read More
Susanne Rohr and Miriam Strube, eds., Revisiting Pragmatism: William James in the New Millennium. Reviewed by Martin Klepper
May18

Susanne Rohr and Miriam Strube, eds., Revisiting Pragmatism: William James in the New Millennium. Reviewed by Martin Klepper

SUSANNE ROHR and MIRIAM STRUBE, eds., Revisiting Pragmatism: William James in the New Millennium (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), 233 pp. Reviewed by Martin Klepper Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014) It is true, as Susanne Rohr and Miriam Strube suggest in the introduction to this volume, that American pragmatism in general and William James in particular still count as something of an embarrassment in mainstream European philosophical and cultural quarters: an embarrassment in the double sense that pragmatism in its “evasion” of “epistemology-centered philosophy” or systematic conceptualization (119-20) has always appeared, on the one hand, slippery or glib (or, worse, expressive of American capitalism) and, on the other hand, predestined to highlight the limitations of traditional European philosophical practices. Quoting Joseph Margolis, Rohr and Strube view pragmatism’s advantage as “favoring the flux of history over fixity, invariance, universalisms of every sort, cognitive privilege, abstract truths” (10). [1] This antifoundational stance also motivates pragmatism’s preoccupation with practice, with method, and with process—with unfinished and unfinishable business, so to speak.   The aim of this volume is an inquiry “into the role pragmatist thinking currently plays and could play in the future” (10). In order to do this, the book presents four sections: “William James: Foundations” (a somewhat ironic title for an antifoundational theory, assembling essays on James’s strategies), “The Truth and Nature of/in Pragmatism” (essays on the concept of truth, James’s idea of man, and pragmatism’s swerve towards cultural criticism), “Pragmatism and Cultural Politics” (articles on pragmatism’s affinity with radical political, critical race, and Native American thinking), and “Current Debates in Politics, Ethics and the Sciences” (essays on recent practical utilizations of pragmatism). In other words, the volume presents a wide variety of explorations into pragmatism’s claims and validity.   I have greatly enjoyed reading the essays in this collection. One has to keep in mind that this is neither an introduction to pragmatism nor to William James (a difficult enterprise, anyway; and there are already a number of helpful entries into the topic), [2] and it is not a systematic collection of specific issues or topics within pragmatist practices. Rather, the volume probes a range of current debates and applications of Jamesian thinking. As such it is inspiring, sometimes surprising, and always interesting. I suspect that Susanne Rohr and Miriam Strube aimed at reminding the reader of how productive, fascinating, and momentous William James’s ideas can still be—and they certainly succeeded, at least with me.   The first section deals with William James’s modes of thinking (he would perhaps call them his denkmittel). It is the liveliest section, owed to Heinz Ickstadt’s sagacious (and helpful) responses to essays by Joan Richardson...

Read More
Kathryn Hume, Aggressive Fiction: Reading the Contemporary American Novel. Reviewed by Birgit Däwes
May18

Kathryn Hume, Aggressive Fiction: Reading the Contemporary American Novel. Reviewed by Birgit Däwes

KATHRYN HUME, Aggressive Fiction: Reading the Contemporary American Novel (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2012), 200 + xiii pp. Reviewed by Birgit Däwes Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) When Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho was published in 1991, Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley called it “a contemptible piece of pornography, the literary equivalent of a snuff flick.” The entire latter part of the text, he writes, “can only be described as repulsive, a bloodbath serving no purpose save that of morbidity, titillation and sensation; American Psycho is a loathsome book.”[1] This kind of reaction—even though Yardley is not specifically mentioned in the book—is Kathryn Hume’s starting point for her study on what she terms “aggressive fiction.” “Why should we keep reading,” she wonders, “when novelists strive to undermine our values, push gross unpleasantness in our face, omit connectives and explanations that would help us understand, reduce characters to placeholders, and fail to come to any resolution?” (2). By “aggressive fiction,” however, Hume does not exclusively mean fiction of extreme physical or sexual violence; she also includes four other types of “attack” that have “the effect of making ordinarily competent readers wish to stop reading” (8; emphasis in orig.). These types, which form the structural framework for her study, include—next to “extreme sex and violence” (10)—narrative speed, modes of complaint, grotesque imagery, and the destabilization of readers’ ontological assumptions. One can wonder about the definition of what makes an “ordinarily competent reader,” of course: especially since he or she is the central gauge for the various “modes of undermining reader comfort” (11), mostly through emotional effects such as “frustration, revulsion, irritation, discomfiture, and anxiety” (9).   After establishing her thesis around the Horatian “author-reader contract” (1), a tacit agreement by which literature should provide both entertainment and information, Hume displays a wide spectrum of ways in which this contract is broken in her selection of “contemporary fiction” (14)—novels published, for the largest part, between the 1960s and 1990s. With exemplary glimpses at novels such as Ishmael Reed’s The Terrible Twos, Robert Coover’s John’s Wife, Fran Ross’s Oreo, Mark Leyner’s My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, or William Burroughs’s The Ticket that Exploded, she looks first at three ways of producing the effect of narrative speed—an “aggressive” tactic, because in the novels, according to Hume, “events are hurtling by too fast for real understanding” (14). The mechanisms of speed include multiplication (of plot elements or characters, for instance), subtraction (of realist details or connective narrative), and the use of what the author calls “phantasmagoria”—“the creation of puzzling anomalies for which no explanation is given” (26).   The next chapter is dedicated to “modalities of complaint,”...

Read More
Miriam B. Mandel, ed., Hemingway and Africa. Reviewed by Nicole J. Camastra
May18

Miriam B. Mandel, ed., Hemingway and Africa. Reviewed by Nicole J. Camastra

MIRIAM B. MANDEL, ed., Hemingway and Africa (Rochester: Camden House, 2011), 426 pp. Reviewed by Nicole J. Camastra Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014) Despite Ernest Hemingway’s discovery of Africa as an adult, he connected the continent to the importance of childhood in the writer’s imagination. For example, his protagonist of the posthumously published The Garden of Eden (1986), David Bourne, writes a short story based on a boyhood event that took place on the continent of Africa. Part of honing his craft is David’s ability to remember exactly how he felt during this trial that “had brought an understanding of age” (551).[1] The transition from innocence to maturity characterizes “An African Story.” In it, young David learns, through the hunt for the elephant, the significance and the price of empathy. What he subsequently takes away from the ordeal is the “beginning of the knowledge of loneliness” (553).[2] Africa was not part of Hemingway’s childhood, but, as he wrote in Under Kilimanjaro, the continent, “being as old as it is, makes all people […] into children.”[3] Africa provided a conduit through which he could explore fundamental shifts in understanding such as David Bourne’s experiences—shifts that, in his work, are typically contingent on the power of place.   Consistently grounded within strong geographical contexts, Hemingway’s fiction repeatedly celebrates the numinous qualities of place and the far-reaching effects it can have on an individual. Moreover, his love of traveling has captured the attention of critics for decades, but some destinations have been more successful than others in securing firm roots in the public perception of Hemingway’s pantheon of place. Until now, not as much consideration has been given to Africa as it has to other countries such as France, Spain, and Italy. Miriam Mandel’s new edited collection of essays, Hemingway and Africa, shifts the current conversation connecting Hemingway and topography in a new direction, one that has been lacking in the standard scholarship.   Mandel’s book is a must for anyone who wishes to begin understanding this segment of the writer’s oeuvre and the two periods of his life spent on the ‘Dark Continent.’ Placing a list of Hemingway’s African narratives and the chronology of his two safaris at the very beginning of the collection provides a visual impression of the volume of creative energy and time Hemingway spent on and in Africa. Prefacing Mandel’s compelling introduction, these two components provide a different qualification for the present study. Though he ventured there only twice, the existence of two distinct and protracted periods devoted to Africa fits into a pattern of repetition that, so Mandel argues, defined most of his professional life.   Mandel’s...

Read More
Sebastian M. Herrmann, Carolin Alice Hofmann, Katja Kanzler, and Frank Usbeck, eds., Participating Audiences, Imagined Public Spheres: The Cultural Work of Contemporary American(ized) Narratives. Reviewed by Michael Butter
May12

Sebastian M. Herrmann, Carolin Alice Hofmann, Katja Kanzler, and Frank Usbeck, eds., Participating Audiences, Imagined Public Spheres: The Cultural Work of Contemporary American(ized) Narratives. Reviewed by Michael Butter

SEBASTIAN M. HERRMANN, CAROLIN ALICE HOFMANN, KATJA KANZLER, and FRANK USBECK, eds., Participating Audiences, Imagined Public Spheres: The Cultural Work of Contemporary American(ized) Narratives (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2012), 172 pp. Reviewed by Michael Butter Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014) The volume under review synthesizes two highly productive research paradigms that have informed much work in American Studies and, more generally, literary, cultural, and media studies: (1) the awareness that audiences engage actively with texts and other forms of fictional and factual representation; and (2) the awareness that the texts that elicit such participation are now less than ever confined to the borders of the nation state but circulate transnationally and in some cases even globally. Accordingly, the contributions to the volume explore how contemporary American narratives call into being virtual and other kinds of imagined communities—the “transnational public spheres” that form around these narratives, as the editors put it in their introduction (7). As such, four articles focus on fictional narratives, four on factual ones, all of which are well-written and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, a few articles do not seem to go beyond their origins as conference papers, as they are rather short and do not thoroughly develop parts of their arguments. While brevity is not a problem for papers followed by a live discussion, it is unfortunate for written articles where no immediate dialogue can ensue. Nevertheless, I take many valuable insights from the volume, and the occasional suggestions that I make in this review are a sign of the active engagement it generates on my part.   The first article following the introduction is Rüdiger Heinze’s “‘Authentic’ Narratives and the Rhetoric of Cultural Identity.” Heinze makes the excellent point that literary and nonliterary texts about marked cultural practices, that is, ‘ethnic’ literature, are frequently read too simplistically by literary critics who see them either as providing authentic insights into the minority community in which they are situated or as helping to construct such a community. Heinze, by contrast, suggests that the “audience interpellation” (19) of such narratives is far more complicated and demonstrates this by exemplarily interpreting Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. Interestingly, though, Heinze decides not to explore a central irony. He is certainly right that audiences are usually rather elusive and that a discourse analysis of the discussion a book generates can therefore only be conducted when it is so successful that there is a certain amount of reader responses available. But he does not mention that the texts he discusses would allow for such an analysis, as there is, as he points out, a large body...

Read More
Ulfried Reichardt, Globalisierung: Literaturen und Kulturen des Globalen. Reviewed by Sigrun Meinig
May12

Ulfried Reichardt, Globalisierung: Literaturen und Kulturen des Globalen. Reviewed by Sigrun Meinig

ULFRIED REICHARDT, Globalisierung: Literaturen und Kulturen des Globalen (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2010), 252 pp. Reviewed by Sigrun Meinig Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014) In dem Studienbuch Globalisierung: Literaturen und Kulturen des Globalen von Ulfried Reichardt bringt das im Zentrum stehende Phänomen eine spezifische Perspektive mit sich. Diese liegt in “ [der] entscheidende[n] Einsicht […], dass wir von unhintergehbaren Unterschieden und einer umfassenden Einheit gleichzeitig auszugehen haben” (222). Der Übersichtsband schildert präzise und detailliert, welche Bedeutung diese aus den Prozessen der Globalisierung hervorgehende zentrale Einsicht und weitere für die Vorgehensweisen und das Selbstverständnis der Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaften haben. Der Band bietet so eine Sicht auf das Phänomen der Globalisierung und ihre Auswirkungen, die in vergleichbaren deutschsprachigen Bänden, deren Anzahl gegenwärtig auch noch recht überschaubar ist, wenig Platz findet, da diese ökonomische, historische und vor allem soziologische Ansätze vermitteln. Im Falle des UTB-Bandes Globalisierung (2011) von Christoph Scherrer und Caren Kunze etwa wird zwar auf die Vorrangsstellung der Wirtschaft in der Globalisierungsforschung hingewiesen, aber dennoch die dabei zugleich benannte Rolle der Kultur nicht tiefer gehend verfolgt.   Im Aufbau des Studienbuchs spiegelt sich der Ursprung der Globalisierungsforschung in Soziologie und Ökonomie in den ersten Kapiteln, die zunächst die Facetten des Phänomens und die Begriffsvielfalt zur Globalisierung und ihre Geschichte beschreiben sowie ihre wirtschaftlichen und politischen Auswirkungen und schließlich die die wissenschaftliche Diskussion prägenden soziologischen Theorien zur Globalisierung darstellen. Dabei wird deutlich, dass Globalisierung nicht erst mit der Allgegenwärtigkeit des Begriffs tiefgreifend wirksam ist, sondern dass von um 1500 an entscheidende Entwicklungen des Handels- und Migrationssystems einsetzen, die schließlich zu den heute bestehenden Netzwerken und transnationalen Verflechtungen in Wirtschaft und Politik führen. Deren Prozesse werden meist mit dem Bild von Flüssen beschrieben, die unterschiedliche scapes betreffen, etwa die financescapes oder die mediascapes (Arjun Appadurai). Reichardt betont hier, dass es eine umfassende oder einheitliche Theorie des Globalen (noch) nicht gibt (vgl. 54 f.) und diskutiert verschiedene Perspektiven der angelsächsischen Sozialwissenschaften, in denen das Phänomen der Globalisierung bisher die größte Aufmerksamkeit und Theoriebildung erfahren hat. Dargestellt werden etwa die bekannte ‘Glokalisierung’ (Roland Robertson), die Interkonnektivität im Informationszeitalter (Manuel Castells) oder die Beschleunigung und Raum-Zeit-Verdichtung (David Harvey).   An diese grundlegenden ersten Kapitel, die vielfältige Perspektiven in differenzierten und wie im gesamten Band gut zugänglichen Texten integrieren, schließt sich ein kurzer Überblick über die Entwicklung und den aktuellen Stand der Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaften an. Dieser Überblick bereitet die Einordnung der Globalisierung in diese Disziplinen im Folgenden vor, die in methodologische Überlegungen mündet. In Interpretationen von Repräsentationen von Städten oder aus unterschiedlichen Medien wie Literatur oder Film wird dies veranschaulicht. Das Studienbuch schließt mit einem anregenden Kapitel zum Kosmopolitismus und zur Zukunft der Globalisierungsforschung bzw. zum...

Read More
Christof Mauch and Sylvia Mayer, eds., American Environments: Climate—Cultures—Catastrophes. Reviewed by Michael Basseler
May12

Christof Mauch and Sylvia Mayer, eds., American Environments: Climate—Cultures—Catastrophes. Reviewed by Michael Basseler

CHRISTOF MAUCH and SYLVIA MAYER, eds., American Environments: Climate—Cultures—Catastrophes (Heidelberg: Winter 2012), 195pp. Reviewed by Michael Basseler Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.2 (2014)   This collection of essays, based on a 2010 conference at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, displays some of the most recent approaches in environmental humanities by addressing “the connection between cultural values, individual experience, and human decision on the one hand, and environmental change on the other” (1). Its focus on American environments and public debates on issues of climate change, environmental politics and perception as well as its emphasis on risk and disaster are supposed to reflect two things, namely the great frequency and destructiveness of ‘natural’ disasters on the North American continent as well as the omnipresence of representations of such catastrophes in the popular imagination. The contributions cover the disciplinary range from political science, (environmental) history, and cultural geography to media and cultural studies.   The short introduction sketches out The United States’ relationship with the environment in the past and present. Mauch and Mayer argue that natural disasters as well as the representation of such real or imagined catastrophes in the popular imagination “play a powerful role in the general perception of the natural environment and in the production of knowledge” (2). While this certainly makes for an intriguing point of departure, the editors unfortunately miss the opportunity to further elaborate on both the interrelation of the volume’s key concepts—climate, cultures, and catastrophes—and the three sections into which the essays are divided. This is, perhaps, the only drawback in the volume’s otherwise rich ointment: a slightly more substantial and conceptually comprehensive introduction would have easily turned this collection of high-quality essays into a coherent volume.   The two essays in the first section, entitled “Climate in America—Past and Current Perspectives,” examine the historical and social dimensions of contemporary environmental politics. Taking his departure from the current debate surrounding the question of whether or not human actions have an impact on climate change, Lawrence Culver’s compelling essay outlines the history of man-made environmental change in the United States. Culver defines the encounter of the European settlers with the arid climate and barren landscape of the Great Plains as a turning point in American environmental history and shows how the westward expansion and the ideology of the Manifest Destiny marks the beginning of a profound anthropogenic interference that has led to an ecological catastrophe or ‘manifest disaster.’ In an essay that ties in with Culver’s historical perspective in a quasi-complementary way, Andreas Falke explains why, even under the supposedly ‘green’ Obama administration, U.S. environmental politics lag behind in...

Read More
Ann-Stephane Schäfer, Auctoritas Patrum? The Reception of the Church Fathers in Puritanism. Reviewed by Tibor Fabiny
Jan07

Ann-Stephane Schäfer, Auctoritas Patrum? The Reception of the Church Fathers in Puritanism. Reviewed by Tibor Fabiny

ANN-STEPHANE SCHÄFER, Auctoritas Patrum? The Reception of the Church Fathers in Puritanism, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 58 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2012), 449 pp. Reviewed by Tibor Fabiny Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) At first sight, the project seems to be too ambitious, as it proposes to discuss the appropriation of patristic literature by the Puritans in England and New England. The topic presupposes the author’s expertise in two rather different types of literature: Greek and Latin Church Fathers on the one hand and the extremely prolific output of mainly seventeenth-century English-speaking Puritan writers on both sides of the Atlantic on the other. The exhaustive list of primary literature is definitely a challenge for the reviewer (cf. 405-23). The list of secondary literature of almost the same length is likewise impressive (cf. 425-42). Without the massive and relatively recent volumes of Irena Backus and Leif Grane et al.,[1] the author would probably not have found a proper scholarly context for her project. The book consists of six chapters: the first is simply called “Introduction.” Here, the author defines her categories as ‘Puritanism’ and ‘church-fathers’ and proposes two theses. Her first thesis is that Puritan exegesis is mainly informed by the exegetical practice of the church fathers, and the second one is that the Puritans saw themselves as the typological antitypes of the ancient churches of the first centuries. Chapter two offers a close reading of William Perkins’s Probleme of Forged Catholicisme, or Universalitie of the Romish Religion. Schäfer argues that Perkins explicitly endorsed the category of auctroris patrum but was especially keen to prove that the Roman Catholic Church discontinued this tradition. Perkins quoted Vincent of Lérin’s famous dictum that the catholic church is the one “that onely bee beleeved and taught, which hath been held in all places at all times and of all professors” (qtd. in Schäfer 39). However, in Perkins’s view, the Church of Rome corrupted this concept of universality, antiquity, and consent. Thus, Perkins does not see any problem in reconciling the Protestant principle of sola scriptura and the Catholic principles of auctoritas patrum, argumentum patrum, or even consensus patrum. Chapter three provides a useful historical perspective on the concept of auctoritas patrum throughout the Middle Ages and the Reformation period. A notable omission from the survey of the English reception of the idea is the work of the martyr-reformer John Frith (1503-1533), whose answer to Sir Thomas More’s vindication of the Catholic view of the Eucharist was written shortly before his execution.[2] In this work, Frith devoted a whole chapter to discussing the views of the Fathers. Frith was seen as the...

Read More
Billy J. Stratton, Buried in Shades of Night: Contested Voices, Indian Captivity, and the Legacy of King Philip’s War. Reviewed by John McWilliams
Dec17

Billy J. Stratton, Buried in Shades of Night: Contested Voices, Indian Captivity, and the Legacy of King Philip’s War. Reviewed by John McWilliams

BILLY J. STRATTON, Buried in Shades of Night: Contested Voices, Indian Captivity, and the Legacy of King Philip’s War (Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2013) 149 pp. Reviewed by John McWilliams Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) During the last forty years, the Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (the much abbreviated title by which The Soveraignty and Goodness of God [1682] is now commonly known) has become an essential text, perhaps the essential text, of American Puritan literature. In anthologies and the syllabi derived from them, it is prominently featured, often to the minimizing, or even displacement, of once canonical historical works such as Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation and Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana. It has repeatedly been interpreted as the ur-text of the captivity narrative, an important American sub-genre that was to include fugitive slave narratives as well as Indian captivities. Given Rowlandson’s repeated references to Indians as ‘merciless enemies’ and ‘bloody heathen,’ her Narrative suits the postcolonial critic’s central concern for the contrasts between ‘savage’ and ‘civilized,’ between white colonizers and native peoples, between ‘we western Christians’ and the Lacanian ‘Other.’ Moreover, Rowlandson’s Narrative was written by a woman fully aware of her gender and her sexual vulnerability, thus giving students a respite from the line of patriarchal Puritan writers from John Winthrop through Edward Taylor to Jonathan Edwards. As a form of spiritual autobiography, Rowlandson’s Narrative compels its readers to assess the applicability of biblical passages to a Puritan’s daily life. Whether Increase Mather had a direct hand in the composition and publication of the 1682 text raises a fascinating instance of the importance of textual research. And, above all, Mrs. Rowlandson’s Narrative is short, capable of being read carefully in ninety minutes. In sum, Rowlandson’s Narrative has everything to recommend it to recent scholarly-critical fashion. Stratton’s book is less a comprehensive, detailed study of Rowlandson’s text than an investigation of the historical and literary circumstances of its origin, publication, and subsequent cultural and scholarly history. As such, Stratton makes important contributions to an already populated field. Stratton demonstrates that The Soveraignty and Goodness of God is not in fact the first captivity narrative. Citing Nabil Matar, Stratton shows that there were “at least ten accounts of English captivity in the Muslim dominions published between 1527 and 1625 in England alone” (30). These captivity narratives, mostly about Barbary pirates, might have been known to Rowlandson or to Increase Mather; they contain conventions of situation and characterization to be found in Rowlandson’s Narrative and in subsequent captivities. Secondly, Stratton carefully reconstructs the little that is known about the origin and printing...

Read More
Daniel Nagel, Von republikanischen Deutschen zu deutsch-amerikanischen Republikanern: Ein Beitrag zum Identitätswandel der deutschen Achtundvierziger in den Vereinigten Staaten 1850-1861. Reviewed by Charlotte A. Lerg
Dec15

Daniel Nagel, Von republikanischen Deutschen zu deutsch-amerikanischen Republikanern: Ein Beitrag zum Identitätswandel der deutschen Achtundvierziger in den Vereinigten Staaten 1850-1861. Reviewed by Charlotte A. Lerg

DANIEL NAGEL, Von republikanischen Deutschen zu deutsch-amerikanischen Republikanern: Ein Beitrag zum Identitätswandel der deutschen Achtundvierziger in den Vereinigten Staaten 1850-1861 (St. Ingbert: Röhrig Universitätsverlag, 2012), 619 pp. Reviewed by Charlotte A. Lerg Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) “Im Rückblick erscheint es zwangsläufig, dass sich die Achtundvierziger früher oder später einer amerikanischen Partei anschließen mussten. Zu Beginn der 1850er Jahre war die Situation aber keineswegs so eindeutig” (73). Daniel Nagel legt eine Studie vor, die als wertvoller Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der deutsch-amerikanischen Identität—vor allem der politischen Mentalität—vor dem Bürgerkrieg gelten darf. Der vielleicht etwas lang und umständlich geratene Titel deutet einen Prozess an: Der Weg deutscher Achtundvierziger in die amerikanische Politik steht im Mittelpunkt der Studie. Mit seinem Fokus auf genau der Dekade (1850-1861), die sonst in der deutsch-amerikanischen Historiographie gern in einem kurzen Absatz abgehandelt wird, argumentiert der Autor auf gut sechshundert Seiten (inklusive Anhang) erfolgreich gegen zwei in der Forschung virulente Stereotypen. Er zeigt auf, dass der Weg in die Republikanische Partei, in der viele der Revolutionäre von 1848 im amerikanischen Exil letztendlich ein zu Hause fanden, sehr viel komplexer war, als es im Nachhinein erscheinen mag. Außerdem widerspricht er vehement der älteren, aus der Hochzeit der Carl Schurz Forschung stammenden These, dass nur anglisierte und assimilierte deutsche Einwanderer wirklich Erfolg in der amerikanischen Politik haben konnten.[1] Die Assimilierungsvoraussetzung mag für die Wahrnehmung von außen—von Seiten der Anglo-Amerikaner—stimmen, so Nagel, berücksichtigt wird jedoch nicht, “dass es den meisten Achtundvierzigern nicht möglich war, ihre Ethnizität willentlich aufzugeben” (399). Nagel geht sogar noch weiter und stellt die These auf, dass ihr Weg in die amerikanische Politik für die deutschen Einwanderer der 1848er Revolutionsgeneration ein entscheidender Moment in der Entwicklung ihrer ethnischen Identität war und diese “Ethnisierung des politischen Engagements als Ausweg aus der drohenden Bedeutungslosigkeit” gesehen werden kann (164). Die ewige Angst, nicht mehr als “Stimmpfeifen” (138) zu sein, spielte dabei ebenso eine Rolle wie inhaltliche Stellungnahmen zu den Kernfragen der amerikanischen Innenpolitik Mitte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, etwa der Exilpolitik, der Sklavenfrage, dem Homestead Act oder der Temperenzbewegung. Die Studie widmet sich jeder dieser Fragen ausführlich und so entsteht ein differenziertes Bild der Diskurse unter den politisch engagierten deutschen Exilanten und Auswanderern im Antebellum Amerika. Zur Aufgabe des Traums einer eigenen deutschen Nation gezwungen, wurde die Gruppenidentität der Deutsch-Amerikaner, dank Massenauswanderung, für viele Achtundvierziger zu einem “Ersatzvolk” (202). Ähnlich hatte Günter Moltmann argumentiert, als er die Auswanderung als “Revolutionsersatz” für viele Deutsche ausmachte.[2] “Nationalität,” so stellt Nagel fest, findet sich in der Quellensprache nicht selten in einem Zusammenhang, der eher unserem heutigen Konzept von “Ethnizität” entspricht (202). Für eine bessere Einordnung der zeitgenössischen Meinungen und der vorgebrachten Argumentationslinien wäre...

Read More
Hannes Bergthaller and Carsten Schinko, eds., Addressing Modernity: Social Systems Theory and U.S. Cultures. Reviewed by Alexander Starre
Dec15

Hannes Bergthaller and Carsten Schinko, eds., Addressing Modernity: Social Systems Theory and U.S. Cultures. Reviewed by Alexander Starre

HANNES BERGTHALLER and CARSTEN SCHINKO, eds., Addressing Modernity: Social Systems Theory and U.S. Cultures (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011), 372 pp. Reviewed by Alexander Starre Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) Niklas Luhmann’s standing in American academic circles over the past decades in many ways suffered from bad timing. The heyday of American cybernetics, which lasted from the New York Macy Conferences in the late 1940s and early 1950s at least into the 1960s, saw systemic thinking rise to prominence across a wide spectrum of disciplines, including mathematics, information theory, physiology, and psychology. Through the writings of Norbert Wiener, Luhmann’s intellectual forebear Talcott Parsons became invested in applying cybernetic tenets to sociology. Having attended Parsons’s lectures at Harvard in 1960/61, Luhmann took until 1984 to complete Soziale Systeme, his (self-proclaimed) leap forward from both Parsonian social theory and first-wave cybernetics. At this time, the cybernetic moment in American academia had all but passed, leaving Luhmann’s growing oeuvre out in the cold on this side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, debates in American Studies became mired in the trenches of the culture wars, with theoretical impulses streaming in through the transatlantic channels of post-structuralism. A seemingly lifeless supertheory of society with little regard for power structures, representations, or even human subjects could hardly take root in this intellectual climate. The editors of Addressing Modernity may have caught a more timely moment of publication. Among scholars of American literature and culture, Luhmann has recently found followers such as Bruce Clarke and Joseph Tabbi, both of whom contributed to the volume. Additionally, emergent strands of research in the fields of media studies and posthumanism have (re-)discovered Luhmann’s writings in their quest to resituate the human subject and its technological environment within the communicative structures of modern societies. Finally, Stanford UP (not Fordham UP, as indicated in Addressing Modernity) put out Luhmann’s magnum opus Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft in two volumes as Theory of Society in 2012/13, fifteen years after its original publication in German. Building on these expedient contexts, Bergthaller and Schinko use their introductory remarks to make a convincing case for a distinct Americanist perspective on systems theory. In the present, they argue, American Studies converges with Luhmannian thought in its thorough dismissal of the nation state as the primary conceptual bracket of social evolution. The oft-proclaimed transnational turn would thus have cleared the table for a more theoretically rigorous (instead of merely political and normative) description of American cultural evolution. In this endeavor, the nation must cede its place at the helm of the discipline and instead resurface among its objects of observation. The social semantics surrounding the American nation as an imagined...

Read More
Mike Chasar,  Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. Reviewed by Timo Müller
Dec12

Mike Chasar, Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. Reviewed by Timo Müller

MIKE CHASAR, Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America (New York: Columbia UP, 2012), 336 pp. Reviewed by Timo Müller Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) Mike Chasar’s rewarding study takes its cues from the observations that much more poetry was read and written during the modernist period than we assume today and that the canonical masterpieces we associate with the period comprise only a small segment of that poetry. The study pursues “four overarching theses” (9): that ordinary readers of poetry were more discerning than scholarship has assumed; that popular poetry of the period was more complex than existing scholarship suggests; that this poetry influenced now-canonical modernist writers in ways ignored by scholarship; and that it served as a laboratory for popular culture as we know it today. While ‘scholarship’ becomes something of a punching bag here, the study turns each of its theses to good use, both to organize its material and to extract surprising, entertaining, and highly illuminative insights into the vast realm of popular poetry in mid-twentieth-century America. Its focus on the concrete and the everyday usefully complements studies of canonic poetry and popular culture, most importantly Marjorie Perloff’s Radical Artifice (1991), and its wide range offers a more comprehensive perspective than thematic studies such as Mark Van Wienen’s noteworthy Partisans and Poets (1997). I will address its five chapters one after the other, not only because each opens up a small world of its own but because this procedure will allow me to move from criticism to praise, emphasizing the latter. My criticism will focus on the first chapter, an examination of poetry scrapbooks by ordinary Americans that illustrates both Chasar’s strategies of validating his material and the problems these strategies can create. The chapter opens with a number of insightful observations about scrapbooking: it shows how ordinary readers moved easily between what we now regard as high and popular poetry; how the “quoting, cut-up, and collage practices of modernist writing” parallel those of scrapbookers (42); and how a number of now-canonical writers either assembled scrapbooks themselves or referenced them in their writing. It is when Chasar begins his examination of individual scrapbooks that things get tricky. To justify his detailed scholarly analysis of these scrapbooks, he posits that they express their owners’ political attitudes and that these attitudes can be described in the terminology of agency and empowerment fashionable in current academia. It soon turns out, however, that there is little textual or contextual evidence for this claim. Most of the scrapbookers Chasar discusses are middle-class women from the mid-twentieth century, whose collections, far from expressing feminist belligerence, “tend toward respectful,...

Read More
Philipp Dorestal, Style Politics: Mode, Geschlecht und Schwarzsein in den USA, 1943-1975. Reviewed by Steve Estes
Dec12

Philipp Dorestal, Style Politics: Mode, Geschlecht und Schwarzsein in den USA, 1943-1975. Reviewed by Steve Estes

PHILIPP DORESTAL, Style Politics: Mode, Geschlecht und Schwarzsein in den USA, 1943-1975 (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012), 370 pp. Reviewed by Steve Estes Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) Years after the Black Power era, professor and activist Angela Davis met with a young man who at first did not recognize her. When she explained who she was, the young man exclaimed: “Oh, Angela Davis—the Afro.” For Davis, it was humbling to learn “that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I [was] remembered as a hairdo.” Saddened, Davis bemoaned the fact that cultural amnesia had reduced “a politics of liberation to a politics of fashion” (152). In his new German-language study Style Politics, Philipp Dorestal offers solace for Davis and an analysis of the intersection between racial identity and style in the African American freedom struggle from the 1940s through the 1970s. With chapters covering the Zoot Suit Riots, nonviolent direct action protests, the Black Panthers, Nation of Islam, and Blaxploitation cinema, Dorestal’s book is a deeply researched and at times provocative addition to the field of civil rights scholarship.   The book opens with the admission that the term “Style Politics” may seem oxymoronic. Is there a less political arena of culture than the self-consciously ephemeral fashion industry? Dorestal’s initial assertion that black style is inherently political will surprise few scholars of African American studies, but his research into the contentious debates about fashion within the freedom struggle offers a much-needed corrective to civil rights studies that tend to mention style off-handedly, if at all. Early on, Dorestal follows Robin Kelley in asserting that wearing a zoot suit during the 1940s was a clear signifier of race rebellion. “We had to be rebellious to [wear the zoot],” explained a future activist, “but then it was the style, and I wasn’t going to be a square” (95). That activist was not Malcolm X, as one might expect, but César Chávez.   The civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s witnessed a radical evolution of style. Dorestal observes that activists intentionally performed middle-class respectability by donning suits and ties for sit-ins, freedom rides, marches, and other public protests. Yet some of these same activists would perform working class identities by wearing overalls when running voter registration drives in the rural South. “We were talking to people in work clothes,” recalled one activist in an oral history interview, “[w]e wanted to be in work clothes, too […] Yes, we were from a university but we saw ourselves as workers and we were doing work” (127). When Bob Moses, a Harvard-trained educator, taught college students about...

Read More
Tomasz Basiuk, Exposures: American Gay Men’s Life Writing Since Stonewall. Reviewed by Dominika Ferens
Dec10

Tomasz Basiuk, Exposures: American Gay Men’s Life Writing Since Stonewall. Reviewed by Dominika Ferens

TOMASZ BASIUK, Exposures: American Gay Men’s Life Writing Since Stonewall (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2013), 398 pp. Reviewed by Dominika Ferens Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) Tomasz Basiuk’s Exposures: American Gay Men’s Life Writing is an ambitious literary analysis of a representative body of autobiographies written in the last fifty years—the first monograph of this scope in English. The decision to begin the account in the aftermath of the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots is justified by the fact that these events marked a radical change in the consciousness of the American homosexual minority. When this minority, routinely harassed by the New York police, adopted the political strategy of confrontation, its visibility in the public sphere increased. Yet eradicating heterosexism took more than courage in altercations with the authorities, reinforced by political activism. As Basiuk persuasively argues (invoking Jacques Rancière), without concerted efforts to restructure the aesthetic order, it would not have been possible to change Americans’ negative attitude towards same-sex desire. Neither would gay people have gradually acquired political subjectivity without subtle interventions in the visual arts, literature, drama, and film. As Rancière observed, it is the aesthetic order that determines what is visible in the public sphere and accessible to our senses.[1] The challenge taken up by gay writers in the post-Stonewall era involved shifting the boundary between what is visible or representable and what is not by means of autobiographical discourse, which Basiuk interprets as a form of testimony. Selecting his primary texts from a very large body of gay autobiographical literature, Basiuk uses the criterion of aesthetic value: all the texts discussed in Exposures were penned by acclaimed authors with more than one book to their name. Though, with the exception of Samuel R. Delany and John Rechy, the authors are white, they differ in terms of social background, age, and able-bodiedness. Stylistically and thematically diverse, their texts are connected, in Basiuk’s view, by the sense of shame acquired by homosexual people in contact with heterosexual others (12). In order to render the experience of shame in a text and to expose the mechanism of shaming, gay writers have developed original aesthetic strategies. For instance, Edmund White, writing over the course of forty years, described some of the same events from a variety of perspectives in both fictional and autobiographical works (61). The fact that the texts analyzed in Exposures belong to a wide range of literary genres, including the autobiographical novel, memoir, journal, essay, collection of humorous anecdotes, and even a home movie, provides a pretext to enter into the debate about the slippery categories of fact vs. fiction. The axis of this...

Read More
René Dietrich, Revising and Remembering (after) the End: American Post-Apocalyptic Poetry Since 1945 from Ginsberg to Forche. Reviewed by James Berger
Dec08

René Dietrich, Revising and Remembering (after) the End: American Post-Apocalyptic Poetry Since 1945 from Ginsberg to Forche. Reviewed by James Berger

RENÉ DIETRICH, Revising and Remembering (after) the End: American Post-Apocalyptic Poetry Since 1945 from Ginsberg to Forche (Trier: WVT, 2012), 254 pp. Reviewed by James Berger Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) Literary studies of the apocalyptic imagination since 1945 are usually studies of narrative, for the representation of apocalyptic endings has most commonly taken the form of the novel or popular film. Such studies overlap in part with more sociological studies of apocalyptic social movements and the texts they study and create. However, even these apocalyptic phenomena, whether religious or secular, are made coherent through prophetic or hypothetical narratives: Certain events will come to pass, brought about by particular human or divine agents, and will have certain consequences for the faithful and unfaithful. The traditions of lyric poetry are not generally seen as intersecting with the main currents of modern apocalypticism. Indeed, the second half of the twentieth century has seen a distinct, increasing separation between scholarship on prose fiction and film and that on poetry—a separation or specialization that did not previously exist, at least not to this degree. The classic mid-century text on apocalyptic thought and modernism, Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending (1966), considered poems by Eliot and Yeats, plays and novels of Beckett and Burroughs, as well as poems, novels, and essays by D.H. Lawrence. In addition, studies of English romanticism (most recently, the work of Steven Goldsmith) have long considered the apocalyptic elements in Blake and Shelley. But, for the most part, scholarship on literary apocalypticism since Kermode—the work, for instance, of Warren Wagar, Peter Schwenger, Lee Quinby, Richard Dellamora, James Berger, Philip Wegner, and Teresa Heffernan—has focused on novels, movies, and (as has been the case for much literary scholarship from this period) philosophy. American postwar poetry seems to have its own trajectory. Like many other representations in this period, late twentieth-century poetry has been noteable for its fragmentations, disjunctions, and various senses of endings, especially the posited end of subjectivity and the lyric voice. These lyric disasters, however, have not been critically regarded as apocalyptic in the way that, for instance, Gravity’s Rainbow or Riddley Walker demand consideration of their apocalyptic perspectives. There remains a tendency in the scholarship on postwar American poetry to regard its conflicts and disruptions as contained in the history of poetry. The formal or thematic novelty of poet X of today is a response not to social realities or histories but to Stevens, Williams, or Whitman. As vilified as it often is, the spirit of Harold Bloom’s oedipal poetry is stronger than we like to acknowledge. It is in this context that we read Dietrich’s...

Read More
Sarika Chandra, Dislocalism: The Crisis of Globalization and the Remobilizing of Americanism. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz
Dec08

Sarika Chandra, Dislocalism: The Crisis of Globalization and the Remobilizing of Americanism. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz

Sarika Chandra, Dislocalism: The Crisis of Globalization and the Remobilizing of Americanism (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2011), 312 pp. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) Since the 1990s, scholars in American Studies have tried to come to terms with the challenges globalization poses for a field traditionally organized around the nation-state. If transnationalism has seemed to turn this identity crisis into an opportunity for a fresh start—now the United States must be studied all over, this time in a decentered manner—it has seldom tried to answer, or even systematically tackle, the underlying analytical problem of how the relation between transnationalism or globalization and the nation-state ought to be conceptualized. Indeed, the investment in transnational flows has tended to divert attention from the question of what has happened to the nation-state. Has it become obsolescent? Has it adjusted to globalization? Is globalization (and, by extension, transnationalism) another name for Americanization and thus the form aspired to by the American nation-state? In Dislocalism: The Crisis of Globalization and the Remobilizing of Americanism, Sarika Chandra does us the service of moving these queries to the center of debate. This alone makes her book a valuable contribution. But what promises to be a truly critical study impatient with the facile romanticization of transnational border crossings ultimately turns out to be marred by a methodology of ideology critique conceptualized too narrowly. Chandra convincingly sets out to describe globalization (which, in her study, is largely synonymous with transnationalism) simultaneously as historical process and ideological discourse. However, she pays attention almost exclusively to ideology. Focusing on “the rhetorical, discursive, metanarrative dimension of [the] ideology [of globalization]” (3), her main thesis contends that this ideology is propelled by a contradictory dynamic: while it seems to celebrate the transgressions of national boundaries and, more generally, the transcendence of everything local, it at the same time reconsolidates the centrality of the nation and the local. This double strategy Chandra calls “dislocalism.” Her neologism is intended as a pun that captures the essence of the tension she describes: the word itself never lets go of the letters that spell ‘localism,’ even if ‘dislocalism’ seems to signify its negation (cf. 6). Chandra’s exploration of the intersection of the global and the local has particular relevance for American Studies in so far as it purports to explain the link between globalization and Americanization. Indeed, Chandra claims that globalization, understood ‘dislocally’, is identical with Americanization: “The effects of globalization, due to the leading U.S. role in its institution[sic!], are themselves identified as Americanization” (8). In making this point, she sidesteps the question of what Americanization actually means in the...

Read More
Susan M. Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. Reviewed by Andrea Zittlau
Nov27

Susan M. Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. Reviewed by Andrea Zittlau

SUSAN M. SCHWEIK, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (New York: New York UP, 2009), 429 pp. Reviewed by Andrea Zittlau  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) In this fundamental text, Susan Schweik connects discourses within the field of disability studies with an analytic approach to law and its ultimate consequences. The exhibition of disabled bodies in freakshows has been discussed extensively in the last decades, particularly in the United States.[1] At the heart of these discussions is the tension between exploitation, economic need, and celebrity status, as the shows contributed to nineteenth-century discourses of national identity and body politics. Writing about the same time and geographical location, the protagonist of Schweik’s text is the “unsightly beggar,” (2) who is banned from the streets of American cities due to his/her body being visually disturbing. This display of bodies differs from the freakshow, since it is obviously less connected to the entertainment industry and its glamour and fame. However, the body politics and discourses of national identity are comparable, if not the same. The first part of the book is concerned with the emergence of the ugly laws that eventually allow a persecution of disabled people begging in public space. Schweik departs from newspaper announcements and laws issued in San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans—three cities that continue to be her main examples next to New York City. She historically contextualizes these cities and looks at the structure and planning involved to place the unsightly beggar within the city landscape, finding that musicians were at a particular risk of being persecuted. Urban space develops in particular ways during the nineteenth century, mapping cities as structured categories of human lives. Already in her second chapter, Schweik includes the Charity Organization Society and the idea of pity in her analysis to question the dynamics of the law and the involvement of charity within it. Thus, she can relate the idea of biopower as conceived by Michel Foucault to several institutions and to a general mapping and planning of the city these institutions are ultimately part of. Schweik includes and discusses alternative city concepts, such as Ebenezer Howard’s map for a “Slumless, Smokeless Garden City” (74)—which is indeed a map—and narratives that challenge the concept of the city as such. As a scholar of literature, Schweik carefully observes the language of the issued laws and reveals its grotesque logic and medical reference while the wording is at the same time extremely vague and open to interpretation. She also shows the dynamics of that language that is not only isolated in the law—an inevitably closed text—but also springs from and feeds into a public...

Read More
Thomas G. Walker, Eligible for Execution: The Story of the Daryl Atkins Case. Reviewed by Anthony Santoro
Nov27

Thomas G. Walker, Eligible for Execution: The Story of the Daryl Atkins Case. Reviewed by Anthony Santoro

THOMAS G. WALKER, Eligible for Execution: The Story of the Daryl Atkins Case (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2008), 284 pp. Reviewed by Anthony Santoro Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.1 (2014) The recent history of the American death penalty has been characterized by a number of rapid shifts. The most notable shift occurred between 1972 and 1976, between the U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration that the death penalty was unconstitutional as practiced and its later decision declaring that revised state statutes passed constitutional muster, thus restoring the death penalty to constitutional legitimacy.[1] Another such shift occurred between 1977 and 1983, a period when the Court went from deciding the majority of the death penalty cases it heard in favor of the defendants to inaugurating a process by which the Supreme Court backed away from tinkering with the machinery of death, as Justice Harry Blackmun later memorably phrased it.[2] One of the cases decided during this period was Penry v. Lynaugh, in which the Court ruled by a 5-4 majority that there was no constitutional bar to the execution of mentally retarded defendants.[3] A dozen years later, the Court reversed Penry in Atkins v. Virginia, in which the Court ruled (6-3) that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments did, in fact, protect mentally retarded defendants.[4] In surveying the national landscape, Justice John Paul Stevens’s opinion found that a national consensus had developed against the execution of mentally retarded defendants and that this consensus showed that the country’s “evolving standards of decency” rendered these executions “cruel and unusual.”[5] Were it that simple, the eponymous Daryl Atkins would have benefitted from the case to which he gave his name. As is so often the case, however, Atkins’s own case was anything but simple. Atkins and co-defendant William Jones were charged in the August 17, 1996, robbery and murder of twenty-one-year-old Eric Nesbitt. Initially, the Commonwealth’s Attorney Eileen Addison brought capital charges against both defendants in turn but, because Virginia law only permits the ‘triggerman’ to face a capital charge, ultimately downgraded Jones’s charge, believing that Atkins had been the triggerman. Atkins was convicted in February 1998 and sentenced to death for the killing. Four years and several rounds of appeals later, the Supreme Court vacated Atkins’s sentence and remanded the case back to the Virginia trial court “for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”[6] Atkins’s death sentence was reinstated following a subsequent proceeding during which the jury found that he was not mentally retarded; while death penalty opponents had won a substantial victory in Atkins, Atkins himself reaped no benefit from his own case. It was not until 2009—after the...

Read More