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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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,...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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