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notorious Salem witchcraft hysteria of 1692 but, as Harry Stout remarks in the Preface, “[t]he Mather revealed in the unpublished ‘Biblia Americana’ is not your grandfather’s Mather of witches and hysteria, but an incredibly erudite interlocutor of Enlightenment learning” (x).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...

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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...

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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...

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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:...

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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...

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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,”...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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