CONSEULA FRANCIS, The Critical Reception of James Baldwin 1963-2010: An Honest Man and a Good Writer (Rochester: Camden House, 2014), 174 pp.
May18

CONSEULA FRANCIS, The Critical Reception of James Baldwin 1963-2010: An Honest Man and a Good Writer (Rochester: Camden House, 2014), 174 pp.

CONSEULA FRANCIS, The Critical Reception of James Baldwin 1963-2010: An Honest Man and a Good Writer (Rochester: Camden House, 2014), 174 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 60.1     James Baldwin, Harlem’s own voice of reason, is regarded as a visionary and virtuoso in African American literature. Although often read as working through Richard Wright’s shadow, Baldwin’s work intended to do more than expand the literary canon or support a singular focus on civil rights concerns. Universal themes, an unrestrained voice, and remarkable foresight were his ammunition; the typewriter was his weapon, which made him a fighter for love and humanity in the midst of exorbitant racial and gender dynamics that largely shaped the United States in the mid-twentieth century. His writing, both fiction and nonfiction, was in that sense less concerned with seeking ultimate solutions, but rather in raising provocative questions and addressing a conscious reader. This mission, in which the truth about oneself is manifested, is itself the craft of James Baldwin’s writing.               With Critical Reception Conseula Francis provides an easily accessible “overview of the critical trends in Baldwin scholarship” (3) that praises the writer’s thematic plurality without neglecting objectivity when surveying the numerous approaches of Baldwin criticism. After introducing the complexity of studying Baldwin and demonstrating how critics lost themselves in the wide range of literature by and on Baldwin, Francis opens a thorough dialogue and thematic discussion between the critical voices, approaches, and turns of Baldwin scholarship. Organized into three parts, she captures the stages and periods of Baldwin criticism, illustrates Baldwin’s popular reception, and renders a contemporary account of Baldwin studies—all presented in an equally critical, essential, and concise fashion. Francis’s Critical Reception is, therefore, not only a superb overview on Baldwin criticism, but also a comprehensive study on the vastness and depth of Baldwin’s literary legacy.               Francis begins with the critical takes on Baldwin’s writing, in particular his early novels and the essay collection The Fire Next Time (1963). She captures how throughout the 1960s critics struggled most with Baldwin’s manifold roles as essayist, revolutionary, and fiction writer, and his repeating attempts to integrate this new form of protest that proclaimed love as opposed to aggressive resistance and called for a renewal of social awareness. As many critics at the time claimed, Baldwin’s literary sphere and celebrity did not coincide with the thematic depth on racial dynamics African American recipients expected. Eldridge Cleaver was one of these early skeptical readers of Baldwin’s works. Often accused of being a “favored son of mainstream American media” (18), Baldwin’s approach aimed at a collective and comprehensive human experience rather than merely accusing (white)...

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WALTER JOHNSON, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2013), 526 pp.
Feb27

WALTER JOHNSON, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2013), 526 pp.

WALTER JOHNSON, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2013), 526 pp. Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.1 In River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom, Walter Johnson, Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, tries to correct, if not completely turn on its head, the dominating perspective on antebellum America. According to the most widely shared interpretation of the period, the North rapidly developed into a modern, capitalist, industrial, and aggressively expansionist society over the course of the nineteenth century, whereas the South—remaining premodern, quasifeudal, and agricultural—fought a rearguard action to defend the status quo and eventually broke away from the union once Southerners realized that time was not on their side in the sectional power struggle over the nature of westward expansionism. Johnson challenges this narrative in two ways. First, he depicts the Mississippi Valley (incorporating parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri) as a vibrant and dynamic region whose slave-holding inhabitants were at the forefront of the nineteenth-century capitalist revolution rather than backward-looking traditionalists, took full advantage of new technologies such as the steam boat, operated their plantations in highly sophisticated and systematic ways, and employed modern management techniques. According to Johnson, it was no coincidence that “by 1860, there were more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the United States” (5). Second, Johnson leaves the national framework of the well-known story about how the North and South became increasingly alienated from each other behind by putting the Mississippi Valley slave-holders in a global context: he shows them to be key players in the emerging global capitalist system who had utopian dreams of building a worldwide slave empire, reopening the transatlantic slave trade, and turning the South into an international trading hub. He thus traces “the history of alternative visions of what ‘the South’ might look like” by asking “where Southerners (and slave-holders in particular) thought they were going and how they thought they could pull it off in the first place” rather than defining the South in hindsight simply as the states that seceded from the union in 1860/61 and consequently merely inquiring “what ‘the South’ was leaving” (16). It is hardly possible to concisely summarize the multitude of Johnson’s arguments and to critically assess all the claims he makes in his book of fourteen chapters and more than 500 pages, which combines ecological, economic, and cultural history and makes use of a wide range of primary sources such as newspapers, slave narratives, legal documents, personal correspondence, pamphlets,...

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HEIKE SCHWARZ, Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder in American Fiction (Bielefeld: transcript, 2013), 456 pp.
Feb27

HEIKE SCHWARZ, Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder in American Fiction (Bielefeld: transcript, 2013), 456 pp.

HEIKE SCHWARZ, Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder in American Fiction (Bielefeld: transcript, 2013), 456 pp. Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.1 Memoirs, novels, films, and academic studies in the humanities frequently establish a counter discourse to medical science, highlighting the narrative forces at work in illness and often promoting an understanding of illness as culturally determined, constructed, and flexible. Perceptions of mental illness can be shaped by “objective” medical knowledge (as found, for example, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the subjective experience of suffering, and fictional as well as non-fictional representations thereof. Multiple personality disorder (MPD), or dissociative identity disorder (DID), the subject of Heike Schwarz’s Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder in American Fiction , lends itself as a perfect case study of the definitional complications brought about by the absence of scientific evidence. Because of this epistemological gap, as Schwarz translates from the German Brockhaus Psychologie, MPD has frequently been designated to be “an artificial product of therapeutics” (133). This embeds the disorder in a long tradition of doubt and anxiety over illnesses of uncertain etiology, from hysteria to chronic pain syndrome.  Schwarz’s comprehensive analysis of the reconfigurations of MPD/DID over time through both medical and fictional texts is a timely and fascinating illumination of these discourses’ impacts on, or even productions of, mental illness. By revealing the fundamental influence of fictional discourse on definitions of mental illness, Schwarz’s pioneering interdisciplinary study of MPD/DID bridges the gap between the sciences and the humanities. Schwarz puts forward the thesis that in fact popular definitions of the disorder mainly originate in the field of fiction rather than psychiatric theory (cf. 15). The concept of multiple personality, as she suggests, “is now a fixed part of popular culture with a genre and subgenres of its own in a self-referential mode presenting the trope of multiple personality as a vivid metaphor of not only individual trauma or (patho)subjectivity but of the contemporary subject within a fragmented society” (13).[1] Her study exhibits the many facets of the disorder and its inextricable connection to popular culture through a wealth of psychiatric and literary sources, working towards a more inclusive and interdisciplinary understanding of MPD through an examination of the reciprocal interrelations between the two discursive fields. The book is structured in three parts: “History and Theory,” “The Culture-Embedded Syndrome – Multiple Personality and Dissociation in American Fiction,” and “Contemporary Variations in Selected Novels.” In part one (“History and Theory”), Schwarz traces psychiatric theories and famous historical cases of MPD/DID and distinguishes it from related mental disorders like hysteria and...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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