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This short introduction provides a brief overview of the special issue, by addressing the main historiographical and theoretical concerns that unite the individual contributions and by placing the essays in comparative, inter-American and interdisciplinary perspective. What do comparative analyses tell us about patterns of cross-cultural exchange in the visual arts? More specifically, what do these analyses tell us about the role of ethnic agency and audience, and the complex relationship between artistic practice and the “mainstream,” the local and the global?
It is a given that the United States has been an important global power, yet it may be of at least equal significance that the nation has been an only faltering planetary power. Global is social – it implies the social relations that extend over the globe. In contrast, planetary is physical, indicating the physical planet itself. Far more historical studies have focussed on the former than on the latter; examining the history of the United States within planetary terms is only beginning to be done. One long tradition of human engagement with the whole Earth is the practice of circumnavigation, going around the world. This essay examines American circumnavigators’ accounts ecocritically, in terms of their consciousness of the natural world, in order to explain that the United States came to the tradition of going around the world belatedly and not always beneficially.
This essay explores the representation of adolescence in three contemporary American novels set in theme parks. It argues that, as a microcosm of American society, the theme park reproduces the norms of gender and sexuality even as it reveals them to be constructed. In contrast to the way that theme parks foster coming of age for boys, Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1995), Miriam Toews's A Complicated Kindness (2004), and Karen Russell's Swamplandia! (2011) demonstrate the limitations imposed on girls. Although female protagonists challenge gender norms, heteronormativity proves impossible to resist, despite being disempowering or disappointing. Thus, by demonstrating that coming of age in America takes place on unfair ground, the novels point to the continuing importance of feminism in the face of post-feminist myths of equality.
Between 1821 and 1842, Charles Bird King painted a series of portraits of Native American diplomats for Thomas L. McKenney, founding Superintendent of Indian Affairs. These pictures were hung in a gallery in McKenney's office in the War Department in Washington, DC, and were later copied by lithographers for inclusion in McKenney and James Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of the United States (1836–44). Significantly, the production and circulation of these portraits straddles a period of tremendous change in the diplomatic interactions between the United States and Native tribes. This essay analyzes a selection of these images for their complex messages about the sovereignty of Indian people and their appropriate interactions with European American culture. Paying particular attention to pictures of leaders of southern nations, including the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole, I discuss the sitters' strategies of self-fashioning within the context of long-standing cultural exchange in the region. In addition, I offer a reading of the meaning of the Indian gallery as a whole that challenges the conventional wisdom that it is an archive produced exclusively to impose US control on the subjects included, arguing instead for the inclusion of portrait-making within this history of interaction.
This paper examines the notion of gendered space in Audubon's Watch, the most recent work by New Orleans novelist John Gregory Brown. Focussing on Myra Richardson Gautreaux – perhaps Brown's most intriguing female protagonist – it explores, first, how Myra continuously employs “forbidden” language in order to problematize subjects like physical intimacy and sexual desire and, second, how her linguistic experimentation, combined with her solitary walks through the dark streets of nineteenth-century New Orleans, disrupts the dichotomy of public versus private. It also argues that Myra's consistent preoccupation with disciplines inaccessible to nineteenth-century women – like anatomy, the depiction of bodily functions in painting, or the importance of the artist's gaze – establishes a new notion of identity, which interrogates the acceptable limits of “the feminine” in the antebellum South. Ultimately, the paper shows that Audubon's Watch should be read not only as an interesting hybrid of southern gothic and fictional biography, but also as a multilayered work that attempts to redefine the gendered spaces of language, science, and art.
No writer is more closely bound up with our deepest sense of the meaning of the “American” than Thomas Jefferson and it is difficult to imagine America's national purpose without some reference to his words. Yet Jefferson's projection of American identity also assumed and even constituted, of necessity, the un-American and it is in this sense that the un-American provided the necessary contours of what became the “American.” Jefferson's various projects are often seen in tension with one another. But this dialectic between the American and the un-American helps reconcile many of them. Federalists, Jefferson believed, assumed that governing Americans demanded the force and corruption that had long kept Europeans in order, whereas Americans, he believed, had an experience of history that rendered them capable of transcending such political theory and practicing democratic politics. This paper explores this dialectic between the American and the un-American in Jefferson's thought as a problem of national self-definition and argues that Jefferson's overwhelming confidence about American identity rested to a large degree in the shudder produced by his experience of the other. Years before Joseph McCarthy and HUAC, Jefferson's project of defining the nation created the un-American, rendering Americans ever since profoundly, however paradoxically, ambivalent about the prospects for revolutionary republicanism abroad.
The exceptional character of the United States' political culture has been and continues to be hotly contested. In the late nineteenth century, commentators framed radical ideologies as “un-American” and they subsequently entered the political lexicon as alien to American ideals and values. However, far less scholarly attention has been given to alternative definitions of “un-American” activity that emerged in the late nineteenth century. This article examines the charges made by contemporaries against the “un-American” town of Pullman and of George Pullman's patronage of his town and its workers. Through a close reading of Addams's critique of Pullman as “A Modern Lear” as well as other narratives and counternarratives contained within contemporary speeches, pamphlets, and newspaper and journal articles, this essay will demonstrate the flexible nature of the charge of “un-Americanism” in the crisis years of the 1890s. In that decade, the character of the modern nation was still highly contested and although the conservative, anti-union view won the immediate Pullman battle, it did not do so without a fight and it did not ultimately succeed in defining the character of the modern nation.
Between 1997 and 2007, Don DeLillo published three novels concerned with loss and mourning. Two of these, Underworld (1997) and Falling Man (2007), revolve around unique historical events in which the question of American exceptionality is foregrounded, and both relate this question of exceptionality to the experience of loss. This essay argues that while DeLillo accepts the historical specificity of the events of 9/11, his novel Falling Man is wary of any claim to their exceptionality. It argues further that while Falling Man and Underworld both contain moving explorations of the vicissitudes of loss, Falling Man is more concerned with the loss of loss, the end of mourning, an idea which illuminates the novel's arresting juxtaposition of Søren Kierkegaard and T. S. Eliot. As the three novels appeared, DeLillo seemed increasingly concerned to explore the overcoming of grief, the loss of loss, in the context of female subjectivity, and to trace the failure to overcome it to the masculine psyche, and I draw upon the work of Julia Kristeva in order to address this. The pattern is at its starkest in The Body Artist (2001), with which the essay briefly concludes. We begin by looking at Underworld, where loss seems to be the presiding masculine emotion.
This article examines how the foreclosure crisis has been represented in a range of narrative genres: the reportage of Paul Reyes's Exiles in Eden: Life among the Ruins of Florida's Great Recession (2010), Michael Moore's documentary film Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), and Paul Auster's novel Sunset Park (2010).These narratives attempt to contextualize the human beings caught in the center of the subprime mortgage storm, but in the process each of them runs up against an opacity or obscurity, a crisis of representation. The article argues that underlying the financial crisis is an inability to recognize and comprehend deeply embedded structures of inequality, a failure common to both the financial system and the wider culture. Drawing on recent accounts of the techniques of credit scoring and mortgage securitization in the disciplines of business history, accounting, financial management, and human geography, the article concludes that subprime mortgage lending involved social relations of supremacy and subordination, as well as representational strategies which identified individuals solely in terms of credit risk, while failing to grasp the conditions of poverty and disadvantage which constituted them as a class.
During the early 1900s, Anglo-Americans in search of an indigenous modernism found inspiration in the Hispano and Native American arts of New Mexico. The elevation of Spanish colonial-style art through associations such as the Anglo-led Spanish Colonial Arts Society (SCAS, 1925) placed Hispano aesthetic production within the realm of tradition, as the product of geographic and cultural isolation rather than innovation. The revival of the SCAS in 1952 and Spanish Market in 1965 helped perpetuate the view of Hispanos either as “traditional” artists who replicate an “authentic” Spanish colonial style, or as “outsider” artists who defy categorization. Thus the Spanish colonial paradigm has endorsed a purist vision of Hispano art and identity that obscures the intercultural encounters shaping contemporary Hispano visual culture. This essay investigates a series of contemporary Hispano artists who challenge the Spanish colonial paradigm as it developed under Anglo patronage, principally through the realm of spiritually based artwork. I explore the satirical art of contemporary santero Luis Tapia; the colonial, baroque, indigenous and pop culture iconographies of painter Ray Martín Abeyta; and the “mixed-tech media” of Marion Martínez's circuit-board retablos. These artists blend Spanish colonial art with pre-Columbian mythology and pop culture, tradition with technology, and local with global imaginaries. In doing so, they present more empowering and expansive visions of Hispano art and identity – as declarations of cultural ownership and adaptation and as oppositional mestizo formations tied historically to wider Latino, Latin American and transnational worlds.
Using the Congressional record, press articles and the extensive literature on the theme of Americanism published in the early decades of the twentieth century, this article seeks to offer a new approach to the history of the idea of “un-Americanism” in the early years of the twentieth century, particularly in the period between the First World War and the Great Depression. It argues that a key distinction may be drawn between a procedural or “negative” concept of un-Americanism, in which the enemy is defined as the person who refuses to accept the liberal political order and therefore exempts themselves from the privileges of citizenship, and a “positive” definition of un-Americanism based on identity and status politics, in which the un-American is seen as the person who fails to meet the criteria for membership in the mythic community from which the modern nation is assumed to have been founded – usually defined in racial, ethnic and gendered terms; through religious affiliation; or by assertions of culture and character. The history of un-Americanism should therefore be understood principally in terms of the contestations that developed between these two concepts rather than as the evolution of a singular concept and shared understanding of its meaning.
This article examines the ways in which American poetic practice and thematics map a conception of private real property as it has developed uniquely on the North American continent. I explore how the Land Ordinance of 1790, the Preemption Act, the Homestead Act, and other land-use policies shaped a conception of the developing landscape as divisible into a vast agglomeration of private enterprises mediated primarily by the transfer of title deeds. The impact of private real property beliefs and practices, I argue, has shaped both the practice and the reception of American poetry (and other cultural products) for at least the last 150 years. I incorporate the insights of cultural geography – particularly the work of John B. Jackson, Carl Sauer, and Scott Freundschuh – to understand how the last century's building practices and the reorganization of the landscape, particularly in western metropolitan areas, find imaginative expression in poetry. Although mine is not a law-in-literature approach, I contend that modern/postmodern poetry operates in a way that depends on the very exchange values of the late capitalist property system it often critiques.
Since the early 1980s, the Hopi filmmaker and photographer Victor Masayesva Jr. has played an influential role in Native American multimedia production in the United States. This article examines Masayesva's film Paatuwaqatsi: Water, Land and Life (2007), which documents a 1,650-mile run made by Hopis from their home villages in Northern Arizona to Mexico City in early 2006. The run marked the closure of the Mohave Generating Station in southern Nevada and the Black Mesa coal mine which fuelled the power plant. It also celebrated the shutting down of the controversial coal slurry pipeline between the plant and mine that required for its operation the pumping of 1.2 billion gallons of pristine water annually from the Navajo Aquifer, which lies under the homelands of the Hopi and Navajo nations. The article explains how Hopis' affective relationship with place is put into action through the acts of running, prayer and personal sacrifice. It reviews Masayesva’s filmmaking career to date and considers his core idea of the indigenous aesthetic, a set of principles that has guided the practical decisions and artistic choices he has made in the course of over thirty years' working as an independent media producer. After a close analysis of selected scenes in Paatuwaqatsi, the article concludes by noting, first, how the film negotiates internal divisions within Hopi society over development and environmental issues and, second, how it engages the impact of continuing drought and ongoing climate change on the American Southwest.
Through a close reading of Exit Ghost, this paper examines in a fresh manner the conflicts between notions of authorial context and autonomous literary creativity that dominate not just this novel, but all of Roth's works. In particular, I will look at how Exit Ghost reprises the antagonism and confusion that has existed between disinterested notions of authorial self-effacement and forms of autobiographical self-exposure within Zuckerman's (and Roth's) writing. By exploring how the fraught relationship between Zuckerman's private self and his publicly accessible body of fiction has been closely tied to his more youthful erotic adventures in earlier novels, I will discuss in detail the significance of the eviscerating impact of old age and impotence that he endures in Exit Ghost. In addition, I will discuss these complex issues of desire and authorship in the context of Roth's creative treatment of the Bush/Kerry Presidential election of 2004 in Exit Ghost. I will look at how the presence, albeit marginal, of such large-scale political events in this novel provides an interesting insight into the tangled intersection between literature and the raw “facts” of American history in Roth's fiction.
A combination of social and cultural changes account for the popularity of, and the narrative permutations of class and gender in, the cross-class romance films of the 1930s. The analysis is based on a sample of eighty-five cross-class romance films released in the 1929–39 period. The films deal with a dilemma evident in the choice of partners: between interests of wealth and social status and the value of romantic, disinterested love, an ideal which had spread throughout the class structure. Gender distinctions are reinforced by narratives in which the wealthy male is redeemed by the poor female so that he can perform the appropriate male gender roles. When the female is wealthy, the poor male insists on her economic dependence on him. Films with gold diggers reached a peak in the early 1930s and provided imaginary solutions to social anxieties about class and gender among both women and men.
A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) is a collaborative enterprise between avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren and African American ballet dancer Talley Beatty. Study is significant in experimental film history – it was one of three films by Deren that shaped the emergence of the postwar avant-garde cinema movement in the US. The film represents a pioneering cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary dialogue between Beatty's ballet dancing and Deren's experimental cinematic technique. The film explores complex emotional experiences through a cinematic re-creation of Deren's understanding of ritual (which she borrowed from Katherine Dunham's Haitian experiences after spending many years documenting vodou) while allowing a leading black male dancer to display his artistry on-screen. I show that cultures and artistic forms widely dismissed as incompatible are rendered equivocal. Study adopts a stylized and rhythmic technique borrowed from dance in its attempt to establish cinema as “art,” and I foreground Beatty's contribution to the film, arguing that his technically complex movements situate him as joint author of its artistic vision. The essay also explores tensions between the artistic intentions of Deren, who sought to deprivilege the individual performer in favour of the filmic “ritual,” and Beatty, who sought to display his individual skills as a technically accomplished dancer.
This article examines the periodical culture of 1860s San Francisco, a challenging and brittle print culture environment for editors and writers. It focusses on the Golden Era and the collective life it produced, in its pages, for the city's unstable population. The Era celebrated a masculine culture of street and saloon, while making social and literary convention the focus of aggressive attack. Writers in this setting developed their assault on literary form in a range of material that dismantled popular modes of writing and pressed questions about writing and reading on its audiences. Their work constitutes a distinctive strain of western writing during this period, by turns critical of and indifferent to contemporary forms of representation of the cultures of the region. It also develops a mode of response to industrial urban experience during this period that makes an address to readers nationally and internationally as well as locally.
Focussing on the nationalist women's organization Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), this article seeks to make an important contribution to the historiography of un-Americanism by exploring its gendered dimensions as well as its ambiguities in the interwar period. By the early 1920s, the DAR boasted a membership of 140,000. It was during this period that the organization became the vanguard of a post-World War I antiradical movement that sought to protect the United States from the dangers of “un-American” ideologies, chief among them socialism and communism. Given the DAR's visibility and prominence during the interwar period, the organization constitutes a useful case study to analyze notions of un-Americanism between World War I and World War II. A thorough analysis of the Daughters' rhetoric and activities in the 1920s and 1930s reveals three things: (1) the importance of gender in understanding what patriotic women's organizations such as the DAR feared when they warned of “un-Americanism”; (2) the antimodern impulse of nationalist women's efforts to combat un-American activities, which is closely related to its gender dimension; and (3) the ambiguity of the term “un-American,” since it was used by the DAR and its liberal detractors alike to criticize each other.