Volume 1, Issue 1, 2009
The Journal of Transnational American Studies (JTAS) seeks to broaden the interdisciplinary study of American cultures in a transnational context. In her 2004 presidential address to the American Studies Association, Shelley Fisher Fishkin noted the growing recognition that understanding the United States requires looking beyond and across national borders. This "transnational turn" has emphasized the multidirectional flows of peoples, ideas, and goods, and in the process has thrown into question the "naturalness" of political, geographical, and epistemological boundaries. JTAS functions as an open-access forum for Americanists in the global academic community, where scholars are increasingly interrogating borders both within and outside the nation and focusing instead on the multiple intersections and exchanges that flow across those borders. Sponsored by UC Santa Barbara’s American Cultures and Global Contexts Center and Stanford University's Program in American Studies, JTAS is hosted on the eScholarship Repository, which is part of the eScholarship initiative of the California Digital Library.
Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970, the book from which this foreword is excerpted, is the first comprehensive study of the lives and artistic production of artists of Asian ancestry active in the United States before 1970. The publication features original essays by ten leading scholars, biographies of more than 150 artists, and over 400 reproductions of artwork, ephemera, and images of the artists. Aside from a few artists such as Dong Kingman, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Isamu Noguchi, and Yun Gee, artists of Asian ancestry have received inadequate historical attention, even though many of them received wide critical acclaim during their productive years. This pioneering work recovers the extraordinarily impressive artistic production of numerous Asian Americans, and offers richly informed interpretations of a long-neglected art history. To unravel the complexity of Asian American art expression and its vital place in American art, the texts consider aesthetics, the social structures of art production and criticism, and national and international historical contexts. Without a doubt, Asian American Art will profoundly influence our understanding of the history of art in America and the Asian American experience for years to come. Chang, Gordon H., Mark Johnson, and Paul Karlstrom, eds. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008. Reprinted with the permission of Stanford University Press. http://www.sup.org
Thurgood Marshall became a living icon of civil rights when he argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1954. Six years later, he was at a crossroads. A rising generation of activists were making sit-ins and demonstrations rather than lawsuits the hallmark of the civil rights movement. What role, he wondered, could he now play? When in 1960 Kenyan independence leaders asked him to help write their constitution, Marshall threw himself into their cause. Here was a new arena in which law might serve as the tool with which to forge a just society. In Exporting American Dreams, Mary Dudziak recounts with poignancy and power the untold story of Marshall's journey to Africa. African Americans were enslaved when the U.S. constitution was written. In Kenya, Marshall could become something that had not existed in his own country: a black man helping to found a nation. He became friends with Kenyan leaders Tom Mboya and Jomo Kenyatta, serving as advisor to the Kenyans, who needed to demonstrate to Great Britain and to the world that they would treat minority races (whites and Asians) fairly once Africans took power. He crafted a bill of rights, aiding constitutional negotiations that helped enable peaceful regime change, rather than violent resistance. Marshall's involvement with Kenya's foundation affirmed his faith in law, while also forcing him to understand how the struggle for justice could be compromised by the imperatives of sovereignty. Marshall's beliefs were most sorely tested later in the decade when he became a Supreme Court Justice, even as American cities erupted in flames and civil rights progress stalled. Kenya's first attempt at democracy faltered, but Marshall's African journey remained a cherished memory of a time and a place when all things seemed possible.
In Uneven Encounters, the forthcoming book from which this article is excerpted, Micol Seigel chronicles the exchange of popular culture between Brazil and the United States in the years between the World Wars, and she demonstrates how that exchange affected ideas of race and nation in both countries. From Americans interpreting advertisements for Brazilian coffee or dancing the Brazilian maxixe, to Rio musicians embracing the “foreign” qualities of jazz, Seigel traces a lively, cultural back-and-forth. Along the way, she shows how race and nation are constructed together, by both non-elites and elites, and gleaned from global cultural and intellectual currents as well as local, regional, and national ones. Seigel explores the circulation of images of Brazilian coffee and of maxixe in the United States during the period just after the imperial expansions of the early twentieth century. Exoticist interpretations structured North Americans’ paradoxical sense of self as productive “consumer citizens.” Some people, however, could not simply assume the privileges of citizenship. In their struggles against racism, Afro-descended citizens living in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, New York, and Chicago encountered images and notions of each other, and found them useful. Seigel introduces readers to cosmopolitan Afro-Brazilians and African Americans who rarely traveled far but who absorbed ideas from abroad nonetheless. African American vaudeville artists saw the utility of pretending to “be” Brazilian to cross the color line on stage. Putting on “nation drag,” they passed not from one race to another but out of familiar racial categories entirely. Afro-Brazilian journalists reported intensively on foreign, particularly North American, news and eventually entered into conversation with the U.S. black press in a collaborative but still conflictual dialogue. Seigel suggests that projects comparing U.S. and Brazilian racial identities as two distinct constructions are misconceived. Racial formations transcend national borders; attempts to understand them must do the same.
"The Higher the Satellite, the Lower the Culture"? African American Studies in East-Central and Southeastern Europe: The Case of Poland
This paper examines the current position of African American studies in Poland, with Poland serving as an exemplar of similar changes taking place in other countries of East-Central and Southeastern Europe. In doing so, the paper highlights the nature of cultural representations or appropriations of blackness outside the United States, which, removed from their roots, start living their own independent lives. The omnipresence of hip-hop, basketball, and, to a lesser extent, black movies and literature has a direct influence on many cultures in which blackness is assigned a superior status. The foundations of this elevated position are often sustained by popular culture's hunger for the new and flashy, which grants the new forms a very peculiar and simulacral character. However, the paper recognizes that the far-reaching appeal of many black voices would likely be impossible without the aid of global channels of communication. The paper also examines a number of examples of black culture translated into and appropriated by various indigenous productions. It does so not only to show the somewhat naïve and even humorous aspects of many such "trans-nations" but also to demonstrate black culture's inspiring role for various local voices.
This essay suggests, first of all, that the power of transnational studies lies in its fundamentally dialectical approach, and, secondly, that this approach opens the way to a fresh consideration of the human subject of history. In the kind of transnational studies highlighted here, the focus is less strictly on the movements of people and capital across national borders and more on the implicitly other-oriented interactions between and among nations, making them mutually contingent phenomena, a situation which in turn entails intersubjective and intertextual events and calls for a fresh philosophy of the subject. Doyle draws on the thinking of Frantz Fanon, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Louis Althusser to explore one such possible "transnational philosophy." The second half of the essay pursues the idea that literature offers a micro-world of the dialectics of both transnational history and existential intersubjectivity. Doyle interprets Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative in relation to each other as well as in relation to transnational Atlantic history. Such readings model a method for transnational literary studies, one grounded in philosophy as well as history.
Berryman was fascinated with the figure of "the imaginary Jew." The phrase is the title of his first short story, it recurs in The Dream Songs, and it was to have been the topic of the final chapter of his autobiographical novel Recovery. Critics have not treated Berryman's "imaginary Jew" kindly. Early critics saw prosopopoeia as uncongenial to the confessional project. More recent critics see the figure as a misappropriation of Jewish identity. Berryman, however, did not want to pass himself off as Jewish; he invented the figure to expose the anti-Semitism of Eliot and Pound. His strategy of impersonating the stereotypical figure of "the Jew" was also in keeping with contemporary theories of prejudice and identity, which followed Sartre and psychoanalysis in understanding Jewishness as a product of morbid projection. My essay traces the critical reception—and rejection—of Berryman in order to expose what I see as the "identitarian" bias of American studies since the 1970s, most recently evident in debates over "the Americanization of the Holocaust." Berryman's transpersonal poetry, I argue, is also transnational, both in its personification of Nazi victims and in its comparison of domestic racism and the Vietnam War to genocide. Berryman's concern is not identity but the violence implicit in designating the other as Other. This violence not only plays a role in prejudice but also in progressive theories of "ethnic lyricism" that see the individual as an expression of her "culture" or "nation" and the poem as a personification of the individual.
As Americanists, we commonly approach "America" with suspicion, fear, even anger; we view it as a powerful, duplicitous force to be denounced or demystified. This paper speculates on why this might be so and in particular considers the troubled relationships at that heart of this dilemma—relations between pleasure and knowledge, and between sentiment and critique. This trouble is evident in the difficulties we experience in working through these relationships in our critical approaches, the difficulties in balancing intellectual comprehension and emotional apprehension of America. This is evident in the field imaginary of American Studies, which is posited here not only as a sphere of collective knowledge that is regulated by disciplinary practices but also as a field of less-regulated desires. I consider what the construction of a field imaginary leaves out, what it represses or disavows, in producing America as an object of knowledge. In an attempt to illustrate some of these considerations in relation to critical practice, this essay concludes by looking at a photographic image.
Immigration is a tense political topic in virtually every Western country, and in many others as well. In fact, immigration is an international issue: 3 percent of the world's population, 191,000,000 people, now live in countries other than those in which they were born. This paper discusses why immigration is so fraught, the relation of the crisis over immigration to the growing fracture of the Western world's economy, as well as to terrorism like September 11 and the train bombings in Madrid, Mumbai, and London, and how these factors—growing economic disparity, immigration, and terrorism—have altered one of the basic cultural phenomena of the United States in the last three decades, namely, what we call multiculturalism.
This article treats the links between the 1890s literature of urban reform in the United States, which focused on the downtown "other half" of New York, and the war literature of 1898, when American troops intervened in Cuba's war of independence. The article focuses on the work of Stephen Crane, who worked as a New York police reporter, slum novelist, and Cuba war correspondent in this turbulent decade. Leary shows how, in the martial culture of the American 1890s, the rhetoric of militarism informed the practice of urban reform, while the rhetoric of urban reform informed the military campaign in Cuba. This article argues that the United States' urban underdevelopment, represented famously by the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was imaginatively displaced onto Cuba. The War of 1898 was therefore an important landmark in the creation of a Third World imaginary in the United States, when "underdevelopment" would become a distinctly Latin American condition. In the twentieth century, the gap between modernity and underdevelopment would not be found in the sprawling tenement cities, but in "other Americas" to the south, below the Mason-Dixon line and in Cuba. After 1898, Cuba, once so close to the United States as to be nearly a state in the union, now belonged to another time—indeed, almost another world.
Chop Suey as Imagined Authentic Chinese Food: The Culinary Identity of Chinese Restaurants in the United States
At least until the 1960s, chop suey was synonymous with Chinese food in the United States, where most Chinese restaurants were called chop suey houses. By uncovering the history of chop suey, this article analyzes the development of Chinese cuisine in the U.S. as an example of transnational cultural exchange. The authenticity and culinary identity of Chinese food in America often rested on its real or imagined Chinese roots while its popularity depended on how well Chinese restaurant proprietors adapted the flavors, ingredients, and cooking methods of Chinese cuisine to the tastes and markets of local American communities. The dynamic interaction between Chinese food and American customers functioned as a complex cultural negotiation. While Chinese restaurants helped shape the American diet, Chinese food was at the same time being shaped and transformed by American popular taste. By appealing to a wide range of American diners, chop suey eventually evolved into a popular American ethnic food and a central component in the culinary identity of Chinese restaurants. Chop suey generated numerous jobs for Chinese immigrants and established a culinary bond between Chinese food and American customers. Also, as an imagined authentic Chinese dish, it represented a type of affordable exoticism in the eyes of American consumers, meeting not only American tastes but also their social expectations of Chinese culture.
This comparative article investigates the different views of the internet—what it could do and what it was for—as they emerged in news media, popular culture, and policy in the United State and Europe before the year 2000. In the United States, the internet was imagined as an inevitability, as the domain of private corporations, and as a new frontier that would usher the United States into an era of global economic dominance. In Europe, the internet was imagined as a technological choice, as a technology subordinate to national institutions, and as a public utility that the state should provide citizens through national telecommunications corporations. Despite these differences, this article shows how, as the century concluded, the political imaginings of the internet in the two locations converged. While EU policymakers increasingly envisioned the internet as a free market and a means for global economic power, U.S. policymakers envisaged it more and more as a requirement for competent democratic citizenship. Europe "Americanized" its internet policies by increasing competition through cuts in state support for national telecommunications corporations, and the United States "Europeanized" theirs by promoting policies designed to bridge the "digital divide." Ultimately, this article shows how the internet served both as an agent of change and a discursive construction through which varying imaginings were contested. In particular, Europe's adoption of the eEurope 2005 project—an endorsement of American-style unsubsidized corporations instead of European-style statist traditions—suggests that the internet functioned as a transatlantic cultural carrier of advanced capitalism.
Unlike her former award-winning and critically acclaimed works, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace has received little attention. This is an unthinkable phenomenon for a writer who has been hailed as one of the most widely taught authors living in the United States. One of the main reasons is that critics and reviewers do not know how to cope with this complicated, heterogeneous, and "weird" text that defies easy categorization. Nor do they know how to respond to the ways the author urges her readers to squarely face collective American traumas and symptoms through writing (especially the Vietnam War). This paper attempts to approach this intriguing text from the perspective of life writing. Part I points out the undue neglect of this book, refutes some serious misunderstandings, and offers "life writing" as a critical approach. Part II places this book in the context of Kingston's career and life trajectory in order to show that "peace" has always been her major concern. Part III argues that, whereas the 1991 Berkeley-Oakland fire destroyed the manuscript of her "Fourth Book of Peace" along with her house, this "baptism of fire" and its accompanying sense of devastation generated a special empathy, enabling her to better understand those who suffer, especially Vietnam War veterans. Part IV deals with both the subjects of writing trauma and trauma narrative and indicates how Kingston combines her writing expertise with the Buddhist mindfulness expounded by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh to lead the Veterans Writing Workshop. Finally, Part V stresses how Kingston and her writing community, by combining life, writing, and peace, tell their own stories and create new lives both personally and collectively.
"The War-Prayer," written a hundred years ago as Mark Twain reflected on the conditions surrounding the U.S. decision to embark on the imperialist venture known as the Philippine-American War, speaks to us across time in strikingly uncanny ways. Although today "The War-Prayer" is increasingly accessible to readers worldwide, this important piece by Mark Twain has never received the critical attention that it warrants. Neither has it occupied the place that it deserves in the Mark Twain canon, or in the American literary canon. In the years since its first publication in 1923, it has often been reprinted. But it rarely appears in anthologies of American literature, and it is among the least well-known works by Twain as far as the general public is concerned. Indeed, educated individuals are often startled and shocked when they are introduced to this piece, dumbfounded as to why they never encountered it before. A question worth pondering: How might American history and world history in the 20th century have been different if "The War-Prayer" had been as familiar to every high school student as Tom Sawyer? As editors of this international forum on "The War-Prayer" in Mark Twain Studies, we are pleased to be able to give this important work by Mark Twain some of the attention that it has long deserved.