Volume 2, Issue 1, 2010
Josephine Baker: A Chanteuse and a Fighter
This excerpt is from her newly-published biography of Josephine Baker, “A Fighting Diva.” It tells the intriguing story of Baker’s travels to Japan, her close friendship with the Japanese humanitarian Miki Sawada, and her adoption of a pair of Japanese orphans. Even after she achieved celebrity in France, Baker’s experience as a Black American led her to develop an antiracist philosophy at a worldwide level, and she combined political militancy in the public sphere with a personal commitment through the formation of an international multiracial household of children, the “Rainbow Tribe.”
Making the Case for Middlebrow Culture
It is commonly assumed that Caribbean culture is split into elite highbrow culture—which is considered derivative of Europe and not rooted in the Caribbean—and authentic working-class culture, which is often identified with such iconic island activities as salsa, carnival, calypso, and reggae. In Caribbean Middlebrow, Belinda Edmondson recovers a middle ground, a genuine popular culture in the English-speaking Caribbean that stretches back into the nineteenth century. Edmondson shows that popular novels, beauty pageants, and music festivals are examples of Caribbean culture that are mostly created, maintained, and consumed by the Anglophone middle class. Much of middle-class culture, she finds, is further gendered as "female": women are more apt to be considered recreational readers of fiction, for example, and women's behavior outside the home is often taken as a measure of their community's respectability. Edmondson also highlights the influence of American popular culture, especially African American popular culture, as early as the nineteenth century. This is counter to the notion that the islands were exclusively under the sway of British tastes and trends. She finds the origins of today's "dub" or spoken-word Jamaican poetry in earlier traditions of genteel dialect poetry-as exemplified by the work of the Jamaican folklorist, actress, and poet Louise "Miss Lou" Bennett Coverley-and considers the impact of early Caribbean novels including Emmanuel Appadocca (1853) and Jane's Career (1913).
A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America
The confinement of some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, often called the Japanese American internment, has been described as the worst official civil rights violation of modern U. S. history. Greg Robinson not only offers a bold new understanding of these events but also studies them within a larger time frame and from a transnational perspective. Drawing on newly discovered material, Robinson provides a backstory of confinement that reveals for the first time the extent of the American government's surveillance of Japanese communities in the years leading up to war and the construction of what officials termed "concentration camps" for enemy aliens. He also considers the aftermath of confinement, including the place of Japanese Americans in postwar civil rights struggles, the long movement by former camp inmates for redress, and the continuing role of the camps as touchstones for nationwide commemoration and debate. Most remarkably, A Tragedy of Democracy is the first book to analyze official policy toward West Coast Japanese Americans within a North American context. Robinson studies confinement on the mainland alongside events in wartime Hawaii, where fears of Japanese Americans justified Army dictatorship, suspension of the Constitution, and the imposition of military tribunals. He similarly reads the treatment of Japanese Americans against Canada's confinement of 22,000 citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry from British Columbia. A Tragedy of Democracy recounts the expulsion of almost 5,000 Japanese from Mexico's Pacific Coast and the poignant story of the Japanese Latin Americans who were kidnapped from their homes and interned in the United States. Approaching Japanese confinement as a continental and international phenomenon, Robinson offers a truly kaleidoscopic understanding of its genesis and outcomes.
This hitherto unpublished essay by W. E. B. Du Bois, the text titled “The Afro-American,” which likely dates to the late autumn of 1894 or the winter of 1895, is an early attempt by the young scholar to define for himself the contours of the situation of the Negro, or “Afro-American,” in the United States in the mid-1890s. It is perhaps the earliest full text expressing his nascent formulations of both the global “problem of the color-line” and the sense of “double-consciousness” among African Americans in North America.
Of Horizon: An Introduction to “The Afro-American” by W. E. B. Du Bois—circa 1894
This article offers an introduction to the hitherto unpublished early essay by W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Afro-American.” More precisely it outlines the problematic of the essay and places the essay amidst Du Bois’s writings of the 1890s and the production of the text that became The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches of 1903. In so doing it proposes a path for the initial reading of this essay by rendering thematic the worldwide horizon that framed Du Bois’s projection from this early moment and by bringing into relief the interwoven motifs of the global “problem of the color-line” and the sense of “double-consciousness” for the “Afro-American” in the United States.
Housing the "Other" Half: American Studies' Global Urban Turn
Over the course of its short lifetime, the discipline of American studies has utilized a series of self-defining metaphors. With each successive paradigm shift in the field, each of these disciplinary figures, in turn, has been found wanting, and so replaced. American studies’ current, if not consensual, metaphor—the “border”—resembles not a few of its predecessors in that it is spatial in nature and effectively doubles as a figuration of the greater nation. The premise of this paper is that the “border,” like the figures that came before it, has outlived its serviceable purpose for a discipline that continues to evolve.
This essay proposes the global city, or, more accurately, the global slum, as a post-“border” metaphor peculiarly adapted to the principled transnationalism that now defines American studies for many subscribing students and professionals. On the one hand, the urban has become a prevailing demographic fact in this, the new century. Thus, the multiethnic, multinational world metropolis recommends itself as a more-than-metaphor for the dynamic cultural contact that typifies ascendant hemispheric conceptions of the Americas. On the other hand, the figure of the peripheral city similarly, and spatially, evokes the majority “center” and minority “margin” model of American studies that critics would claim inhibits total global integration among the discipline’s geoculturally diverse practitioners, many of whom reside outside the continental United States. This essay conceptually deploys the world city to explore beyond these professional/territorial “borders.” Its three condensed case studies—first, of Gilded Age Manhattan, second, of the modern Turkish metropolis, and third, of a reunified Germany’s ethnic ghetto—constitute a brisk figurative exercise in “marginal” urban migration, wherein resides an alternate model, and metaphor, of American studies praxis today.
From the End of History to Nostalgia: The Manchurian Candidate, Then and Now
This article puts the cold war in a broader historical perspective by juxtaposing the original Hollywood film The Manchurian Candidate (1962) with the 2004 remake as an occasion to ponder the (dis)continuities of history from the Korean War to the Gulf War. It reads both versions as nostalgia films in that they relegate the historical events of the Korean War and the Gulf War into floating background images as the sexualized/feminized Asian other or as the vilified Arab “enemy.” As a result, specific histories from Korea to Iraq become silenced while simultaneously represented through popular clichés of Red Queens, Yellow Perils, and “fanatic” suicide bombers, replacing history with nostalgia for home—the mythic Virgin Land of the American national imaginary. The American millenarian dream of utopia is haunted by the anxiety about doom as the desire for home stumbles upon repressed unhomely presences, upon the paradoxical impulse to remember by forgetting.
Disorienting the Furniture: The Transgressive Journalism of Alfonsina Storni and Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Drawing on the journalistic prose of two major literary figures of early-twentieth-century Argentina and the U.S., this article breaches cultural, national, and geographical frontiers by comparing the discursive gestures through which Alfonsina Storni and Charlotte Perkins Gilman re-appropriate for themselves the canonical genre of essay-writing to advance their feminist agendas. By undermining the presuppositions underlying so-called feminine publications of their time, both women carry out an intriguing disarticulation of the classic private/public divide that empowers their female readers to conceive of female subjectivity in new and innovative ways. Almost a mythic figure in the world of Latin American letters, Alfonsina Storni has achieved world renown as Argentina’s most famous “poetess of love,” thus obscuring her substantial contributions to Argentinean periodical literature. Even though Charlotte Perkins Gilman has become one of the most influential figures in the history of American First-Wave Feminism, that reputation is largely founded on her feminist fiction and her book Women and Economics, while her journalistic accomplishments have received considerably less attention. The transnational dialogue between these two writers conjured up in this article unearths this more or less neglected corpus to reveal the ways in which both subverted traditional definitions of gender through a transgressive use of discursive spaces heavily coded as “feminine” by patriarchal ideology.
The Making of a Hemispheric Intellectual-Statesman: Leo S. Rowe in Argentina (1906–1919)
Leo S. Rowe, before becoming director of the Pan-American Union, came to Argentina to gather information, connect with local intellectuals, and disseminate the basic ideas of an emerging inter-American system of cultural and intellectual cooperation that would be the backbone of Pan-Americanism. This paper deals with the interaction and communication between the Hemispheric Intellectual-Statesman and its local counterparts, focusing on the dynamic of the imperial hegemonic process. Argentine intellectuals failed to accept Rowe’s progressive ideas about modern corporations, government by public opinion, and social reform. But they were quite ready to entertain ideas of inter-American cooperation with the powerful Northern Neighbor, vindicating at the same time their affinity with and belonging to “European culture.”
The Junkyard in the Jungle: Transnational, Transnatural Nature in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest
In this new millennium the relatively young field of ecocriticism has had to face important transdisciplinary, transnational, and transnatural challenges. This article attempts to demonstrate how two of the major changes that environmental criticism is currently undergoing, the transnational turn and the transnatural challenge, have both been encoded in Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990), the first novel published by Karen Tei Yamashita. I particularly focus on a significant episode in Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, when a peculiar anthropogenic ecosystem is discovered, and interpret it according to Leo Marx’s classic paradigm of “the machine in the garden.” I intend to prove that Yamashita’s novel not only revisits the old master theory but also revamps it by destabilizing the classic human-nature divide inherent in first-wave ecocriticism and by adding the transnational ingredient. Thus, the machine-in-the-garden paradigm is updated in order to incorporate the broadening of current environmental criticism, both literally (globalization) and conceptually (transnatural nature). While at times Marx’s paradigm may metamorphose in intriguing ways, the old trope also corroborates its continuing validity. Though filtered by the sieve of globalization and shaken by the emergence of cyborg ecosystems, “the machine in the garden” has survived as a compelling ecocritical framework, even if it occasionally mutates into a junkyard in the jungle.
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The Object of Study; or, Are We Being Transnational Yet?
This article polemically engages with recent trends and particular interventions in American transnational studies. It argues that the transnationalization of American literary and cultural studies, a movement sponsored institutionally by the American Studies Association among other scholarly organizations, amounts to another version of exceptionalist Americanist critique. In reading and assessing contributions to transnational studies from the field’s leading practitioners, including Donald Pease, Robyn Wiegman, Janice Radway, Wai Chee Dimock, Paul Giles, and others, this essay argues that many of our critical narratives of American transnationalism end up reaffirming or recycling aspects of the exceptionalist narratives of American identity they would replace. “America” functions as the signifier of repressed critical identity whether criticizing the territorial integrity, the mono-linguistic deployment, or the insular-exclusive vision of American Studies. The essay suggests that Americanist practice can claim the histories, literatures, and political economies of the United States as an object of study without invariably reproducing anti-progressive political narratives about that identity.
Dancing in the Diaspora: Cultural Long-Distance Nationalism and the Staging of Chineseness by San Francisco’s Chinese Folk Dance Association
This essay analyzes the history of a San Francisco Bay Area cultural institution over a period of more than four decades, and, applying to it the concept of "cultural long-distance nationalism," it attempts to tease apart the complexity of cultural practice in diaspora. The organization in question is the Chinese Folk Dance Association (CFDA), founded in 1959, a pro-People’s Republic of China (PRC) troupe of amateur dancers and musicians playing Chinese instruments. As someone who was peripherally involved with the group in the mid-1970s and early 1980s and was a friend or acquaintance of a few members of the group, I became curious about the changes in its activities, its performance programs, its roles in the Bay Area community, and its self-perceived relationship to the homeland over time. I have examined the CFDA’s performance programs, photographs, and press coverage since the 1970s (earlier archival material was not available to me), as well as interviewed three of its key figures and spoken on several occasions with one of the three, the long-time executive director of the group and a friend from graduate school. What I have found is that the changes undergone by the group reveal the multiplicity of factors that go into the staging of Chineseness in diaspora and the challenges inherent in such a process. The challenges are especially acute given how rapidly the nation-state to which a specific cultural presentation is tied—the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—has itself been undergoing rapid and radical transformations.
Mark Twain, “The Treaty with China,” and the Chinese Connection
For today’s reader of Twain, the chronological appearance of “The Treaty with China” in August of 1868 may seem an anomalous entry in his bibliography, published at a time when his growing reputation is still primarily dependent on his ability to elicit a laugh or, for the more sophisticated reader, a knowing snicker. However, issues of race, class, and politics are not absent from his journalistic work prior to August 1868. Nothing in Twain’s writing prior to 1868, however, which had limited circulation, would have prepared the contemporary reader for the strong, unequivocal sympathies expressed toward the Chinese immigrants in “The Treaty with China.” For this reason alone, a closer analysis of “The Treaty” is warranted, providing prescient evidence regarding the political basis of Twain’s oeuvre at this embryonic stage of his career as a public figure. Many Twain scholars, largely through the brilliant analysis in Philip Foner’s 1958 work, Mark Twain: Social Critic, are already aware of the existence of “The Treaty with China,” even if they have never seen the text, but it has otherwise suffered from undeserved neglect, primarily because it has not been widely available to scholars since its 1868 publication, except for those with access to adequate microfilm resource libraries. This lacuna in Twain studies, at least, is now remedied with this reappearance of the entire text of “The Treaty with China.”
Terror, Aesthetics, and the Humanities in the Public Sphere
In the early days of the Iraq War, the United States used the power of images, such as those of the “mother of all bombs” and a wide array of weapons, as well as aesthetic techniques to influence and shape the consciousness of millions and to generate strong support for the war. The shock, fear, and nationalism aroused in those days after 9/11 have enabled the Bush administration to pursue a military agenda that it had planned before 9/11. Since then the extraordinary death and destruction, scandals and illegalities, and domestic and international demonstrations and criticisms have been unable to alter the direction of this agenda. Those of us in the humanities who are trained as critical readers of political and social texts, as well as of complex artistically constructed texts, are needed now more urgently than ever to analyze the relationships between political power and the wide range of rhetorical methods being employed by politicians and others to further their destructive effects in the world.
The Many Sides of Happy Lim: aka Hom Ah Wing, Lin Jian Fu, Happy Lum, Lin Chien Fu, Hom Yen Chuck, Lam Kin Foo, Lum Kin Foo, Hom, Lim Goon Wing, Lim Gin Foo, Gin Foo Lin, Koon Wing Lim, Henry Chin, Lim Ying Chuck, Lim Ah Wing, et. al.
Known to the FBI, INS, and IRS as Mr. Ah Wing Hom, he was also Lin Jian Fu, Jian Fu (Tough Guy), or just Fu to the readers of the many poems and short stories he published in Chinese over four decades in the twentieth century. And to still others, primarily English-readers of his writing, he was Happy Lim, an ironic, even tragically bizarre name, as his life was far from pleasant. On New Year's Day 1986, he died alone in a dingy San Francisco Chinatown bachelor hotel suffering from a bacterial infection and a chronic blood disorder that had required the amputation of all his toes the year before. He was seventy-eight years of age and had spent most of his life within blocks of where he died.