Volume 5, Issue 1, 2013
This essay examines four contemporary novels written by Commonwealth authors who lived in the United States: DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little, Salman Rushdie’s Fury, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, and Zadie Smith's On Beauty. These novels offer critiques of American culture, as well as asking how they define the borders of the American novel in a global literary society. When non-American Anglophone authors write novels set in the United States, it raises the question of what defines a novel written in English as “American” as opposed to “British” or “Commonwealth,” particularly when many Anglophone authors avail themselves of residential opportunities in the United States. The question becomes particularly interesting when these US-based novels are recognized by the Man Booker Committee for Commonwealth fiction, as was Vernon God Little.
These four demonstrate the fuzzy distinction between an American novel and expatriate fiction, particularly when the novel only contains American characters, with little non-American perspective apparent within the narrative. So are these novelists writing from the community of their passports, their present country of residence, or as temporary/virtual “Americans”? Are these novels an external critique of American culture–or are these novels part of an American literary tradition of social examination?
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In 1931, US writer Langston Hughes set sail for Haiti, the “land of blue sea and green hills,” in order – as he recalls in his 1956 memoir I Wonder as I Wander – “to get away from my troubles.” Seeking shelter from the US race problem in what he imagined would be the welcoming arms of the strong, proud, black republic, Hughes received instead a shocking, firsthand glimpse at Haiti’s constitutional contradiction: that the Haitian nation, “congealed around notions of liberty from slavery,” was launched in an opposite direction from the Haitian state, which had “inherited the social and economic institutions from colonial times,” and thus “required a regimented labor force.” The Haiti that welcomed Hughes in April 1931, fifteen years into the US Occupation, was indeed “a new world, a darker world,” but one in which “the white shadows” had encroached, transforming Haiti “into a sort of military dictatorship, backed by American guns.” It had become “a fruit tree for Wall street, a mango for the Occupation, coffee for foreign cups, and poverty for its own black workers and peasants.” All of the labor that kept Haiti alive and the foreign traders rich, lamented Hughes, was done by “the people without shoes.” This essay examines the rhetoric of national identification in twentieth-century Haiti – through the complex literary lens of US writers of the African diaspora, like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, whose own labors to present how “the people without shoes” had worked to prop up Haiti’s economy for centuries, often fluctuated between biting political commentary aimed at the political elite, gentle depictions celebrating local peasant customs, and (strategic) apologies for the US Occupation – all revelatory of a desire to build a space of transatlantic, postnational sense of kinship; a narrative homeland for the exiled and the nationless people on either side of its borders, forging parallels between all New World architects-turned-outsiders in their own homelands.
This article examines the representation of the encounters and exchanges between Asian and black Americans in Sŏk-kyŏng Kang’s “Days and Dreams,” Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother, and Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life. While one popular mode of looking at Asian and black Americans relationally in the postwar era is to compare the success of Asian American assimilation to the failure of black Americans, Lim argues that such a mode of comparison cannot account for the ways in which Asian American racialization takes places within the global currents of militarism and migration. Against the popular view that attributes Asian American success to cultural difference, Lim relies on political scientist Claire Kim’s understanding of culture as something that is constructed in the process of racialization to explore how the above texts imagine the terms of comparative racialization between black and Asian Americans. The black-Korean encounters in these texts demand a heuristic of comparative racialization that goes beyond the discussion of the black-white binary as a national construct and seeks the reification and modification of this racial frame as it travels along the routes of US military and economic incursions in the Pacific. Lim suggests that the literary imagining of black-Korean encounters across the Pacific illustrates race and racialization as effects of a regime of economic development that is supported by military aggression.
Environmental Justice, Transnationalism, and the Politics of the Local in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead
This article analyzes Leslie Marmon Silko’s 1991 novel, Almanac of the Dead, drawing on insights from environmental justice ecocriticism and geographical theory. Ray argues that the novel offers an ethic of place that creates conditions for environmental justice. Her analysis focuses on a question that is fundamentally geographical: what kind of ethic of place is most likely to create the conditions for both environmental and social justice? Almanac offers a way of imagining place that moves beyond the tendency in environmental literary criticism to think in either global or local terms, and insists that the global and the local are dialectically related vis-à-vis colonialism. Thus Almanac offers what Rob Nixon calls a “transnational ethics of place,” what Ursula Heise calls “eco-cosmopolitanism,” or what geographer Doreen Massey calls a “global sense of place,” theories that account for global colonialism and planetary environmental justice while also promoting a strong sense of place rooted in responsibility to the land. Through its treatment of spatiality, the novel reveals the power and politics of unique places within broader global forces, while neither sentimentalizing nor rejecting the distinctiveness of place even as it recognizes the relationship between place and the networks and flows of colonialism and global capitalism. Ultimately, the novel eschews the “nation” as a basis by which to create sustainable human-nature relations, and recognizes that the histories and forces of diaspora, colonialism, and globalization—not overpopulation or resource scarcity, as conventional environmental thinking would have it—have produced the ecological problems we face today.
Imperial Revisionism: US Historians of Latin America and the Spanish Colonial Empire (ca. 1915–1945)
During the period 1915–1945, United States historians contributed important revisions to the subfield of colonial Hispanic American History. Their histories argued for a reconsideration of inherited wisdom about the Spanish colonial empire, in issues of justice towards indigenous peoples, the interoceanic book trade, colonial universities, the Crown’s mercantilist policies, and the penetration of Enlightenment ideas in the Indies. This article reads these contributions in relation to the politics of US Pan-Americanism and the Good Neighbor policy, arguing that different versions of historical revisionism served to envision a new form of US engagement with Latin America.
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Kookie Thoughts: Imagining the United States Pavilion at Expo 67 (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bubble)
In 1967, at the International and Universal Exposition (Expo 67 in Montreal), American government planners and their collaborators in the private sector revolutionized how the United States participated at world's fairs. They transformed the ways in which architecture, design, and exhibits could come together in a stunning visual endpoint. The choice of 1960s social visionary and design guru F. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome (“Bucky’s Bubble”) for the US Pavilion structure proved a coup, as did the Marshall McLuhan-inspired Cambridge Seven design team that created the Pavilion interior of platforms joined by criss-crossing bridges and escalators. This article incorporates an analysis of four linked elements of the US Expo 67 design project. First, it conceives of the US Pavilion at the edge of US empire. Second, it suggests that, improbably, planners found success in the mix of earlier world’s fair grand designs with a new minimalist modernity. Third, Pavilion design and content reflected the influence of Andy Warhol and other artists whose work was transforming gay camp into mass camp in American popular culture. Finally, the project drew on a secret World War II US army collaboration between three key Expo 67 planners, whose wartime specialty had been in military deception, to complete the visual revolution at the US Pavilion.
Forward Editor’s Note for JTAS 5.1
Excerpted from Kornel S. Chang, Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.–Canadian Borderlands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).
Excerpted from James H. Cox, The Red Land to the South: American Indian Writers and Indigenous Mexico (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).
Reprinted with permission from University of Minnesota Press.
Excerpted from Akira Iriye, Global and Transnational History: The Past, Present, and Future (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
Reprinted with permission from Palgrave Macmillan.
Reprinted from Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson. Copyright © 2013 by Ira Katznelson. With the permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation.
Excerpt from East Is West and West Is East: Gender, Culture, and Interwar Encounters between Asia and America
Excerpted from Karen Kuo, East Is West and West Is East: Gender, Culture, and Interwar Encounters between Asia and America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012).
Reprinted with permission from Temple University Press.
Reprinted from Modern Minority: Asian American Literature and Everyday Life by Yoon Sun Lee, with permission from Oxford University Press USA. © 2013 Oxford University Press
Excerpted from Beth H. Piatote, Domestic Subjects: Gender, Citizenship, and Law in Native American Literature (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013).
Reprinted with permission from Yale University Press.
Excerpted from Brian Russell Roberts, Artistic Ambassadors: Literary and International Representation of the New Negro Era (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013).
Reprinted with permission from University of Virginia Press.
Reprise Editor’s Note for JTAS 5.1
In his introduction to reading Zora Neale Hurston’s politics, Mitchell argues that contemporary scholarship has misread Hurston in significant ways, distorting Hurston’s work and reputation to serve contesting political agendas; thus, in recent years, she has been associated with “a bewildering array of affiliations: republican, libertarian, radical democrat, reactionary conservative, black cultural nationalist, anti-authoritarian feminist, and woman-hating protofascist.” Recuperating Hurston from this impossible political melee of labels, Mitchell argues, requires a careful reading of Hurston’s work dating from her earliest pieces in the late 1920s, as well as surveying her many yet to be published manuscripts and letters; it requires recognition of the transnational and comparative lens through which she reported on political maneuvers and military histories, as well as reading not only her strong criticisms but also her silences, ironic phrasings, and nuanced critiques in her writings on global colonial enterprises. Mitchell’s introduction to the two Hurston essays here reprinted, “I Saw Negro Votes Peddled” (1950) and “Why the Negro Won’t Buy Communism” (1951)—courtesy of the American Legion Magazine—is set in the larger frame of his assertion that Hurston’s work should be read with a deep appreciation of her staunch anticolonialism. Tracing her political philosophy through her views of how race and religion are used to valorize an international culture of violence that serves imperialistic and colonial ends, Mitchell takes his reader on a tour of Hurston’s transnational commentary—from the US occupation of Haiti, to the Spanish and British on the Florida peninsula; from Communist Russia and China, to election practices in the US—to set the stage for our encounters with these rarely read Hurston essays. Reading Mitchell’s “Zora’s Politics: A Brief Introduction” provides a firm foundation for a more complex understanding of the impressive range of Zora Neale Hurston’s political and literary oeuvre.
Reprinted with permission of The American Legion Magazine, © November, 1950. www.legion.org.
Reprinted with permission of The American Legion Magazine, © June, 1951. www.legion.org.
Originally published in Alfred Hornung and Martina Kohl’s Arab American Literature and Culture (Universitätsverlag Winter, 2012), Bauridl’s essay offers a full discussion of a number of theoretical constructions regarding identity. In closely reading the words of both Hammad and Gerban, Bauridl challenges the simpler dualisms of bifurcated, Du Boisian approaches to identity, interpreting the complex reality of the “trans” in transnational identity, which seems more appropriately mobile and fluid and permeable, as are the experiences of “multiple consciousness” of those who try not to side with any specific racialized or politicized aspect of identity but to creatively negotiate all of them.
From Rosa Bobia’s The Critical Reception of James Baldwin in France (Peter Lang, 1998; and a special note of thanks to editor Stephen Mazur), Reprise reprints Bobia’s 1985 interview with Baldwin in Atlanta, shortly before his death in France in 1987. Here, as Bobia and Baldwin enter into a brief discussion of his perception of how he was received in France in the 1950s, Baldwin seems to embrace the fact that he was at that time in France largely unknown, an outsider: “I was a maverick.” In light of the fact that in his later years Baldwin came to speak French with great ease and to live comfortably in his home in France, it may seem surprising that his tone in these pages seems to suggest a hint of disinterest in how French critics perceived him—or perhaps it is simply indicative of his deeper affiliations, just as his final burial in the US seems to indicate.
Lubin’s analysis focuses on the identities and actions of communities that translate their politics and poetics into other discursive forms, seeking liberation. “Seriously” reading global hip-hop as a transnational linkage of the voices of the dispossessed and oppressed, Lubin argues that reading and understanding the new geography of liberation that such discursive communities create is also a way of recognizing how such spaces and forms of community—the borderless and refugee—are always already breaking out of fixed rhythms and identities to produce new belongings and beats.
Issue Editors' Note
Editor's Note for JTAS 5.1
Contributors for JTAS 5.1
SPECIAL FORUM: American Studies: Caribbean Edition (Edited by Belinda Edmondson and Donette Francis)
Introduction to the Special Forum entitled "American Studies: Caribbean Edition," edited by Belinda Edmondson and Donette Francis
The emerging field of critical mobilities research posits the need to replace sedentary approaches to nation-states as containers for national societies and repositories of national histories with a far more relational understanding of transnational and cross-regional dynamics. It proposes “mobile methodologies” for research that cross national boundaries, including following people, commodities, and cultures as they circulate between various interlinked sites of production and consumption. Yet few have noted the debt of mobilities research to Caribbean Studies and to the theoretical trajectories that have arisen out of research on the colonial and postcolonial Atlantic world. This article aims to situate the “new mobilities paradigm” in relation to Caribbean and transnational American Studies, and to mobilize Caribbean Studies as an approach that transcends regional or national paradigms. After tracing some of the theoretical intersections of mobilities theory and Caribbean Studies, the article sketches the arc of the author’s own work, leading into a current research project on the mobilities of bauxite/aluminum as a material object. Following the mobilities of aluminum allows us to break open both US American history and particular Caribbean national histories into a dynamic pan-American framework that challenges the geographical fixity of American Studies and illustrates the importance of placing (im)mobilities at the center of transnational American Studies.
This article, as part of the “American Studies: Caribbean Edition” Special Forum, brings specific focus to the ways in which the Caribbean and the field of Caribbean Studies insists upon a version of American Studies that sheds its post-exceptionalist anti-insularity and, in the process, emerges as transregional and archipelagic.
For many observers, the violent and often spectacular crime that takes place in particular Caribbean areas is evidence of a failure to create a growth-oriented economy and morally progressive ethos. It is a problem of culture, a mark of backwardness, an unsuccessful movement from savagery, or a failure to take advantage of post-World War II opportunities for development in political, economic, and socio-cultural fields. At the very least, it is something that marks the Caribbean—as well as some spaces within Latin America—as seeming to have taken a different path in relation to other New World trajectories. This article uses the case of Jamaica—itself often portrayed as exceptional within the region—to think through how, when, and why the US is, on one hand and from one perspective, written out of these narratives and, on the other and from alternative vantage points, central to them. In doing so, Thomas emphasizes the long-standing transnational dimension of violence in the postcolonial Americas, situating the New World as a single sphere of experience, in order to say something about the relationships among violence, the exploitation and settlement of the New World, sovereignty, and the various phases of modern capitalism.
Democracy as a Human Right: Raymond Joseph, Despotic Haiti, and the Translation of a Rights Discourse, 1965–1969
This article examines Raymond Joseph’s political vision of Haiti between 1965 and 1969, particularly through how he appropriates, links, and frames a human rights discourse that is dependent upon and constitutive of democratic principles of collectivity, popular control, and relative political and economic equality.
This article repositions Orlando Patterson, the originator of “social death,” in his Caribbean milieu and suggests that part of why “social death” as a conceptual category has become fossilized is precisely because North American scholars have neglected other works in Patterson’s oeuvre, particularly the Caribbean scholarship that precedes Slavery and Social Death and the “richer stories” he attempts to tell in his largely unstudied Caribbean novels of the 1960s. This article attends to the emphasis on the hierarchies of difference and the idiom of sex within an understanding of “social death” in its close reading of Patterson’s 1972 neoslave narrative Die the Long Day.
This article examines the raced and gendered investments of early twentieth-century Caribbean subjects in Booker T. Washington, who was perhaps the most powerful African American in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the two educational institutions with which he was associated, the Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes.