Volume 6, Issue 1, 2015
Editor's Note for JTAS 6.1
Forward Editor's Note for JTAS 6.1
Excerpted from Emron Esplin and Margarida Vale de Gato, eds., Translated Poe (Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 2014).
Excerpt from Looking Like the Enemy: Japanese Mexicans, the Mexican State, and US Hegemony, 1897–1945
Excerpted from Jerry García, Looking Like the Enemy: Japanese Mexicans, the Mexican State, and US Hegemony, 1897–1945 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014).
Excerpted from Zareena Grewal, Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority (New York: New York University Press, 2013).
Excerpted from Abdelmajid Hajji, Arabs in American Cinema (1894–1930): Flappers Meet Sheiks in New Movie Genre (Abdelmajid Hajji, 2013).
Excerpt from Black Cosmopolitanism: Racial Consciousness and Transnational Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Americas
Excerpted from Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo, Black Cosmopolitanism: Racial Consciousness and Transnational Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Americas (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).
Excerpted from Teemu Ruskola, Legal Orientalism: China, the United States, and Modern Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).
Excerpted from Stephen Hong Sohn, Racial Asymmetries: Asian American Fictional Worlds (New York: New York University Press, 2014).
Excerpted from Ellen D. Wu, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).
Christopher T. Fan argues that McHugh’s award-winning 1992 science fiction novel perceives the twilight of the American Century by offering a “critical realism,” to use Georg Lukács’s phrase, of postsocialist US–China interdependency. In other words, it offers a form in which we perceive ourselves as subjects and objects of the twenty-first century world-system’s most important bilateral relationship. Moreover, as a novel about US–China interdependency, it implicitly critiques the binary Orientalism that structures the rapidly growing body of work on “techno-Orientalist” formations. Fan's analysis thus extends arguments about American Orientalism’s non-Manichean formations (Christina Klein, Melani McAlister, Colleen Lye) into the postsocialist era.
The novel’s near-future, China-centric world analogizes McHugh’s personal crises of professional desire as a precarious laborer in New York City, with the massive reorientation of desires from Maoist politics to market-directed individuality that she witnessed among her students when she taught in China from 1987–1988. Chinese racial form plays a crucial mediating role in the novel because it reflects the revival of Confucian humanist discourse in reform-era China as a way to focus a national project of rapidly generating capitalist desire. Finally, by describing US–China interdependency, this article also generates a theory of US–China neoliberalism that corrects for universalist, Euro-American accounts of neoliberal subject formation (Lauren Berlant), as well as insufficiently subject-sensitive accounts (Aihwa Ong).
Though “revolutionary” acts and attitudes were frequently claimed in various civil rights–era movements in the US, this article considers the specific meaning of the term in a Mexican-Chicano context through a simultaneous examination of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (1984) and Nellie Campobello’s Cartucho: relatos de la lucha en el norte de México (1931). By way of a formal allusion to Campobello’s revolutionary text, Cisneros forces her readers to reconsider Mango Street from a hemispheric perspective, prompting new readings of her work. Most broadly, it resituates the text within a broader Latino tradition of the modern testimonio, which demands recognition of its sociopolitical significance. More specifically, the formal connection Cisneros forges insists on a similarity between the violent spaces of the post-WWII barrio and revolutionary Durango. Thus Cisneros collapses national and temporal distinctions that would assure US readers (Cisneros’s main audience) that poverty, violence, and revolution cannot happen here. To Gano, this radical use of form threatens not just literary conventions (this is not simply an assertion of “revolutionary style”) but also contains the suggestive threat that the barrio is a potential site of revolution, inseparable from violent acts. That this is a woman-centered story is significant: Cisneros’s kindling world is comprised largely of women and children who are inundated with daily episodes of violence. Often dismissed as political actors, these individuals are transformed in Cisneros’s work into potential revolutionaries.
Recent debates about the ethics of identity in a global age have dealt with how to prioritize conflicting local and global allegiances. Guided by these concerns, the fiction of Alice Walker develops a distinctive view of how local cultures and global movements can fruitfully interact. This vision depends on concepts from Asian religions, a major influence that critics of Walker have largely overlooked. Walker promotes Hindu and Buddhist meditation in a context of widespread African American skepticism toward Asian religions. According to widespread notions of cultural authenticity, Asian religions cannot nourish an African American connection to ethnic roots. In response to this challenge, Alice Walker’s fiction portrays Hindu and Buddhist mystics as African Americans’ ancestors, thus positioning these faiths as authentically black.
By creatively enfolding Asian religions into her sense of African American heritage, Walker builds a spiritual cosmopolitanism that relies on claims of ancestral affiliation even when these claims are not literal. This strategy is Walker’s effort to create a new paradigm of cultural authenticity, one that allows individuals and groups to choose their ancestors. Walker’s approach seeks to incorporate disparate global influences while still valorizing the figure of the ancestor. This innovative approach places Walker at the forefront of a growing number of African American artists and intellectuals who promote Asian religions to American minorities. Walker’s work vividly dramatizes larger concerns in transnational American Studies: Eastern philosophy’s relevance to identity politics, the tensions between universal ideals and cultural specifics, and the ethics of cross-cultural appropriation.
A decade after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, all three sites of violent impact have seen the dedication of national memorials to the victims. Hundreds of memorials have appeared in less likely places in the United States and around the world. This article offers an analysis of international 9/11 memorials along the lines of Michael Rothberg, as “a complementary centrifugal mapping that charts the outward movement of American power.” It traces well-established memorial aesthetics, such as walls and statues, in a selection of 9/11 memorials located in the United States, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Israel. Richard Gray’s hypothesis, that no fundamental change occurred in American prose writing, the works rather “assimilate the unfamiliar into familiar structures,” lends itself to examine 9/11 memorial aesthetics. In fact, despite the proclaimed sense of historical rupture, we do not witness great innovations of memorial design but a continuation of known patterns: modernist minimalism augmented by figural representations.
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Mass-mediated American culture and the English language became raw materials for vernacular protest humor alongside images of headscarf-wearing middle-aged “aunties” during antigovernment protests in Turkey in the summer of 2013. Focusing on posts shared on Facebook and Twitter by Turkish protestors and their supporters in the first two months of the protests, this article studies the complex linguistic and visual humor that developed around Gezi Park and relates it to the identity politics mobilized during the resistance. Exploring how the protestors projected themselves as both cosmopolitan (through the use of American mass culture and the English language) and locally rooted (through the use of auntie humor), the essay delineates how “America” can function in local Middle Eastern politics even in the absence of actual US intervention on the ground. Humor at Gezi demonstrates how closely analyzing transculturated vernacular communication can help us modify Western-derived academic theories about culture and power, making the case for incorporating the study of folklore into transnational American Studies.
Since the mid-twentieth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has become an increasingly international organization with more than half of its members currently living outside US borders. Still, because of its US origins, strongly centralized Salt Lake City headquarters, and doctrinal traditions that privilege the United States as a Promised Land, Mormonism remains an American church in the eyes of much of the world. This essay explores Mormonism’s struggle to internationalize through the lens of Mormon novels about transnational Mormon experiences. Specifically, it shows how these novels have sometimes embraced and sometimes resisted the hegemonic narrative of US Mormonism in order to understand how these works consider and reconsider long-standing assumptions about the value of the boundaries and central gathering places that have traditionally defined Mormonism’s physical, cultural, and ideological landscapes. Focusing on Margaret Blair Young’s Salvador (1993), Toni Sorenson Brown’s Redemption Road (2005), and Ryan McIlvain’s Elders (2012), this essay also looks at ways Mormon novels imagine transnational utopian spaces that seek to conceptualize a future where Mormonism is less tied to bordered concepts like nation, state, and America, and more open to border crossings. While these utopian spaces are not altogether unproblematic or free of Americentric assumptions, this essay argues that a look at how these novels use these spaces reveals much about the genre’s potential to explore Mormonism’s possibilities as a transnational community and rethink its relationship to its US headquarters.
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This essay considers two memoirs by leading American war correspondents: Stephen Crane’s memoir of the Spanish-American War, “War Memories” (1899), and Dexter Filkins’s account of the US occupation of Iraq, The Forever War (2003). But it also considers the archive of news dispatches behind both books: the news reports that come to “ground” and authorize the memoir in the first place. By “going to ground,” in addition, this essay examines both the interpretive and discursive networks that often migrate from news writing to retrospective chronicle, and the particular situation of returning to the home front that reframes those accounts. Thanks to the work of William Appleman Williams, Amy Kaplan, Elizabeth Samet, Robert Westbrook, and others, we’ve often tried to think about the reciprocity of the imperial and domestic fronts—to recognize, for instance, that reports of war often work in concert with home front ideas about national sovereignty, “foreign influence,” or citizens’ political obligation and socialization. This essay explores what it is about domestic fronts that contains and often silences the news the correspondent brings home. Moreover, it considers how war correspondents’ memoirs reconfigure these home fronts in transnational and intranational terms.
Reprise Editor’s Note for JTAS 6.1
Can National History Be De-Provincialized? U.S. History Textbook Controversies in the 1940s and 1990s
Thomas Bender’s 2009 essay “Can National History Be De-Provincialized? U.S. History Textbook Controversies in the 1940s and 1990s,” originally published in Contexts: The Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society, asks the important question of how a nation-specific curriculum in history—that is, how “American” history itself—can be taught with the least influence of political factions and the least interference of commercial factors, in light of the fact that both elements, the political and the commercial, have played a role in the construction of the US history textbook. Bender’s essay demonstrates the complexity of the problem as multiple stakeholders seek to control, limit, or promote particular elements of the narratives of US history. Professional historians, Bender argues, like history itself, have “no responsibility to supply comfort”—that is, no role in promoting nationalism or American exceptionalism—yet he also warns that, due to changes in the textbook industry, they also may have little role in determining what is finally published. Bender’s essay, which specifically discusses the impact of political conditions—World War II, for example—on the daily practice of teaching and writing about history, serves as an insightful reminder of the complexity and vulnerability of a nation’s memory.
This 2003 essay, entitled “Latino Autobiography, the Aesthetic, and Political Criticism: The Case of Hunger of Memory,” was previously published in Nor Shall Diamond Die: American Studies in Honour of Javier Coy, edited by Carme Manuel and Paul Scott Derrick (Valencia: Biblioteca Javier Coy d’estudis nord-americans, Universitat de València). In a fierce defense of the aesthetic properties of the ethnic autobiography, Isabel Durán, “as an outsider” to the politics of “Chicano” critics working in the US (“I am Spanish, and live in Spain”), argues that certain politicized critical approaches to ethnic autobiography inside the US have insisted on an identity politics that reads ethnic or minority writing as “good” if and only if it is “obedient” to the critic’s political ideology, regardless of its aesthetic value as art. Proposing a “renewed theory of the aesthetic,” Durán offers a strong refutation of Ramón Saldívar’s critical assessment of Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory, while simultaneously demonstrating how a transnational American Studies produces very different intellectual concerns.
Adam Golub’s research in “A Transnational Tale of Teenage Terror: The Blackboard Jungle in Global Perspective” on the Cold War era depiction in popular film of the US educational system as plagued by juvenile violence—specifically in Blackboard Jungle (1955; based on the novel by Evan Hunter)—is timely and sets into motion a series of relevant questions about the global perception of on-campus violence, US youth, and US culture. Golub focuses on the film’s reception in post-occupation Japan and West Germany in order to highlight the role of geopolitics in assessing the social and cultural “honesty” of a critical self-representation in fictional narrative, as well as the US government’s willingness or unwillingness to allow such depictions their freedom. This essay expands the transnational interpretation of the value of this film by not only comparing how different countries responded to the film but by demonstrating that the intervention of the film into the political moment affords significant insight into the inner workings of cultural diplomacy. A highly teachable essay, this work could be usefully paired with more contemporary narratives problematizing juvenile violence and educational space in US culture and elsewhere; furthermore, it highlights the transnational interpretative framework as essential to an understanding of the mutuality of the political and forms of representation when read in historical context. JTAS is grateful to Red Feather: An International Journal of Children’s Visual Culture, which originally published Adam Golub’s essay in 2012.
“American” Pictures and (Trans-)National Iconographies: Mapping Interpictorial Clusters in American Studies
Udo J. Hebel examines the recent critical history of visual cultures in American Studies in his essay “‘American’ Pictures and (Trans-)National Iconographies: Mapping Interpictorial Clusters in American Studies,” focusing his analysis specifically on “political photography” and the concurrency of contexts that inform his reading of the history of US presidential images. This beautifully researched article, previously published in American Studies Today: New Research Agendas (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2014), takes up questions related to “tensions” between disciplinary concerns and transdisciplinary potentialities for interpreting the representation of the political inside the framework of transnational American Studies.
Whispers of the Unspeakable: New York and Montreal Newspaper Coverage of the Oscar Wilde Trials in 1895
Greg Robinson’s article “Whispers of the Unspeakable: New York and Montreal Newspaper Coverage of the Oscar Wilde Trials in 1895,” originally published in 2010 in the French-language journal Rue des Beaux Arts, no. 24 (2010), is here republished and—with much gratitude—translated (for the original text, please see http://www.oscholars.com/RBA/twenty-four/24.7/Articles.htm). Robinson’s transnational study focuses on how reading the specific language of newspaper reports of the Oscar Wilde case, literally from a distance, from places less emotionally attached to and nationally distinct from the scandal’s epicenter in London, England, provides insight into “the state of everyday public knowledge and discussion of (homo)sexuality, at least west of the Atlantic”; thus Robinson’s fascinating research, which involves numerous newspapers—from the elite New York Times to the New York Herald, from the Montreal Daily Star to the French-language papers of Quebec—concludes that the popular press, read transnationally, offers key insights into the developing attitudes toward and levels of interest in the newly forming identity of the “homosexual” across societies.
William V. Spanos’s chapter “Vietnam and the Pax Americana: A Genealogy of the ‘New World Order’” was originally published in his book-length study entitled America’s Shadow: An Anatomy of Empire (1999) and is here reprinted, courtesy of the University of Minnesota Press. Spanos’s prescient, unrelenting, and wide-ranging analysis of the consequences of the Vietnam War argues that the contemporary moment—including the Gulf War, Operation Hope in Somalia, American interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, for example—has its “provenance” in the Vietnam War, yet the Vietnam War has essentially been underanalyzed and forgotten under the anesthetic of the American amnesiac condition, which perpetuates, systematically, an interpretation and misrepresentation of American exceptionalism and imperialism. Spanos’s philosophically informed interpretation of Vietnam Era literature, as well as other mediated representations of war, suggests that the Derridean specter haunts the “triumphalist” American representation of the post–Cold War reality, the New World Order or “Pax Americana,” and that the various politically correct theories that predict the decline of the nation-state or that celebrate the rise of American multicultural democracy will have mostly been the blind leading the blind toward a misapprehension of the global phenomenon of American hegemony.
Contributors for JTAS 6.1