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Open Access Publications from the University of California

American Studies Without Tears, or What Does America Want?

  • Author(s): Kennedy, Liam
  • et al.

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.

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