The 26th Annual American Studies Forum





Upcoming Forum

The following information is being furnished to you with the hope that it will help you better prepare for the workshop prior to your departure.

1. Summary of the American Studies Forum


1. Summary of the 26th American Studies Forum:

Featured Speaker: Russ Castronovo

Sessions I and II: Common Sense and Revolution

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson and his rebel compatriots famously declared, “We hold these truths to be self evident….” This statement presents revolution as an evidentiary fact that every person can perceive and understand immediately. Tom Paine gave fuller expression to this sentiment in his pamphlet, Common Sense, which, through a mixture of logic and sentiment, stirred support for American independence. This session probes the link between such demonstrations of “common sense” and revolutionary consciousness. It is link that takes us to the ground of aesthetic judgment, a zone of feeling and supposedly universal sensibility. But civic feelings can become overexcited and popular sensibilities can become inflamed. The result is mob rule, what Paine called the “popular rage.” How did American revolutionaries—and how can we—distinguish between popular democracy and “popular rage,” between the rule of the people and the rule of the mob? In addition to turning to Jefferson and Paine as we seek answers to these questions, we will also consider Hannah Foster’s epistolary novel of 1797, The Coquette, and Hawthorne’s short story published n 1832, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.”

This session will lead us to consider more broadly the relationship between literature and propaganda. Can a poem be revolutionary? Can revolution be poetic? In studying American culture, how do we distinguish literature from propaganda?

Cathy Davidson, Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (New York : Oxford University Press, 1986).
Jay Fliegelman, Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language & the Culture of Performance (Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1993).
Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (New York : Oxford University Press, 1976).
Hannah Foster, The Coquette (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” in Tales and Sketches (New York: Modern Library, 1982.
Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence” in The Portable Thomas Jefferson, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Penguin, 1975).
Thomas Paine, Common Sense in The Thomas Paine Reader (New York: Penguin, 1987).
“The Liberty Tree” in The Thomas Paine Reader (New York: Penguin, 1987).
Michael Warner, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990).

Sessions III and IV: Literature and the Art of Social Government

“I have seen an armful of daisies keep the peace of a block better than a policeman and his club,” wrote the pioneering urban reformer and photographer Jacob Riis. His statement connects tenement reform to the deployment of aesthetic resources, suggesting that we might well wonder about the ways in which American literature has been charged with a moral mission. Slum novels, documentary photography, and reports from charities such as the Flower Mission reveal that Riis was not alone in the belief that beauty could turn the urban herd into disciplined citizens. This faith found its theoretical complement in academic research, much of it disseminated through the university extension movement, which argued for the existence of a species-wide “art instinct” that strives for harmony and perfection. At the same time, though, reformers observed that magic lantern shows created unruly crowds, flowers bedecked prostitutes, and nickelodeons encouraged larceny.

This session examines the transformative powers of aesthetics that create law-abiding citizens as well as lawbreakers.

Dismayed by the spectacle of urban poverty at the turn of the twentieth century—squalid living conditions, prostitution, lack of economic opportunities, and discrimination—social reformers and “muckrackers” marched into American cities with missionary zeal. Novels and photographic essays provided important social criticism by drawing attention to the plight of the poor and immigrants. But what happens when the poor, when what is un-beautiful, becomes the subject of novelistic or visual representation? Reformers grappled with this question by suggesting that art itself, that a notion of beauty could enable the poor to overcome hardship and inequality. Jacob Riis, Stephen Crane, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Dewey will inform our conversation.

Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and Other Short Fiction (New York: Bantam, 1986).
John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Capricorn, 1958).
Michel Foucault, “An Aesthetics of Existence,” Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, trans. Alan Sheridan et al, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman (New York: Routledge, 1988)
George Levine, “Introduction: Reclaiming the Aesthetic” in Aesthetics and Ideology, ed. George Levine (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1994
Jacob Riis, The Battle with the Slum (Montclair, N.J., Patterson Smith, 1969).
How the Other Half Lives (New York: Dover, 1971).

Session V and VI: Lynching and Aesthetics

The ritualistic and spectacular nature of lynching reveals the murderous dimensions of aesthetics. Many whites looked on the killing of a black person as public entertainment and tourist spectacle. Photographs often commemorated the grisly event. Against this aestheticization of violence, black writers and intellectuals sought to combat injustice by turning beauty into a zone of political combat. For W.E.B. Du Bois, this strategy famously entailed the conflation of art and propaganda. While African American poets of the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes and Claude McKay rejected Du Bois’s formula for political art, they nonetheless made lynching and racial violence a poetic subject. This tension feeds into a larger debate about the political uses of art: when does art cease being art and when does it become propaganda?

In this way, the concerns of Session V loop around to the questions raised in Sessions I and II. Now we will be pushing our focus on literature and propaganda through the crucible of race.

James K. Allen, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Santa Fe, NM: Twin Palms, 2000.
Anne Carroll, Anne. “Protest and Affirmation: Composite Texts in the Crisis” American Literature 76.2 (2004).
The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races.
Phillip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America. New York: Random House, 2002.
W.E.B. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art.” In The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 1997.
Dark Princess: A Romance. Millwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson, 1974.
Dusk of Dawn. Millwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson, 1975.
Jessie Fauset, “The Sleeper Wakes: A Novelette in Three Installments.” The Crisis 20.4-6 (Sept-Nov. 1920).
Michael Hatt, “Race, Ritual, and Responsibility: Performativity and the Southern Lynching” in Performing the Body/Performing the Text. Ed. Amelia Jones and Andrew Stephenson. London: Routledge, 1999.
David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919. New York: Henry Holt, 1993.
Claude McKay, “The Lynching” in Anthology of Modern American Poetry, ed. Cary Nelson (NY: Oxford UP, 2000).
“If We Must Die” in Anthology of Modern American Poetry, ed. Cary Nelson (NY: Oxford UP, 2000).
“To the White Fiends” in Anthology of Modern American Poetry, ed. Cary Nelson (NY: Oxford UP, 2000).

Session VII: Globalization and American Literature

This session asks: What role does American Studies play in globalization? Since the 1960s critics of American higher education have acknowledged the ties between college curricula (especially the teaching of literature) and the nation-state. But in the wake of the so-called demise of the nation-state, universities and colleges have now set about educating students as citizens of a global economy. This session investigates the potential effects of this new global citizenship, particularly dominant versions that are produced in the American university. But there’s also a risk in seeing globalization as a wholly recent phenomenon. We will contextualize global formations now occurring at the start of the twenty-first century by looking at U.S. literature in the late-19th century (e.g. Walt Whitman and Frank Norris).
We will pay special attention to U.S. military, economic, and literary interests in Asia and the Pacific Rim in the 1890s and early 1900s. Given this dual historical focus on past and present, what does it mean to speak of “America” as opposed to “the United States”? We will use this focus to illuminate the geo-politics of American literature in the 21st century to investigate the role of literature in the new world order since September 11, 2001.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York : Penguin Press, 2004).
Frank Norris, The Octopus (New York: Penguin, 1994).
Donald Pease and Robyn Wiegman, The Futures of American Studies, ed. Donald Pease and Robyn Wiegman (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).
Walt Whitman, “Passage to India” in The Portable Walt Whitman (New York: Penguin, 2004).

Session VIII and IX: Racial Interstitiality and the Jim Crow Era

This seminar explores race relations in the U.S. by casting a new lens on the Jim Crow era in the American South. In focusing on the schematic imposed by segregation, we will look at those individuals and communities who came to represent a third caste within a caste system predicated on the distinction between “colored” and “white.” In exploring the ways in which Asians, Latinos, and Indians became understood within the racial logic of the South, we will investigate the making of social status within literature, sociology, history, and personal narrative. In analyzing how color lines became drawn and what racial identity segregation demanded of those who seemed to stand outside—or rather, between--its structural logics, we will explore the ways in which status arises out of multiple and intersecting axes of differentiation: concepts of class, foreignness, sexuality, and gender in addition to race. In looking at “other colored people,” what appears to be unaccommodated within a system of relations may serve to unveil the structures and interests that support it. Thus, we will situate these racially interstitial populations not as aberrations to Jim Crow, but as productive sites for understanding white supremacy and its investments.

Elizabeth Abel. “Bathroom Doors and Drinking Fountains: Jim Crow’s Racial Symbolic.” Critical Inquiry 25 (Spring 1999) 435-481.
Derrick Bell. Silent Convenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Karen Blu. The Lumbee Problem: the Making of an American Indian People. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Edna Bonacich. “A Theory of Middleman Minorities,” American Sociological Review 38 (October, 1973): 583-594.
Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter: on the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex.’ New York: Routledge, 1993.
Choong Soon Kim. An Asian Anthropologist in the South. Knoxville: U of Tennessee Press, 1977.
James W. Loewen. The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White. 2nd ed. Prospect Heights, Ill: Waveland Press, 1988.
Ian F. Haney Lopez. White by Law: the Legal Construction of Race. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
Toni Morrison. “On the Backs of Blacks,” in Arguing Immigration: Are New Immigrants a Wealth of diversity or a Crushing Burden?,” ed. Nicolaus Mills (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 97-100.
Judy Yung. Chinese Women of America: A Pictorial History, ed. Crystal K. D. Huie. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1986.

Sessions X and XI: Anarchy, Internationalism, and American Literature

At the end of A Hazard of New Fortunes, the character Basil March doubts that “something cataclysmal” can produce social “change.” But the author of Hazard, William Dean Howells, along with his contemporaries, wondered whether the everyday stuff of culture pack the charge of social reform. While Howells’s literary criticism, especially when considered in light of contemporary socialist texts and the Haymarket Bombing, suggests that ordinary artifacts and common speech are laden with revolutionary potential. Looking at anarchist “how-to” manuals on bomb making and works on international socialism published in the U.S., this session explores how foreign ideas about strikes and social change lost their strangeness to become part of the familiar landscape of U.S. cultural discourse. We will examine the circulation of Karl Marx’s ideas in the United States, Walt Whitman’s poetic visions of the French Commune, and Howells’s visions of striking workers; in short, we will explore the international dimensions of nineteenth-century American literature. These dimensions often involve terrorism, suggesting a point of comparison to U.S. responses to terrorism in the twenty-first century.

In addition to literature, we also explore the lost potential of early U.S. cinema as an international medium. Hailed as the “Esperanto of the Eye,” American silent film was invested with a universal democratizing potential because its images, independent of any national language, could cross borders and appeal to all peoples. This session will thus include a few samples of Hollywood film among its texts.

Daniel Borus, Writing Realism: Howells, James, and Norris in the Mass Market (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989) 153.
Tom Gunning, D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biograph (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991).
Miriam Hansen, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991).
William Dean Howells, A Hazard of New Fortunes (New York: Penguin, 2001).
Johann Most, Science of Revolutionary Warfare (El Dorado, Ariz: Desert Publications, 1978).
William Uricchio and Roberta Pearson, Reframing Culture: The Case of the Vitagraph Quality Films (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).