Presentation on theme: "Americanisms: Discourses of American Identity Prof. Dr. Michael STEPPAT University of Bayreuth (Germany)"— Presentation transcript:
Americanisms: Discourses of American Identity Prof. Dr. Michael STEPPAT University of Bayreuth (Germany)
A distinctive and exceptional culture? Franz Kafka, America (ca. 1913)
A distinctive and exceptional culture? "The great Theater of Oklahoma calls you! To-day only and never again! If you miss your chance now you miss it for ever! If you think of your future you are one of us! Everyone is welcome! If you want to be an artist, join our company!" (Franz Kafka, America [ca. 1913]), from "The Nature Theater of Oklahoma")
A distinctive and exceptional culture? “The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. This is an American.” Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, in Letters From an American Farmer
A distinctive and exceptional culture?
Concepts of Americanism Bradley Thomson, in Cato Unbound: On defining Americanism “Reclaiming the original and proper meaning of this word—Americanism—is vitally important today.... At stake in this battle to define a single word is nothing less than the future of America itself.”
Concepts of Americanism (2) Definition of Americanism Principles of Americanism
The American Legion Definition of Americanism: Americanism is love of America; loyalty to her institutions as the best yet devised by man to secure life, liberty, individual dignity, and happiness; and the willingness to defend our country and Flag against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Americanism means peace, strength, the will and the courage to live as free men in a free land. It means a friendly hand to people everywhere who respect our institutions and our thinking. It is not a word; it is a cause, a way of life – the best way of life ever known – a challenge and a hope in this world. Americanism is an ideal of loyal patriotism, religious tolerance, righteous freedom, fearless courage, honest integrity, abiding faith in the commanding destiny of the United States, and a fathomless love for the principles that led our forefathers to found this country. …..
The American Legion Principles of Americanism: The characteristic that distinguishes our form of government from others is the recognition of the truth that the inherent and fundamental rights of men are derived from God and not from governments, dictators, or majorities. The unalienable rights, which are the gifts of man from his Creator are: freedom of worship; freedom of speech and press; freedom of assemblage; freedom to work in such occupation as the experience, training and qualifications of man may enable him to secure and hold; freedom to enjoy the fruits of his work, which means the protection of property rights; and the right to pursue his happiness so long as he does not harm others in the pursuit of this happiness. Upon these basic principles, the structure of our form of government was established. …..
For educating “good stewards of our nation’s freedoms and free institutions …”
For “our nation’s freedoms and free institutions …” Bringing into play incompatible postulates is the founding law of discourse, the very law of its existence: it is on the basis of such a contradiction that discourse emerges. Contradiction is ceaselessly reborn through discourse. (Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge)
A myth of desires? "A great many people were certainly standing before the placard, but it did not seem to find much approval. There were so many placards; nobody believed in them any longer." (Franz Kafka, America [ca. 1913]), from "The Nature Theater of Oklahoma")
For “Uniting America”
Yet: what is identity? Identity is nothing belonging to the different perceptions, and uniting them together; but is merely a quality which we attribute to them, because of the union of their ideas in the imagination, when we reflect upon them. Mankind are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity, and are in perpetual flux and movement. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; nor is there any single power of the soul, which remains unalterably the same. The mind is a kind of theater, where several perceptions pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739)
Ideas... toils “The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. This is an American.” Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, in Letters From an American Farmer
American space/time? “Think of anything, of cowboys, of movies, of detective stories, of anybody who goes anywhere or stays home and is an American and you will realize that it is something strictly American to conceive a space that is filled with moving, a space of time that is filled always filled with moving…..” (Gertrude Stein, Lectures in America, )
Formative paradigms ….. Seizing an opportunity ….. A space filled with moving Photo: Lee Friedlander
The moving space Snapshots aren’t enough. We’d need the whole film of the trip in real time, including the unbearable heat and the music. We’d have to replay it all from end to end at home in a darkened room, rediscover the magic of the freeways and the distance and the ice-cold alcohol in the desert and the speed and live it all again on the video at home in real time, not simply for the pleasure of remembering but because the fascination of senseless repetition is already present in the abstraction of the journey. The unfolding of the desert is infinitely close to the timelessness of film….. (Jean Baudrillard, America, 1986)
The moving space... I went in search of the America of the empty, absolute freedom of the freeways, not the deep America of mores and mentalities, but the America of desert speed, of motels and mineral surfaces. I looked for it in the speed of the screenplay, in the indifferent reflex of television, in the film of days and nights projected across an empty space, in the marvellously affectless succession of signs, images, faces, and ritual acts on the road... (Jean Baudrillard, America, 1986)
Again: Moving space…..
America as project of the modern Down from the gardens of Asia, descending, radiating, Adam and Eve appear … I see … the vast terraqueous globe, given, and giving all, Europe to Asia, Africa join’d, and they to the New World; The lands, geographies, dancing before you, holding a festival garland, As brides and bridegrooms hand in hand. (Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass: Passage to India,“ before 1892)
America as project of the modern Years of the modern! years of the unperform'd! Your horizon rises, I see it parting away for more august dramas, I see not America only, not only Liberty's nation but other nations preparing, I see tremendous entrances and exits, new combinations, the solidarity of races, I see that force advancing with irresistible power on the world's stage ….. (Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass: Years of the Modern,“ before 1892) … Note: Images of theatre, as public spectacle
Spatial macro-analysis Mirrors for American cultural self-location: Trans-Atlantic Inter-American African Asian Hypothesis: These are permutable margins to each other, with shifting centers
Yet: Difference as resistance
Culture as blockage Blockage as an imaginary order of excluding a promiscuous circulation of representations (explored by Stephen Greenblatt)
But whatisculture? We may think of cultures as "interpellative practices” that constitute subjects: "no culture is full unto itself, no culture is plainly plenitudinous“; cultures are “symbol-forming” (Homi Bhabha) Interpellation = Ideology addresses the individual, thus producing her/him as subject (Louis Althusser)
“No culture is full unto itself“ A philosophy that separates the individual from the land does not teach an individual to give up his autonomy to become an interdependent participant in the rhythms of nature..... (David Noble, 2002)
The individual... And space..... Is the individual an "interdependent participant in the rhythms of nature“?..... Does space (a space filled with moving) need to be aligned with place as “structure of feeling”?
To exemplify this inquiry: The recent work of Leslie Marmon Silko
Silko belongs to the Laguna Pueblo tribe Born in 1948 in Albuquerque, New Mexico Ancestry Mexican American, Anglo American Key figure of second wave of Native American Renaissance Major novels: Ceremony (1977), Almanac of the Dead (1991), Gardens in the Dunes (1999) Recipient of MacArthur Foundation Grant, Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award
National Museum of the American Indian
Leslie Marmon Silko
Silko, Gardens in the Dunes Spaces “filled with moving”: The American Southwest, Long Island, Brazil, England, Italy, Corsica… ….. Inter-Esse
Deep desert sands Squash plant (below), Datura blossoms
A plot outline About 1900, in Arizona in a desert setting : Grandma Fleet takes young Indigo (about age 11) and Sister Salt (Sand Lizard people) to where the girls’ mother has joined other women in a spectacle of dancing to summon the Messiah. But white soldiers disrupt the ceremony, the girls are captured and separated. Indigo is rescued from a government boarding school by a white couple, the intellectual Hattie and her business-oriented husband Edward Palmer. They take Indigo on an extended journey to New York, then to Europe. Eventually Hattie and Indigo both find a new relation to the rich desert sands of Southwest America.
Counter-spectacle: Masque of the blue garden “Susan did not want her guests to see the same plants as the year before; she relished the challenge of creating new and startling effects with bedding plants and even shrubs and vines selected for their particular shade of blue; the white- flowering plants and shrubs were chosen for their impact in the moonlight... The blue garden was a lovely sight indeed the night of the ball.... Guests began to arrive as the full moon rose over the bay.”
American margins: Desert/ocean / home “The great rhythmic voice of Ocean resounded through the ship’s steel skin; … the Earth herself was moved by her waves. Ocean was Earth’s sister.” “Tears filled her (Indigo’s) eyes and she cried softly: Please help me, Ocean! Send your rainy wind to my sister with this message: I took the long way home, but I’m on my way.”
The rich desert sands Datura blossoms
The rich desert sands: Topophilia Yi-Fu Tuan on the aesthetics of environment
The rich desert sands: Middle landscape A type of the “middle landscape” (Leo Marx in 1964) A topography of the pastoral scene, as shaped by Virgil in Eclogues, where a shepherd tends his flock in green pastures located between the artificial city and the natural wilderness. The violence of the wild poses as much of a threat as does the complexity of city life.
Yi-Fu Tuan on antinomies of wilderness “In the agrarian myth, the ideal middle world of man is poised between the polarities of city and wilderness. The structuring of environment in binary opposition is analogous to the structuring of the world. …. City and wilderness are shifting antinomies in the dynamic history of the Occident: in time the meaning of these two terms may be reversed.“ (from Topophilia, 1974)
A circular American odyssey
Messianic “ghost dance“
Planting / dancing Bath, England: “This is the land of the stones that dance and walk after midnight” (p. 237) Corsica: “They farther east they traveled, the closer they came to the place the Messiah and his family and followers traveled when they left the mountains beyond Paiute country” (p ) The tribal world embraces the globe with a return odyssey