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This essay explores the representation of adolescence in three contemporary American novels set in theme parks. It argues that, as a microcosm of American society, the theme park reproduces the norms of gender and sexuality even as it reveals them to be constructed. In contrast to the way that theme parks foster coming of age for boys, Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1995), Miriam Toews's A Complicated Kindness (2004), and Karen Russell's Swamplandia! (2011) demonstrate the limitations imposed on girls. Although female protagonists challenge gender norms, heteronormativity proves impossible to resist, despite being disempowering or disappointing. Thus, by demonstrating that coming of age in America takes place on unfair ground, the novels point to the continuing importance of feminism in the face of post-feminist myths of equality.
This paper examines the notion of gendered space in Audubon's Watch, the most recent work by New Orleans novelist John Gregory Brown. Focussing on Myra Richardson Gautreaux – perhaps Brown's most intriguing female protagonist – it explores, first, how Myra continuously employs “forbidden” language in order to problematize subjects like physical intimacy and sexual desire and, second, how her linguistic experimentation, combined with her solitary walks through the dark streets of nineteenth-century New Orleans, disrupts the dichotomy of public versus private. It also argues that Myra's consistent preoccupation with disciplines inaccessible to nineteenth-century women – like anatomy, the depiction of bodily functions in painting, or the importance of the artist's gaze – establishes a new notion of identity, which interrogates the acceptable limits of “the feminine” in the antebellum South. Ultimately, the paper shows that Audubon's Watch should be read not only as an interesting hybrid of southern gothic and fictional biography, but also as a multilayered work that attempts to redefine the gendered spaces of language, science, and art.
Between 1997 and 2007, Don DeLillo published three novels concerned with loss and mourning. Two of these, Underworld (1997) and Falling Man (2007), revolve around unique historical events in which the question of American exceptionality is foregrounded, and both relate this question of exceptionality to the experience of loss. This essay argues that while DeLillo accepts the historical specificity of the events of 9/11, his novel Falling Man is wary of any claim to their exceptionality. It argues further that while Falling Man and Underworld both contain moving explorations of the vicissitudes of loss, Falling Man is more concerned with the loss of loss, the end of mourning, an idea which illuminates the novel's arresting juxtaposition of Søren Kierkegaard and T. S. Eliot. As the three novels appeared, DeLillo seemed increasingly concerned to explore the overcoming of grief, the loss of loss, in the context of female subjectivity, and to trace the failure to overcome it to the masculine psyche, and I draw upon the work of Julia Kristeva in order to address this. The pattern is at its starkest in The Body Artist (2001), with which the essay briefly concludes. We begin by looking at Underworld, where loss seems to be the presiding masculine emotion.
Through a close reading of Exit Ghost, this paper examines in a fresh manner the conflicts between notions of authorial context and autonomous literary creativity that dominate not just this novel, but all of Roth's works. In particular, I will look at how Exit Ghost reprises the antagonism and confusion that has existed between disinterested notions of authorial self-effacement and forms of autobiographical self-exposure within Zuckerman's (and Roth's) writing. By exploring how the fraught relationship between Zuckerman's private self and his publicly accessible body of fiction has been closely tied to his more youthful erotic adventures in earlier novels, I will discuss in detail the significance of the eviscerating impact of old age and impotence that he endures in Exit Ghost. In addition, I will discuss these complex issues of desire and authorship in the context of Roth's creative treatment of the Bush/Kerry Presidential election of 2004 in Exit Ghost. I will look at how the presence, albeit marginal, of such large-scale political events in this novel provides an interesting insight into the tangled intersection between literature and the raw “facts” of American history in Roth's fiction.
This article examines the periodical culture of 1860s San Francisco, a challenging and brittle print culture environment for editors and writers. It focusses on the Golden Era and the collective life it produced, in its pages, for the city's unstable population. The Era celebrated a masculine culture of street and saloon, while making social and literary convention the focus of aggressive attack. Writers in this setting developed their assault on literary form in a range of material that dismantled popular modes of writing and pressed questions about writing and reading on its audiences. Their work constitutes a distinctive strain of western writing during this period, by turns critical of and indifferent to contemporary forms of representation of the cultures of the region. It also develops a mode of response to industrial urban experience during this period that makes an address to readers nationally and internationally as well as locally.
In December 1874, at the age of fifteen, Jesse Pomeroy became the youngest person in Massachusetts ever to be sentenced to death. He had, when he was twelve, tortured seven children in his South Boston neighborhood, subsequently mutilating and killing two others. All Pomeroy said in explanation was that he “couldn't help it.” This essay argues that an important cause of Pomeroy's affectless violence was one held by many of his contemporaries but dismissed by later cultural historians: his voracious reading of dime novel westerns. Central to cheap western literature was the formulaic scene of torture practiced by Indians and white renegades. Pomeroy's crimes, as I will describe, strikingly repeated these accounts, and they further disclose his dangerous identification with the unambiguously evil renegade Simon Girty. Moreover, the logic of torture in dime novel westerns – the fact that the torture is promised but never delivered – maps perfectly onto what have been called the “nonfulfilled experiences” central to the fantasies of serial killers. Just as with some horrific crimes of our own era, it seemed as if the mass media – specifically the mass production of repetitive violent images and plots – had indeed played a role in a boy's compulsive violence.
Hammett's formative role in establishing the conventions of the hard-boiled detective formula is widely acknowledged, but the formative influence of his masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon, on specific texts by subsequent innovators has remained largely unexplored territory. Both Sara Paretsky and Chester Himes have paid tribute to Hammett's influence, with particular reference to The Maltese Falcon. An examination of Indemnity Only and For the Love of Imabelle in relation to The Maltese Falcon offers a unique perspective on Paretsky's and Himes's stylistic choices and the social perspectives these articulated. It also helps to explain the critical reception of their work. Paretsky, writing within the grain of a type of social realism associated with both protest literature and hard-boiled detective fiction, achieved early recognition. Himes, writing against the grain, did not. Those of his detective novels most closely allied to his protest writing have received the most critical attention, but in For the Love of Imabelle, Himes used techniques allied to surrealism. These effectively disrupted and destabilized important, socially privileged discourses – and discomforted audiences and wrong-footed critics.
This article examines the conflict that ensued when the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures (a New York City-based organization that opposed any form of legal film censorship) entered the debate over Virginia's state film censor board. Virginia's engagement with film censorship emerged out of its history and politics, particularly in regard to race relations. Elite white Virginians lived in fear both of federal intervention (with the specter of Reconstruction not far behind them) and of a local usurpation of political power by black Virginians. The National Board of Review (NBR) was largely ignorant of this situation, which worked against their goals and ability to cultivate reliable allies. In the 1910s and 1920s, film raised issues about authorities – locally based and oriented versus nationally oriented authority, private authority and municipal, state, and/or federal authority.
This essay reads 1960s “photorealist” painting and its critical reception against two sets of contemporary social analyses. First, it places these artistic and critical works next to Pierre Bourdieu's 1965 text Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, demonstrating that, although the critical literature surrounding “photorealism” tended to assume that its involvement with photography grew out of a desire for an objective realism, contemporary thought on photography was anything but convinced of the medium's transparency. Second, it looks to cultural critics like Susan Sontag and Jacob Brackman to propose that, rather than seeing the art of this period in opposition to the heated political battles of “the sixties,” the presumably “styleless” works of artists like Robert Bechtle and Ralph Goings may lead us to reconsider the forms of those battles themselves.
In what is by now among the more famous personal histories in American studies, by 1852 Herman Melville was facing bankruptcy and personal ruin after the financial failures of Moby-Dick and Pierre. Under the guidance of the new editor of Putnam's Magazine, Charles Briggs, Melville turned to writing magazine fiction. Building upon work that seeks to show how Melville in his short stories negotiated the terrain between the riotous world of the popular press and the sanctified realm of high art, this article looks at a frequently neglected work by Melville from 1854, “The Fiddler,” as a response to this personal crisis. I show how Melville's story resurrects a forgotten transatlantic history (the life of the Irish actor Master William Henry West Betty) as a means to explore his own search for an aesthetic that could adequately serve both the demands of the spectacular world of antebellum publishing and his own high literary ambitions.
From the 1880s until the early 1930s the US federal government adopted a formal policy of intolerance towards Native American cultures and religions, stemming primarily from the belief that traditional religio-cultural practices – especially dances – distracted Native Americans from crop-tending and stock-rearing, and also constituted “outmoded” reminders of a “savage” past seen as incompatible with the responsibilities of US citizenship. Some cultural practices were banned outright, while others were actively discouraged or denigrated as “oldtime.” Yet Native American cultural expression did not die – in large part because Native communities employed varied methods to resist the bans. This article examines the ways in which pro-dancing communities utilized the language of US citizenship and made appeals to the Constitution, private property rights and US patriotism in their bid to ensure the survival of their dances and ceremonies. It also examines support for the dance bans by Native individuals, and the increasingly complex and evolving cultural identities in reservation communities in the early twentieth century.
This articles undertakes a genealogy of security: its integral place in the philosophic justification of settler-colonial processes, its constitutive role in the genesis of the modern state and capitalist mode of production, its intellectual and political history in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century United States. I contend that the current-day expressions of security governance – neoliberal technologies of accumulation by dispossession; the prosecution of a boundless and interminable War on Terror – reveal with a particular clarity the essential tensions and contradictions of the security project over the longue durée. And inversely, I argue, reflecting upon the longer history of the modern security project deepens our insight into the contemporary manifestation of security discourse and practice. My analysis of security is divided into three parts: security and property, security and race, and security and emergency. Property is the principal object of security governance, race delimits and structures the security state, and emergency is one governmental tactic through which a multifarious politics of security is legitimated and enforced.