Haunted America: Negotiating Cultural Spaces (Elisabeth Bronfen)
Mainstreaming the Misfit in True Blood
True Blood is but one of a slew of current American television series preoccupied with forms of excessive individualism—Dexter, Grimm, Hannibal, but also shows like Breaking Bad and Homeland also come to mind here. True Blood’s “strategy” is exemplary for the way in which such shows negotiate anxieties related to an implicit imperative to “do something” about the excessive forms of individualism that inhabit their worlds. For the inherent logic of all these series lies in the maxim of “mainstreaming,” a trope which in this paper will be understood in spatial terms as a figural recalibration, or a “move towards the middle” of what was previously conceived as marginal, or monstrous. It is a recalibration which also employs the logic of a sliding scale by which a variety of forms of individualism can be negotiated and delineated according to a series of “slots” of socially acceptable, or unacceptable forms of individualism. With the introduction of TruBlood, the synthetic blood product which serves as the means of “mainstreaming” vampires, True Blood enacts a shift on the sliding scale, opening new “slots” for subjects previously understood as sub-human and as non-agents due to their constitutional, bodily alterity. This recalibration thus points to a shift in our thinking of the individual, one that has implications not only for our understanding of alterity, but also for our notion of agency and how we hold others accountable for their actions, suggesting that what it means to be an individual and an agent are shifting as well.
Rhythm and Blues. The Enclosed Personal Space in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy
The house and the rooms of a house are a fundamental and universal image to think of subjectivity and its position in the world. Not only did Freud liken the specific disposition of rooms to the functioning of the unconscious, but so did a number of critical thinkers, taking a more sociopolitical stance, among whom Roland Barthes who considered the enclosed personal space, the room that is, the foundation of idiorrhythmy: “The fantasy of a life, of a regime, neither dual nor plural (collective). Something like solitude with regular interruptions: the paradox, the contradiction, the aporia of bringing distances together—the utopia of a socialism of distance.” This rather affirmative ‘fantasy’ of making compatible the position of the self within a social structure becomes an existential predicament in a space which structurally maintains an unequivocally hierarchical form of living; a space inhabited by both masters and slaves. The Vaart’s house in Toni Morrison’s novel A Mercy (2008) is the dwelling of a young Protestant settler couple in the America of the late 17th century. It is also the place where three slave women struggle to come to terms with the traumatic disconnectedness from their past. What is at stake are traumatic separations and the ensuing distances. Distances from native territory but also from dead husbands, mothers, daughters, tribes, and lovers. More than just being a stage where plotting unfolds, the Vaart’s house is the pivotal function with which both masters and slaves need to negotiate and narrativize past roaming and future progression or stagnation in the “ad hoc territory” that is America. Ultimately, the Vaart’s house is also the place where the therapeutic necessity of an ‘idorrhythmic’ narrative within the ‘heterorhythmic’ reality of power relations needs to enacted.  Roland Barthes. How to Live Together. Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces. Notes for a Lecture Course and Seminar at the Collège de France (1976-1977). NY: Columbia University Press, 2013. 6.  Toni Morrison. A Mercy. London: Vintage, 2008. 11.
The Shadows of the Cold War: JFK and The Manchurian Candidate
When in 1992 Fredrik Jameson noted that “the older motif of conspiracy knows a fresh lease on life, as a narrative structure capable of reuniting the minimal basic components: a potentially infinite network, along with a plausible explanation of its invisibility” (9)1, he described a phenomenon that many critics reiterated: after their heyday in the first two centuries of the Cold War, paranoid narratives returned to the screen in great numbers. Indeed, starting in the 1990s and intensifying after 9/11, cinema looks back unto a period in American history that was defined by hysteric suspicion, social unrest and deep mistrust of one’s own government. Why is it, then, that mainstream Hollywood seizes upon narratives and motives that permeated the Cold War? How could one account for the fact that the concept of paranoia is central to both periods of time? Conceived as a type of interpretive disorder, paranoia is a means to render coherent what in itself is abstract and highly complex. Its singularity lies in the fact that it participates in the rhetorics of paranoia while, at the same time, affording a narrative and hermeneutic solution for the cultural and political antagonisms characteristic of both the Cold War and the new millennium. Among the multitude of aspects to be discussed in this field, Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) constitutes a prime example of a revisitation of a traumatic national event in order to negotiate contemporary issues by means of an earlier conflict. Similarly, Jonathan Demme’s 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate recycles a classic Cold War narrative revolving around the motives of spying, infiltration and treason. One aspect that is of particular interest here – and, indeed for the entire enterprise of reflecting on the two time periods – is that of physical integrity, whether in terms of infiltrating the highest ranks of politics or, as a metaphor, penetrating the human body.
Spectral Island Topographies: Negotiating Relations between East and West in Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and Skyfall (2012)
[T]hat an island is deserted must appear philosophically normal to us […]; humans can live on an island only by forgetting what an island represents. Island are either from before or for after humankind. (Gilles Deleuze) The island is indeed the place of origin, but the origin is not a neat beginning: […] Thus the island is the place of adventure: its forms, and even its shape, its appearance, in themselves already imply the movement of a plot. (Pierre Macherey) This paper discusses representations of the island as a spatial rendition of a state of crisis in Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and Sam Mendes’ Skyfall (2012). Drawing on Deleuze’s claim that islands represent either the emergence or the annihilation of human life and thus point to the potential vulnerability of all social, political and cultural configurations, I will argue that the narrative dynamics and visual strategies of the two films establish the island as a haunted space where radically different constructions of the island clash and undo each other. In Letters from Iwo Jima, the island becomes both a site of potential extinction (manifested in the Japanese soldiers’ fears that the Americans will sink the entire island) and is turned into a myth of cultural survival (evident in the children’s song about the island). Framed by the story of an excavation of the island’s past, the film constructs the island both as a monument to the Japanese soldiers that died on it and as a signifier of American superiority. In Skyfall, too, the island functions as a site where relations between East and West are negotiated in complex ways. Three conflicting histories haunt the deserted and decaying island of the enigmatic Raoul Silva: the diegetic (Chinese) history of the island, the (Japanese) history of the real “ghost island” of Hashima, and the island of (Chinese-born) Dr. No in the first James Bond film from 1962. In his highly influential A Theory of Literary Production (1966), Macherey argued that the deceptively empty island in Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island functions as a space where the ideological project of the protagonists is destabilised by what it has to repress. Similarly, in a film where geopolitical power constellations appear to drive the plot only marginally, uneasy relations between East and West nevertheless loom over the narrative. They crystallise on a deserted island whose eerie ruins are, like the caves on Iwo Jima, populated by an army of ghosts, all striving to make their silent voices heard.
If We Can Sell It, We Have Won: America's Vietnam War in its Disposable Media
Notions such as Manifest Destiny or their quasi-fictionalization, the Frontier Myth, are sustaining America's self-conception and rhetoric especially applicable in moments of crisis and are continuously transferred into (and contrariwise sustained by) various formats of narratives – also, if not most prominently, in pop culture. In accordance with a strongly associative reading of 'low-culture' texts that elaborate on the Vietnam War explicitly or implicitly (or, in a broader and also comparative approach, on American Wars in general), this paper aims to consolidate the perception that these texts are significant in capturing and describing American identity, and this not only at the time of their respective release, but also on a more abstract, conceptual level as well as in regards to their often serial and supposedly 'disposable' form. The implied paradox of the apparently peaceful and only reluctantly violent, but yet muscular bully that pushes back eventually (spectacularly and with a vengeance) is not only a striking allegory of American identity, but also a blueprint of a new American hero portrayed in various 'pulp' narratives. These innovatively articulated and subversive portrayals signify the struggle of (and a possible solution for) the American culture to come to terms with an incisive national trauma such as the Vietnam War.
Language and Subjectivity: Writing and Reading the Self (Christina Ljungberg)
Writing about/against old age: Joan Didion’s trauma memoirs
Rahel Rivera Godoy-Benesch
How do old age and creativity interact? To what extent do physical decline and the proximity of death influence a writer’s style? Such questions are often raised when elderly authors draw on their own experience and turn old age into the core subject of their writing. This becomes evident in Joan Didion’s last two books, which both deal with personal tragedy. Within less than two years, the American author and literary journalist had lost her husband and her only child. The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) is a memoir of Didion’s year of mourning after her husband died of a stroke, and Blue Nights (2011) appears to be an attempt to come to terms with the illness and the death of her daughter. Hence, both narratives are autobiographical and are usually labeled as ‘trauma memoirs.’ Yet, the two books show major differences in style and tone. Whereas The Year of Magical Thinking features Didion’s distinctive precise, journalistic prose, Blue Nights strikes us as fragmented and overly self-conscious. In the course of Blue Nights, Didion analyzes her difficulties with writing and becomes aware that she is not mainly addressing her daughter’s death but her own old age. If we consider these two works in the context of theories of autobiography and ‘late style’ (Altersstil, Spätstil), we can reveal what is at stake in texts written by and about aged authors.
Byron, Childe Harold and Celebrity in the Romantic Media
One of the main components of the celebrity cult surrounding Lord Byron is the precarious line between the living poet and his male protagonists, known collectively as the Byronic hero. At the same time, the separation of an artist’s public persona from his or her private self, and the somewhat fictional nature of that persona are significant elements of celebrity culture which was beginning to emerge in the Romantic period, as Tom Mole and David Higgins among others have shown. In this paper I examine the reception of both the amalgamation of Byron with the Byronic hero and the separation of Byron the man from his celebrity persona in the early nineteenth-century media. I focus specifically on the reviews of the four cantos of Chile Harold’s Pilgrimage in The Edinburgh Review and The Quarterly Review as well as the instalment on Byron in John Scott’s Living Authors series in the London Magazine. Inserting his private life and personality in his works is generally acknowledged as one of the main reasons for Byron’s unprecedented popularity, but his wisdom in so strongly associating himself with the blatantly immoral Harold is still strongly questioned. The truthfulness of Byron’s perceived implications that his works are based upon his own experiences is also called into question, and this exaggeration is met with disapproval. I argue that while the elements of modern celebrity culture already exist in the Romantic period, the concept of the celebrity persona as something separate from the artist is met with confusion and to some extent with resistance by the media.
Narrative and Nothingness: The Philosophy and Literature of Entropy
What appears to us does so by setting itself off against a previous state of its own not-yet-appearing. These different and constantly differing states of appearance, which constitute the world as it appears to us individually, interlink along a temporal axis in perpetual flux; each state presupposes a preceding state, which also means that the next state is always already implicit in the present state. The world as it appears to us can thus be said to centre on a neutralised, plotless narrative tension whose sole function and defining trait consists in its making some state A of appearances pass into state B, which subsequently becomes C, and so forth. C is the narrative τέλος (telos) of B, and B is the τέλος of A. The teleological tension that links these states accomplishes and renews itself from state to state ad infinitum in both temporal ‘directions’. Its constant actualisation throughout the process of anything appearing presupposes some overall τέλος which has always already been posited in order to make appearance possible and whose final, definite attainment would mark the end of time. It is to this τέλος that we owe the fact that anything, including ourselves, appears to us and thus exists. Based on a more elaborate version of these basic claims, my paper attempts to answer three questions. First: how are we to think the beginning of time and the positing of the first τέλος? Second: how are we to think the end of time, and how does the end relate to the beginning? Third: what theory of literature and culture does this essentially temporal and narrative worldview entail? In delineating possible answers, my paper discusses, rethinks, and combines parts of the philosophical tradition, most notably Philipp Mainländer’s metaphysical pessimism, Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology, and Maurice Blanchot’s theory of time.  My paper is a highly condensed version of the theoretical preliminaries to my MA thesis Narrative and Nothingness: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and the Literary Philosophy of Entropy.
‘To read aright’: Reading as a Salvific Experience in Spenser and Milton
Cyril L. Caspar
Setting out from "reading" in its most capacious sense, it shall be the first aim of the proposed presentation to draw a rough picture of what reading meant in the Renaissance. This first step will include a brief discussion of the bodily implications of certain early modern reading practices that shall be elucidated with Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605/15) and with seminal secondary literature on the topic. In this first part, I will argue for an early modern habit of reading that does not just affect the mind but the entire body. In a further step, I shall turn to Edmund Spenser's poetry, in particular Canto 10 of the first book of The Fairie Qveene (1590) in order to demonstrate how reading is not only perceived as affecting the body but also how it influences the spiritual state of a Christian individual. Thus, one part of Redcross's spiritual rejuvenation in the House of Holiness is to learn to read in order to find the right path to the New Jerusalem. Put differently and in theological terms, reading here becomes a soteriological prerequisite with a clear eschatological outlook. In a third and final step, Milton's Areopagitica (1644) shall be read as an early modern example of how collective reading practices are employed not only as an argument in favor of a free printing press but also, in a strikingly Spenserian vein, how they can pertain to the universal salvation of a chosen people.
War and the Creative Imagination: Intimate Relations in Doris Lessing’s Alfred and Emily
In Alfred and Emily Doris Lessing declares she has inherited the legacy of the Great War—this not only because she is made to listen to her father’s endless talk of the trenches but also because she is in constant battle with the woman her mother becomes in the wake of the war. She subsequently claims that it is in the hope to be set free from the effects of these battles (be they vicarious or real) that she writes her memoir. This paper will consider Lessing’s claims and especially examine the extent to which writing helps her get out from under the legacy of war. As such, it will draw attention to the text’s internal difference, and cast doubt on the author’s contention that she writes to shake off the feelings of disaffection brought on by WWI. In this respect, Michael Seidel’s work on the close relation between creativity and adversity will be invoked. Subsequently it will be argued that Lessing, a self-declared “sensation junkie,” not only enjoys speaking about the war but also that it inspires her work. In short, although being subjected to constant battle might not be a particularly pleasurable experience, the battles fought in the trenches as well as the war waged at home will be said to provide Lessing with exactly the type of material and inspiration she needs to write creatively. Finally, this paper will ask why literary critics fail to observe how war inspires Lessing’s writing. Here it will be suggested that because Lessing exploits the inherently shifty nature of autobiography so effectively, readers are duly drawn in by her narrative and consequently do not question her when she says she has written the memoir to free herself from the aftermath of war.
Circulation and Exchange: Reading Relations and Relationships (Allen Reddick)
Gift exchange, gender and friendship in Richardson's The History of Sir Charles
Theories of gift exchange have been fruitfully applied to gender studies. While more recent criticism tends to highlight the ways in which women are bound up in the exchange of goods as subjects as well as objects, the power to negotiate relationships is still ascribed to those most able to give, and perhaps to refuse, gifts. The eponymous hero of Richardson’s last novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, can do both. His fortune, gender, orphanhood and moral rectitude allow him to avoid becoming either the recipient or the object of gift giving. His unmatched power of obliging leads to hierarchical relationships even with the men who are presented as his friends. Yet his very autonomy paradoxically allows the women around him to structure their relationships through him. Sir Charles, who is no-one’s to give, can be given up by each of the women in love with him, so that each of them is both a potential donor and recipient. Harriet, who is ready to renounce him even after their engagement, rivals him as a donor by freely giving up the supreme gift giver. When he finally marries her, she is the recipient not only of his gift of himself, but of the good wishes of her rivals, who recognise in her the worthiest partner for Sir Charles. By seeing each other as free agents rather than as objects to be taken or spurned by the hero, Grandison’s women characters, who are in control of neither goods nor men, succeed in creating equal friendships.
Washington Irving: authorship, intertextuality, piracy
The reason why Washington Irving decided for a concurrent publication of his Sketch Book in Britain and the United States was his fear of pirates: not the swashbucklers of the open seas, though his transatlan-tic journeys might have familiarized him with that particular danger, but the pirates of the booktrade. Due to the absence of a binding transatlantic copyright in the early nineteenth century, Irving‘s decision presented itself as the only possible way of avoiding the dangers, economic and otherwise, of book pira-cy. Though Irving presumably shared his concern with many other aspiring authors of the late Romantic period, to him, as an author deeply steeped within the German-inspired tradition of tales and tale-telling, the explicit claims to authorial selfhood to which the transatlantic copyright situation forced him, presented a paradoxical problem. How could the narrative persona of Geoffrey Crayon, re-telling texts of other story tellers, real or imagined, ever stand in as the sole creator of a given collection? Reading this specific tension between storytelling and authorship in Irving’s work is to acknowledge a broader con-cern within Romanticism. By exporting his British sketches to America, while at the same time releasing them in Britain, all the while ‘importing’ his inspiration from the German states, Irving engaged with the promises and challenges of a precarious Romantic print culture, in which notions of intertextuality de-rived from an oral tradition of story-telling were displaced in favor of a literary tradition in which high esteem was paid to notions of originality and innovation. Irving’s tale collections find themselves torn between a culture of international adaptation and mediation, and one of fierce public battles over literal and metaphorical textual exchanges.
Family and inheritance in postmodern novels
Secondary literature on the genre of the family novel is scarce. Furthermore the few works that can be found generally assess their prejudice towards the genre as being conservative, domestic, limited and therefore rather boring. However, throughout the centuries “family” as a motif has been used in novels to foreground the construction of myth on the one hand and the construction of identity on the other. The four postmodern novels I will discuss can be called family novels or family chronicles. But they deal with the motif in a way that has not much in common with the traditional family novel such as Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. Some kind of fundamental rupture or trauma originating in migration has shaken the families in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated and Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The protagonists – who are sometimes also the narrators – can only piece together their own identity by telling the story of their families. They do not do this by relating chronological facts, but by unearthing lost memories or by imagining connections no one can prove write or wrong. I will pay special attention to the relationship between the protagonists and their grandparents, as this is usually where the social, biological and psychological inheritance originates that is so important for the construction of identity of the younger generation. I will try to show that these novels revive the genre of the family novel by leaving the conservative, domestic space behind and letting the narration sometimes willingly get out of control.
To be announced
Lilly Stamp Bahadur