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Ideology, Identity, and the US: Crossroads, Freeways, Collisions

by Eduard Vlad (Volume editor) Adina Ciugureanu (Volume editor) Nicoleta Stanca (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 260 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Intimations of Diversity
  • Part I Cultural and Ideological Frameworks
  • The Humpty Dumpty Syndrome: A Conversation
  • Cultural Borders in Contemporary American Fiction
  • Framing Islam in Post-9/11 US. A Literary Account: Yussef El Guindi’s Back of the Throat (2006)
  • Promised Lands and Holocaust Survivors: US Ideological Perspectives and Itineraries of Relocation in the Writings of Ira Hirschmann and James McDonald
  • American Specimen Days: Postmodernist Representations of Identity (?)
  • A Geopolitical Reading of Twain’s The Innocents Abroad
  • Part II Journeys and Identities
  • From El Camino Real to the Freeway: Real and Fictional Californian Routes
  • Gateways and Crossroads on the U.S. National Mall: The Romania Program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
  • Project Mayhem Revisited: Prophecy, Identity, Ideology in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club
  • The Doubled Meaning of the “Native American”: Identity, Colonialism and Loss in a Suffering World
  • Romanians in the United States: One Heritage, Multiple Belongings and Symbolic Ethnicity
  • Family History and (Bio)Power in Yoshiko Uchida’s Journey to Topaz and Journey Home
  • Part III Crossroads and Collisions
  • “The Disruption of the Anticipated American Future”1: Place and Protest in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral
  • Donald Trump and American Individualism
  • Fighting Words: How White Power Localism Undid Great Society Liberalism and Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency
  • Jerry-Rigged Identity in Patricia Park’s Re Jane: At the Crossroads of Rewriting and Repurposing
  • The Evolution of the American West Myth: Cormac McCarthy’s Portrayal of Home and Border in No Country for Old Men and The Road
  • Buddhism in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Dudeism in The Big Lebowski
  • List of Tables
  • About the Authors

Eduard Vlad

Introduction: Intimations of Diversity

Preliminary Remarks

The title of this volume, Ideology, Identity, and the US: Crossroads, Freeways, Collisions, which preserves the one of the 2018 RAAS – Fulbright biennial conference, announces more than a collection of papers read on that important academic occasion. Academic texts are meant to be critical, challenging and provocative, and as such they are instances of discourse getting scholars engaged in a comprehensive intellectual debate in which ideological imperatives cannot be ignored. The metaphorical “crossroads,” “freeways” and “collisions” point to those particular dimensions of this vast conversation. In open, democratic national and international communities like the ones around which the European Association of American Studies and the Romanian Association for American Studies have taken shape, diversity of views and a critical spirit are meant to lead to substantial discussions and debates. These are aimed at shedding light on, ideally elucidating, key issues of the world in which we live and in which the US features prominently. Such issues largely have to do with configurations and reassessments of aspects of American identity as seen through a variety of ideological perspectives, national and transnational. As it will become apparent while examining the texts included in this volume, the most critical views of these aspects of American identity are displayed by scholars coming from within the US, rather than from detached observers from without.

Ideology has always been a constitutive dimension in research carried out in both the social sciences and the humanities, although at times the tendency to obscure this towering presence became noticeable. The easiest way to hide it is by not encouraging a discussion about its very definition and its mechanisms, a definition which, like that of culture or identity, is so hard to arrive at. It has become obvious, in this age dominated, among other turns, by the ideological one, that denying an ideological agenda is a definite ideological statement. American Studies, at the crossroads of the social studies and the humanities, is a good illustration of this. As an interdisciplinary area of inquiry, American Studies has witnessed the emergence of major freeways, as well as more obscure lanes, while witnessing ideological collisions, increasingly so during the last decades of the 20th century and at the beginning of the present millennium, between national versions of liberalism and conservatism and their defining, core components. One of these ideological ←9 | 10→collisions has been over the meaning, importance and relevance of American exceptionalism at the core of the debates on American identity.

The combined work of ideological and identity coordinates as a vast attempt at grasping the defining features of a tumultuous cultural ocean such as that of the US, the more so if seen from a historical perspective, might be considered to amount to a self-defeating project. It is almost as unrealistic an enterprise as defining “life” and “time” as more than the Life and Time of erstwhile media mogul Henry Luce, the first promoter of America’s exceptionalist mission in the American century. It is obvious for every contemporary thinker living in a largely anti-essentialist age that life, time and American identity have to be dealt with in their diversity and complexity, taking into account both relevant theoretical and empirical perspectives aimed at defining contemporary and historical dimensions. This volume undertakes to contribute a variety of informed, more or less “alien” or detached views, on facets of a dynamic, ever changing New World that one usually calls the United States and some of its current and past stories. In other words, it is generally aimed at lessening or clarifying ideological divides for a better understanding of the United States, its past and present.

If identity involves both (self)awareness and constructedness, if it is very much a narrative or a set of interwoven narratives, where should one start the story of American identity and which would be the thread giving it coherence and cohesion? It would be fair to start it with those daring migrants who, many millennia ago, came from what is present-day Siberia, going down through North and South America, whose descendants are currently called Native Americans. Since there are no written records telling the whole ancient Native American story, it is customary to start the narrative of American identity with the account of such pilgrim figures as John Winthrop and his City upon a Hill sermon set in a colonial, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant context. There would follow, apart from such untypical episodes as the Salem witch hunts, the story of the Founding Fathers, with the American Revolution as heralding the proud narrative of the Land of the Free. Subsequent episodes would feature the Manifest Destiny doctrine driving the frontier spirit on the long, transcontinental way from Sea to Shining Sea: the narrative of America the beautiful and America the exceptional. However, the most prominent episodes of the developing story of the American identity, involving public spaces and people’s lives, unfold from the age of the Statue of Liberty arriving on Ellis Island. The imposing statue raised its torch, welcoming massive waves of immigrants involved in the melting pot episodes of Americanization as assimilation. It also heralded the approach of the American Century as the defining chapter of a rising American identity with its combination of hard power and soft power displays. From the regional ←10 | 11→isolationism of the early 19th century Monroe Doctrine to the interventionism in the two world wars welcomed by a temporarily Nazi-enslaved world, America rose to superpower, hegemonic status. It did not fail to add to its CV a number of regional military ventures, especially in the Cold War ideological games in which the awareness of the domino effect played a part.

In the early 1990s, in the context of the collapse of the Communist system, such thinkers as Francis Fukuyama enthusiastically declared the “end of history,” meaning the end of the ideological confrontation between liberal democracies and totalitarian countries of the Eastern bloc. Samuel Huntington was less optimistic than Fukuyama, coming up with his “clash of civilizations” thesis. In his opinion, history was not over, the new ideological confrontations being based on regions belonging to different cultures, in which religious issues featured prominently. Both theories have naturally been controversial, given the complexity of the world in which we live and the various positions from which this complexity is inevitably simplified. One might call such a simplification from one particular position an ideology. Some may see, like Marx, ideology as false consciousness, others may use it with the firm confidence that they own absolute truths, others may explore its problems, dilemmas, uncertainties. There is room under the sun and in cultural debate for everyone.

Gradually, especially after 9/11 and similar events elsewhere, religious issues as divisive civilizational features, as well as the new dimensions of what Arjun Appadurai calls ethnoscapes, people in movement getting involved in new place, space and community configurations, have complicated the public realm both in the US and in the rest of the world, with Europe assuming a pivotal position. The 2016 US presidential election and the UK European Union membership referendum preceding it by a few months drew attention to one of the central problems of contemporary democratic life: the rise of the impact of populism as an ideology to be reckoned with both in the US and elsewhere. This is to be seen in connection with some of the consequences of migration, more specifically, with some negative consequences of globalization as a whole.

The connections between forms of individualism, populism and nationalism that have had an impact on contemporary democratic life as a defining feature of the identity of large communities, with a special focus on the US, will be debated, from various perspectives, by American and European contributors to this volume. Are the three above-mentioned “-isms” to be seen in definite, black vs. white terms? What can one learn from previous and contemporary illustrations of them, both in America and in the rest of the world?

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Summary

American Studies has witnessed the emergence of major freeways, as well as more obscure lanes, while featuring ideological collisions during the last decades of the 20th century and at the beginning of the present millennium. The volume undertakes to contribute a variety of views on facets of a dynamic, ever changing United States and on some of its current and past stories. It is generally aimed at addressing, expressing or clarifying ideological divides for a better understanding of the challenges that the United States has experienced and faced up to the present.

Biographical notes

Eduard Vlad (Volume editor) Adina Ciugureanu (Volume editor) Nicoleta Stanca (Volume editor)

Eduard Vlad is Professor of American Studies at Ovidius University, Constanta. His interests and publications range from literary and cultural studies to identity theories and globalization studies. Adina Ciugureanu is Professor of British and American Studies at Ovidius University, Constanta, Romania. Her research and publications focus on aspects related to the nineteenth-century Victorianism, twentieth-century American and British Modernism, urban studies and popular culture. Nicoleta Stanca is Associate Professor of Irish and American Studies at Ovidius University, Constanta. She has published books and articles on Irish-American identity and popular culture.

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Title: Ideology, Identity, and the US: Crossroads, Freeways, Collisions