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American Wild Zones

Space, Experience, Consciousness


Jerzy Kamionowski and Jacek Partyka

The contributors understand the wild zone as denoting the existence and experience of a group (ethnic, social, sub-cultural, sexual, religious, etc.) which is/was marginalized in American society. Reaching far beyond the boundaries of original agenda (Edwin Ardener’s and Elaine Showalter’s), the term’s applicability has been significantly enlarged. Its fluidity or fuzziness, however, ought to be taken as a blessing: in the rapidly changing contemporary («liquid») world it is the language that needs to keep up with new circumstances and developments, not the other way round.
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Taming the Wild Zone: The Paradoxes of the Conspiracy Narrative


← 248 | 249 →Justyna Kociatkiewicz

When in the early 1980s Elaine Showalter popularized Edwin Ardener’s view of “women [constituting] a muted group, the boundaries of whose culture and reality overlap, but are not wholly contained by, the dominant male group,” together with his diagram representing the relationship between the two groups, focusing on the notion of the wild zone (322-3), she opened the door for the appropriation of Ardener’s terminology by scholars in many academic fields. The dialectic of dominant and marginalized discourses may be successfully applied to the analysis of the role conspiracy narratives play in contemporary American culture. My aim in this paper is to chart the incorporation of the marginalized discourse of conspiracy by popular culture. I claim that this process results in the apparent taming of the wild zone of the paranoid and the conspiratorial, which enter the dominant zone of public discourse and imbue it with their qualities of suspiciousness and distrust, making those qualities a standard reaction to the contemporary world.

However, to begin such an analysis, one needs to be aware of the importance of conspiracy thinking in American public discourse. It is fair to say that conspiracy thinking has always been present as a way the Americans have read reality: in his Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America (2001), Alan Goldberg discusses a succession of conspiracy theories that marked the historical development of the nation and the state, while in Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in...

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