COPAS 9 - Editorial


This issue of COPAS features contributions from the annual Postgraduate Forum (PGF) of the German Association for American Studies (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien / DGfA), which we hosted at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg in November 2007.

The American Studies department of the Friedrich-Alexander-University focuses on literary and cultural studies; it was one of the first to be created in Germany in 1946, when a Chair for American Cultural History was established, and is now united with English and Romance Studies in the Department für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Romanistik. It is part of the North America division of the Central Institute for Area Studies, which offers an interdisciplinary lecture and conference program each semester. American Studies in Erlangen encompasses literary history, literary criticism, literary theory, and cultural studies, including cultural theory and the analysis of the cultural area of North America comprising the United States, Anglophone Canada, and the English-speaking Caribbean. The study of ethnic minorities and gender relations figures prominently in our program, with major areas of interest in nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, contemporary poetry, popular culture, intermedia and transatlantic / transnational studies. The latter has also been a major area of focus for several semesters in our Ph.D. research seminar, in which we discuss recently published theoretical texts as well as individual Ph.D. projects. Our interdisciplinary orientation has also resulted in the participation of the American Studies department in the doctoral program (Graduiertenkolleg) Cultural Hermeneutics: Reflections on Difference and Transdifference, which was established in 2001 by the German Federal Research Fund (DFG).

The program focuses on inter- and intracultural processes of understanding and on the complex phenomena of cultural change and cultural translation. While difference along with acts of differentiation and re-differentiation is considered a basic figure in the formulation of identities as well as in hermeneutic approaches; the projects are also interested in an epiphenomenon resulting from the multiplicity of differences: transdifference. A concept that has emerged from and is employed in the work of the Graduiertenkolleg, transdifference names the surging of generally non-stable moments that transcend and temporarily destabilize categories of difference, moments characterized by categorical overlappings, plural affiliations, and irresolvable (textual or social) tensions, such as conflicts of solidarity. Scholars from the fields of American, British, Canadian, and Media Studies, Political Science, Sociology, Systematic Theology, Social Ethics, and Sinology contribute their respective research perspectives to this interdisciplinary project. Regular workshops, guest lectures by international scholars, colloquia, and a triannual international conference complement the graduate colleges weekly meetings and support the work of an average of twenty doctoral students. The program has also published a collection of essays on the conceptualization and application of transdifference in 2005,1 and is currently preparing a second book on cultural hermeneutics.2

The 2007 PGF brought together a group of 29 postgraduate scholars of literary and cultural studies, history and political science at Erlangen; we are glad to present aspects of the ongoing dialogue between young scholars working in the various subdiciplines of American Studies with this issue of COPAS. The conference featured 19 paper presentations covering a wide range of topics and concerns in American Studies today. It continued the tradition of an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas as well as the trend towards establishing networks across national borders, both of which we regard as invaluable for strengthening the field of American Studies. It is also a tradition that the conference is not themed, so that it may provide an open platform which accommodates the diverse themes and approaches guiding scholarly work at the postgraduate level. This openness is mirrored in the proceedings published in COPAS.

As this issue of COPAS presents a small selection from this diversity, we consider it important to give our readers an overview of all the papers delivered at the conference. This allows us to demonstrate one of the PGF's greatest assets, i.e. bringing together and appreciating the broadest range possible of postgraduate work in American Studies. The Forum was opened by Filip Hanzelka (Brno) with a reading of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita that positioned the text as early postmodern and examined the protagonists self-deception. Stefanie Schaefer (Heidelberg) explored the use of an ethics of performativity in a paper on narrative strategies in recent American autobiographies: the re-emergence of a unified or whole subject, though troubled, indicated a post-postmodern trend, Schaefer argued. Sebastian Honert's (Erlangen) presentation also investigated the role of ethics in contemporary literature and literary theory, drawing on works by Martha Nussbaum and Richard Rorty. In his analysis of Shelley Jackson's Half Life, included in this issue, Sascha Pöhlmann (Munich) raised the question of whether post-postmodernism might be characterized by the fusion of modernist concerns with epistemology and postmodernist concerns with ontology, calling on the complex implications of the novel's split first-person plural perspective to develop his thesis. Till Werkmeister (Hamburg/Erlangen) focused on the implications of the 9/11-trauma for narrative fiction and advanced a reading of Jonathan Safran Foer's protagonist in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as a picaresque hero. On the second day of the conference, Marie-Louise Löffler (Leipzig) presented her research on the role of the black mother in Nella Larsen's Quicksand and demonstrated how the novel diverges from notions of motherhood as a formulation of selfhood for African-American women. In a paper on the African ancestral figure in Alice Walker's work, Jana Heczkov (Brno) identified a number of divergent manifestations of that figure. Both Löfflers and Heczkovs papers are included in this issue. Birte Künstler (Erlangen) employed the concept of transdifference in order to come to terms with the complexities of identity-formulation in 1.5-generation Caribbean literature, and Sebastian Schneider (Erlangen) discussed the central function of transmutations of gender in literary utopias since 1969; for this issue, he has contributed an essay on Canadian writer Shani Mootoos short story Out on Main Street. His conference paper was followed by Sina Nitzsches (Chemnitz) presentation on the changing iconography of a New York Borough, focusing on photographic representations of space. A number of papers investigated film: Marcel Hartwig (Chemnitz) examined the importance of Pearl Harbor as a reference point for U.S. war movie production as well as the social and ideological 'civilizing' thrust of the respective films; his contribution for COPAS presents a reading of Sinclair Lewis Babbitt as a portrayal of the Roaring Twenties. Eriko Ogihara (Dortmund) explored Western and animistic, polytheistic Japanese religious traditions as staged in the synchronization of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Finally, Antje Tober (Chemnitz) analyzed two mother figures and their relation to the patriarchal order and cinematic gazing structures in post-9/11 Hollywood film. On the third conference day, Torsten Kathke (Munich) discussed technological developments and their influence on democracy and nationhood in the 19th century, and Barbara Weiten (Passau) presented discourse analysis as a useful tool for reading presidential election campaigns in the United States. Eric Erbacher's (Dresden) case study on medial representations of Brooklyn-Williamsburg was followed by Ann-Stephane Schäfer (Mainz), who argued against the notion that New-England Puritans were strict literalists by examining the writings of John Leverett. Simone Knewitz (Bonn) read Amy Lowell's dramatic monologues with their stress on the dimension of performance as an alternative form of modernism and inspired a brief discussion about Judith Butler's approach to performativity; her paper is also included here. The PGF concluded with Konstantin Butz's (Bremen) presentation on hardcore punk in California, investigating how white, male hardcore artists engage racial and gendered discourses in order to construct and legitimize a rebel identity.

The fact that much of the Forums discussions centered on broader issues in the field of American Studies, such as the ethical turn, (post-)postmodernism and the implications of the 9/11 events for conceptions of American identity and subjectivity, the spatial turn, visual culture, and questions of race, class, and gender, reflects how postgraduate work fruitfully engages with current concerns both in our field and the humanities at large. We are convinced that both the Postgraduate Forum and its proceedings in the issues of Current Objectives in Postgraduate American Studies are indispensable for such an engagement, which helps a new generation of scholars to position themselves within this area of research and, by communicating their work and insights to a larger audience, to give fresh impetus to ongoing debates. As we hope, it is the critical evaluation of these debates from the perspective of postgraduate students working in different disciplines and intellectual traditions that enriches emerging as well as existing scholarship in our field.

Thus, our first words of gratitude are to everyone participating in this dialogue. However, the Postgraduate Forum and COPAS would not be possible without the generous support of a number of people and institutions: we would like to thank the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien, the Embassy of the United States, and the American Studies department at the University of Erlangen, especially its chair, Heike Paul, for funding our conference. A big thank you goes to the organizers of the 2006 PGF at Chemnitz, Gunter Süß and Antje Tober, for their advice and encouragement; and, last but not least, we would like to thank the general editors of COPAS at the University of Regensburg, Birgit Bauridl, Ingrid Gessner, and Juliane Schwarz-Bierschenk, for their help in putting this issue together.

Alexandra Ganser, Katharina Gerund, Christina Judith Hein

May 2008

1 Allolio-Näcke, Lars, Kalscheuer, Britta, and Arne Manzeschke (eds.). Differenzen anders denken: Bausteine zu einer Kulturtheorie der Transdifferenz. Frankfurt a.M.: Campus, 2005.

2 Ernst, Christoph, Sparn, Walter, Wagner, Hedwig (eds.). Kulturhermeneutik. Interdisziplinäre Beiträge zum Umgang mit kultureller Differenz. München: Fink, 2008.


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