Title

Editorial

From October 30 to November 1, 2009, we had the pleasure of hosting the annual Postgraduate Forum at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, and the current COPAS contributions originate from this event. Volume 11 of COPAS continues the cooperation between the journal and the Postgraduate Forum, a term which has come to refer to both an event and a group: The PGF is a three-day conference that offers younger scholars in American Studies the chance to present their work to their peers, but the PGF is also that very group of scholars, the target audience of the symposium as well as those organizing it or presenting papers—the postgraduate students of the German Association for American Studies (DGfA). In both meanings of the term, the PGF changes every year: The group of postgraduate students is in constant flux as people finish or start their dissertations, and the loose structure of the group has served well to manage its activities. The 2009 PGF was made possible by the generous support of the DGfA, the Consulate General of the United States, the Bavarian-American Academy, and the Amerika Haus Munich. The conference coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Amerika-Institut, so that the weekend presented an opportunity to consider the past, present, and future of American Studies in Germany—and, not the least, to celebrate the event with a memorable conference party that brought together conference participants and supporters at the Amerika Haus. The PGF 2009 presentations appropriately reflected the diversity of American Studies represented at the Amerika-Institut in Munich, where the two chairs of American Literary History and American Cultural History address literary studies, cultural studies, history, and politics. During the three-day conference, twenty papers were presented to an audience of about forty to fifty young scholars, and no less than thirteen of these papers are published in this volume. The conference also included a plenary meeting, in which participants discussed future activities and organizational matters of the PGF, especially the events in 2010: the PGF workshop at the annual meeting of the DGfA in Berlin and the next Postgraduate Forum, which will take place at the University of Leipzig.

The 2009 PGF in Munich showcased the quality and variety of work currently being done by postgraduate scholars in the field of American Studies. Andreas Hübner (Gießen) opened the conference with a talk on (forced) migration, creolization and slavery in nineteenth-century colonial Louisiana, arguing that global processes, and especially crises, influenced and shaped the (re-)formation of culture and identity of transnational German migrants at the German Coast under French and Spanish dominion. Konrad Linke (Jena) presented an everyday history of two wartime camps for Japanese Americans in the United States during the Second World War, the Tulare Assembly Center and the Gila River Relocation Camp, focusing especially on interpersonal relationships in his analysis. Nicole Hirschfelder (Tübingen) used the figurational sociology of Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu to evaluate the significance of African American Civil, Labor and Human Rights Activist Bayard Rustin. In so doing, she emphasized a reading of his person not as a contingent, individual case but in the framework of complex social figurations of the established and the outsider. Christina Schäffer (Mainz) presented a descriptive analysis of W.E.B. DuBois’s The Brownies’ Book and examined how DuBois and his team tried to instill race pride and self-pride in African American children. Katharina Worch (Frankfurt/M.) interpreted William Faulkner’s short story “Hair” according to what she theorized as a specifically Southern course of action, arguing that it is characterized by structural pessimism or inherent defeatism. Maciej Masłowski (Wrocław) discussed Don DeLillo’s fiction, arguing that critics so far have overemphasized ideas of the simulacrum with regard to his work. Instead, Masłowski drew on the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty in order to trace the complex relationships between the image and the body in DeLillo’s novels. Using a systemic approach, Sophia Komor (Hamburg) addressed hypocrisy, mendacity, and pretense in twenty-first-century U.S.-American drama. Komor presented ways of identifying and defining such systems and discussed their specific ramifications for system-relevant aspects.

The essays included in volume 11 of COPAS similarly do justice to the title of the journal by reflecting the wide range of Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies. Katharina Gerund (Erlangen) analyzes Julie Dash’s novel Daughters of the Dust with regard to its portrayal of Gullah culture, its strategies of familiarizing an outsider readership with a foreign culture, and the way it depicts representations of culture in anthropology and literature. Gerund argues that Dash presents cultures as distinct though not disclosed entities whose boundaries can be transgressed though not transcended. Christian Knirsch (Mannheim) first reflects on the chronology of Siri Hustvedt’s The Blindfold and interprets it especially with regard to the implications of the anachronic narration for the novel’s ontology; to this end, Knirsch combines post-structuralist and postmodernist approaches with ideas from neurology and astrophysics. Elisa Schweinfurth (Bochum) reads Paul Beatty’s Slumberland with regard to its representation of Germany’s former division into East and West, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and German reunification. She argues that the function of the German setting is not used to affirm a U.S. identity through the ‘othering’ of Germany but that it critically addresses controversial issues in the United States through the use of displacement.

Daniel Rees (Munich) interprets Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Knut Hamsun’s Sult in a comparative reading, arguing that they display a marked similarity in their contemplation of hunger as both a social and existential issue, and he relates this treatment of hunger to the issues of self-fashioning and identity. Mario Dunkel (Dortmund) argues that jazz criticism, while often being limited to the form of journal articles, moved towards the emergence of a new genre in the 1930s, the so-called jazz history. Dunkel gives criteria for a definition of that genre as well as examples. Carmen Dexl (Erlangen) examines the representation of history and fantasies of black male violence in John E. Wideman’s The Lynchers, understanding the novel as a culturally and aesthetically complex exploration of black male subjectivity that imagines and rewrites African American historical social experience, gives voice to the silenced body, and reflects upon options of living and acting in a social system of structural violence. Birte Otten (Göttingen) considers Michael Chabon’s alternate historynovel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, arguing that the novel’s success can be attributed to its thematic participation in a post-9/11 discourse of historical rupture, which addresses and complements the generic conventions of alternate history. Florian Bast (Leipzig) reads Octavia Butler’s Fledgling as a narrative of agency while criticizing previous critical tendencies to focus solely on the main protagonist’s successful struggle for self-determination. Bast investigates the ways in which the novel questions the possibility and desirability of a high level of agency and thereby complicates simplistic notions of the concept.

Nora Kestermann (Marburg) contrasts Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with Emerson’s “Nature,” delineating a subtext in the novel that aims at alienation between humans and the natural environment that occurs in radical opposition to Emersonian values. Peter Just (München) focuses his political analysis on the ostensibly unconventional alliance that liberal hawks and neoconservatives formed during several international conflicts after the end of the Cold War, arguing that the respective histories of the two schools of thought show that the cooperation is actually rooted in common origins and various similarities in their worldviews. Katrin Horn (Erlangen) addresses the possibility of employing countercultural and subversive strategies in U.S. mainstream media. Horn focuses especially on the concept of camp as performed by pop artist Lady Gaga and argues that her challenges to norms of gender and aesthetics open up her public persona to queer readings. Julia Merkel (Heidelberg) places Barry Hannah’s short stories “The Agony of T. Bandini” and “Uncle High Lonesome” within the Faulknerian tradition of Southern literature and its themes of inherent defeatism and structural pessimism by identifying Hannah’s settings and psychological environment as marked by anticipated failure and lethargic acceptance of fate. Johanna Heil (Marburg) undertakes a Lacanian reading of Richard Powers’s novel Plowing the Dark, paying special attention to its sections about obscure rooms, which seem disconnected from the rest of the narrative. Heil identifies their function within the novel by relating these rooms to the letter in Poe’s short story “The Purloined Letter” and to Lacan’s interpretation of that text.

Little more than their collection in this year’s issue of COPAS unites the diverse essays originating in the Munich PGF, yet this very fact attests to the vitality and strength of postgraduate work in American Studies currently being done in Germany. The openness of the format reflects the ease with which all these different scholarly positions productively communicate with each other in the forum offered by the PGF. The productivity and vitality of scholarly communication continues in the cooperation between COPAS and the PGF which has become an important part of these efforts in the past. The always changeable nature of the endeavor represented by the PGF ensures that communication and cooperation among peers remain rooted in the present, oriented firmly towards the future. If we take the present volume of COPAS as a markstone, there is reason to look optimistically towards this future: Thirteen contributions to a single issue confirm our belief that PGF scholarship deserves the attention and care that the editorial team at COPAS strives to give our authors, some of them first-time. The success of the Postgraduate Forum rewards a collective effort, evidenced not only by the papers presented and published in any given year but also in the sparks of insight and creativity that its participants gain from each other. Through new ideas heard, or chance encounters at a PGF, research projects are helped along in ways big or small. The PGF is not an end in itself, but a starting point. We hope that for you, the readers of COPAS 11, the essays of this volume will become such a starting point as well.

Torsten Kathke and Sascha Pöhlmann

May 2010

Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.