Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Summary of December's Session

Claire helpfully opened last month’s reading group with a lowdown on the basics of Transatlantic Literary Studies. She described its status as a sub-discipline arising in 1997 from the strength of American Studies and an increasing interest in manifest destiny and the frontier spirit, topics which have long been concerned with international dialogue. The sub-discipline rethinks classic American Literature through a transnational and transcultural approach, emphasising hybridity, migration, and aboriginality rather than old world / new world binaries. We briefly looked at the work of Susan Manning, a pioneer in this field, and considered how the concept of global connectivity threatens notions of fixed national space through a collective imagination.
As discussion got underway, we debated how class, racial and economic groups can be privileged when examples of mobility and circulation become the focus of study.
With reference to the example texts (see schedule tab), we discussed the political symbolism of trees such as the oak; Irish-English relations; English-French relations from the eighteenth-century to the present day; and bestial imagery in Emerson, especially his comparison of the slave to the dodo. However, events such as John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 came up as possible evidence of Emerson’s nuanced beliefs on race, as in his journal we can see the process by which he eventually supports Brown.
As it often does, the concept of literary pilgrimage came up in last month’s session, as we learned about Emerson’s visiting Wordsworth and Coleridge, and how this might have affected his view of a ‘national’ literature. We debated how the construction of American Literature may be a religious endeavour. 
We talked about how transnationalism encompasses nation as it tries to supersede it and how international financial capitalism acknowledges yet transcends nation. We discussed nation as a relatively new term, compared to that of race, which is considered as located in a deep, mythic past.
We then considered the difference between transnationalism and postnationalism, and identified the latter with anxieties over a lack of control over the economy. We agreed that transnationalism is more concerned with borders and how porous they are, although we acknowledged that some are violent and therefore not porous for everybody. We discussed the Jewish diaspora as a potentially supranational ethnic group, and McDonalds and Starbucks as homogenizing brands that get re-localised in an attempt to appear more relevant and culturally accepting.

Quote of the month
Emerson on the Englishman: ‘He must be treated with sincerity and reality,—with muffins, and not the promise of muffins’.

Thank you to all who came and made the session so interesting, we can't wait for the next.

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