Saturday 16 October 2010
From art after 9/11 and stateside civil liberties to the end of the American Dream, a new series of discussion cafes will be launching in the Forum next week. Five hour-long public events will focus on contemporary American issues, bringing them to the public arena for discussion.
The free series has been organised by the university’s community engagement project CUE East in collaboration with final year American Studies students as part of a module entitled ‘The New American Century: Culture and Crisis’.
The course has been designed and run by Dr Wendy McMahon and is the subject of her research. She said: “This will be a great opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to engage in discussion about the pressing issues of our time, which concern not just America but people in the UK too, as well as to engage with what we do in the School of American Studies at UEA.”
The first discussion, 'Globalisation: is the world becoming more American?' takes place on Wednesday, October 20.
Then on November 3, the subject will be 'Should artists and writers depict 9/11 and war in their work?'.
'Civil liberties and America: the land of the free?' will be discussed on November 17, followed by 'Should America be leading the world in protecting the environment?' on December 1.
The final café takes place on December 15 on the subject of 'Financial crisis: the end of the American Dream?'.
All discussions are free, open to the public, and take place from 2.30pm-3.30pm. To find out more contact Dr Wendy McMahon, firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Identities on Stage:
20th Century American Drama International Postgraduate Conference
To commemorate the Tennessee Williams’s centennial, the School of American Studies at the University of East Anglia, will host a one-day international conference on 26 March 2011, focusing on theatrical representations of American identities. The invited keynote speaker is Professor Stephen Bottoms (University of Leeds).
On the day of Tennessee Williams’s 100th birthday, the 20th Century American Drama International Postgraduate Conference looks to revisit the theatre produced in the last century, considering a plurality of approaches from literary to theatre and performance studies, film, gender and GLBTQ studies, reflecting on the most recent critical and academic canon. Stressing the importance of Tennessee Williams, the conference hopes to be an international point of intersection for all those interested in Williams’s work and 20th century American drama in general. Topics of individual talks or collective panel discussions might include, but are not limited to:
- Identity authenticity, representation, construction, and performativity;
- Identity permanence, plurality, multiplicity, fluidity, and fragmentation;
- Private versus public identity;
- Identity and the other;
- Dissidence and identity;
- Selfhood and identity;
- Identity now and then;
- Identity and identification;
- Aspects of/informing identity, such as age, class, culture, gender, politics, race, religion, and sexuality;
- Theoretically inflected discussions of identity (Psychoanalytic, Feminist, Queer, etc.);
- Contesting/Subverting prescribed identity constructions.
Friday 20 August 2010
Homeric Nods and Matters of Agreement
…et idem indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus
(And yet I also become annoyed whenever the great Homer nods off)
Horace, Ars Poetica
Since I’m both a rabid fan of David Foster Wallace’s work, and an incorrigible grammar snob, I was delighted to come across this in-class grammar worksheet he devised. There are ten sample sentences, each with one fundamental grammatical error. Spot the mistakes, without cheating, and follow the link to see if you’re right. I managed five. One could justifiably argue that example two is disorienting even when corrected, and that eight becomes stilted when the split infinitive is fixed. But the fact remains that these are supposedly basic usage errors, and I seem to be screwing up at least 50 percent of the time.
Didacticism is never a becoming trait, and the dour yet strident pedantry of grammar purists is particularly unpleasant. No one can avoid using language, but its usage is paradoxically complex and commonplace. H.W. and F.G. Fowler, two doyens of linguistic prescriptivism, spend nearly twenty pages discussing the intricacies of using shall and will correctly, and even then concede that “southern Englishmen” have the best chance of instinctively using the correct term.  Granted, this conundrum is archaic (I have never lived outside East Anglia, and my shall/will instinct is non-existent), but there are still plenty of examples where “correct” usage is counter-intuitive. And in some instances correctness is jarring. Take the following sentences from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe: ‘Come out, sons and daughters of Adam. It’s all right! It isn’t her!’  They seem straightforward, sensible, and certainly comprehensible. Nevertheless, “to be” is a linking verb (copula), and so technically the antecedent pronoun should be nominative, i.e. I, They, We, He, or She; the sentence should therefore be rewritten as “It isn’t she!”
To make matters worse, the grammatical terms used to describe parts of language rely on nomenclature that seems arcane and irredeemably tedious. What is an ergative verb? What is a modal auxiliary?  Moreover, why do the edicts of traditional grammatical usage even matter? This last question is the real kicker, and one to which Wallace devotes considerable attention in his review-cum-essay “Authority and American Usage.”  Wallace articulates several arguments for adhering to what is called “prescriptive” usage, and he rightly argues that many of its confusing rules exist to preserve linguistic distinctions, to eliminate ambiguity, or to foster maximal readability. And, unpalatable as it may be, a significant percentage of potential readers will be distracted by gratuitous split infinitives, and denigrate any author who uses them. A point that Wallace underplays, however, is that knowing these principles, and applying them carefully, signals, in an understated and classy way, a writer’s expertise. Just as a layperson will trust the specialist knowledge of a mechanic or surgeon, a reader will trust a writer who understands the mechanics of writing, whereby words, even synonyms, have their own discrete identities. A precisely chosen word is engaging because it offers a window on the infinitely expanding, polysemous nature of language, a linguistic network that fizzes and crackles with latent significance. In a sense, all words are loaded words: all ineluctably relate to, and derive meaning from, each other. Yet some words are semiotically richer than others. Traditional prescriptive grammar therefore functions as a safety net and comfort blanket. It signals to a reader that the writer can puncture the solipsistic bubble of her own thoughts and can communicate, via prescribed grammatical rules, with authority, wit, and humanity.
It sounds mystical and abstract, but this is necessarily so. It exemplifies what Wallace called “compassion” for the reader, and compassion, like love and hope, is so abstract it can perhaps only be discussed through art. But compassion involves a generosity of spirit, which, in writing, means that what is written rewards the reader’s attention. Language is not private but communal (q.v. Wittgenstein’s The Philosophical Investigations), and is the mechanism by which private thought becomes public, but it is meaningless unless it follows public rules. If I want someone to take what I write seriously, it should show awareness of long-established usage conventions. Or, to put it another way, if I decide to use “that” when I really mean “which”, I had better ensure a reader realizes it is a conscious decision, and not merely carelessness.
The question of meaning has occupied philosophers for millennia, and is convolved and dizzyingly metaphysical. But there is an important related point that is concrete and easily recognisable: what one says may bear little relation to what one means. Suppose you are a parent with a teenage son. You ask him how he is and he says, “fine,” but the reply is sarcastic and dripping with existential affront, indicating, remarkably succinctly, an intractable Weltschmerz, which feeling is recognisable but irremediable, so why exactly bother and why-did-you-even-bring-it-up just shut up already. So the obvious point: none of the aforementioned is spoken, but is instantly recognisable because of vocal inflection, facial grimacing, and fatalistic posturing. Spoken language allows participants to recognise these extra-linguistic cues; writing, however, must rely on the words themselves to provide context and meaning. The upscale term for this is that speech inheres a metaphysic of presence – writing, a metaphysic of absence: the reader is usually physically absent when an author writes, and the writer absent when her work is read. This is one reason deconstructionist critics consider writing a more accurate representation of language’s ambiguities and complexities: the focus has to be on the words themselves and what they signify because writing cannot correct readers if its meaning is misconstrued.
This is pertinent, because a common rejoinder to grammar precisians’ criticisms is to say, “Oh, everyone else will know what I meant.” This is often true, but does not obviate genuine linguistic confusion or ambiguity, the classic example of which is the sentence, “There are many reasons lawyers lie, some better than others.” And even when one does know what the writer means, the error can still be irritating. Those persons with unusual names must be resigned to their frequent mispronunciation – lingual mangling, erratic ictus, or some other prosodic wincer. They will usually know what their would-be interlocutors mean, but the error – which now, as a consequence of its countless previous iterations, causes an involuntary, abreactive cringe – is still exasperating. The rather lengthy point being made here is that prescriptive usage is the grammatical equivalent of getting someone’s name right; and it’s usually simpler and more considerate to one’s readers to do so.
Happily, however, where such consideration is evident, and the consequent trust is earned not arrogated, many “errors” can be excused.  The Roman poet Horace coined the proverbial phrase “Homeric Nod” to refer to continuity errors in the Iliad, but no one would argue such mistakes affect its literary merit. Likewise, consistent grammar expiates many sins, and those solecisms that remain, and are commented upon, may be justified by recourse to Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism: ‘Those oft are Stratagems which Errors seem/Nor is it Homer Nods, but We that Dream.’ 
Notes and References
 H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, The King’s English, 3rd edn., (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), pp. 142-161. The former Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage is often upheld as the vade mecum of prescriptive British English grammatical usage. “Prescriptive” usage advocates certain rules for “correct” writing, but what constitutes correctness is naturally subjective. To paraphrase Wallace, and to save a lengthy note, one can no longer claim to be an “authority” on language ex officio; authority is now granted according to the persuasiveness of one’s arguments.
 C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, 2 (London: Collins, 1989), p. 98.
 For those sufficiently interested, an ergative verb is one that can be used both transitively and intransitively (the kettle boiled vs. I boiled the kettle), and a modal auxiliary expresses necessity or possibility, e.g., must, shall, will, should.
 David Foster Wallace, “Authority and American Usage”, Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (New York: Little, Brown, 2005), pp. 66-128.
 This includes the archaic proscription of sentence adverbs, such as happily, sadly, etc., though I’m still uncomfortable starting a sentence with hopefully, e.g., “Hopefully, I’ll see you soon” (do I hope to see you soon, or will I see you soon while full of hope?).
 Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism”, Poet’s Corner – Bookshelf
Monday 21 June 2010
This is, in some ways, a long way of saying: follow us on twitter. We're @americanstudies. You can keep in touch with our blog posts, get some bonus content, and join the happy 100 who are already experiencing the fun. Failing that, you can keep your eye on the twitter box in the sidebar.
But it's also an excuse to highlight some of the ways in which twitter is increasingly making its mark on popular culture - indeed, on lives. This is the week, after all, when, in 140 characters or less, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff announced the execution of Ronnie Gardner and a South Korean man left a digital suicide note.
1. First, prolific and creative twitterer Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago) spent some time thinking about the unexpected ways in which the social network has impacted on his life. He writes:
I vowed I would never become a Twit. Now I have Tweeted nearly 10,000 Tweets. I said Twitter represented the end of civilization. It now represents a part of the civilization I live in [...] When you think about it, Twitter is something like a casual conversation among friends over dinner: Jokes, gossip, idle chatter, despair, philosophy, snark, outrage, news bulletins, mourning the dead, passing the time, remembering favorite lines, revealing yourself.2. Second, Susan Orlean (@susanorlean), for the New Yorker (@newyorker), had a twitter experience which got her thinking about the future of book publishing:
I woke up thinking about Ron Hansen’s majestic, mournful book “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” The book had gotten into my head the way some songs do, repeating its rhythms and tones over and over. On a whim, I mentioned it on Twitter, added the searchable hashtag #booksthatchangedmyworld, and sat still for a moment. About three seconds later, the flood began—dozens and dozens of other people started listing books that had changed their worlds.3. Third - and this is old news, but still interesting - the Library of Congress (@librarycongress) announced in April that it was going to become the repository of twitter's entire archive - everything tweeted, ever. The New York Times notes, "They contain more observations, recorded at the same times by more people, than ever preserved in any medium before."
Still a twitter naysayer? Or convinced of its utility and interest? Either way, let us know - here, or if you prefer, @americanstudies.
Monday 7 June 2010
From the inside of T-Pops coffee and bait shop in Golden Meadow, Louisiana Matt Frei talks with shop regulars who have family ties to fishing and oil about how they are making sense of the spill.Available on the iplayer, itunes, etc.
Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief of Salon.com, joins us to discuss the political impact of the oil continuing to gush into the Gulf of Mexico and how the United States may pursue its energy policy and upcoming national election campaigns.
And Pulitzer Prize winning author and southerner Rick Bragg shares his eulogy to the shoreline, a look at the view from Mobile Bay, Alabama.
Saturday 5 June 2010
Increasingly, universities are opening up some of their banner courses for public consumption. Fancy studying the Civil War and Reconstruction with David Blight at Yale? Well, you can access everything you'll need here. If you want to watch his lectures online, go here. Alternatively, you can download the audio from itunes and enjoy it all on the move - and all for free. If that doesn't grab you, how about boning up on your literary theory or getting to grips with contemporary literature? Maybe you've got your own recommendations - leave us a comment.
Tuesday 1 June 2010
Thursday 27 May 2010
Here's a synopsis of Bedford: The Town They Left Behind:
"During World War II, men from all over the United States went into combat, but it was Bedford, Va., that earned D-Day's most chilling distinction: the country's highest losses per capita. Directors Joe Fab and Elliot Berlin [...] tell the story of Bedford, whose local National Guard unit was once considered a good way to make a few bucks during the Great Depression. But then the country was drawn into war that same Guard unit was the first to come under withering German fire on Normandy's beaches. This documentary recalls that solemn history but also places it in contemporary context: In 2004, Bedford's National Guard troops were called up for the first time since 1945. They were sent first to Afghanistan and then to Iraq."The screening will be followed by a discussion panel featuring Professor Richard Crockatt (UEA / School of American Studies); Wing Commander Bryan Lewis (Ret), an RAF veteran of D-Day; and David Bedford, Superintendent of Cambridge American Cemetary.
All are welcome, but you'll need to e-mail Lucien to get on the guest list.
When: 7 June, 2010. 7pm.
Where: The Curve, ground floor of the Forum.
Friday 21 May 2010
Abstracts for 20 min papers should be forwarded to Dr Rebecca Fraser (email@example.com) via email by 28th May. Papers will then be arranged into panels. For further information concerning the event feel free to contact Dr Fraser or Francisco Costa, who originally developed the idea.
Further details and a registration form can be sourced at:
Wednesday 19 May 2010
And for those who will soon be leaving us, the New Yorker gives some advice on how your nearest and dearest should treat the newly graduated. Good luck to all.
Saturday 24 April 2010
- The Guardian has a Mark Twain quiz
- The Atlantic has opened it's Twain archives
- The New York Times examines Twain's private library and his literary criticism
- The Huffington Post has a whole series of Twain posts, including a consideration of Twain's work as an animal rights activist
- The Telegraph looks at Twain's travel writings
- In the Financial Times, John Sutherland debates Twain's role as the father of American literature
- And for NPR, Alan Greenblatt ponders "Why Mark Twain Still Matters"
And finally, a cartoon from the Baltimore American, April 23 1910 - Uncle Sam grieving at Twain's bedside:
Sunday 11 April 2010
Saturday 10 April 2010
Friday 9 April 2010
Thursday 8 April 2010
Wednesday 24 March 2010
On March 7th 1965 lines of African Americans walked across a bridge in Selma, Alabama. They were walking with a purpose to get the then Governor Jim Clark to give African Americans their voting rights. It’s no secret that African Americans had been disenfranchised since they were brought to America and one aspect of the Civil Rights Movement for black equality involved voting.Lemara is currently putting together a short documentary about the event. Here's a snippet:
The date of March 7th is cemented in Civil Rights history as that innocent action of walking across a bridge was met with the most horrific violence.
If you're not familiar with the events of Bloody Sunday click my Videos tab for a small clip from the mini-documentary I am currently putting together about my trip [or see below]. I was invited by Brother Nate as I like to call him to go to Alabama for the weekend and not just re-enact the march across the bridge but to meet some of the pioneers of the movement, who walked across the bridge 45 years ago that day.
Jubilee weekend was set up by Rose and Hank Saunders in order to commemorate the bravery and remember that fateful day. Jubilee Weekend consists of a celebration of exceptional people in today’s struggle for Civil Rights. Being honoured that weekend was Winnie Mandela.
Walking across the bridge early on in the day before the cameras and television crews got there was a very sobering experience. I was happy to be there, to witness and experience it, but at the same time something sunk heavy in me.
History is a powerful thing to read, learn and see.
The struggle for black equality jumped off the page that whole weekend as I met and talked to the original people who walked across the bridge that day forty five years ago.
And Lemara is also at work on a series of posts about the Black Experience in the US and the UK - "A Different Kind of Black." Read it, and leave her a comment.
Tuesday 16 March 2010
At this week's research seminar, Steven F. Lawson (Rutgers University, currently Senior Mellon Visiting School, Cambridge University), author of Civil Rights Crossroads: Nation, Community and the Black Freedom Struggle (University Press of Kentucky, 2006) will be speaking about: "The Long Origins of the Short Civil Rights Movement".
Wednesday March 17th. Arts 2.51. 4pm. All welcome.
Sunday 7 March 2010
Wednesday 10th March. A2.51. 4pm. All welcome.
Friday 5 March 2010
Wednesday 3 March 2010
Our country has always been exceptional. It is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth. These qualities are the bequest of our Founding and of our cultural heritage. They have always marked America as special, with a unique role and mission in the world: as a model of ordered liberty and self-government and as an exemplar of freedom and a vindicator of it, through persuasion when possible and force of arms when absolutely necessary.And they argue that President Obama is attacking the very qualities that make America "exceptional". Others have disagreed. Damon Linker, writing for The New Republic, argues: "While its authors clearly mean it to stand as a manifesto for a resurgent conservative moment, the essay far more resembles a lullaby—a comforting compilation of consoling pieties set to a soothingly familiar melody." And the Economist's "Democracy in America" blog questions the claim "that America is "freer" or "more democratic" than literally every other society on earth."
Wednesday March 3rd, Arts 2.51, 4pm. All welcome.
Monday 22 February 2010
“How Can They See With Sequins in Their Eyes?”: Nostalgia, Celebrity and Showbusiness in Chicago (1975).
Wednesday February 24, Arts 2.51, 4pm. All welcome.
Friday 19 February 2010
Monday 8 February 2010
Wednesday February 10, A2.51, 4pm. All welcome.
Sunday 7 February 2010
- For the Indianapolis Colts, all eyes are on quarterback Peyton Manning. The San Francisco Chronicle discusses the significance of victory for Manning's reputation as one of the greatest of all time; the Kansas City Star looks into his "beautiful mind".
- For the New Orleans Saints, focus remains on the symbolism of victory, five years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Newsweek asks "Can The Saints Really Save New Orleans?"; the New Orleans Times-Picayune declares that America has become a "Who Dat" nation.
- And the rest: half-time entertainment will be provided by The Who; the Huffington Post reviews previous half-time shows; and NPR gives of a run down of this year's Super Bowl Ads.
Monday 1 February 2010
In this big dramatic production that didn't do anyone any good (and was pretty embarrassing, really, if you think about it), thousands upon thousands of phonies across the country mourned the death of author J.D. Salinger, who was 91 years old for crying out loud.Also R.I.P Howard Zinn - a tribute by Alice Walker and NPR.
Monday 25 January 2010
At this week's research seminar - the first of the semester - Professor Douglas Tallack (University of Leicester), author of New York Sights (Berg, 2005), will be talking about: "One walked of course with one's eyes greatly open' (Henry James): London Sights in Alvin Langdon Coburn, Henry James and Joseph Pennell".
Wednesday January 27th, A2.51, 4pm. All welcome.
Monday 18 January 2010
Fox, on the other hand, leads with news of a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:
70 percent of white Americans and 60 percent of black Americans “believe values held by blacks and white have become more similar in the past decade.” Those numbers are unprecedented. Clear majorities of black and white Americans are saying that the divide born or racial, cultural and educational divisions is closing fast.They also complain that "the New York Times and Washington Post did not find space in their news columns to tell this uplifting story." In the Guardian, however, Lola Adesioye responds:
A more revealing place to look, certainly more so than polls or media firestorms, is at the fact and figures of minority life in America. There is the 16% African-American unemployment rate, which is expected to soon reach a 25-year high. There is the fact that while the president works on passing a healthcare reform bill, people of colour continue to die at disproportionate rates from diseases such as cancer and heart disease. There is a US education system which continues to fail minority children. While the picture is not all doom and gloom it is clear that the issues which most negatively affect the quality of life of a large number of minority citizens still persist in spite of an African-American president.
Thursday 7 January 2010
As we begin 2010, the issue of pardoning is in the air. First, in the New York Times, David S. Reynolds called for a posthumous Presidential pardon for John Brown on the 150th anniversary of his hanging:
Justice would be served, belatedly, if President Obama and Governor Kaine found a way to pardon a man whose heroic effort to free four million enslaved blacks helped start the war that ended slavery. Once and for all, rescue John Brown from the loony bin of history.Second, Senators John McCain and Peter King have been leading a campaign to secure a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson:
"A posthumous pardon would represent a final vindication to Mr. Johnson's family and to the ignominious stain on our nation's history," McCain and King wrote, "and highlight the achievements of an athlete who was forced into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice" (via the Huffington Post).But even though both houses of Congress passed resolutions urging a Presidential pardon for Johnson, the Justice Department has recently made it clear that this will be unlikely.
Indeed, the San Francisco Chronicle, has highlighted "Obama's Pardon Drought":
Obama has yet to grant a single clemency petition. He also has yet to deny one. Among past presidents, only four - George Washington, John Adams, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - have taken longer than Obama to grant their first pardon.Writing in the Huffington Post at the end of December, Jacob M. Appel went even further, putting out a call for mass clemency for America's incarcerated:
Our nation is long overdue for a mass clemency of non-violent felons and those unlikely to re-offend. Such a collective pardon and commutation would reunite hundreds of thousands of families, save billions of dollars in incarceration costs, and might foster a national spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.Is there anyone that you think should receive a pardon, posthumous or otherwise?