Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cultures of United States Imperialism

Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease, eds. Cultures of United States Imperialism (Durham: Duke UP, 1993).

This (654-page) anthology of essays aims to integrate the study of foreign relations and the study of American culture, breaking down boundaries between internal and external imperialisms and generally rejecting the idea that America is special because it hasn't had an empire (except for those little island states taken over at the end of the 19th century). Authors look at the ways in which America's project has been a fundamentally imperial one since the beginning.

Some of the noteworthy essays that I may need to refer to later:
-Donna Haraway's "Teddy Bear Patriarchy," on the fear of degeneration and white male anxiety in the founding of the AMNH (this essay originally appeared in Social Text and also appears in Primate Visions)
-Bill Brown's "Science Fiction, the World's Fair, and the Prosthetics of Empire, 1910-1915," is fantastic - analyzes the ways that scifi from this period merges man's perfect body and the extensions of his machines to imagine the technological manipulation of distant "prosthetic" places (as exemplified by the Panama Canal - which is the gap which Hercules creates in the body of the earth, in the image appearing on the cover of the book). Brown contrasts this emphasis on the perfect body with the previous century's scifi, and scifi from Europe, which sees science as a way to recuperate lost bodies or make up for deficiencies. Brown is at Chicago and co-edits Critical Inquiry - he also has written on "Thing Theory," which Janet had referred me to earlier this year and which integrates the analysis of the movements of material objects into an analysis of lit
-Vincente Rafael's "White Love: Surveillance and Nationalist Resistance in the US Colonization of the Philippines" contrasts the United States census, which was used as an "educational" tool by American colonizers intent on "lifting" certain Filipinos above others, and which fixed categories of race and gender, with Filipino street theatre which celebrated indigenous gender categories and created a Filipino identity
-Amy Kaplan's "Black and Blue on San Juan Hill" describes the controversy over TR's description of the supposed "cowardice" of the black soldiers during the Rough Riders' surge over San Juan Hill - Kaplan writes that the black community resisted this categorization, and that the way that TR focused on this cowardice, and the supposed disorganization of the Cuban resisters who assisted the United States, shows that race, and the organization of categories, was the most visible "happening" in the middle of a confusing battlefield. This episode also shows how TR lumped Cubans and American blacks together - they are seen as usable, when commanded by a white man, but not effective soldiers if working by themselves.
-In "Anti-Imperial Americanism," Walter Benn Michaels (Univ. of Illinois at Chicago, writes on race, literature and national identity) describes how pro-KKK southern writers saw themselves as "colonized" by Reconstruction.
-In "The Patriot System, or Managerial Heroism," Susan Jeffords talks about the Gulf War (which took up an inordinate amount of space in this book - see pub date, 1993) - she writes that Americans justify the war by describing themselves as the most competent of techno-managers - it's interesting to think about how different this thesis would look if applied to the current Iraq War...

1 comment:

fokion said...

i've skimmed this book and i'm pretty sure that the authors are intentional about calling it "United States Imperialism" rather than "American Imperialism" since "America" refers as well to all of the Americas, and it is yet another form of imperialism that the US has coopted the name of two continents.