Published Spring 2006
An Interview with Donald Pease
Donald Pease is a leading "New Americanist." In the 1980s, he
revised the accepted idea of an American Renaissance, in particular
focusing on the group of mid-twentieth century literary critics
who promoted the idea, like F. O. Matthiessen, and their relation
to Cold War politics. Since the 1990s, he has focused on revising
the idea of American exceptionalism and criticizing its service
to imperialism. He has also been a prominent institution-builder
in American Studies, founding the annual summer institute, The Futures
of American Studies, and editing Duke University Press's book series,
The New Americanists.
Pease's books include Visionary Compacts: American Renaissance
Writing in Cultural Context (U of Wisconsin P, 1987) and the influential
edited collections, The American Renaissance Reconsidered (with
Walter Benn Michaels; Johns Hopkins UP, 1985), Cultures of United
States Imperialism (with Amy Kaplan; Duke UP, 1993), National Identities
and Post-Americanist Narratives (Duke UP, 1994), and The Futures
of American Studies (with Robyn Wiegman; Duke UP, 2002). He has
also written numerous essays; relevant to this interview, see "J.
Hillis Miller: The Other Victorian at Yale," in The Yale Critics:
Deconstruction in America, ed. Arac et al. (U of Minnesota P, 1983);
and "C. L. R. James, Moby Dick, and the Emergence of Transnational
American Studies," Arizona Quarterly 56.3 (2000). Pease received
his PhD at the University of Chicago in 1976 and has taught at Dartmouth
College since then, where he is currently Avalon Foundation Professor
of the Humanities and Professor of English. He had a long-time hand
in the School of Criticism and Theory while it was sponsored by
Dartmouth, and since 1996 he has directed the American Studies summer
This interview took place on 19 March 2005 at a coffee shop in
Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, on the occasion of Donald Pease's
giving a lecture at Carnegie Mellon University, and was conducted
and transcribed by John Eperjesi, an Adjunct Assistant Professor
in English at Portland State University.
Eperjesi: Many people know you through Duke University Press's
New Americanist series. What are the origins of the term, "New Americanist?" Could you describe the context out of which it emerged?
Pease: There was a twenty-five year anniversary issue of The New
York Review of Books  that included a lengthy review that
bore the title, "Whose American Renaissance?" written by Fredrick
Crews, in which he views the "New Americanist" as a term of art
that differentiates scholarship in the field deviating from the
assumptions that had organized what I called the "field-imaginary"
of American literary studies. This term of art was deployed not
in order to welcome a renewal of the field, but to exclude the practitioners
of New American literary studies from the field, because they did
not embrace the ideological assumptions of the field and because
they did work that was threatening to the self-evident presuppositions
of the field of American literary studies.
Eperjesi: What were some of those ideological assumptions?
Pease: That literature is to be differentiated from politics and
that there should be an understanding of American literary studies
that corroborates what Daniel Bell called "the end of ideology."
During the Cold War, scholars in the field of American Studies had
produced an image of US monoculture in which gender, class, race,
and ethnic differences were massively downgraded.
Eperjesi: How would you characterize the politics of New American
Pease: There are multiple political formations for New Americanists;
they can't be reduced to a homogenous set of political imperatives.
But the term "New Americanist" we reappropriate from Crews and resignify
as a term of praise rather than a term that justifies exclusion,
in order to open the door to the field of American literary studies
to a range of perspectives. If these perspectives presuppose anything,
they presuppose the interrelationship between American literary
studies as an academic field and social movements that were only
indirectly or tangentially associated with the field or with the
academy. Crews' essay came out in 1988 and the academy had not yet
undergone the transformation of the fields of literature, comparative
literature, sociology, etc.
Eperjesi: The term "new" can suggest a renewal and continuity rather
than discontinuity. What did the term "new" signify in this context?
Pease: I didn't define New Americanists as renewers. Crews did
not use the term "new" as it is usually deployed, as with the New
Critics, for example. New Americanists were called "new" by Crews
to produce a distinction from older Americanists that would result
in the removal of these new formations from the field of American
literary studies altogether. He wanted to devalorize these formations,
and we wanted to reappropriate the term as a value term. Because
of the irreducibility of the heterogeneous formations associated
with New Americanists, it was impossible to say this was a renewal
of anything in particular, other than a series of fresh and false
starts, depending on how you retrospectively view the projects.
Eperjesi: Who were some of the New Americanists?
Pease: Among the books Crews discussed, my Visionary Compacts was
placed in the same context as Phil Fisher's Hard Facts, Jane Tompkins
Sensational Designs, Jonathan Arac's Critical Genealogies, Sacvan
Bercovitch and Myhra Jehlens' Ideology of Classic American Literature,
and Laurence Buell's New England Renaissance.
Eperjesi: What were the debates that produced these books, which
preceded Crews' review essay?
Pease: Many had to do with the emergence, not only within the field
of American literary studies as such, or in the field of literary
studies as such, of continental theory, and the linkage between
continental theory and social movements. They were given space to
speak by way of the logic of what Derrida called le supplément.
What Derrida meant by le supplément was appropriated by scholars
in African American and Native American studies, feminist studies,
queer theory, and Latina/Latino studies in order to disclose the
presuppositions of literary studies—that is, the non-concepts of
racism, of sexism, of homophobia, that had no conceptual space either
to be critiqued or to be displaced. So the logic of le supplément constituted the means whereby the intricate interdependency of various
forms of cultural exclusion and phobia could be disclosed and decentered.
The logic of le supplément allowed these non-conceptual matters
to be described and countered by critical and literary and political
formations that at that time could be described as counter-hegemonic.
The New Americanists worked against the ideology of consensus
that, at that time, had been given a powerful buffer by Sacvan Bercovitch's
notion of "the rituals of assent," where even dissent was construed
as a ritual formation. In so far as it rebelled in terms that ratified
pre-existing presuppositions, it simply renewed the pre-existing
consensus. The New Americanists problematized the very notion of
renewal and undermined the notion of what I would call "surplus
consensus formation," which also appropriated dissent as a version
of formal consensus that ratified liberal individualism. The dissent
was producing an instance of consensus that could not be included
within the dialectic of renewal—which was, in the deepest sense,
an end of ideology.
The New Americanist scholars included racial, ethnic and gender
minorities whose refusal to be aggregated within marginalized social
spaces effected a fundamental recasting of the Americanist paradigm.
These New Americanist scholars moved away from practices of American
Studies grounded in American exceptionalism's monocultural norms
to the multiculturalist imperatives of American cultural studies.
Scholars within the emergent field of American Cultural Studies
differed from American Studies scholars in that they presuppose
globalization rather than exceptionalism as the horizon of intelligibility
for their scholarship. American Studies scholars who had organized
their field identities out of exceptionalist norms had deployed
the myths of the Frontier and the Melting Pot to authorize immigration
and multiculturalism. But in the wake of the Cold War, practitioners
of American Cultural Studies have supplanted the Frontier and Melting
Pot with the Borderlands and the Contact Zone as the mythological
tropes informing their scholarship.
Eperjesi: Looking at job advertisements in American Studies and
American literature, it would seem that New Americanist problems
and problematics have been normalized in the field. Is this work
becoming regular or regulated?
Pease: The university is a space that has powerful procedures of
cooptation and adjustment. The figures who emerged out of the counterculture
of the 1960s entered the university with demands that the demographic
be utterly transformed, so that literary studies would not be one
more dimension of what might be called the libertarian mode of producing
a validation for previously disenfranchised figures, a validation
that would enfranchise in formal terms in order to make sure that
they had no position in the power structure. The New Americanists
wished to transform the very structure of power as such, and did.
The reason that Crews opposed the New Americanists is because
the New Americanists would not ratify the old boys' networks that
assumed a meta-social subject who was white and male and usually
from one of the cultural elites, the institutions associated with
power. In the act of acceding to the new formation, the old network
would simultaneously be disempowered. Now, New Americanists who
are Latino, Latina, gay, lesbian, African American, and Native American
do not embrace a meta-social subject but speak from the particularities
of their field projects. This can be, and has been at many universities,
turned into simply a marketing device. New Americanists are constantly
critiquing the assumption either that the projects are simply addressing
a pre-existing market, or that these projects can be subsumed by
strategies of cooptation and accommodation.
To say that the New Americanists have simply been normalized into
the way in which the universities now organize themselves is to
lose sight, I think, of the continuing transformative power of work
that is not only emerging within the field, but that is changing
the social relations between practitioners in the field, and also
changing the notion that there is a single field. The heterogenization
of these projects, irreducible to a single field-imaginary, could
only be linked to a single space if that space is redescribed as
a heterotopia in a Foucauldian sense, rather than an academic field.
Eperjesi: Two key terms, imperialism and globalization, began to
appear with frequency in American literary and cultural studies
over the course of the 1990s. Cultures of United States Imperialism is a good example of the direction a lot of scholarship took during
this time. How would you describe the conjuncture that led to that
Pease: Cultures of United States Imperialism can't really be understood
as separable from the social movement projects of the late 1980s.
A culture of imperialism operates by way of an assimilationist logic
that deploys the capacity to exclude the materialities of race,
class, gender, and sexuality from the elsewheres of Third World
or Second World cultures. Cultures of US Imperialism begins with
the assumption that there is a deep inter-animation between the
production of hierarchies in the organization of the globe and subordinations
domestically. It assumes that there is a double front that operates
for the US imperium, for example, the reduction of South and Latin
America as underdeveloped spaces within the hemisphere, and the
production of Latina/Latinos or Chincana/Chicanos as figures understood
to be unable to accomplish the work of development internally, that
would allow those figures to identify with the developed, evolved
subject of the citizen.
Cultures of US Imperialism draws attention to this power that
simultaneously operates domestically and internationally, in order
to corroborate a provision for the meta-social subject internally
and the global superpower globally. They are profoundly interdependent.
You cannot produce a sense of internal counter-hegemony without
opposing the US global hegemon. Internal hegemony and global hegemony
are interlinked projects, and the critique has to be a double critical
consciousness, so that the elsewheres onto which the US imperium
projected the dimensions of its own history that it didn't want
to acknowledge are also linked to the excluded internal alterities.
After globalization replaced American exceptionalism as the grounding
discourse, however, New Americanist scholars were also compelled
to confront the contradictory relationship between an increasingly
postcolonial world and a US monoculture that still remained tethered
to exceptionalist assumptions. Globalization did not merely require
an increased understanding of Americanist minority cultures and
subcultures; it also demanded an understanding of the relationships
of these subnational formations to migrant and diasporic communities
across the globe. In response to these demands, Americanist scholars
have redescribed the US as inhabiting but one node in a vast interlocking
network of commercial, political, and cultural forces. As part of
the world historical processes over which it formerly described
itself as an exception, the US answered less to unique historical
necessities than to transcultural historical processes.
The archive of comparativist works from which historians and literary
scholars now draw has extended dramatically. Along with Aztlan,
the Pacific Rim, and the Afro-Caribbean, the emergent field of trans-Atlantic
Studies has become the chief beneficiaries of the dismantling of
the exceptionalist paradigm. Rather than construing American exceptionalism
as the instrument for representing and evaluating these exchanges,
these transnational and regional models conceptualize social movements
as passing back and forth between disparate cultural systems. These
emergent fields of comparativist analysis facilitate an understanding
of the intricate relationships that pertain among literary textualities,
historical explanations, and lived cultural experience as they are
in circulation throughout the global system.
Eperjesi: Have you noticed any important differences between American
Studies as practiced in the United States and outside the United
Pease: American Studies, when it was associated with the State
Department in initiatives such as the myth-symbol-image school,
was associated with the Americanization of the globe, which operated
by way of imposing upon alterities a set of Americanist assumptions.
What I discovered in traveling to American Studies associations
throughout the world was the remarkable deterritorialization that
operates when American literary works are interpreted, say, by an
Americanist in India, who sees them simultaneously as a model and
as an oppressive system for the imposition of a set of cultural
desires that begin with the uprooting of alternative cultural desires.
I found, for example, that Americanists had a double code. They
would work with the censor—that is, the official American Studies
idiom—but the deployment of that idiom would be anchored in idiosyncratic
moves. And I learned from this strategy of deterritorialization
that American literary studies could function in some spaces as
a minority language that could do the work of generating political
and social projects that were, in official Americanist terms, un-American.
Eperjesi: Shifting now to your work specifically, can you speak
for a moment about your commitment to rethinking, or to producing
revisions of, the canonical figures of the American Renaissance.
Pease: Canonicity is a figure of inscription within a lexicon and
an archive that is so excessive, it can be deployed multiply. When
I wrote Visionary Compacts, I was interested in undermining the
revolutionary mythos. I was writing against the Bercovitchean notion
that you could not generate a dissent that wasn't already part of
the mythos. So I thought that the best way to undermine this end
of ideology claim was by producing what appeared to be a conservative
gesture, in the service of undermining the deep ideology that turned
revolution into the mode of socialization. To get the revolution
out of the American mentality, I produced a kind of stupidity move—that
is, so much at the level of the presupposed that it can't enter
into the system that would end ideology. It was a presupposition
of agreement that could not be monopolized by the logic of dissensus.
I found that move cleared space for thinking about peace which was
very important to me at that time.
Eperjesi: Why was that?
Pease: Because I felt that the Cold War, which was the deep operator
of the revolutionary mythos, and the deep operator of American consensus,
had made no room for the possibility of peace. So my claim about
"compact" was really an effort to think pax, a pax Americana, a
peace that couldn't be monopolized by a war mentality. I wanted
to think peace outside and as irreducible to war. And that's an
excess. So I turned to moments in those texts in which the revolutionary
violence and its linkage to consensus was not presupposed.
Renaissance texts are now functioning in what I'm calling a post-exceptionalist
moment, in which there is a whole set of comparativist projects,
such as on the Pacific Rim. The most significant of these is the
trans-Atlantic project, which is recuperating a Euro-American imperium.
I'm going to the Renaissance texts to disclose moments when neither
the "Euro" nor the "American" can operate to occlude moments of
colonial violence that made the Renaissance possible. In a sense,
I'm working the pane of the mirror of Visionary Compacts. I don't
agree that you change a field by simply adding new texts; the change
has to be a return through the elements the field had previously
excluded in order to generate its self-consistency as a field.
In Visionary Compacts, the element that had been excluded was
the value of peace. I want now, at this moment in which empire and
colonial violence are getting revalued as givens of the globe, to
return the figure of colonial violence previously excluded from
Renaissance texts. That figure of colonial violence emerges when
neither a "Euro" nor an "American" literary system can explain certain
spaces and moments and elements in these texts. So I go back to
the space I've never left. Now I see the Renaissance as a way of
imposing a set of cultural givens onto communities, not a series
of emergent communities, a way of covering over moments of incredible
violence against Native Americans, slaves ...
Eperjesi: What is the significance of the re-emergence of trans-Atlantic
literary studies? It sounds suspiciously close to Samuel Huntington's
celebration of western civilization.
Pease: Trans-Atlantic studies, which is one of the most populated
projects in the wake of the reorganization of the field, is designed
to retrieve a Euro-American consensus, and it is, in that sense,
a profoundly conserving project. It appears to be a move that is
undermining the nation, but it's really retrieving notions of imperial
power and imperial systems in the name of undermining the nation.
When trans-Atlantic, or Pacific Rim, or Aztlan, or other transregional
projects are understood to be self-evidently valuable without a
critical consciousness being brought to bear on what imperatives
and what initiatives and what assumptions they have, they are corroborating
or complying with imperialism. Pacific Rim discourse, for instance,
in the very name of undermining US imperialism, can be a means of
ratifying an imperial cooptation. It's what I would call a trans-imperial
move, that is, a case of the trans-Atlantic reinscribing the imperial
negotiations of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth
centuries, justifying the regional imperial cooperations of the
US of the twenty-first century.
Eperjesi: I want to shift now to some of the particulars of your
intellectual and institutional formation. Where did you do your
Pease: I did my doctoral work on a Ford Foundation fellowship at
the University of Chicago, and I worked with a very generous and
deeply committed myth-symbol-image school scholar, Jim Miller. He
had established his reputation through his reading of Whitman's
Leaves of Grass, which he turned into a mono-myth. I resonated to
his mystical sense of the power of literature. For him, the myth-symbol-image
school was not a means of ratifying a global super-power's reach;
it was connected to what he, and a scholar with whom he worked when
he was at the University of Kansas, wrote about the "radical mystical
unconscious" of figures such as Melville and Whitman. He had a reading,
for example, of "Song of Myself" as a form of inverted mysticism.
At the time I was emerging through the sixties counterculture
by way of, I'll call it, the hallucinogenic path, and his reading
was linked with some of my alternative states of consciousness.
It wasn't until I encountered the work of Derrida, through study
with Paul de Man in an NEH seminar in 1976, that I began to critically
scrutinize every one of the assumptions that organized my field
identity, largely the assumptions of the myth-symbol-image school.
I also worked with Edward Said and with Harold Bloom. I encountered
Said at a School of Criticism and Theory seminar at Northwestern
in 1982, and Bloom through a reading of my field-imaginary. Initially,
I worked through my identification with the myth-symbol-image school
by writing an excoriating attack on J. Hillis Miller. It wasn't
until recently that I realized what I was really doing, and couldn't
acknowledge to myself at the time, was separating myself from my
previous identification with Jim Miller by attacking J. Hillis Miller.
Eperjesi: What in the work of J. Hillis Miller did you object to?
Pease: I was objecting to his apparent capacity to undergo changes
in his field identity without commitment to any of them. He went
from an identification with the myth-symbol-image school, to his
reading of Burke, to the phenomenologists, to his work with the
Geneva school, to his poststructuralist identification. So I attacked
the very change in identity that I was undergoing myself, in order
to mask from myself the real target. It wasn't J. Hillis Miller,
who is probably one of the most generous and deeply committed of
deconstructive critics. My real though utterly displaced target
was, as I have now come to realize, the myth symbol pedagogy in
which Jim Miller had trained me, but I never could have acknowledged
that object of critique then because Jim Miller was such a kind
and generous mentor to me.
Eperjesi: You have worked closely with the boundary 2 collective.
How did this relationship come about?
Pease: My linkage with boundary 2 took place at the University
of Chicago in 1977 or 1978, when Derrida was at a conference with
Paul Ricouer and Victor Turner, the anthropologist. It was at that
conference that he delivered a talk entitled "The Law of Genre."
I asked a question from the floor, and Jonathan Arac came up to
me afterwards and asked if I would like to come to a boundary 2 meeting in New York. It was there that I met Cornel West, Bill Spanos,
Paul Bové, and Joe Buttegieg. I now had an environment within which
to undergo a transformation. And it was for a volume that Jonathan
published that I wrote the critique of Miller.
boundary 2 began under Bill Spanos as a way of introducing a very
powerful postmodern critique of US literary studies to Heideggerian
"destruction" analysis, as opposed to Derridian deconstruction.
There was initially a conversation, otherwise unavailable in the
academy, between continental philosophy that moved from Heidegger
to Derrida. boundary 2 was a space in which the move from structuralism
to poststructuralism had a location. boundary 2 called attention
to the way in which the myth-symbol-image school, through the domestication
of Frye, was a structuralist moment, and poststructuralism emerged
through a critique of that structuralist moment.
As a consequence of Paul Bové's work with Said at Columbia, Said
began to publish a number of crucial articles in boundary 2 that
opened the journal to the critique of the imperium that I don't
think would have otherwise been part of the project. Through Buttegieg,
there was a Gramscian connection that generated a very dense set
of problematics and methods. And Jonathan Arac produced a Foucauldian,
genealogical focus, that was in conversation with the others. At
that time, Cornel West brought a critical consciousness to bear
on the collective specifically on the racist assumptions of American
literature, and he brought in American pragmatism as it emerged
from Emerson to Rorty.
Eperjesi: Another institution you were active in was the School
for Criticism and Theory. How did this relationship come about?
Pease: The SCT, for me, was a focal moment. It shifted the orientation
of my project, what I sensed should take place either in the classroom
or in the study. Because it was so important to my own thinking,
I wanted to see to it that that institution would be continued.
Along with Steve Nichols, we persuaded the powers that be at Dartmouth,
in 1986, to bring the SCT to Dartmouth. I was the liaison to the
SCT in its initial year, and continued to take courses and work
with the school throughout its ten years at Dartmouth.
When the school went to Cornell, I started an American Studies
Institute at Dartmouth that built on the strengths of the SCT, but
condensed it to one week [from six weeks]. A lot of graduate students
didn't have the money or the time for SCT. I also wanted to address
the weaknesses of the SCT. It was so intent on inculcating the knowledge
produced by the plenary speakers and the six-week instructors that
the graduate students didn't have their own work analyzed, thought
about, and discussed. So I introduced a change in the structure.
I brought in plenary speakers who represented wildly different disciplinary
formations, and linked that with seminar sections in which the work
of each one of the participants is considered as important as that
of the plenary speakers. We spend an hour to an hour and a half
discussing the work of each participant, and I think that is very
important, especially now, for graduate students to be exposed to
a network of scholarship that can help them on the job market.
Eperjesi: You've also recently established a new MA program at
Dartmouth. What is the structure of the program? And what are some
of its goals?
Pease: There was an MA program of liberal studies at Dartmouth
that had no focus. It needed to be reinvented, and I wanted a graduate
program that would be interdisciplinary across the domains in the
humanities and sciences. I have a cultural studies concentration,
a globalization studies concentration (that is mostly social scientists),
and a cognitive sciences concentration, and the students can choose
from among these concentrations, or they can work across them. It
is very exciting because it is really interdisciplinary work, and
also a forum for bringing scholars at Dartmouth together from a
range of disciplines, who would otherwise be so isolated from one
another that they wouldn't realize the possibility for cooperative,
Eperjesi: What is your understanding of the meaning of interdisciplinarity?
How does it differ from Henry Nash Smith's argument that American
Studies does not have a method because it is interdisciplinary?
Pease: When Henry Nash Smith said myth-symbol work was interdisciplinary,
he meant that it was imperializing other disciplines. The myth-symbol
school referred to a set of assumptions about what knowledge about
the United States should look like. It was a way of saying to historians,
for example, you better adhere to the exceptionalist myth that erases
signs of US imperialism, or your project will not be recognizable
as an American Studies project. All of the integers of the US imperium
were put into place by myth-symbol scholars and kept in place not
only as desiderata for analysis, but also as regulatory mechanisms
that would decide what counted and what didn't count as knowledge.
Interdisciplinary studies, as I understand it, is an occasion
when scholars from different disciplines can become aware of the
different presuppositions that ground the production of their knowledges.
When I'm in a course with a historian and we enter into conversation,
what I listen for isn't the moment of convergence when we agree
that this is a fact, but for the difference in the presuppositions
about what counts as knowledge for a historian and what counts for
a scholar in literature. If your presuppositions can suddenly become
lively in the exchange, you're in a position from which you can
change them. For me, interdisciplinarity is a way in which you can
become critically aware of something that has been silent. And that,
for me, is a vital critical intersection, a crossroads, where you
realize what produces the distinctions between the disciplines.
Eperjesi: In a recent issue of American Literary History [Spring
2005], Leo Marx has an article on "On Recovering the 'Ur' Theory
of American Studies." He talks about the "Great Divide" in American
Studies. Do you see a "Great Divide?"
Pease: Leo Marx sees a divide between pre- and post-Vietnam. But
he also sees an Americanist continuum that transcends the divide.
I don't see that continuum. Vietnam wasn't simply a war that sustained
a counterculture through the opposition; Vietnam disclosed the specter
in American culture that disavowed traumatic violence that the myth-symbol
school covered over. I agree that there was a discontinuity, but
I don't agree that this discontintuity, as Marx seems to imply,
is subsumable as an Americanist continuum, because that is a recuperation
of a Bercovitchean notion of consensus.
Eperjesi: Marx argues that new "anti-American" studies have given
up on the cause of democracy in the United States, describing such
projects as "gloomy." What do you think about this characterization?
Pease: The deep sense of democracy in the US is a democracy that
would be possible in a future. It's a democracy that exposes the
anti-democratic assumptions of liberalism. Because it wouldn't be
a liberal democracy, Marx can only construe it as gloomy. The assumption
that Marx, and also Alan Wolfe, makes is that it would have to be
liberal individualist in order to be acknowledged as a democracy.
Wolfe retrieves The Machine in the Garden as a prime example of
American Studies at a time when tanks are moving into the first
garden, the origin of civilization, that is, into Iraq. He's returned
to the myth-symbol school and that moment of American culture as
part of a pro-war effort. That essay on "anti-American" studies
appeared at a time in which any opposition to the war was described
Eperjesi: Wolfe claims that anti-American studies evinces a "hatred
of America so visceral that it's a wonder they even bother studying
America at all."
Pease: I just don't understand how Wolfe can say that critique
is hatred. That is utilizing a fundamentalist language, of hatred,
that is designed to produce a context for discussion it is impossible
to enter without agreeing to those conversation-ending words. As
soon as you characterize a conversation as full of hate, you're
assigning to that conversation a violence that is unanswerable to
discussion. That's rhetorical fundamentalism.
Eperjesi: You just gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon on "post-exceptionalist"
American Studies, in which you juxtapose Janice Radway's inaugural
speech as president of the American Studies Association ["What's
in a Name," American Quarterly 51 (1999)] to a pro-war speech by
George W. Bush. Can you talk about that comparison?
Pease: In her speech, Radway made trouble for the very name "American"
by asking "What's in a name?" People were asked to reconsider the
name of the association, thus performing the pluralization, the
fragmentation of the field of American Studies. That field has become
post-exceptionalist, a field that can no longer begin with the presupposition
that the notion "American" has a consensus concerning its meaning,
that can invoke all of the members of the association. The "we" is an impossibility.
I want to juxtapose Radway's asking "What's in a name?" to Bush's
self-assured notion that "we" Americans could engage in war with
a sovereign state in order to say to Bush, "Not in our name." The
very pluralized heterogeneity of the "we," of post-exceptionalist
peoples, would say, "Not in our name." The very impossibility of
assigning the name is what's producing the multitude of resistances.
The resistance to the war, in so far as it is a motley group of
associations that cannot be predictably linked with any coalition,
is a good description of New Americanists.