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Donald Pease is Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities and Professor of English at Dartmouth College. His publications include Visionary Compacts: American Renaissance Writing in Cultural Context (1987) and, with Robyn Wiegman, Futures of American Studies (2002).
John Eperjesi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Portland State University and author of The Imperialist Imaginary: Visions of Asia and the Pacific in American Culture (Dartmouth, 2004).

The Feral Issue

ns 73-74 | Fall 2009/Spring 2010

The "Feral Issue" presents work by a range of people, from those who have been doing animal studies all along to those newly exploring the field. If it has a leaning, it is to build a cultural materialist account of animals in our world. We hope that the writing here will give our readers a sense of what animal studies is and where it's going, and also add some new voices to its course.

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Published Spring 2006

American Studies:

An Interview with Donald Pease

Interview by John Eperjesi | ns 65-66

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 institute there.

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 [1988] 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 literary studies?

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 project?

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 States?

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 graduate work?

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, collegial work.

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 as un-American.

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.

Critics at Work
ed. Jeffrey J. Williams.
Critics at Work offers a guided tour through the central, sometimes confusing and frequently controversial developments in contemporary literary and cultural criticism. The tour guides, however, are not distant observers but have been primary participants in those developments, and they report on theory, cultural studies, the literary canon, the recent focus on race, sexuality, and other identities, the state of the univerisity, and the role of the intellectual. Throughout, they consider the not always easy negotiation of politics and culture.
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