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Lecture 1- The Idea of America.docx

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English (Arts)
ENGL 226
Kait Pinder

Lecture 1: The Idea of America Introduction • Springsteen - 'This Land is My Land' song ◦ The American Ideal: a country where we can all be free ◦ Though now skeptical of what that freedom is, but still an American Dream ◦ originally a 1940 Woody Guthrie song - Communist vision ▪ conflict between Communist impetus of the song and the American Dream portrayed ▪ EX. lyric in the song of seeing his people lined up at the welfare office - political system discriminating against classes ▪ Originally song called 'God blessed America'; written in response to Irving Berlin's 'God Bless America' song • Originally conceived as a response to blind patriotism, the song now is embraced as a patriotic song: tension in literature between patriotism and criticism ◦ "This land" exists behind the private property sign - not about that property American ideal, but people needing help from the state • Image of world power of USA - exemplar for the world; but consider the Occupy Movement, there is also extreme poverty in US, clinging to American ideals to criticise what it has become • May Day - labour/workers holiday - Communist countries usually have large Soviet displays on this day ◦ International Workers Day - Labour Day is celebrated in September in North American though ◦ May Day commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago - general strike, demanding an 8-hour work-day; police fired on the crowd and killed dozens of striking workers, commemorates the sacrifice that workers made ◦ Tension between this American event and the appropriation of May 1 as May Day in Communist regimes - a holiday therefore not associated with America ◦ Europe decided to commemorate the day, it was not the US • Reading a national literature - ◦ Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson: ◦ 'Nation': "an imagined political community - and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign" ◦ 'Imagined': "because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion" ▪ they believe that everyone is imagining their community in a similar way ◦ 'Limited': "imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind" ▪ Exclusion is necessary to the ideal ▪ EX. Colonial 'others' - othering, difference between them helped define what a British person was as distinct from the Indians ▪ Limited also relates to colonisation of America, though that is prior to this course - taking land from First Nations people ▪ EX. stripping of citizenship of Boston bombers - to be American could be considered to not bomb fellow citizens ▪ some argue that to strip citizenship though would be un- American ▪ EX. Occupy Movement - Puritan rhetoric of hard work and profit; protesters were deemed lazy, privileged - un-American values; process of exclusion ▪ Protestant work ethic: Puritan value, the idea that if you work hard, not only what God wants you to do, but he will reward you for it ▪ ingrained in many countries, but especially America - foundational spirit, settlers at the frontier ◦ 'Sovereign': "because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely, ordained, hierarchic dynastic realm" ▪ horizontal relationship, can only have a community if centred around a monarch ▪ America came into being precisely because of this sovereignty ◦ 'Community': "regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately, it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centres, for some many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings" ▪ Imagining yourself as part of the nation, high stakes - crucial to who you are ▪ Print capitalism - writing in the vernacular instead of Latin, selling books in the vernacular = broadening the literary base is critical to imagined nationalism ▪ nations becoming sovereign from monarch and people are learning how to read, have access to material: the reading public, reading the same things so creating a community; may encounter people they never met in their lives such as those authors or the characters in literature ▪ EX. how many people we think we know because of the Internet - sense that we are part of this community • America exists only because people believe in it - imagined - continues to exist only because people imagine themselves as part of it ◦ imaginative community is crucial to keeping a country together ◦ 'imagined' is a serious word - literature plays an important part in shaping what is imagined and how it is imagined ◦ works studied in the class are important because they have helped to shape America in so far as they have helped us to imagine it • Though there is no one imagined image of America, one universal version • Many from the era we are studying will have been struggling to be accepted as America - connotations of laziness - groups of people, such as immigrants, religious minorities, women, struggling to imagine America as a place in which they can belong • Nationality: rhetorical background ◦ According to critics Sacvan Bercovitch and John S. Tessitore, America: ▪ "is also a declaration of community, a people constituted and sustained by verbal fiat, a set of universal principles, a strategy of social cohesion, a summons to social protest, a prophecy, a dream, an aesthetic ideal, a trope of the modern ('progress', 'opportunity', the 'new') and a semiotics of exclusion, closing out not only the Old Word but all other countries of the Americas, north and south, as well as large grounds within the the United States. A nationality so conceived is a rhetorical battleground." ▪ positioning itself as against a different community - literature is antagonistic and critical, even when such antagonism/criticism is only implied ▪ good literature is always asking us to think about something differently • Antagonism and Democracy ◦ According to Chantal Mouffe: "Central to this approach is the awareness that a pluralist democracy contains a paradox, since the very moment of its realisation would see its disintegration. It should be conceived as a good that only exists as good so long as it cannot be reached. Such a democracy will therefore always be a democracy 'to come', as conflict and antagonism are at the same time its condition of possibility and the condition of impossibility of its full realisation." ▪ when thinking about 'antagonism', can al
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