William V. Spanos has expended considerable critical energy in recent years pushing back against the transnational turn in American studies. He is concerned about what he takes to be this turn's failure to adequately register the exceptions the US continues to claim for itself in exerting inordinate influence over the global order. Redeemer Nation in the Interregnum: An Untimely Meditation on the American Vocation argues that we live in an "in-between time" in which the foremost critical imperative is thinking this influence in terms of "the indissoluble relationship of the local and the global, the national and the transnational" (xvii).
While the transnationalist critics whom Spanos dubs "new New Americanists" (79) are correct to identify the exceptionality of the "redeemer nation" (x) as a pernicious fiction, they are mistaken (as chapter 3 argues) in treating this disclosure as evidence that "the globalization of the planet and the demise of the nation-state . . . have been historically accomplished" (80). Since "the American exceptionalist ethos continues . . . to determine America's mission in the world[,] our contemporary occasion is not the end of an era" (85), as many new New Americanists claim, but is "rather the occasion of the interregnum" (86). Spanos defines the interregnum as a "liminal point" in Western modernity, which in its post-Cold War phase has been asymmetrically determined by US imperialism. In this moment of "extremity" (2), the "self-destruction" (71) of the logic of American exceptionalism as a result of the spectacles of US violence in Vietnam and the Middle East has precipitated the "emergence . . . of a global consciousness in all those Others of America that America hitherto spoke for" (72).
The "self-destruction of the American exceptionalist ethos" (50) means, first, that its truth claims have been decisively delegitimated by a countertradition of corrosive critical thought within and without the West; second, that this decolonization of thought demands rethinking what it had colonized; and, third, that this rethinking must not only bear witness to the death throes of American empire, but must also gesture toward a "coming [global] community" (72). The interregnum, therefore, is not a moment of deferral, a silent waiting for the "world to come" to come; rather, it names a (temporal) occasion, a spatial (geopolitical) nexus, an ontological condition, and a set of critical imperatives.
The other three chapters put the critical program demanded by the interregnum into practice. Chapter 1 rethinks the "American [End Page 788] sublime" in the context of the triumph of spectacle in postmodernity in the form of "an America . . . bent on Americanizing the planet" (2). While the New Americanist account of the American sublime productively disrupted the myth-symbol orthodoxy that Spanos argues rendered American studies an apparatus of capture for the Cold War state, its overdetermination of textuality at the expense of "worldliness" blinded it to the role the American sublime has played in legitimating US imperialism and the violence it carries out in the name of its redemptive errand. Spanos argues that the American sublime confuses authentic encounters with the sublime with their simulacrum, the spectacles of late capitalist (neoliberal) democracy. While the spectacle deprives humans of speech (and thus a polity), the sublime "instigates . . . an active wonder" that invites one to "ask . . . questions about being, rather than, as in the Western tradition, impose . . . answers on its ontological indeterminacy" (7).
Since, for Spanos, postmodernity names the liminal point at which modern truth discourse discloses itself as a violence done to being, and because the global hegemonization of American exceptionalism has saturated postmodernity, Spanos identifies the spectacle of the Global War on Terror as identical with the self-destruction of modern truth discourse. The shortcomings of New Americanist deconstructionism (and of poststructuralism generally) therefore arise from a failure to think the worldliness of the disintegration of modern western logocentrism, which for Spanos means a global state of exception under the aegis of American exceptionalism. Although the shock-and-awe tactics of post-9/11 US imperialism conflate the sublime and spectacular most flagrantly, Spanos undertakes readings of Melville...