- Unfamiliar Crossings
Contemporary transatlantic studies is a relatively new critical field that has expanded significantly in the twenty-first century. As Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson states in Transatlantic Women's Literature, "Although the transatlantic has long been an implicit part of the exploration of literature and culture(s), it has only fairly recently become subject to sustained critical analysis in its own right, particularly since the rise of postcolonial theory as a critical paradigm" (3). Macpherson draws in particular on Marcus Rediker's 1987 study Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Paul Gilroy's seminal 1993 book, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, as works that have pushed transatlantic scholarship forward. In 2003 the Institute for Transatlantic, European and American Studies (ITEAS) was founded by scholars across various faculties at the University of Dundee. The institute provided a crucial forum in which the interdisciplinary components of the field—including literature, political science, comparative constitutionalism, international relations, security studies, history, cultural geography, population studies, planning and environmental studies—could convene. Following fast on the heels of ITEAS was the Transatlantic Studies Association and its publication, The Journal of Transatlantic Studies, closely associated with the journal [End Page 438] Perspectives on European Politics and Society. Macpherson's work has contributed in no small part to the field's coalescence, particularly in the areas of comparative literature and cultural studies.
"The transatlantic" remains a heavily contested term. Macpherson's work seeks to complicate the term and expand its boundaries through arguing for the historical and literary importance of women's interventions. Macpherson further defines the field of transatlantic studies in a brief section in the introduction entitled "The Transatlantic Paradigm" (6). One of Macpherson's central aims in the book is to explore how the paradigm of transatlantic studies is shifting as it becomes an established field in literary studies. The wide interdisciplinary field of transatlantic studies places critical emphasis on broadening knowledge with regard to key political and cultural issues such as human mobility, collective identity, and transatlantic identities. Transatlantic Women's Literature focuses specifically on the two critical areas of gender and mobility. This is an important merger within the field and indeed within the framework of Macpherson's previous publications, including New Perspectives in Transatlantic Studies (2002) and Women's Movement: Escape as Transgression in North American Feminist Fiction (2000). Macpherson states in her introduction that Transatlantic Women's Literature is designed to fill the gap that Lindsey Tucker identifies in the field of women's studies when she writes, "to conceive of women and mobility in the same space has been difficult in historical as well as literary terms" (qtd. in Macpherson 3).1
For Macpherson, then, an awareness of gender is essential to the expansion of transatlantic studies. Macpherson's study is an important critical intervention into transatlantic studies and one that throughout its development creates productive slippages between the disciplines of gender studies, transatlantic studies, and cultural studies. The aim of Macpherson's study is to examine "culturally resonant literature that imagines 'views from both sides'" as well as analyzing "the imaginary, 'in-between' space [End Page 439] of the Atlantic" (3). For Macpherson, "many transatlantic narratives reveal or concentrate on the process of misreading, both by their own narrators and by those around them" (4-5), and it is this process that she explores throughout her book and in particular in her analysis of Jenny Diski's Skating to Antarctica. The trajectory of Macpherson's critique is complex. In the persuasive critical and cultural review that she provides at the outset, which situates the book firmly in Tucker's gap, she argues that women's interventions into the space of the transatlantic narrative, which "necessarily explores unequal encounters between people (the contact zone extending beyond its colonial roots)" (3), are important in both historical and literary terms. The dual force Macpherson observes in the prefix trans-—the implication of the "two related, though not equal ideas: 'beyond' and 'across'"—is applicable to the cross-disciplinary nature of her study (6). The inequality referred to...