- Introduction to Focus:New Directions in New American Studies
The initial category of this forum was "the New American Studies." I decided to take the "new" in that category seriously—that is, as a concept that opens a pathway to potential directions that American studies might take (and, as we shall see, is indeed taking), especially in the wake of recent shifts in American governance that seek to impact structural relations and modes of production on a planetary scale: namely, the US war on terror, the world-spreading of neoliberalism, and the importance of ecological matters as we now face, beyond any ideological mystification process of skeptical debate, the unavoidable significance of climate change.
The current counter-cultural American studies we know begins with the work and influence of scholars and activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Carey McWilliams, Grace Lee Boggs, C.L.R. James, and a line of important left, feminist, queer, and anti-racist criticism that continues in the later work of people such as Barbara Foley, Cary Nelson, Alan Wald, Robin D.G. Kelley, Michael Denning, George Lipsitz, Mary Helen Washington, George Sanchez, Martin F. Manalansan, to name a few. We might trace the beginning of domain of New American Studies to the term "New Americanist" that originated with Fredrick C. Crews's 1988 New York Review of Books article "Whose American Renaissance?" Crews used the term to mark the transformation taking place in American studies that was productively and significantly breaking down the old New Criticism-Cold War barrier between literature and politics, a barrier that, to a great extent, kept in place the reigning liberal mythology of a benign America that concealed its monoculture edacity that was actively excluding a heterogeneous population of citizens and artists. The roll call of New Americanists (and here it should be made clear that my use of this name should not be understood as marking a categorical logic, but, as Donald E. Pease articulated it some twenty-one years ago, in response to Crews's essay, as an event bringing about a different kind of opening, a "field-Imaginary" that "correlates cultural with political materials in the primal scene") has changed and expanded through the years: Jonathan Arac; Sacvan Bercovitch; Paul A. Bové; Ronald Judy; Annette Kolodny; Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; Frank Lentricchia; Lisa Lowe; Daniel T. O'Hara; Ricardo L. Ortíz; Donald E. Pease; William V. Spanos; Robyn Wiegman; and a host of others.
That breakdown of the cultural and political formulated by the New Americanists is now in the midst of developing new and interesting connections between a formerly American-centered ecocriticism and the field of postcolonial studies. Here, insular notions of the concept of the political (understood mostly and almost exclusively as an American understanding of a "sense of place") expands to include the important ecological literature and activism of the global south and east, as exemplified in the work of scholars like Allison Carruth, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Ramachandra Guha, George B. Handley, Graham Huggan, Ursula K. Heise, Joan Martínez-Alier, Rob Nixon, Helen Tiffin, and Jennifer Wenzel, to name only a few. To this field-Imaginary of scholars, I would like to add a third, which might be called, in the spirit of the New Americanists, the "New Ecocritics." This germinating field would include, in addition to some of those already named, scholars that might normally attend to different concerns, but nonetheless have recently begun to articulate a new theorization of the ecological—people such as Walden Bello, Keith L. Camacho, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Mike Hill, the late Masao Miyoshi, Rob Nixon, Setsu Shigematsu, and Teresia K. Teaiwa. This new theorization focuses on what has always been a concern of New Americanists—namely, the significant presence and influence of US and global politico-military powers, a matter not always considered by postcolonial ecocritics.
Military activities tend to be overlooked when it comes to the environment. For the mediatized American public, and for many critical intellectuals working in the academy, issues of ecocriticism, environmental degradation, and climate change are persistently caught within an organizational fantasy that not only legitimates an American-centric understanding of environmentalism, it also...