Violent Belongings and the Question of Empire Today Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, Hartford, Connecticut, October 17, 2003
Abstract

Urging American studies as a field to address the current international crisis, Kaplan analyzes the dramatic shift in contemporary public discourse from the denial to the embrace of the notion of the American Empire. She traces two dominant narratives, one that loudly champions U.S. military supremacy and another that reluctantly accepts the "white man's burden" as the last best cure of global anarchy, both of which take American exceptionalism to new heights. Since the American Empire is "out of the closet," as its proponents claim, American studies scholars and teachers must go beyond the methodology of exposure to recast these debates about empire in transnational, historical, and comparative contexts. They should muster the authority of their discipline to challenge current efforts to redefine the multiple meanings of America both at home and abroad. She offers two key examples. One explores how the adoption of the word "homeland" imposes an illusion of national consensus and homogeneity, which underwrites resurgent nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment. She concludes with the pressing case of the prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay Cuba, to argue that this imperial location lies at a historical crossroad, where U.S. intervention in the Caribbean meets U.S. intervention in the Middle East, and where nineteenth-century imperialism leads to the American Empire of the twenty-first.