- International Scholarshipi French Contributions
A trend toward cultural studies is apparent in this year’s critical production with American literature scholarship dominated by history- and political science–based approaches. Underlying most of the essays considered in this chapter is undoubtedly the desire to reexamine the concepts of form, language, and culture, together with a wish to enlist one’s stylistic stamina in translations. The general approach of this scholarship is theoretical, marked by a preoccupation with the linguistic and textual strategies that encourage readers to make sense of the points of rupture or lines of discontinuity at which meaning cannot be construed through traditional means. As has now become usual, politics and ideology, together with reflections on the problems of writing history, have therefore elicited their share of attention.
This year is also memorable for the publication of a series of stimulating collective works probing issues of race and gender, as critical interest in ethnic literature and gender studies continues to increase. While in a variety of essays the notions of secrecy, self-identity, and otherness have become an important focus for critical analyses, the intricacies of the aesthetic discourse have also sparked the interest of French scholars and enticed them to ponder the possible deconstruction of the hierarchical relation between speech and writing while questioning how writing, when it reaches the degree of “arch-writing,” can become a force of dislocation. Given the shift in current scholarly interests, the chronological [End Page 403] organization customary for this essay is being discarded this year for the sake of expanding the implications of major evolving themes.
b. Literature and History
The organizing principle behind Cécile Roudeau’s book-length study La Nouvelle Angleterre: Politique d’une écriture (PUPS) is a mapping of New England through methodical scrutiny of regionalism, environmental debate, and the political philosophy of “preservationism,” all of which, the author intimates, helped shape the construction of American identity. Central to the book is the reimagining of nature and culture as a challenging way to understand the workings of New England’s landscape as an organic whole. The idea of a cognitive aesthetic correlated to geographical location as a site of memory is a key element in this study that, most interestingly, claims to outline the development of a decentering process involving both the region and the nation. With a curious weaving together of literary criticism and historical perspective, Roudeau succeeds in highlighting the fruitful relationship between territory, literature, and politics. Through the voices of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, New England is gradually made to become part of a historical process by which the struggle for identity is fulfilled. Roudeau sheds significant light on the role of geography in the formation of New England’s sense of its past, and justifies my singling out her book here.
Two individual essays are also worth considering for their focus on the sense of time and space linked to historical perspective. In “Seeing the Sights in San Francisco with Kay Boyle,” pp. 153–64 in Sophie Vallas et al., eds., San Francisco à l’ouest d’Eden (PUP), Anne Reynès-Delobel offers a study of the way the representation of San Francisco mirrors a new awareness ambiguously predicated on both the sense of belonging to a community and that of being caught in an othering process that entails a sense of loss. The result, Reynès-Delobel argues, is to make uncertain the connection between the subject and the space of the city, and in turn the space of the nation at large. San Francisco through its geography and history is the core of Reynès-Delobel’s essay. While she briefly discusses Kay Boyle’s political writing, she devotes most attention to the novelist’s way of reporting. This dense essay incorporates information on Boyle’s act of writing about San Francisco and situates that writing within the modernist aesthetic before expanding on the most important aspects, cultural and social, of this geographical dislocation. Breaking discursive [End Page 404] molds, Gérald Préher’s “Escaping Southward: Role Reversal in Roland Emmerich’s The Day...