- International Scholarshipii Italian Contributions
Scholarship this year is particularly rich and heterogeneous. Democracy and difference, after the title of a voluminous collection of essays, and American patchwork, from a special issue of RSA Journal, are the keywords to multifaceted exploration into ethnic and “mainstream” literatures, the impact of new technologies on representation, and issues of identity along transnational and transcultural lines. If most contributions emphasize 20th- and 21st-century prose, significant criticism also includes renewed focus on Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry James and, among poets, Ezra Pound. Finally, as evidenced from analyses of the extensive dictionary of American culture, cultural studies are consolidating and firmly establishing their place next to more traditional areas of scholarship.
a. Essay Collections
Democracy and Difference: The US in Multidisciplinary and Comparative Perspectives; Papers from the 21st AISNA Conference, ed. Giovanna Covi and Lisa Marchi (Trento: Università degli Studi di Trento), collects the contributions of scholars who participated in the 21st International Biennial Conference of the Italian Association for North American Studies (AISNA), held at the University of Trento [End Page 419] in October 2011. The essays explore old and new meanings of democracy and difference from a variety of theoretical perspectives. Although the essays are arranged alphabetically, it is possible to sort them into categories and thematic groups. A considerable number of them are focused on ethnic and gender minorities. Ada Agressi’s “‘What Are We to Do with Becky?’: The Search for Identity in Rolando Hinojosa’s Becky and Her Friends” (pp. 13–16), for instance, discusses the political implications of the representation of identity in Chicano culture. In the 26 interviews that form the heart of the novel and that try to reconstruct the truth of Becky’s escape from home and community, Agressi finds the emergence of vernacular culture and language that offers valuable insights into the Chicano social world. Sharing the same notion of language as a key to cultural identity, Silvia Betti’s “El Spanglish: ¿Un Puente entre la Cultura Hispana y el Estilo de Vida Estadounidense?” (pp. 49–54) analyzes the case of Spanglish as a border language providing the signs of mixed identity, as a democratic place where the American dream can be dreamed in the Spanish language, too. In “Letters from the Shores: Ana Castillo” (pp. 107–12), Marina De Chiara focuses on conscientización—the awareness of identity implications among “mixed blood” people—in Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986). Emphasizing feminist issues, she investigates Castillo’s recurrent depiction of Mexican machismo; tracing it back to the Arabs and following its arrival in America through the Spanish, she draws multiple connections between Mediterranean, North African, and American shores and cultures, and recovers a colonial past that she defines as “Mediterranean unconscious.” Mirella Vallone’s “Borders, Crossroads, Bridges: Negotiating Boundaries” (pp. 327–32) analyzes the strategies of marginalization, enclosure, and self-enclosure (ghettos, Chinatowns, barrios, etc.) in U.S. “democratic” policy as well as strategies of resistance, negotiation, and revision of cultural values by ethnic minorities. Focusing on Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone (1993) and Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (1992), Val-lone discusses the role of memory in the production of new consciousness and the transformative power of imagination. Also attending to borders and frontiers, Loredana Carbonara and Annarita Taronna’s “In Search of New Sea(e)scapes: The Metaphors of the Mediterranean from Mythological to Contemporary Narratives” (pp. 301–07) advocates new metaphors for the Mediterranean Sea against traditional antidemocratic border language that reflects hierarchical relationships between territories and inhabitants and questions concepts of democracy, hospitality, [End Page 420] community, and transnationalism. An example is provided by their use and promotion of sea(e)scape, coined for a place where “water plays an important role as a metaphor and vehicle of transformation and translation (= transportation),” where boundaries are overcome and the sea itself becomes a place.
In “Deferring the Dream: Langston Hughes’s Critique of US Democracy” (pp. 101–06) Valerio Massimo De Angelis examines Hughes’s criticism directed against the ways white people have excluded ethnic minorities from the American dream. Considering his image of the “dream deferred” (“Good Morning Revolution,” “Goodbye Christ,” “Let America...