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Cdnddtdll Review of Amertcdn Studies/ Revue canadmme d'etudes amerrcm,ws Volume 27, Number 3, 1997, pp 191-204 Risking Nationalism: NAITA and the Limits of the New American Studies BryceTraister 191 In recent years, calls for a radical revisioning of the field of American studies have sounded forth from such influential Americanist voices as R. C. De Prospo, Amy Kaplan, Donald Pease, Gregory Jay, Peter Carafiol, Carolyn Porter, and Paul Lauter. I use the term "Americanist" guardedly here; some of the names just dropped have made compelling cases for permanently dispensing with the term "Americanist" altogether, along with the attendant supporting narratives and myths (the Puritans, exceptionalism, New World, democracy, and so forth) that together brought the academic identity of "Americanist" into being during the first half of the twentieth century. 1 Americanists today, according to one recent article, "allow a virtually xenophobic nationalism, that most American literary scholars would condemn m politics, to reign in the field of literary studies (De Prospo 1992, 250). Judging from conference themes and issues of Americanist journals and monographs of the last ten years, however, it is probably more accurate to say that while most of us maintain more or less intact ("xenophobic") concepts of American studies that imagine the United States into a critical discipline, few of us today communicate research that supports the kinds of formalist and frankly nationalist claims associated with the "classic" tradition of American literary studies, the ostensible target of De Prospo's and other's 192 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadiemie d'etudes amencaines polemics. In spite of the fact that the late history of Americanist scholarship can usefully be seen as an ongoing conversation about multiple American literary traditions, competing group identities and cultural histories, and the country's imperialist history, the newer "dissensus" and "multicultural" models , we're now told, have nonetheless come to undergird yet another ed1fice of a totalizing nationalist criticism. AsAmyKaplan warns in her introduction to Cultures of United States Irnperialisrn, "the new pluralistic model of diversity runs the risk of being bound by the old paradigm of unity 1f it concentrates its gaze only nervously on the internal lineaments of American culture and leaves national borders intact without interrogating their formation " (Kaplan 1993, 15). This essay objects to a slippage that has occurred within American studies, in which the "risk" of hypostatizing pluralism has become, for many, a widely accepted critical commonplace. A critique of American studies made by some of the field's most celebrated scholar-teachers, the "postnationalist" account of the American studies fieldimaginary suggests that doing away with the United States as a critical entity might permit a genuine reconceptualization of the field. Gregory Jay writes that we should study "'writing in the United States' ... acts of writing committed within and during the colonization, establishment, and ongomg productions of the US as a physical, sociopolitical, and multicultural event, including those writings that resist and critique its identification with nationalism " Qay [1991] 1995, 9). In this model, the specificity of the term "United States" presumably refuses the totalizing impulses of "America," whose primary identification with the United States rhetorically incorporates the other nations, and their cultures, of the continental Americas. Aware that this program might nonetheless reproduce the biases and fallacies of "national entities" by restoring disciplinary sovereignty on the basis of national differences, Jay suggests that we "simply rename our discipline 'Comparative American Literature."' Such a move would bring the literary traditions of North American nation-states and regions into a comparative dialogue "that would integrate the cultural history of the US with those of Canada, Mexico, the near Latin American countries, and the Caribbean" (Jay [1991] 1995, 9; emphasis added). Jay's choice of the word "integrate" may have been an unfortunate slip, and he is sufficiently aware of the dangers of his proposal to muse that this com- BryceTrazsteiI 193 parattv1st integration "could end up repeating the history of colonial imperialism at the level of academic study" Qay [1991] 1995, 9). But this concern is voiced rather than analysed, and Jay goes on to argue the benefits of such a "crossing of boundaries" in what he suggests we call a "North American Studies...


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