Reciting America

Reciting America : Culture and Clich in Contemporary U.S. Fiction

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From 'one nation under God' to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness', what we say about being American is closely linked to how we understand ourselves as Americans. Through a close examination of four representative post-World War II novels, Christopher Douglas illuminates the complex relationship between being American and reciting American discourses. "Reciting America" provides fresh readings of Russell Banks' "Continental Drift", Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man", Maxine Hong Kingston's "Woman Warrior", and T. Coraghessan Boyle's "East Is East", as well as other texts such as the cartoons of Matt Groening and the inaugural poems of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.Considering these works in light of theories of Mikhail Bakhtin, Sacvan Bercovitch, and others, Douglas suggests that the American Dream and several other national vocabularies have become inflexible forms of language that disallow apprehension of the real. He explores how these novels and other texts confront national discourse and strive, though with inconclusive results, to open America up to new subject positions by offering alternatives to the dominant ideology.Douglas finds contemporary intellectual and political life, against the backdrop of a mythology enshrined in proclamations, pledges, and public documents, to be impoverished by the pervasive use of cliches, which he identifies as figures of speech that stimulate emotion or action while short circuiting reflection.
In its extreme cliched form, the American Dream consists of nothing more than advertising slogans and popular culture images; yet these pronouncements retain a powerful hold on the will and imagination of U.S. citizens. Probing the limits of public discourse, the power of the American Dream cliche, and the complexity of identity in the United States, "Reciting America" is a sophisticated look at the range of motion available to individuals trying to act on the official texts that produce them as social beings.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 216 pages
  • 157.2 x 235.5 x 18mm | 487.7g
  • Baltimore, United States
  • English
  • 0252026039
  • 9780252026034

Review quote

"A beautifully written and semiotically learned study of clich and irony in contemporary narratives of the American Dream. Through a series of impressive readings and theoretical excursions, Douglas brings the clich back to life as a force in the encounter with nationality, showing that its appearance as dead language is a powerful mirage that engenders in his authors all kinds of rage, desire, and ambivalence." -- Lauren Berlant, author of The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship "The American Dream as recited by Christopher Douglas never hardens into ideology or clich. In chapters that alternate between close readings and sustained reflection, Douglas shows that neither a wholly textualist nor a strictly cultural approach is sufficient in itself. Douglas's American Dream arises at the intersection of conceptual and material discourses, where every theory is a story and every story is a theory embodied. Speaking in the voice of an always emerging Other, Reciting America contributes to the current reconception of American literary and critical history." -- Joseph Tabbi, author of Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk
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