U.S. American Utopian Communities in Literature
This project is concerned with fiction that engages with so called utopian communities (also known as ‘communes’ or ‘intentional communities’). Such communities have, so far, received attention in historical and sociological research under the label ‘Communal Studies.’ However, they are usually sidelined when ‘utopia’ as such is discussed conceptually from a more cultural perspective, and have been treated only in passing (for example by Michel Foucault, Fredric Jameson, and Lyman T. Sargent). Furthermore, in-depth readings that consider utopian communities in literature are even rarer. Only few critics, among them Lauren Berlant, have started to suggest the interpretive potential of such works. The preliminary corpus of this project includes, among others, Gilbert Imlay’s The Emigrants (1793), Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (1852), and Alex Garland’s The Beach (1990). I am interested in how these works negotiate the idea of utopian space, especially regarding the mythical U.S. American paradigm of ‘new beginnings,’ and how they engage with the genre conventions, or ‘form,’ of literary utopias. In combining those two issues, these fictional works allow for a reading that lays open a level of self-reflection, posing the question whether and how fiction relates to utopia. (PhD Thesis in progress)
(W)Ri(gh)ting Wrongs: Human Rights and the Contemporary American Autobiography (WT)
Bearing the title “(W)Ri(gh)ting Wrongs: Human Rights and the Contemporary American Autobiography,“ my PhD project focuses on the representation of human rights violations in contemporary American/transnational autobiography. It addresses, on the one hand, autobiography’s ideological and epistemic affiliation with the human rights discourse, and, on the other, this genre’s asymmetric availability as a form of narration and redress for different victims and life-stories. Written by refugees and dissidents in the United States, the primary sources belonging to the dissertation’s archive are read, for one, as “allegories” of the global market in cultural and socio-political identities and narratives, marked by the trajectories of race, class and gender. For the other, as ethnic literature, these texts are understood to play a crucial role in the solidification of U.S. American national identity.
“Cosmopolitanism and Character in Nineteenth-Century African American Literature”
The habilitation project takes its symbolic point of departure from the first preserved use of character in 463 BC, when the term in fact referred, not to the Greeks, but to their African cousins, fifty fugitive women who are included into the polis after the first democratic decision in Greek literature. While these literary “firsts” may be incidental, I argue that conceptions of cosmopolitanism and character played a similarly central, if often overlooked, role in African American literature, whether in Equiano, Haynes, Walker, McCune Smith, Douglass, Harper, Chesnutt, Hopkins, or Du Bois. Joining the perspectives of intellectual history, literary and cultural studies, the project examines the imbrications of two modes of thinking that were, unlike today’s discussions of transnationalism and identity, directly available to the contemporaries of the long nineteenth century: the period between the first major wave of national cosmopolitanism during the founding of the American republics, when ideas of world citizenship became politically relevant and character began to move beyond Theophrastan notions, and the age of intense cosmopolitan thought that preceded the “war to end all wars” in the early twentieth century, when the coherence of character came to be questioned in psychoanalysis and modernist literature.
Overriding Native American Nationhood: Transnational and Legal American Spaces
My dissertation project is concerned with the negotiation of indigenous land rights in North America and the Pacific during U.S. continental expansion in the 19th century as well as during Hawaiian annexation in 1898. In both cases, my project focuses on strategies to legitimize the incorporation of indigenous territories into U.S. national territory and consolidate national identity and nationals borders, and indigenous strategies to affirm indigenous sovereignty and legitimacy. As part of this focus, my project reads U.S.-American legal texts as well as Life Writing texts by Native Americans and Native Hawaiians together and analyzes them for their respective strategies to (de)construct utterances of legitimacy and sovereignty. Based on the work of Amy Kaplan, Mark Rifkin, and John Carlos Rowe, my project is in intervention in current discussions in Native American studies, the study of U.S. imperialism, (trans)Pacific Studies, law and literature, Transnational American Studies, and Native Hawaiian studies.
(Jens Temmen is a fellow of the RTG "Minor Cosmopolitanisms")
Security Narratives and Biomedicine
This project with the working title “Help Yourself So Help You Science: Identity Construction in the Context of Security Narratives” explores security narratives that are increasingly used and produced in biomedical and biotechnological contexts. With this research project I aim to study to what extent the term biosecurity and its logics involve an understanding of what a good life is and how these pervade American culture in an increasingly intimate manner. Through the analysis of literary and cultural representations I aim to explore how the biologically inflected understanding of security determines life and identity constructions, structuring U.S. society and producing new paradigms of difference. Central to this analysis is the perspective on security not as a fixed property but as something produced by convincing narrative constructions. I therefore analyze security narratives as performatives that are based on affective attachment rather than factual relation alone.
Contours of the U.S. Nation State (WT)
This project is situated in the context of contemporary critical discussions on the nation-state, transnationalism, and globalization, but insists on a longer historical perspective and places its focus specifically on the United States. Building on the work of scholars such as Amy Kaplan, John Carlos Rowe, and Mark Rifkin, we examine how the historical specificities of U.S. nationhood—a long period of continental expansion, the foundational conception of the “frontier” and the constant and ongoing Native American challenge to U.S. sovereignty from “within” its perceived borders, and a history of “fuzzy” outer boundaries due to the strategies of American imperialism(s)—are instrumental in explaining the current contours of the U.S. nation-state in a globalized world.
Jens Temmen and Nicole Waller
Connections between Atlantic Studies and (Trans)Pacific Studies (WT)
This research project was initiated by a joint workshop on “(Trans)Pacific Knowledge Landscapes” at the 62nd Annual Conference of the German Association for American Studies (DGfA) in Bonn, Germany (May 28-31, 2015). Standing on the shoulders of critics such as Yunte Huang, Rob Wilson, and Arif Dirlik, and rejecting the imperial notion of the Pacific as “America’s Lake,” this workshop inquired how the notion of a transpacific epistemology re-negotiates, contests, or contributes to North American knowledge landscapes and complicates the monodirectional trajectory of imperial knowledge progression by foregrounding local, indigenous, Oceanic/Pacific, Asian (American), ecocritical, transnational, and/or transpacific knowledges. Building on this workshop, our project is currently exploring connections and reciprocities between Atlantic studies and a transpacific approach to Pacific studies in a forthcoming special issue of Atlantic Studies: Global Currents by the title of “Across Currents: Connections between Atlantic Studies and (Trans)Pacific Studies.” This special issue will discuss the potential discursive, topical, and historical overlaps of the two fields to carve out mutual concerns and theoretical affinities, but also divergent approaches and differences. It aims to examine how both Atlantic and Pacific Studies are part of global currents, overlapping in topics, approaches, discourses, and goals, without glossing over fundamental differences that characterize the individual fields.
Jens Temmen and Nicole Poppenhagen (Flensburg)