AISNA Biennial Conference, Trieste, 19-21 September 2013: "Missed Emancipations"

full name / name of organization: 
Associazione Italiana di Studi Nordamericani

Missed Emancipations: State Fantasies and American Narratives of Failed Liberation

Within the framework of the 22nd AISNA Biennial Conference, we are seeking proposals for a panel titled "Missed Emancipations: State Fantasies and American Narratives of Failed Liberation".

Emancipation is universally recognized as a foundational concept not only of U.S. culture, but also of the United States as a political body. The tradition of American history and culture is rooted in narratives of reiterated moments of emancipation from pre-existing conditions of subjection. This movement from captivity to freedom can be appreciated in such different fields of American experience as politics (from the Declaration of Independence to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the Civil Rights Act), religion (from Puritan separatism to Twentieth-century millenarian groups), philosophy (from Transcendentalism to New Age), and all ethnic, class, and gender based activisms which have almost invariably resorted to the rhetoric of emancipation.
Though all projects of emancipation can clearly be undermined by the intervention of external factors (repression, economic crises and so on), one of the apparatuses of subjection that has most effectively operated to erode emancipatory aspirations throughout American history is constituted by a "state of fantasy" that domesticates rather than represses them, and diverts them away from their original objectives. As argued by Donald Pease in his The New American Exceptionalism, the state of fantasy "does not refer to a mystification but to the dominant structure of desire out of which U.S. citizens imagined their national identity." This notion of state fantasy, firstly introduced by Jacqueline Rose (States of Fantasy) and then elaborated by Pease with reference to the history of the Cold War, is cognate with the Althusserian concept of ideology as the way through which people perceive their relationship with the social system in which they live.
Drawing on both Pease and Althusser, our hypothesis is that distinct moments can be identified in which projects of emancipation have been curbed by the fantasy and/or ideology of America as a repository of positive values. Within this framework, this panel wishes to investigate cultural phenomena, literary works, historical events which can be read as instances or representations of "missed emancipations." We invite contributions that explore moments in U.S. history and culture where a project of emancipation has resulted in partial failure as a consequence of the pressure exerted on it by the utopian perspective of a liberating and fulfilling fantasy. We invite proposals from researchers working in a broad range of disciplines, including, but not limited to, literature, comics and graphic novels, film and TV studies, history, gender and queer studies, ethnic studies, visual arts, and cultural studies.

300 words proposals should be submitted, together with a short CV, to the panel's coordinators ( or and the conference organizers (,, by March 15, 2013.