From Essentialism to Choice: American Cultural Identities and Their Literary Representations
CFP: From Essentialism to Choice: American Cultural Identities and Their Literary Representations
Editors: Agnieszka Łobodziec and Blossom N. Fondo
The reconsideration of culture and identity within the last three decades is very applicable to an analysis of varied modes of identity formation within the American context. Identity is no longer associated with unquestioned particularity relative to an individual sense of belonging to a specific nation, ethnic group, geographical location, religious organization, political party, and essentially defined features of other entities. It is deemed rather to be a continued process of cultural changeability and fluidity. Here, culture is understood as “the semantic space, the field of signs and practices, in which human beings construct and represent themselves and others, and hence their societies and histories. […] Culture always contains within polyvalent, potentially contestable messages, images and action. It is, in short, a historically situated, historically unfolding ensemble of signifiers-in-action, signifiers at once material and symbolic, social and aesthetic” (Camaroff & Camaroff 1992, 27).
Toni Morrison formulated the term “Foreigner’s Home,” which expresses a certain condition of place established by migrations of peoples from one geographical and cultural space to another. Historically, America has been a major voluntary and involuntary migration destination. “Everybody in America has come from some place else, except Native Americans. And immigrants who came because they were pursued, or because they wanted riches, or because they were bought, sold, told ‘Either you go to jail or you go to America,’ as they did in England. Everybody was from some place else. Thrown out or exiles. So the idea of home for Americans is fraught with yearning. It’s a romantic place. It’s a kind of utopia, just out of reach. So it’s less a place than a mental state that you acquire when you are in a place where you are safe and nobody is after you, and people will help you (“Morrison Interview”).
Multiple identities have arisen and are still rising from this cultural and socio-political context. Some of these culturally constructed identities have been conceptualized under various rubrics such as hyphenated identity, hybrid identity, racial identity, gendered identity, and fluid identity. The American context also produces to good measure so-called playful identities that may have dual meanings: encompassing a deconstructionist concept of play indicative of “the instability, the permanent unsettlement, the lack of any final resolution” (Hall 228) or entailing amusement. Playful identities, therefore, may engender postures that ultimately cause identity crisis or/and guarantee privilege and recognition, the latter frequently resulting from individual choice.
The volume’s purpose is to present perceptive interpretations of the literary representations of culturally constructed American identities. Possible questions to consider are: How do the writers’ narratives challenge essentialist categories of race, gender, sex, religion, and nation? What attitudes do the characters develop in relation to these categories? How do the writers envision the future development of American identities? What sorts of identities do their characters represent? What roles do space, ethnicity, politics, and social status play in the characters’ (re)definition of their identity? What factors and circumstances encourage or impel the characters to reconsider themselves? What role do racial consciousness and gender consciousness play in the characters’ development of identity? What choices do they make? How are post-colonialist, deconstructionist, psychoanalytical, and feminist approaches applicable in the analyses of literary representations of identity formation? What is the relationship between the sense of identity of individual writers and their attitudes towards their own literary practice?
Camaroff, John and Jean Camaroff. Ethnography and the Historical Imagination. Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford, Westview Press, 1992. Print.
Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Ed. Jonathan Rutherford. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990. 222-37. Print.
Morrison, Toni. Interview. America Festival. France. 20-23 Sept. 2012.
The important dates:
31 December 2016 – abstract (up to 500 words) submission
30 September 2017 – complete article (4500-6000 words) submission
31 December 2017 – corrections of articles based on the reviews (if necessary)
June 2018 – publication of the volume