“American Studies,” and Other Stalinist Concepts

The oral tradition has it that Irving Kristol once quipped that “world peace” is a Stalinist concept, and whether he said it or not, it certainly captures the essence of the way the “peace movement” of the Cold War served the purposes of the Soviet Union in advancing the moral disarmament of the West.

Now it appears that function is being carried on by “American Studies.”  As Paul notes, the American Studies Association has overreached by calling for an academic boycott of Israel, and the backlash has been (happily) sweeping, with a growing number of universities (including my temporary outpost at the University of Colorado at Boulder) releasing public statements denouncing the resolution.

It is worth lingering for a moment, however, to reflect on why this anti-Israeli effort came from the American Studies Association, instead of, say, the academic trade union for international relations, religious studies, or political science.  The answer to this query depends on the question of what, exactly, is “American Studies” anyway.

“American Studies” is one of those hybrid-pseudo fields that somehow always seem to devolve into cesspools of trendy radicalism.  It can be a sensible interdisciplinary blend of political science, history, literature, and even economics; that’s how I did it in graduate school, when American Studies was nested in the reasonably sensible history department.  Tom Wolfe, among others has his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale.  But as too often happens in the borderless realms of cross-disciplines, they become hosts for the parasites of the academic left.  (Incidentally, my experience at Colorado is that most of the crazy environmental types aren’t in the environmental studies department; they’re in geography, sociology, and other departments.  More on this some other time.)  The point is, American Studies has become anti-American Studies at many universities.

If you think the anti-Israel resolution is an eyebrow raiser, take in this recent call for papers for a future ASA conference:

Panel Proposal: “Early American Carnality”

ASA Annual Meeting, November 2014
Los Angeles, CA

At its most intimate, colonization involves bodies, altering how subjects experience and conceive of desire, hunger, touch, comfort, pleasure, and pain. This panel seeks participants from all disciplines engaged with the objects of early American studies to contribute to a discussion of method and theory for understanding early American carnality. In particular, it is concerned with the intersection of bodily sensation with evolving understandings of empire, nation, encounter, and resistance. How was colonization effected through and affected by sensation? How do theories of affect and intimacy impact current early American historiographies, and vice versa? How might Americanists reconceptualize our understandings of the significance of empire and colonization through attentiveness to early American sensation? Proposals that consider race, gender, and/or sexuality dynamically or that explore economic status, religion, local conditions, or ethno-cultural identities as part of carnality strongly encouraged (though naming some themes is not meant to exclude other possibilities).

Each panelist will present a 10 minute paper and be paired with a respondent who will provide prepared comments. Respondents will ideally be non-early Americanists in order to foster temporal interdisciplinarity.

Abstracts of no more than 250 words for presentations of 10 minutes by January 20, 2014, via email to: Caroline Wigginton, Department of English, University of Mississippi, [email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>. Panelists should include a list of three potential respondents. Those interested in responding to a paper should submit a c.v. by the above date.

As Squidward would say, doesn’t this just sound like the best day ever?


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