New Directions in (Transnational) American Literature Studies
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CitationBuell, Lawrence. 2009. New directions in (transnational) American literature studies. Contemporary Foreign Literature 1:20-31.
AbstractNever has there been a better moment for foreign scholars outside the English-speaking world to engage in American literature studies. American literature studies is increasingly studied worldwide and the contributions of foreign-born and foreign-based Americanists are becoming increasingly influential. This lecture will attempt to explain this turn of events, with special emphasis on analysis of selected newer transnational and comparative approaches to American literature studies. Background factors contributing to the emergence of these new approaches will be surveyed briefly. These include the changing demography of American academia, the challenges to the traditional canon from within American literary studies of the 1970s and after, and the rise of new historicism, postcolonialism, and critical race studies. The lecture will concentrate especially, however, on defining the types of approach employed by the newer transnational Americanist scholarship. These will be illustrated by describing a number of recent books and articles that suggest the promise of these approaches. Five broad, overlapping initiatives will be defined: (1) author-focused studies that broaden the critical horizon of understanding beyond the scope of the national; (2) projects focusing on linguistic translation or cross-cultural communication; (3) studies of circulation of texts and cross-cultural influences within international zones (the Atlantic world, the transpacific world, the Americas); (4) projects that address cultural mobility on a global scale; and (5) ecocritical studies of transnational environmental interdependencies or affinities. Most, as we shall see, are quite heterogeneous. Within most we find considerable methodological diversity and debate.
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