Éva Federmayer is Associate Professor at the Departments of American Studies, Eötvös Lorand University, Budapest, and the University of Szeged, Szeged. Email: Eva_Federmayer@lit.u-szeged.hu
Founded in 1992, the Hungarian Association for American Studies held its 2004 biennial conference entitled American Studies as Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice on November 26-27, 2004 on the downtown campus (MUK) of Eötvös Loránd University’s School of Humanities. Besides bringing together the Hungarian American Studies community for a major academic event, the organizer invited scholars from a wide range of educational and cultural settings to explore aspects of American culture in an interdisciplinary context related to Art Studies, Comparative US Studies, Critical Multiculturalism, Critical White Studies, Ethnic and Race Studies, Gender Studies, Queer Studies, Performance Studies, and Literary Studies.
The conference dealt with specific issues that were framed by questions addressing the focus, locus and strategic interventions of American Studies conceptualized as Cultural Studies in and outside of Hungary: How is the field of cultural studies as a diverse and often contentious enterprise conceptualized in the context of American studies? What are the current questions we ask about American culture and what particular discourses do we use to avoid traditional disciplinary investments and exclusions? How do the perspectives of cultural studies affect our understanding of American culture to produce useful knowledge about our own culture, especially after Hungary’s historic entry into the European Union in May 2004? How can critical multiculturalism, helping underserved and/or underrepresented communities, be put into practice inside and outside the academia in the U.S.A.? What are the new classroom strategies to promote Cultural Studies? How can we utilize computer mediated learning and digital culture production in the teaching of American Studies in Hungary?
The papers and the interview in this special issue of AMERICANA are based on presentations selected from the Program of the 2004 HAAS Biennial Conference.
Virginia Dominguez’s essay explores three seemingly separate U.S. scholarly communities that make the study of culture central: Cultural Anthropology, U.S. American Studies and Cultural Studies. Based on the evidence drawn from newsletters and journals of professional associations, she explores and theorizes these changes as productive instabilities on the shifting landscape of social and cultural critique in the contemporary U.S.
Éva Federmayer’s interview with Jane Desmond helps chart the territory of Performance Studies. Expounding on her fascination with issues of embodiment and disembodiment, and the complex factors meshing to form racial, sexual, class and gender identities through representation and embodied practices in dance as well as in a broad range of public performances, Professor Desmond elaborates on how Performance Studies has been recently incorporated into American Studies and what special skills it takes to be a Performance Studies scholar.
Éva Szabó probes the impact of the massive and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, on America’s traditional Anglo-Protestant identity and cultural values by delving into Samuel Huntington’s 2001 book, Who Are We?, and its Latino reception. She contends that the basic anti-immigrant and anti-Latino claim, as illustrated by the Huntington book, is ethnocultural by nature, mainstream America experiencing Latino “difference” as an immigrant integration crisis.
Judit Kádár’s essay outlines some of the possible interdisciplinary perspectives in U.S. and Canadian culture studies that could help students familiarize themselves not only with these cultures but with their own socio-cultural environments as well.
Mónika Fodor interviewed Hungarian Americans in Iowa City, Iowa. Her ethnographic research probes meanings of Hungarianness that she puts in a larger conceptual framework of ethno-cultural identity.
Erzsébet Barát teases out the various positions of current Hungarian print journalism on hate speech that have invariably addressed the U.S. debate on regulating speech ‘behavior’ in the 1990s. She pinpoints entrenched Hungarian homophobia in reinforcing the double standard of silencing: the unwillingness to regulate hate speech and the approval of sanctioning among the public.
Zoltán Kövecses shows that metaphor is a potentially important tool in the study of American culture by introducing two notions related to metaphor that seem to him to be especially promising: dimensions of metaphor variation and metaphoric frames of experience. The usefulness of the former is in revealing distinct patterns of thought within American culture and society, whereas the main value of the latter is in reflecting alternative ways of seeing the “same thing.”
Ágnes Zsófia Kovács’s paper explores aspects of the most recent James scholarship with an eye to how current concerns with gender and performance are brought to bear on his recanonization. She examines Colm Tóibín’s The Master (2004), claiming that this novel reenacts Leon Edel’s biography of Henry James.
Péter Gaál Szabó focuses on spatial settings to explore how the female body is produced in hegemonic masculine social space—in both its public and private spheres in Zora Neale Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Their Eyes Were Watching God. No matter how free and nomadic the female characters seem to be when outside the home and masculine space, their stance, he claims, remains intelligible in the function of transparent, oppressive space.