Volume VII, Number 2, Fall 2011

Introduction by Gabriella Varró and Zoltán Simon

Gabriella Varró is currently Associate Professor at the North American Department of the University of Debrecen, Hungary. She teaches courses in American drama history, comparative drama studies, American popular culture, and American literary history. Her research pertains to contemporary American drama with a special emphasis on the relevance of Sam Shepard for American drama and theater history, and is currently working on a monograph related to the field. She has published widely on American blackface minstrelsy, and on modern American drama from a comparative perspective. She is author or co-author of two monographs: Signifying in Blackface: The Pursuit of the Minstrel Sign in American Literature (2008), and Jim Crow örökösei: Mítosz és sztereotípia az amerikai társadalmi tudatban és kultúrában [The Heirs of Jim Crow: Myth and Stereotype in American Social Consciousness and Culture] (2002). Email:

Zoltán Simon received his Ph.D. from Texas Christian University in 2001. After spending a semester teaching as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Michigan State University in 2010, he returned to work as an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Debrecen. Areas of his academic interests include (North) American literature and civilization, the relationship between technology and culture, English for special purposes, as well as translation and interpreting studies. He is the author of several articles, as well as a book, The Double-Edged Sword: The Technological Sublime in American Novels between 1900 and 1940 (2004). Email:

The previous issue of AMERICANA (Volume VII, Number 1), published in Spring 2011, guest edited by Gabriella Varró and Lenke Németh, was the first proceedings volume of the 8th Biennial Conference of the Hungarian Association for American Studies (HAAS 8), held in Debrecen, Hungary, in November 2010. That issue collected seven articles based on papers originally presented at the conference, as well as two other essays closely aligned with them thematically, as identified and captured by the editors in the phrase “narrating cultural identity.” Instead of putting out three issues based on papers presented at HAAS 8, as originally envisioned, the decision was made to bring the proceedings to full circle now, still within a year of the conference, resulting in the present, rather “bulky” (as far as this phrase is meaningful in the context of an e-journal) issue. As a necessity, the 17 papers that follow are more heterogeneous, addressing a smorgasbord of topics that nevertheless, when taken collectively, well represent the diversity of responses to the changing social, cultural and literary landscape, with the North American continent in the focus.

“Images of America,” the broader theme of HAAS 8, was approached by authors from many different angles, such as politics, society or (popular) culture, to mention just a few. This issue opens with Professor Marius Jucan’s essay, exploring anti-Americanism in Europe during the decade that elapsed since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in a broader historical context, tracing this phenomenon all the way back to the American Revolution. As Jucan argues, while it is difficult to define it as a concept, anti-Americanism has melted down in a challenging emotional attitude accusing American domestic and/or global policies seen to be in utter disagreement with American idealism or revolutionary tradition. The paper examines the major changes occurring in the European social imaginary following the collapse of communism, the European enlargement and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and attempt to interpret the consequences of anti-Americanism in present-day Europe. “’Interested’ versus ‘Disinterested’: or, Can Iconic Signifiers be ‘Innocent’?” by Professor Zsolt Virágos, looks at how the ideological dimension—the “interested” counterpart of the “historically blind” and of the “disinterested”—is inscribed in certain forms of myth and how ideology is transformed and packaged (“mythicized,” ”M2-ed”) to become suited to generating images and iconographic configurations of different orders of magnitude, with these latter serving as résumés of particular ideological priorities. The rationale for the existence of “certain forms,” i.e., different orders of myth is the fact that myth per se is far from being a monolithic substance, and the different incarnations of myth can be grasped only through different explanations and definitions. Three M-coded versions of myth are distinguished, of which M2 (as opposed to M1 and M3) is considered and accepted as a self-justifying, self-legitimizing—thus ideologized—variant. Thus whenever the examination of the degree of the ideologization (“interestedness”) of a given iconographic configuration is attempted, it is necessary to look at the particular M-coded source, from which—through transactions of iconicity—the image in question is ultimately derived. The essay also discusses related phenomena such as in-group versus out-group dichotomies, we-ness versus they-ness oppositions, the tripartite structure (ideology, M2, iconic manifestation) of the “packaging” and promulgating sequence, etc. A separate final subchapter discusses the nature of the patriotic agenda of the advocates of the myth-symbol school of the nativistic brand of American myth criticism in the post-World War decades. Framed by Cultural Studies, “Hegemonic Masculinity Affirmed: Representations of Gender in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” by Irén Annus focuses on one of the most popular US makeover series, Queer Eye, mapping the various ways in which the show marginalizes the agency of the domestic goddess as well as subverts hetero-normative masculinity, ultimately assigning a position of authority for the gay in terms of lifestyle replete with the cultural capital this entails  and thus bringing about gay fame.

Taking its cues from the election of the first black president, several papers at the conference dealt with the “Obama phenomenon” from a variety of perspectives, including language, history, race, communication, and even popular culture. Sándor Czeglédi in “Obama and Language: Language Policy Areas and Goals in Presidential Communication” aims to highlight the most salient language policy issues that appeared in President Obama’s public messages, statements, speeches, and news conference remarks during his first year in office. He concludes that there is strong executive support behind the implementation of Plain English policies and the improvement of foreign language skills in the defense establishment, but despite the rhetoric, minority languages are predominantly treated as “problem” at the level of substantive policies. In “The Portrait of a First Lady: Michelle Obama as an Icon of American History” Dorottya Sziszkoszné Halász concentrates on the First Lady, placing the story of Michelle Obama in a historical perspective to serve as a point of departure to describe the many facets of her identity and to explain her success and popularity. In her essay, the author argues that the First Lady is depicted as an iconic representative of American (social) history. In a fascinating exploration of the interface between politics and popular culture, Károly Pintér explores the potential impact of the TV show 24 and its featuring of a fictitious African-American president on the successful presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008. “Presidential Images: African-American Presidents in the Television Series 24 and Barack Obama’s Election Victory” argues that the presentation of a morally upright and very impressive black presidential character for several seasons may have paved the way for Obama’s acceptance among the majority white audience in the US.

Quite a few papers at HAAS 8 approached literary texts and their respective national iconography through the lens of history. We have selected three papers for publication in this volume that reflect the wealth of the research pertaining to our conference’s leitmotif, “Images of America,” as grasped in writings at the crossroads of literature and history. Professor Robert E. Bieder in his “From Henry David Thoreau to John Muir: Changes in Nineteenth-Century American Conceptions of the Environment” brings together writing on environmental preservation by John Muir and Henry David Thoreau’s philosophically charged masterpiece, Walden. Nature was an integral part of the lives of both and they wrote extensively on this subject, but while Thoreau was little known in his own time beyond a small circle of friends in Concord, Massachusetts, Muir acquired a national and even international reputation as a nature writer and spokesman for preservation. Bieder’s study seeks rationalization for the wide discrepancy between Muir’s and Thoreau’s reception and the changes in America’s thinking about nature in the second half of the 19th century. Krisztina Lajterné Kovács’s “Authoress and Businesswoman: Success, Money and Gender in Gone with the Wind” proposes to explore the possibilities of a woman entering the stereotypically male domain of business life, and investigates how Mitchell’s perspective on the issue was shaped by the context she lived and worked in. As she argues, the novel is seemingly a compendium of social, mythical and gender stereotypes, yet these became challenged by their very conspicuousness. “The Carnivalesque Image of America in the Different Versions of Chicago” by Zsófia Anna Tóth examines how and why Chicago produces and presents a carnivalesque image of the United States in its varied reinterpretations of two infamous real-life murder cases from the 1920s. As she argues, in its various versions, this story creates a comic-grotesque image of the USA and this most explicitly gets realized through the actions and performances of the carnivalesque femmes fatales.

Many papers at the conference highlighted American icons and iconography as envisioned in various literary genres. Katalin Szlukovényi’s “Irony and Self in Bernard Malamud’s ‘Angel Levine’” provides a close reading of the short story with a focus on irony. Since irony has a long and varied history in the fields of philosophy and literature, the author illustrates that Malamud’s text is rich in irony according to each of the most fundamental definitions of the term. “Alice Munro’s Canadian Gothic: An Ill-Fitting Spatial Gothic Paradigm?” by Andrea Szabó F., at the intersections of Gothic, Cultural, and Literary Studies, explores why the critical paradigms of the Canadian Gothic and the female gothic provide only partial insights into Alice Munro’s fiction of the 1990s. With reference to two short stories in Open Secrets, it argues that Munro’s fiction problematizes issues that cannot be compartmentalized into spatial gothic studies as defined by its premises today. Eric Weitz’s study entitled “Playing with the Rules: Thoughts on a Trickster Spirit and the Soul of Comedy” stands alone in this compilation to represent the drama section of our past HAAS conference. His paper supplies some problematization of the study of mythical trickster figures from a humor-studies perspective. It then tracks the trickster figure into dramatic domains, ending with a few examples of trickster-like presences in recent American drama.

Our next two contributors represent the wealth and depth of studies honoring the 70th birthday of the prominent scholar, distinguished professor and former rector of the University of Debrecen, Zoltán Abádi-Nagy. HAAS 8 celebrated the anniversary by organizing a panel of speakers (comprising former students and distinguished colleagues) with the title “Culture/Narrative Interface.” The papers selected from the panel illustrate the diverse directions in scholarship that Professor Abádi-Nagy, the eminent scholar stimulated and inspired. Professor Enikő Bollobás in her “Tropes of Intersubjectivity Metalepsis and Rhizome in the Novels of H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)” explores metalepsis and rhizome as the tropes of intersubjectivity in H.D.’s prose texts (Asphodel, HERmione, Palimpsest, The Gift, Tribute to Freud), claiming not only that these texts are about forms of relatedness, but that plot is generated by the narrativity of two recurring tropes, metalepsis and rhizome (itself created by metalepses). In these texts coded by early feminism and early psychoanalysis, the self—through its metaleptic transfers to various rhizomatic planes—is narrativized as multiple, retaining subject positions in diverse alliances. Metalepsis and rhizome will be explored as elements of the rhetoric of an alliance-based self, contributing to the construction of an inclusive subjectivity and of an acentered system of the unconscious. Another contribution representing this distinguished section of the conference is by István D. Rácz. His “Masks and Narratives: The Problem of Mask Lyrics” analyzes mask lyrics, as forms of poetry in which dramatization, the construction of masks, and narrativization play equally important roles. The essay interprets the term mask lyrics as both genre and method, the latter perceptible in the process of constructing a literary character as an actor in a narrative. Applying his own definition of “mask” as a principle in the process of identity construction, which creates a temporary, conscious and artificial unity between the implied poet (the internal self) and the actual author (the external self) to reading mask lyrics by both British and American poets, Rácz explores the paradox of temporality in a form that aims at subverting the story as a constituent of the text.

As the above selections demonstrate, the present volume provides a sample for the work of young scholars at the beginning of their scholarly career (doctoral students and young PhDs), as well as academics with a well-established record of scholarship This diversity is a traditional feature of American Studies conferences in Hungary, representing the vast range of research interests and the multiplicity of American Studies inside and outside of Hungary. It was the aim of this past HAAS conference as well to bring together young talents and established authorities within the discipline to engage them in stimulating professional debates and discussions. The present volume hopes to represent this scholarly openness, array of interests and range of talent.

Three essays in the volume come from outside of our past HAAS conference; these are by Willie J. Harrell, Jr., Zsófia Kulcsár; Alia Haddad. Willie J. Harrell Jr.’s “‘Sons of the Forest’: The Native American Jeremiad Materializes in the Social Protest Rhetoric of William Apess” explores the growth and development of the Native American Jeremiad in the early Republic. The author suggests that because of Euro-American colonization and imperialism, Apess stresses the complex relations among politics, rhetoric, and culture as seen through the Native American lenses in his works. Zsófia Kulcsár’s study analyzes the representations of Hillary Rodham Clinton. She examines the validity of the assumption of (popular cultural) post-feminism concerning the existence of gender equality in contemporary US society, demonstrating that, in contrast to what post-feminism claims, ’femininity’ or more precisely ‘feminine appearance’ can still be a hindering factor for female politicians. Alia Haddad’s “An American Take on Mythic Mexico and its Revolution in The Wild Bunch” examines Mexico’s portrayal in Sam Peckinpah’s famously violent Western, The Wild Bunch. In doing so, the paper not only offers different interpretations of the actual image of Mexico, but also suggests that Mexico provides an overall cultural allegory, standing in for the Vietnam War, thus providing a cultural critique of America during the time of filmmaking.

In closing, the guest editors of this issue would like to express their thanks to all the authors for their valuable contributions. Special thanks are due to colleagues in Hungary and around the world for devoting time and energy to reviewing papers submitted for publication in this issue. We further wish to express our gratitude to Réka M. Cristián and Zoltán Dragon, the editors-in-chief of AMERICANA at the University of Szeged, who recognized the significance of HAAS 8 for American Studies in Hungary, and agreed to provide a forum for the publication of selected papers in the e-journal of American Studies in Hungary.