Volume VIII, Number 2, Fall 2012

"Multidisciplinary Approaches to American literature, Philosophy, and Art" by Ágnes Zsófia Kovács

Ágnes Zsófia Kovács is associate professor at the Department of American Studies, University of Szeged, Hungary. Her areas of academic interest and teaching include late 19th-c. early 20th-c. American fiction and contemporary American fiction, versions of literary Modernism and Postmodernism, popular fiction, multicultural American identity prose, and theories of American Studies. Her current research into travel writing involves re-reading texts by Edith Wharton and Henry James as travel accounts. She has published two books, The Function of the Imagination in the Writings of Henry James (Mellen, 2006) and Literature in Context (Jate Press, 2010). Email:

This issue represents a range of multidisciplinary approaches to American literature, philosophy, and art. The articles themselves can be divided into two broad sections: the first cluster focuses on theoretical and methodological issues in the context of American fiction, while the second cluster discusses dilemmas at the intersection of philosophy, politics, and art. The articles in the sections are arranged in a roughly chronological order of their ‘object texts,’ their theoretical trajectories representing varied contemporary interests highlighted in this foreword.

Opening the discussion on ’literature,’ Gyula Somogyi traces the theoretical legacy of deconstruction in the borderline area of law and literature in Melville’s “Bartleby.” Somogyi argues that legal discourse is just as haunted by the figure of prosopopeia as its supplement, literature, and neither is able to solve the central mystery of the text. The next article is a creative example of the ways in which the representation of social problems during the turn of the century US can be rearticulated in terms of critical queer studies; Judit Szilák’s explains here the process of subjectivation and gender construction in Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers. The third article is Éva Federmayer’s account of Hungarian students’ reactions to Nella Larsen’s novels, especially Quicksand and Passing, a valuable piece of transnational American studies as seen from classroom practice in Hungary. Moving on to contemporary American fiction, László Sári B. discusses Palahniuk’s Fight Club from the perspective of literary technique. Here he proposes that we should not focus merely on the subversive social potential of the text and the issues of masculinity it raises, but consider its literary aspirations as well, placing the text in the Minimalist tradition. Next, Pramod K. Nayar’s essay examines how Michael Cunningham’s novel, Specimen Days (2006), plays on the theme of “home” and the “unhomely.” Both notions become increasingly unstable, as the “unhomely,” or the uncanny, plays an important role in making sense of “home” for the characters. Last but not least in this section, Laura Savu discusses poststructuralist intertexts of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot (2011), which offers a nuanced exploration of the lived experience of love, as well as of the various discourses emerging from it, ranging from literature and critical theory to issues related to philosophy and religion.

In the second group of essays readers will find accounts of a number of philosophical dilemmas, radical art poetics, and art history infused by problems of contemporary political values. Following chronology again, the section opens up with Gabriel Gerashim’s essay on versions of idealism in American political thought. He puts forward a working hypothesis of the distinction between two species of discursive idealism: substantive and rhetorical, and argues that the distinction between the two is proof of the manner in which American political discourse can be better understood and evaluated – all this in his analysis of the discourse of idealism in President Harrison’s inaugural address. Then, Ágnes Zsófia Kovács’s discussion of Edit Wharton’s sentimental aesthetic theory of visual arts in A Motor Flight Through France analyzes the catalogue of European cultural valuables in this travel book, which the author rereads as a theoretical treatise for conserving cultural value at a time which is intent on forgetting the past. Marius Jucan, in the next article, reconsiders the issues involved in Sontag’s essays on the radical art of the 1960s, focusing especially on the interplay of cultural and ideological fashions. In the last article of this issue, Péter Csató’s does a thorough account of Richard Rorty’s appropriation of the Derridean project of “overcoming” metaphysics and explains Rorty’s use of the rhetorical trope of circumvention.