Florian Andrei Vlad holds an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Heidelberg and a Ph.D. from “Ovidius” University, Constanta, in whose Faculty of Letters he has been teaching British and American literature for some time now. His first book-length volume on American fiction, based on his Heidelberg MA thesis, Fictional Americas at War, was published in 2006. After defending his PhD thesis, New Flesh, Old Demons…, on representations of contamination in American literature, he went on to co-author a book on British literature - British Gothic and Its Travelling Companions - and one on American 19th century: Literary Selves and Identity Narratives in the First American Century. After Rewriting of the American Culturescape, his current book-length projects focus on 20th century British and American poetry, and a volume dedicated to the American poet John P.Quinn.
PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS/ 7
INTRODUCTION / 17
KURT VONNEGUT /25
Between Junior and Ishmael /25
Engaging with the space odyssey and world history: The Sirens of Titan/ 31
Mother Night: drawing the line between good and evil /40
The San Lorenzan ice-nine crisis: Cat’s Cradle/ 50
Eliot’s version of the affluent society: God Bless You Mr Rosewater/ 60
Wars and children’s crusades: Slaughterhouse-Five
Works cited/ 70
JOHN UPDIKE/ 91
The defining features of the Rabbitscape /91
Running from gray to red: the early Rabbit novels (Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux)/ 95
The joys and sorrows of affluent society in the late Rabbit novels/ 110
The new, post- 9/11, post-Rabbit prospects /124
PHILIP ROTH / 141
The art of maturity /141
The art of playing with immaturity: Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint / 143
Refashioning the American culturescape in Roth’s American Trilogy (American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, and The Human Stain)/ 162
Exploring the heart of darkness of the American culturescape: The Plot Against America /172
Works cited / 186
Coordinates: from possibilities to achievements/ 189
Looking for the recipe of the American novel (from Americana to Great Jones Street)/ 191
Three artistic stepping stones (Ratner’s Star, Players, Running Dog) and White Noise/ 206
Fictional Americas from Kennedy to the post – Cold War age: Libra, Underworld/ 215
Voices animating the post - 9/11 American culturescape: Falling Man/ 231
Works cited /241
The title of this book features a concept, culturescape, which is obviously derived from a major attempt at grasping the defining characteristics of what Arjun Appadurai calls the combined effect of two distinct processes in the shaping of an increasingly global cultural economy. The title of Appadurai’s essay, featuring in his seminal work, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, brings the two processes together: “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.”
In order to capture the bewildering complexity of these “disjunctive” and “differential” cultural processes, Appadurai develops his theory of the interaction of the five types of cultural flows, seen not as entities in dichotomic, oppositional relations, but as flows linked to perspectives or vistas, as a sort of perspectival landscapes, hence their names. The five perspectival flows are the mediascapes, the technoscapes, the ethnoscapes, the financescapes, the ideoscapes, thus briefly defined by the above-mentioned sociologist:
These landscapes thus are the building blocks of what (extending Benedict Anderson) I would like to call imagined worlds, that is, the multiple worlds that are constituted by the historically situated imaginations of persons and groups spread around the globe (Appadurai 97).
Today’s definitions of culture in a broad sense therefore include the technoscapes and the financescapes, as well as the more “traditionally cultural” ideoscapes, ethnoscapes, and mediascapes. The last three, more than the first two, are important in this volume’s understanding of American culture and American identity as part of an ongoing set of perspectival flows, whose dynamism and vitality defy most attempts at capturing the processes. If Appadurai refers to the five components of the global configuration of cultural flows, why shouldn’t one feel tempted to go one step further, and call the whole lot “culturescape”? What is more, “American culturescape” would define the many-sidedness and the dynamic complexity of ever changing configurations, while also placing American culture, now in a transnational age, in a global context.
Therefore, the phrase “American culturescape” will be used to define the complex cultural work that a variety of actors will contribute to in the age under consideration, in connection with a number of American prose writers, part of a more comprehensive panorama. These writers, like arguably all authors, participate in a permanent process of rewriting. Consequently, all writers will be considered, no offense meant, rewriters, even if justifiably priding themselves on being original creators.
This volume, like any similar project, naturally comes from something which precedes it, as well as something larger that it is only meant to be a part of, which largely explains its obvious imperfections and incompletion. The former drift has to do with expanding and deepening previous attempts, the latter with fitting this text and articulating it into something more comprehensive.
Both directions, at a more general level, illustrate a permanent preoccupation with illustrations of what has been defined as the American culturescape, a concept which will be further clarified, then used in the slender body of this book. The usefulness of its special meaning is, once again, totally due to “the inventor” of its five components, its “scapes,” for reasons and clarifications already sketched, to be subsequently completed.
The former direction, the expansion of previous work, is linked to a couple of book-length attempts at engaging with American literature in significant cultural contexts, which are likely to give it more than the status of a body of texts to be read and enjoyed by those particularly interested in a special realm untainted by power and ideology. This obviously is in line with decades-long developments in both literary studies in general, with American studies as an interdisciplinary field in this particular case.
This direction was mainly initiated by the author of these lines in a graduation dissertation under the supervision of Professor Remus Bejan. Grateful acknowledgements to him as well as to a series of other distinguished academics, both at Ovidius and abroad, have to be added. That dissertation on Kurt Vonnegut earned me a BA from Ovidius University at the beginning of the current millennium.
An MA at the prestigious Heidelberg Center for American Studies allowed me to take the next step, while adopting the latter direction, expanding and extending the initial scope. This included an examination of the focus of my former drift, having to do with Kurt Vonnegut.
Vonnegut’s work was now placed within a larger ideological framework, dealing with warist discourse. It had to do with the connection between relevant fictional work and American ideology in the 20th century as found in a number of influential novelists, such apparently “tough guys” as Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer, claiming to say a farewell to arms, while glamorizing war in their specific ways. Those who professedly illustrated the opposite attitude were Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller.
For the invaluable advice toward an inclusion of history politics, sociology in the interpretation of literary discourse as part of a prevailing all encompassing discourse, special thanks are due to Professors Dieter Schulz from the Board of Directors and Professor Philip Gassert, managing director of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies.
The latter supervised my MA dissertation, while both gave me advice and graded it. I am grateful to them for the appreciations and positive remarks that encouraged me to have that Heidelberg dissertation completed, favorably graded and then published.
So far, it had been the supervision and advice of male academics and a preoccupation with the work of white male novelists, a tendency which is bound to be seen as fraught with difficulties. In a very sensitive multicultural environment in which, as a natural consequence of previous centuries-long undemocratic developments maintaining inequality, political correctness and identity politics are very important coordinates, writing a whole volume about several white male fiction writers may be seen with more than suspicion. One excuse that I can attempt to plead is that Fictional Americas at War exposes instances of warist discourse, and men more than women are guilty of promoting and perpetuating it. However, men are also important in challenging patriarchy and its discourses.
Thus, one can see Vonnegut and other male writers on the “right side.” A good illustration has to do with the woman to whom Vonnegut dedicates his Slaughterhouse-Five, Mary V. O’Hare. Mary reproaches male writers and filmmakers dealing with war for promoting patriarchal, warist discourse that extols masculinity and violence. In response to that, Vonnegut tried hard and succeeded in creating a failure. It was the failure of writing a book about war heroes and warist ideology, while also a tremendous literary success. In addition to that book, Slaughterhouse-Five, his whole work features a critical engagement with masculinity within the all-encompassing patriarchal discourse.
As succinctly as I may have tried to keep a justification of the paths leading to the writing of this book, important episodes are yet to come. Far from the least significant is the project supervised and coordinated by an outstanding academic whose contribution to this particular academic journey and to the development of American studies at Ovidius as well as in Romania and in Europe is to be duly acknowledged. This is Professor Adina Ciugureanu, currently the Treasurer of the European Association of American Studies. Professor Ciugureanu also served two terms as President of the Romanian Association of American Studies, a major role among several other ones that she brilliantly performed.
The project is my doctoral dissertation, focused on representations of contamination, plague, pestilence as important components of the Gothic dimension of American culture. The name of that dissertation is terribly and horribly Gothic: New Flesh, Old Demons: Representing Plague and Pestilence in Post- Cold War American Culture. This project brought together even more closely, although they had been reasonably interwoven beforehand, the above-mentioned two drifts or two tendencies, with a more general attempt at defining the dynamic configurations of an ever developing American culturescape in which, arguably, the Gothic dimension of stark contrasts and ominous presences contribute to the rewriting of the original, rational narrative promoted by a series of historians and politicians from the founding fathers onward. It was an engagement with the complexity and challenges of dealing with definitions of American identity and American culture in an age in which the pillars of American Exceptionalism have been critically reexamined by a long series of scholars.
The next book-length project, the most comprehensive until then, was co-authored with an academic with whom I was quite naturally (in a Freudian way, of course) to take issue and to engage in arguments, which, in the long run, led to positive results. Literary Selves and Grand Narratives in the First American Century provoked me to work and critically respond to the ideas of the other co-author, Professor Eduard Vlad, with whom I share a surname and a patriarchal tradition that has to be tamed in this day and age, so to speak. That book further enlarged the scope, introducing more theoretical aspects of individual and group identity, with constructions of American identity in the 19th century providing the basis for an examination of what was there called, arguably, “the first American Century.”
Rewriting the American Culturescape takes previous directions, while focusing on a limited group of post-war and contemporary American authors. It is part of a more comprehensive project, yet to come, encompassing the diversity of what has been called here the American culturescape, placing, in their dynamic interaction, authors coming from different ethnic groups and cultural backgrounds. For the time being, for the sake of clarity, the volume, again, focuses on four white male writers, which, in addition to Vonnegut, includes John Updike, Philip Roth, Don LeLillo. What is “worse,” someone might note and notice, they have all achieved a great deal of canonical prominence. That was the very point, or one of the main points, for which they were selected to represent this first section of a more comprehensive project.
As the initial American culturescape was sketched, since colonial times, but especially since July 4th – July 6th, 1776, when a new nation was “invented” by the patriarchal Founding Fathers and well into the 20th century, a prevailing narrative of American Exceptionalism featuring a coherent story moved by mainstream individualism and the pioneer spirit was promoted.
The coherence of this story, however, depending on the cultural dimension of a rising national identity, is complicated, as Anderson claims in his book on how communities are discursively imagined, by love, fear and loathing, with its roots in “fear and hatred of the Other”(Anderson 141). Any culturescape, however much it may be based on the Enlightenment discourse of freedom, progress and emancipation, with America as no exception, has therefore tried to define its “luminous core” in opposition to the Other as well, thus including in itself its own dark unconscious, its heart of darkness, where the voices of alterity were kept silent for a long while.
The four male writers in this volume, apart from what had been in the past oppressed, silenced, marginalized voices gradually rising into a more comprehensive American culturescape, significantly contributed to the rewriting of a previously mainstream, united-we-stand American identity, in which the American Dream had provided the main impetus, in which Americanism had become a prevailing ideology. Let the other voices complete the patchwork-quilt picture of a diverse, yet very vital culturescape, in parallel and further work by the many scholars of various backgrounds and orientations that pay attention to it, in attempts at revealing contributions to a major polyphonic endeavor.
Among these voices, my last acknowledgements, gratitude and appreciation go to the whole Ovidius team that keeps American studies moving within the Romanian and European community of like-minded scholars, with the RAAS board members in particular, with everybody else in general, creating a spirit of emulation that is part and parcel of academic life in any institution worth functioning in the brave new world of entrepreneurship and facts, facts, facts first, with cultural interpretation last determining the global Zeitgeist.