Susanne Hamscha: The Fiction of America

In my dissertation, I analyze how American culture is performatively constituted through the replication of certain ideas, images, symbols, and myths, which I will subsume under the term “cultural imaginary.” Through juxtaposed readings of classics of American literature and recent films and twentieth-century pop culture phenomena, I intend to show that the performance of the cultural imaginary constructs – and at the same time also always deconstructs – the notion of “Americanness” and the illusion of a homogenous American culture. Performance, which, as David Rom├ín suggests in Performance in America, “critically reinvents what is meant by ‘America’,” provides the methodological lens that enables me to read “America” as a practice, as a concept that is constituted by performative acts. I therefore understand America as something that is done rather than as something that just is.

In order to locate the “Americanness” of American culture, I will follow Jean Baudrillard’s advice and “enter the fiction of America” in the double sense of this phrase: I will enter America as fiction, as an imaginary concept, by entering it through fiction. My joint readings of, for instance, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” and the animated film Finding Nemo, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter and Madonna’s music videos, will lay bare the basic principles and strategies employed in the consolidation of a seemingly unified American culture – a project that is constantly failing and culminates in disruptive, queer moments which expose American culture as highly ambivalent, paradoxical, and fraught with tension.

(Graduate School of North American Studies, FU Berlin)