Leopold Lippert: Performing America Abroad

In “Performing America Abroad,” I want to examine how ‘America,’ as a cultural concept, as a “place in the mind” (Richard Brautigan) rather than a physical space, is enacted abroad, outside the immediate sociopolitical domain of the United States. Focusing on the performance of ‘America’ in Austria, my study attempts to unearth the various ways in which contemporary ‘Americanness’ functions on a global stage. My dissertation will analyze the transatlantic workings of U.S. cultural practice in Austria from the end of the Cold War to the present moment and will engage in a post-national endeavor to address the question of ‘America’. “Performing America Abroad,” therefore, aims at both constructing a general theory of global cultural flows and applying that theory to the local and historical specificities of contemporary Austria.

Performance, and its critical apparatus, will serve as a crucial methodological tool to better understand the citations and alterations, the iterations and innovations, the transitions, translations, and substitutions of American culture in a global context. Studying how Americanness is acted out on the Austrian cultural stage, my dissertation taps into embodied instead of textual archives of culture. These archives of performances, or scenarios, produce mnemonic repositories of behavior which are restored in local ‘Austrian’ circumstances, haunted by its transnational predecessors yet always negotiated anew.

My study promotes a somewhat comprehensive understanding of culture and cultural practice, including both the improvised customs of everyday life and the highly formalized and digitalized expressions of television and Internet culture. I want to focus, then, on four representative scenarios of ‘Americanness’ in contemporary Austrian cultural practice. These scenarios include the playing Indian in Austria, as it is done successfully, for instance, by the well-known Austrian singer Waterloo; the mundane performance of everyday eating in Austria in seemingly ‘American’ food chains such as McDonald’s or Starbucks; the performance of Austrian sexuality through ‘Americanized’ cultural channels, such as the Regenbogenparade or Judy Garland’s song “Somewhere over the Rainbow”; and, finally, several highly stylized theatrical performances of Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller’s critical examination of ‘American’ capitalism and consumerism, in Vienna in the midst and aftermath of a global economic crisis.

(University of Vienna)