Mlk, Jr.: Ambiguous and Contested Icon

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Quendler, Christian

Markers of Makers:

Authorial Self-Fashioning in the American novel

A curious relation characterizes authors and their works. Authors usually gain renown through their works and are correspondingly framed as "the author of . . ." Their works, in turn, are often referred to by their author's name, as it is the case, when we say "I'm reading James" rather than "I'm reading What Maisie Knew". The name of the author thereby becomes a shorthand reference that, like a general title, stands for the author's complete oeuvre.

Taking this metonymical relation that identifies the text with its writer and vice versa as my starting point, I will examine the making of an author as a textual production. For example, the fact that the name of the author was frequently omitted on title pages of early American novels reflects the low social prestige attributed to writers of fiction as much as it indicates that fiction was a domain largely controlled by printers and publishers. The suppression of the author's name also reveals something about the conception of authorship and the aesthetics of the period. In contrast to the later romantic era, authors of the Early Republic were not so much regarded as creators of fictional worlds but rather as compilers of allegedly factual material.

In this paper I set out to explore textual strategies of fashioning authorship in the history of the American novel. I will examine how novelists are framed in and through their works and spell out some of their social, economic and aesthetic implications. More specifically, I will analyze framings that occur in the paratextual apparatus (e.g. covers, titlepages, frontispieces, prefaces, etc.) and at the beginning of the main text (e.g. metafictional statements that differentiate between an author persona and a narrating figure).

Ratner-Rosenhagen, Jennifer

Conventional Iconoclasm: The Iconography of Genius and Madness in American Life“

This paper will explore elements of the iconography of genius in twentieth- century American life. The trope of the creative genius as madman (or woman) has had a long and vibrant career in Western thought, and this connection between the life of the mind and mental and emotional instability continues to figure prominently in American culture. In America, treatments on Beethoven, Van Gogh, and Sylvia Plath, to name a few, tend to celebrate this image of the artist-intellectual who is willing to forsake his or her health and well-being in the pursuit of knowledge, aesthetic purity, and higher ideals. However, as I will argue, what also is emphasized in the American iconography of genius is the heroic image of genius as one who dispenses with the tepid aesthetics and the intellectual timidity of the crowd. What is exalted above all is not so much the thinker’s ideas or the artist’s new poetic vision, but rather, his rejection of inherited truth and canonical forms. From books, to movies, to magazine articles, the image which is most celebrated is the radical intellectual as destroyer of tradition, debunker of myth, and critic of custom. Put simply, the image of the mad genius as a critic of convention has itself become a conventional trope in American culture.

The aim of this paper is to examine the linkage between madness and genius, and genius and iconoclasm, by focusing on the American iconography of Friedrich Nietzsche. The interest in and uses of Friedrich Nietzsche’s image and ideas in twentieth-century American thought and culture traversed the borders between professional intellectuals, middlebrow readers, and even popular culture. To Nietzsche’s American readers, he exemplified the self endowed with an oversized capacity for creating, willing, feeling, and suffering. Though the multiple meanings of his thought and his person are varied and complex, common to most Nietzsche discourse is his monomaniacal dedication of all his life’s energies to challenge cultural conventions. By exploring both the construction and cultural work of the Nietzsche trope, I aim to examine the contours and function of the iconography of genius.

Regalado, Aldo J.
Never-Ending Battles:

The Contested Meanings of Superman

Clad in patriotic colors, flying across star-spangled backdrops, and never wavering from his mission to fight for “truth, justice, and the American way,” the iconic comic book character of Superman is usually perceived as an embodiment of America’s hegemonic power in the world. Understood in a historical context, however, Superman emerges as a more complex figure, the meanings of which are constantly evolving as he is employed by competing cultural voices in broader cultural debates over the nature of American national identity.

This paper attempts to more fully understand the formation and meaning of this American cultural icon as it developed over time. Starting with Superman’s first appearance in 1939, this paper returns the “Man of Steel” to his Great Depression roots, where he initially manifested as an expression of anti-modern sentiment, railing against the capitalist foundations of American society, and challenging earlier heroic models that argued for the inherent superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race. The paper then proceeds to examine the ways in which Superman’s unparalleled success, coupled with America’s wartime needs, resulted in the character’s more familiar lineaments, as he was co-opted into a more mainstream national discourse. Finally, this paper reveals the ways in which comic book creators since the 1960s have parodied, attacked, appropriated, or otherwise employed Superman’s more mainstream image in the crafting of narratives that often question the use of American power both at home and abroad.

By examining the historical development of Superman, I argue that icons should not be understood in isolation, but rather in relation to other signs and signifiers appearing both in comic book fiction and in the culture more broadly. Furthermore, I hope to demonstrate that the meanings of popular culture icons are not static, but rather constantly in flux, as producers, creators, and audiences interact both within and without the marketplace, appropriating, re-appropriating, defining, and redefining these signifiers in attempts to navigate social and cultural discourse and to articulate national and individual identities.

Reiter, Roland

“The Beatles Conquer America”: Mass Media, Image and ‘Instant Stardom’

As pointed out by Simon Frith, “all entertainment businesses are organized around the idea of stardom.” While the mass media had always been crucial in establishing ‘stars’ in popular music, from Benny Goodman to Elvis Presley, the media hype surrounding the Beatles’ first visit to the United States set new standards as to the promotion of musical entertainers.

According to official Beatles lore, the group was quite surprised by their instant fame and popularity in the States. In fact, however, the band’s first U.S. tour was a carefully planned and executed publicity campaign, designed to attract and enthuse a mass audience via numerous media channels. While Capitol Records poured $40,000 into a promotion campaign for Beatles records, the band’s appearance at press conferences, on radio programs, television shows, and on stage shaped the public perception of the Beatles that is still prevailing today. Moreover, the media coverage of the Beatles’ first U.S. visit lastingly shaped the image of the band as a key icon of the 1960s.

In my presentation, I will identify and analyze the rhetoric of stardom in the media coverage of the Beatles’ first U.S. visit. More specifically, I want to show how a particular representation of the Beatles and their alleged “conquest” of the United States have become ‘naturalized’ by a general audience.

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