Annotation: Paul Baepler’s “Introduction” to White Slaves, African Masters (1999)

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Baepler, Paul. “Introduction.” White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

In his introduction to White Slaves, African Masters Baepler directs our attention to the largely neglected genre of Barbary captivity narratives. While many today may be familiar with Mary Rowlandson’s tale of captivity among the “savage” Indians or Frederick Douglass’ famous slave narrative, stories about the seizure of American sailors, merchants, and women along the Barbary Coast have somehow been forgotten, relegated to distant memory. Baepler contends, however, that Barbary captivity played a significant role in shaping the early political policies of the new republic. For instance, it “forced the government to pay humiliating tributes in cash and military arms to African rulers, stimulated the drive to create the U.S. navy, and brought about the first postrevolutionary war” (2). These narratives also deeply influenced public imagination, providing many Americans with their first glimpses of the distant land of Africa, its culture and its people. Consequently, Baepler argues that by examining these once familiar stories, recognizing where they overlap and borrow from the tradition of Indian captivity and slave narratives, allows us to develop a more nuanced understanding of how racial categorization and perceptions of “otherness” developed in America. Perhaps one of the most fascinating qualities of these Barbary captivity narratives is their incredible diversity. The authors present a wide range of oftentimes-contradictory attitudes and perspectives, for example, using their experiences to critique as well as justify chattel slavery in America. But what I found most interesting and perhaps most relevant to my own interests, is the absence of any verifiable female accounts of barbary captivity. Baepler reveals that the two stories in the anthology purportedly written by women are most likely false. Yet, he asserts that the “existence of these ersatz accounts suggests that the demand for ‘true’ African captivity tales, particularly accounts of women in peril, outstripped their availability” (11). I would like to further explore the public fascination with “women in peril,” and particularly the differences between male and female accounts of barbary captivity. Whereas men often pictured themselves as laboring in a “communal space,” the few accounts we receive from females emphasize isolation and confinement (16). How do these disparities provide insight into attitudes towards women’s rights in early America and how are slavery and womanhood intertwined?

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Annotation: Cathy Davidson’s “Preface” and “Introduction” to Revolution and the Word (1986)

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Davidson, Cathy N. “Preface” and “Introduction: Toward a History of Texts.” Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. vii-xi, 3-14. Print.

In the “Preface” to Revolution and the Word Davidson outlines four revolutions she explores in her book. Aside from the obvious, America’s Revolutionary War, she also draws our attention to three “quiet revolutions,” namely; the “Industrial Revolution,” which led to the growth of cities and changed the social fabric of the new nation, a “reading revolution” facilitated by print technology and the genre of the novel, and a revolution occurring in universities today, one that challenges disciplinary boundaries and canonicity (vii). In discussing these various revolutions, Davidson makes a compelling case for the study of early American fiction and the novel in particular. While long neglected by scholars and academics, she claims that this field can shed light on our understanding of America’s early nationhood during a time when people were still struggling to define themselves as American. In her perspective, the novel was an “inchoate form appropriate for and correlative to a country first attempting to formulate itself” (14). Davidson discusses the various roles of the novel during the turbulent years of the early republic, for instance, as a tool for the education of women. But her most provocative argument asserts that the novel figured as a point of entry for marginalized peoples, allowing them to gain “access to social and political events from which many… would have been otherwise largely excluded” (10). In essence, the novel can be seen as a place where those barred from formal political participation, especially women, could be empowered, a fertile ground where authors and readers alike could imagine the enormous potential of the new nation. Yet, these works also represent the disjunction between reality and fiction, and thus expose “versions of emerging definitions of America—version that were, from the first, tinged with ambivalence and duplicity” (10). Consequently, Davidson’s analysis of the early American novel does not simply discuss the ways in which historical circumstance gave rise to these texts, but also provides a nuanced analysis of how these texts shaped and influenced their times.

Annotation: Gretchen Woertendyke’s “Romance to Novel” (2009)

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This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Looking Behind the Bedroom Door: Productive Sensationalism and Domestic Violence in Leonora Sansay’s Secret History.” See my prospectus here.

Woertendyke, Gretchen. “Romance to Novel: A Secret History.” Narrative 17:3 (2009): 255-73. Print.

In her article, Woertendyke asserts that Sansay’s Secret History stems from the 18th century British genre of the secret history with notable divergences. She explains that secret histories are Old World forms that connected tales of “political subterfuge, corruption and sexual scandal” to the private affairs and actions of political figures (260). Woertendyke provides Delariviere Manley’s The Secret History of Queen Zarah, and the Zaracines as one example of a secret history that introduces readers to “the uncomfortable intimacy between Queen Anne’s bedchamber and her governance of the nation,” where private and public history converge, mutually affecting and shaping each other (260). Woertendyke links Sansay’s Secret History with this tradition because of the author’s employment of real historical figures in the plot of her narrative and particularly, her bold confession that these letters are addressed to the former vice president Aaron Burr, a man who she had an actual affair with during her lifetime. Woertendyke critiques Dillon for analyzing Secret History as only a novel, insisting that Sansay deliberately compels readers to view her text as a “mixed genre” (257). Secret History calls attention to Sansay’s real sexual scandal with Burr as well as the real secret history of female oppression and exploitation often repressed beneath conventional conceptions of the Haitian revolution as a colonial race war. Woertendyke reveals that similar to Manley’s narrative, Secret History accentuates the intimate interrelations between the private and public sphere. She discusses how Clara’s body bears her private history of domestic abuse as well as the public history of colonization as General Rochambeau attempts to conquer her as well as the island, even imposing a trade embargo to prevent her escape. Woertendyke also notes that Sansay’s narrative diverges from the Old World form of secret history because of its “physical distance from a metropolitan center, and its temporal distance from the genre’s nearly comprehensive decline over half a century earlier”  (255). She emphasizes that Sansay’s broad geopolitical considerations offer readers a helpful transatlantic framework from which to consider the Haitian revolution. Woertendyke further suggests that temporally, Sansay’s Secret History introduces a new genre that conflates history and fiction in revealing ways. She, for example, narrates through the voice of two characters, Clara and Mary, to offer multiple perspectives on the various forms of oppression women face.

Like Dillon, Woertendyke concludes her essay asserting that the novel projects the possibility of realizing a feminist utopia in America but I would argue that Sansay’s ultimately resists such conceptions of a closed nation-state. I agree with Woertendyke that the historical allusions and references within the narrative compel an analysis of Secret History as something more than just fiction. She also touches on how Sansay depicts women committing extreme acts of violence against one other but I intend to elaborate on this point further in my own paper.

Annotation: Bruce Sterling’s “Slipstream”

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This annotation is for a paper I am currently writing for my ENGL 391W course at Queens College on Science Fiction. I will be conducting an analysis of the science fictional and magical realist elements in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and the novel’s implications on contemporary discourses about globalization. See my prospectus here.

Sterling, Bruce. “Slipstream.” www.eff.org, n.d. Web. 4 April 2010.

In this article Sterling discusses the supposed “death” of science fiction in contemporary society, claiming that while SF used to offer “some kind of coherent social vision” and resonated with what was “actually ‘happening,’… in the popular imagination,” today it is essentially devoid of meaning. He denounces what SF has become, “a self-perpetuating commercial power-structure” that capitalizes on “category marking” and the confidence of having its own prescribed “bookstore rackspace.” Although Sterling’s tone is perhaps too glib and undermines the work of contemporary SF authors, he does point to a significant shift in public attitudes away from traditional science fiction texts to those that occupy a strange in-between space, “writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel.” Sterling labels these works as “slipstream,” a body of literature with its own unique characteristics that, he claims, are “essentially alien to… SF’s intrinsic virtues.” Throughout the article Sterling attempts to identify what the specific qualities of slipstream may be, but the closest he comes to a definition is the assertion: “It seems to me that the heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against ‘reality.’ These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are ‘futuristic’ or ‘beyond the fields we know. These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of ‘everyday life.’” By demonstrating how slipstream involves a different kind of fantasy making, one that is inextricably intertwined with mundane, “everyday life,” Sterling proposes an interesting lens for me to examine Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. In addition to analyzing the text as a representative of slipstream fiction, I want to demonstrate how its structural and stylistic intertwining of the bizarre and the mundane also serves as a commentary on the blurring of bodies and boundaries in globalization.

Annotation: Soo-Young Chin’s “Asian American Cultural Production” (2000)

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Chin, Soo-Young, Feng, Peter X, and Lee Josephine. “Asian American Cultural Production.” Journal of Asian American Studies 3.3 (2000): 298-282. Print.

Written as an introduction to the journal in 2000, the writers examine the proliferation of discourse around “Asian American cultural production” as a means of re-visioning understandings of ‘culture’ within Asian American Studies.  Temporally, this essay is positioned not only at the turn of the millennium, but also as a middle point between Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts and Kandice Chuh’s Imagine Otherwise.  Consequently, this piece offers an astute analysis of the distinct linkage between “Asian American” and “cultural production” and affords the possibility of extending upon as well as highlighting the limits of both theoretical frameworks.

Framing ‘culture’ within the discourse of cultural nationalism in Asian American Studies, the writers highlight the three forms in which ‘culture’ now manifest: (1) intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development; (2) idea about a way of life; and, (3) intellectual and aesthetic activity (271).  Asian American culture, the writers argue, is “inherently activist” (271) given its emergence as resistance against dominant images perpetuated by the hegemonic culture, which possesses representational power.  Thus, discourses around Asian American culture must always address the relationship to this history of activism.  Cultural nationalism was useful in fostering “what [Chele] Sandoval terms an oppositional consciousness” (271; emphasis added) and building a collective political identity.  Furthermore, it beckoned an examination of the everyday in a site of creating Asian American culture and also a site in which problematic ideologies are exposed.

In the debate surrounding ‘culture,’ the writers point to continuing tensions between those with a more theoretical basis in striving for disciplinary legitimacy and academic recognition and those who stress the need to connect act with goals of social activism.  Asian American culture must then negotiate these multiple visions in order to establish the connection between the aesthetic and political that is necessary to effect social change.  The section “The Social Imaginary: Toward a Theory of Cultural Production and Consumption” is particularly apt in conceptualizing the multifaceted players and processes within “cultural production.”  The writers stress the need to examine not only the creation of art, but also its consumption.  Inherent in the examination of consumption are interrogations of who the intended consumers are and why.  The writers beckon us to understand “culture as simultaneously a material and a symbolic production” (273).  This notion echoes needs for critiquing disciplinary boundaries, as argued for in an Asian Americanist critique.  The writers apply Paul Ricoeur’s concept of “the social imaginary” to frame “Asian American” as a collective of history and practices that influence current textual production (experience).  The medium through which this imaginary materializes into experience is the fictive.  In what ways can we extend this framing of Asian American culture as “the fictive” in order to rethink Chuh’s urge to read literature as theory?

Annotation: E.L. McCallum’s “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction” (2000)

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This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

McCallum, E.L. “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction.” Poetics Today 21.2 (2000): 349-77. Print.

In this essay McCallum asserts the importance of examining the function and role of “real” space in cyberpunk fiction. She argues that while works of the genre are traditionally noted for their innovative representations of virtual spaces through “distance transcending technology” such as the internet, characters still deeply rely on the real material world and it only through physically traversing this realm that certain narrative ends can be accomplished (350). McCallum emphasizes that by shifting the critical focus to “real” space, we can see how “old” colonialist systems and familiar oppressive power structures (race, gender, nationality, class, etc) continue to organize the apparently “futuristic” virtual space. She ultimately asserts that the contemporary cyberpunk genre has its roots in imperialistic adventure narratives such as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and fail to transcend the geographic and ideological norms of our current society, making these texts rather conservative. But I argue that rather than lacking the creativity to imagine a more “transcendent” future, cyberpunk authors are interested in exposing familiar oppressions and exploitations in order to emphasize the urgency with which trends such as globalization and corporatization may be severely perpetuated into the future through more insidious means such as the Internet. While McCallum notes important parallels between virtual and real space, she does not explicate how organizational conventions of race, gender, nationality, class, etc are re-inscribed in the “Metaverse” of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which I hope to further expand on in my own paper.

With respect to the novel, McCallum importantly demonstrates how the boundary between reality and cyberspace is destabilized. Hiro can move not only in between these two realms, but also through both at the same time, he “can remain hooked into the Metaverse while traversing the real” (366). Unlike McCallum who sees this as a reliance of the virtual on the real, I argue that this moment reveals the potential of this convergence to enhance human agency, where technology can be used to affect change. Therefore, while McCallum concludes her article with the assertion that cyberpunk protagonists do not offer any viable means of resisting or critiquing the corporate culture and that our best hope is to become adept at maneuvering through this reality, in my paper I hope to challenge her defeatist position.

As a slightly unrelated point, McCallum also discusses in her article, the difficulty of localizing transnational corporations in Snow Crash, which not only operate in multiple locales throughout the world but also virtual spaces in the “Metaverse.” This is a particularly interesting point from which to examine current implications of corporate globalization.