Wednesday, July 02, 2008

introducing... America Adrift

Dear friends, colleagues, readers, bloggers in arms, and those of you who don't know where you are or how you got here,

The Atlantic Community has moved!

We've staked out a new homestead on the cyberfrontier, America Adrift. It's rather simple to find us. Just type, americaadrift dot com. Say it with me now three times; America Adrift, America Adrift, America Adrift. Please pass on the word, mark your web browsers and update your blog roles. You can feed us here.

Same tag line as before, "transatlantic perspectives on america." Of course, we are only transatlantic in so much as one can conceive of a "transatlantic cyberspace." But don't ask any of us to explain what that really means. Our mission remains:

America adrift is a collaborative weblog and community for research, analysis and commentary on American society and culture. Our aim is to provide a public voice for European scholarship in American Studies, forging stronger communication between the academy and the public on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mission accomplished? I guess. Our move is basically premised upon being able to do more of what we already do, just with a few more bells and whistles. But really, just a few. Notice there are now individual author pages with a listing of all articles by that person. You can access them from the right column just bellow the drifting apple. You'll also find a column titled, "recent posts" for quick reference. We'll be adding features as we go along. Ideas and feedback are most welcome.

For me, the best thing about being part of this community has been just that, the community. It's been a great experience participating with my fellow contributors and I look forward to carrying on the conversation at our new address. This site has also been a vehicle for meeting many interesting people out in the big bad blogosphere. See our blogrole for example.

When this thing got started I had no idea where it would go. I still don't. But the ride thus far has been both "interesting" and rewarding. It's also fun when I speak with folk who say stuff like, "I follow your blog but I don't always no what it's about...just what did that Alice B. Toklas Brownies article mean anyways?"Not to worry, we don't always know what it all means either. But, as "the best little American Studies blog in the universe," we try to take it all in strides and not take ourselves too seriously. At least not here. That's not to say we don't engage in serious discussions. Seriously.

Let me just say a huge thanks to Bent in particular and to all our contributors generally. You guys made this the lively community that it is.

Speaking of which, see for example Anne's latest post, The Real Ambassadors, a wonderful reply to Fred Kaplan's piece on the Jazz Ambassadors which appeared in the New York Times earlier this week.

Also see Camelia's latest post, FEDERMAN FRENZY, introducing a fantastic new collection of essays on Raymond Federman (all available online).

Stay tuned, Steen's got something on the way but if you missed his article on the White Stripes you should go back and have a look at, The Big Three Killed My Baby.

If you've got a sweet tooth go back and read Bent's Alice B. Toklas Brownies article. Also, you'll find several recent conference announcements along with all his blog posts here.

Summertime will hopefully get in the way of too much blogging but with the return of Fall expect us full swing ahead.

All the best and see you on the flip side.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Real Ambassadors

In a Cold War context, “jazz was a natural” in the arsenal of cultural diplomacy. So concludes Fred Kaplan a piece in the New York Times on the Jazz Ambassadors Program of the mid 50s. Possibly because jazz during the years when the program was launched, was not only a purely homegrown art form, but also a regular mass culture export.

So, it is interesting that when Kaplan asks what would be today’s “secret sonic weapon” the answer seems to still be jazz.

Present day’s version of the Jazz Ambassadors Program is called Rhythm Road and although it does offer what is referred to as “urban” music (not sure whether this is supposed to be an inclusive term, or just a euphemism), the main focus of the program is still jazz. It is however not with the stars of yesterday or even today, the groups are all fairly unknown. Not that this would make much difference in terms of impact, as the great names of jazz today hardly receives the world press attention of big rock, pop or even “urban” names.

During the 1950s the names of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington certainly had an impact both in and outside of the US. Enough to carry political clout even? Kaplan cites the example of Armstrong refusing to go on a planned tour to the Soviet Union during the events at Little Rock, suggesting that this put additional pressure on Eisenhower to send in the National Guard. Perhaps other forces were at play here, but as Penny von Eschen points out in her book, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War, there is no doubt that the musicians taking part in the tours were fully aware of the complicated agendas and the double standards of a program advertising America as the great democracy of the world, while civil rights were being systematically suppressed in the US.

The Real Ambassadors was a jazz musical written by Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola in collaboration with Louis Armstrong. In essence it was a satire over the State Department tours and a scathing comment on race relations in the US. It was performed just once in a concert version at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962. There was talk of taking it to Broadway, but no one would touch it for its controversial nature. In recent years, jazz vocalist Dianne Mower has been working hard at finally getting the show produced on Broadway. In today's political climate the lyrics to the title song are once again pertinent.

Also, what seems to be consistently overlooked is the fact that this brand of cultural diplomacy was, by nature of the music, a dialogical affair – American jazz musicians did not only bring jazz to the countries they visited, but also came into contact with various other music cultures – learning and absorbing new influences. But of course, that is not part of the narrative that uses jazz as a metaphor for the national American spirit. For this, it is important that jazz remains a purely American art form – one that offers a superior vision of “democracy” and “freedom”. One that has refuses to acknowledge the inherent hybrid nature of jazz. And one that by its essentially static position would seem to be ill equipped to deal with present day intercultural encounters.

The fact is that even though the tours are still embedded in discourses of canon, tradition and national romanticism, the reality is that the dialogue continues. As Kaplan reports...

Before the bass player Ari Roland went to Turkmenistan last year, he learned some Turkmen folk songs. His band played jazz improvisations of these songs with local musicians — the first time such mixing had been allowed — and a 15-minute news report about the concert ran on state television several times the next day.

Jazz came into existence as a creolized form – a meeting of various cultural expressions. Because of this and the openness of the improvisatory approach it has retained the ability to enter into musical conversations with the other. And this is why jazz is viable as an effective cultural bridge. It can, perhaps better than any other music form, be both global and local.

The Real Ambassadors:

Who's the real ambassador?
It is evident we represent American society
Noted for its etiquette, its manners and sobriety
We have followed protocol with absolute propriety
We're yankees to the core.

We're the real ambassdors
Though we may appear as bores
We are diplomats in our proper hats
Our attire becomes habitual, along with all the ritual

The diplomatic corps
Has been analyzed and criticized by NBC and CBS
Senators and congressmen are so concerned they can't recess
The State Department stands and all your coup d'etat have met success
They caused this great uproar
Who's the real ambassador, yeah, the real ambassador?

I'm the real ambassador.
It is evident I was sent by government to take your place
All I do is play the blues and meet the people face-to-face
I'll explain and make it plain, I represent the human race
I don't pretend no more.

Who's the real ambassador?
Certain facts we can't ignore
In my humble way I'm the USA
Though I represent the government
The government don't represent some policies I'm for.

Oh we learned to be concerned about the constitutionality
In our nation segregation isn't a legality
Soon our only differences will be in personality
That's what I stand for!
Who's the real ambassador, yes, the real ambassador?

Dave & Iola Brubeck

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Migration and Literature

An increasingly hot topic in literary studies and in the area studies fields, such as American Studies is the relationship between writing, place, identity and belonging. Evidence of this agenda getting more and more important can, for instance, be found in the proposed topics for conferences and seminars worldwide. In Denmark the next big Am. Studies event, the Nordic Assosciation for American Studies' biannual conference, has as its theme Cosmospolitanism. Among the many questions the conference invites us to contemplate is the following:

Does the prominence of writers such as Junot Dìaz, Francisco Goldman and Jamaica Kincaid-or the focus on border regions and bilingualism in the works of older writers like Cormac McCarthy-suggest a cosmopolitan turn in contemporary "American" literature?

Hopefully by May 2009 many scholars and students will have thought of topics and papers that will help illumminate this and many other issues pertaining to migration, writng and cosmopolitanism (and its opposites)...

Nearer in time Copenhagen University offers a one-day course in Migration and Literature on September 26. While designed for secondary school teachers and librarians, the event is also open for students in limited numbers. The program can be perused here.

The course concludes with an extremely exciting event at the Literaturhaus in Møllegade, Copenhagen. This event is a triple reading by the following authors:

Ha Jin, representing China and the US, author of Waiting and Under the Red Flag.

Shadi Bazeghi, Iran and Denmark - a young poet writing in Danish.

Rubén Palma, born in Chile, residing in Denmark, writing in Danish, translated into English and published by Curbstone Press in New York (The Trail We Leave).

Palma is little-known in Denmark, but has intriguing comments about what made him become a writer once he realized that he had become a transnational subject:

From author interview:


I grew up in a poor Chilean barrio with a strong, old-fashioned macho culture. I would not say that I found writing feminine. In fact, I always found writing an interesting activity. But I just did not consider it to be masculine enough. As a boy, and later as a teenager, all I wanted was to be a football player or a boxer. With
those images in my mind, I do not think I would ever have become a writer in Chile.


The idea of writing began taking shape after I had been in Denmark for eleven years, when I realized that maybe I was never going to return to Chile. At that point, I understood that Chile was left behind, and that Denmark was no longer a transitory place in my existence. It sounds paradoxical but I felt a kind of emptiness which nevertheless liberated a lot of new feelings. Suddenly I was able to look back and ahead, to look at myself in a new way.

Read more here...

I hope some of our readers will find their way to this twice transatlantic event in September!

See also...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No Caption Needed Birthday

Robert Hariman and John Lucaites recently posted the one year anniversary of their fantastic blog, No Caption Needed.

You can read Bent's review of both the blog and their seminal book by the same title here.

They're experiencing some "growing pains", something we are familiar with here.

It’s been a year since we began this blog. We had no idea what we were getting into. The initial idea was to put up an ad for the book. Not a great idea, but then we thought that we could write a few posts to thicken the ad. After all, neither one of us had the time to do this on a regular basis. One thing lead to another, and soon we had created a monster: we loved writing the posts and seeing the audience grow, but we still didn’t have the time, so we told ourselves that we’d do it for a year and then quit. It’s been a year and we don’t want to quit, but we need to make some changes.

I encourage you to stop by and leave your comments or drop them an email, or better yet both. This is one of the little jewels out in the academic blogosphere (and a service to the public at large). Both blog and book have been a source of inspiration for me personally as I have become increasingly drawn into visual culture, semiotics and that emerging niche that Bent refers to as iconicity studies.

Best of luck and continued success with No Caption Needed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Since the early 60s, Raymond Federman has been one of the most important American writers. In his highly experimental fictions - works that bear such titles as Take It or Leave It, Double or Nothing, and The Twofold Vibrations - he has explored cultural and personal memory, invented intricate narrative strategies, and above all has given readers an experience that exceeds the ordinary. Creating situations that make one really think and really laugh is a tall order for any writer. But Federman did it. He is one of the few writers to truly have achieved this.

As he has just turned 80 and is being celebrated around the world, some of us here in Denmark have decided to mark the event. That Federman is still around, publishing, blogging, answering private emails, and engaging with readers of all sorts, can indeed be considered a gift of the highest quality. Just check his blog - [the laugh that laughs at the laugh] - to get a sense of how important it is for him to situate himself not only vis-à-vis literary history, in which he is by now well recognized and firmly consolidated, but vis-à-vis the kind of literary history that allows readers to come close to writers and thus engage in a 'communal' act of writing themselves. Put it differently, we read Federman to write about him as he writes about us through his own experiences. Federman is a round kind of writer.

In response to such generosity, I've put out a collection of essays written in collaboration with colleagues at Aalborg University. The volume presents four scholarly articles, and as indicated on the poster (make sure to enlarge it so that you can see the table of contents to begin with), it also offers readers a special treat in the form of unpublished texts by Federman. The book Federman Frenzy: the 'cult' in culture, the 'me' in memory, the 'he' in history - encounters with Raymond Federman is published as a web publication by Research News, Dept. of Language and Culture, Aalborg University.

Friday, June 20, 2008

CFP: Jack Kerouac, Kerouac’s On the Road and the Beats

Following up on our spring sequence of posts on The Beats (conveniently collected here), we'd like to help announce a two day conference to be held at the University of Birmingham in December. Scholars will meet and give papers on aspects of the Beat Generation with a particular focus on Kerouac's novel On the Road. But perhaps even more enticing is that the original scroll manuscript of that novel will be present in Birmingham as well, in a rare European visit (the scroll has mostly been on display in US cities). I am very excited to finally get to see the Holy Grail of Beat artefacts up close. My paper, btw. will probably investigate Neal Cassady, the real life model for the novel's protagonist, con-man, Holy Goof, culture hero, Dean Moriarty...

Here is the CFP in its entirety:

A two day conference at the University of Birmingham UK

(Thursday 11 December 2008 and Friday 12 December 2008)

Marking the fiftieth anniversary of On the Road’s publication in the UK, in 1958 (following its 1957 publication in the US). The University of Birmingham has arranged for the 1951 original typescript manuscript of On the Road - the world-famous scroll of 1951 - to come to the Barber Institute at the University during December 2008 and January 2009. A series of events is planned to celebrate this, including a Film Event (during the evening of 11 December) timed to coincide with this two-day conference, which will likely include the UK premiere showing of One Fast Move and I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur, produced by Jim Sampas.

The conference will take as its focus the ‘Beats’ and their relations to On the Road and its themes - travel, jazz, sexuality and gender, rebellion, disaffiliation and alienation, class and ethnicity.

Plenary speakers will include Tim Hunt, Matt Theado and Oliver Harris

Please do come along to this exciting event and - if you wish - deliver a paper.

CFP: If you want to deliver a paper please submit a title for your paper and an abstract of between 100 and 250 words for consideration to: by 31 October 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Alice B. Toklas Brownies

I was surprised recently in my relentless pursuit of Beat scholarship to learn of a connection between Brion Gyson, who invented and later taught William Burroughs the cut-up technique, and Alice B. Toklas, who was Gertrude Stein’s long-time companion and muse.

Even more surprisingly the connection turns out to revolve around a recipe for ‘Haschisch Brownies’ which Toklas (apparently unwittingly) included in her 1954 cookbook - a recipe that was actually given to her by Gyson…

Here is Gyson's joking description of the cakes:

“This is the food of paradise—of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradise: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morrocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter, ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by un evanouissement reveille!”

It may be a little too late for a weekend treat to bake the brownies tonight, but if you insist here is the recipe:

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of de-stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

In pop culture these so-called 'Alice B Toklas brownies' gave rise to ample references, not least the title and main plot device of the 1968 Peter Sellers farce, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas... This clip can (possibly) also be enjoyed without having partaken of any sort of cookie shaped stimulant:

If not, you can always grab a Big Mac: