What We Imagine Knowledge to Be: Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and Seventy Years of American Studies
This essay looks back to 1947, the year that the Salzburg seminar was inaugurated, as well as looking at contemporary issues in American studies to chart where we have come from to date and where the field is heading. Its main argument examines the poems "Ésthetique du Mal" by Wallace Stevens from his 1947 collection Transport to Summer and "At the Fishhouses" by Elizabeth Bishop, first published in 1947, and explores common themes of knowledge, pain, loss, and history. As the Western world experiences again a moment of political and cultural uncertainty brought to the center stage of US and European discourse in 2016 by the election of Donald Trump and the UK vote to leave the European Union, Stevens and Bishop offer routes forward through such moments of heightened politicization. American studies, as a field of interconnected disciplines, continually confronts the difficult aspects of twentieth- and twenty-first-century life. As the rise of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements have indicated, the open ruptures within American society will continue to pour forth debates requiring urgent critical attention and discussion. Incidents of racial hatred, of right-wing extremism, and of abusive misogynistic sexism, dormant to varying degrees prior to Trump's election, have come to the surface of a nation increasingly riven by what the reality of his Presidency means for America. Our job, as researchers and teachers, is to engage each and every aspect of this moment in history, however contested or controversial they may be.
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