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Magdalena J. Zaborowska

The Puritan Origins of American Sex
& Making It: Male Gender and Erotics in Transcultural Narratives

My research in the coming academic year will focus on two book manuscripts: a co-edited volume of critical essays on Puritan constructions of sexuality and my own book-in-progress on masculinity, architecture, and transcultural narrative. The work on these shall be conducted at the Centre for Cultural Research at Aarhus University and the Center for Research on Women at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States, where I have been awarded a Visiting Research Fellowship for fall 1999.

The Puritan Origins of American Sex, co-edited with Nicholas F. Radel (Furman University, USA/Roskilde University) and Tracy Fessenden (Arizona State University, USA), brings together interdisciplinary essays that address the need for more nuanced historical and theoretical purchase on the interrelationships among religion, sexuality, and the construction of national identities in American life. Contributors to the volume explore convergences between religious and sexual identities and conversions, the gendering of certain religious or national formations, the continuing influence of Puritan rhetoric and habits of thought on issues of sexuality in American literature and politics, and instances of exorcism or reiteration of Puritanism in current events and contemporary cultural production. The title of the volume reflects the editors’ debt to, as well as our desire to engage critically the landmark work of Sacvan Bercovitch. In The Puritan Origins of the American Self (1975), Bercovitch irrevocably changed the course of scholarship in American literature and culture by claiming that the "central aspect of our Puritan legacy [is] the rhetoric of national identity." Our volume refocuses this Puritan legacy through the lens of sexuality, the better to understand the Puritan vision that moved the bodies of/and work created by American writers, preachers, non-believers, presidents, and policy makers from Cotton Mather to Toni Morrison.

My tasks in this project include finishing my own paper on Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky (in progress), editing individual papers, and collaborating with the other editors on the introduction. To further these ends, I will be meeting Nicholas F. Radel this August in Denmark and will be able to work with Tracy Fessenden this fall while conducting research at the Center for Research on Women at Tulane Unviersity.

My main project for the year, Making It: Male Gender and Erotics in Transcultural Narratives, is as a response to and discursive interpretation of the impact on literature and culture of recent important political and cultural changes following the end of the Cold War. Posited on the brink of the new millennium, our both post-colonial and post-totalitarian moment calls for new interpretations and engagements in cultural production and literary representation, amidst what Arthur and Marilouise Kroker term the fall of the "empire of the signs." Recent demilitarization and escalating ethnic conflicts in some of the former communist countries have deeply impacted how we read and engender texts, spaces, and architectural forms in the post-Wall inter-cultural "contact zones." Hence literary and cultural studies face a task of formulating post-communist and post-binary critiques of identity. In particular, theorizing and mapping realigned gender roles, emerging international identities, and cross-cultural intertexts provide a rich and challenging material for those scholars of literature who employ feminist and gender theory.

My project proposes to do just that, focusing on twentieth-century texts written by writers whose locations span the United States, Western Europe, and Eastern/Central Europe. The book explores immigrant/transcultural narrative and masculinity as central tropes for rereading the novel as a spatial construct, or an "architext," in the post-totalitarian, millennial, moment that compels new modes of critical inquiry. The book has been inspired by my research on European and American discourses of identity as a socio-cultural construct that arises from historical and transnational influences on its private and public aspects: gender, sexuality, ethnicity, "race," and nationality. It also reflects my most recent work, inspired by Steen Eiler Rasmussen, on the ways in which literature and architecture provide indispensable contexts/"architexts" for each other. While analyzing the interdependence of textual and spatial designs in a number of novels, I argue that architectural forms and narratives are mutually reflective of the politics and poetics of the power relations that shape individual and group identities in a given historical period.

Broadly grounded in Feminist Theory, Gender, Cultural, and American Studies, my work reformulates the notions of identity as marginalizing difference and multivalent social construct in such American and international writers as Henry Adams, Andrew Carnegie (Scotish), Edward Bok (Dutch), Abraham Cahan (Russian Jewish), Jerzy Kosinski (Polish Jewish), James Baldwin (African American), and Peter Høeg (Danish). These writers’ texts can be seen as both products and producers of historic and political critiques of identity in a transnational context and provide a profound and indispensable revisionist perspective on national character as inscribed into literary and critical discourses in this century. My theoretical argument engages in a dialogue with such American and European critics as Judith Butler, Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Diana Fuss, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Cornel West, bell hooks, Werner Sollors, Stuart Hall, Kaja Silverman, Sander Gilman, Paul Gilroy, and Julia Kristeva.

I plan to spend the first semester conducting archival research and drafting my theoretical and methodological introduction. I would like to share the results of this stage in seminars with colleagues at the Center for Cultural Research and through conference papers. My aim for the year is to have enough of the manuscript completed by the summer of 2000 to send it to interested publishers as a proposal for an advance book contract. So far, I have presented material from three chapters in progress at international conferences, and have had inquiries about the book from Johns Hopkins University Press, Columbia University Press, and Duke University Press.

Updated 15 March 2000 by smc. Please mail comments to the webmaster at Centre for Cultural Research.