Why calling America an Empire is not Helpful

Amy Kaplan, in her 2003 Presidential address to the American Studies Association, suggests American Studies scholars to think more creatively and critically about what they mean by internationalizing the field of American Studies instead of calling America imperial. Though it is fashionable to say America an empire, Kaplan argues that the fashion to say America an empire is not helpful.

In one hand, the United States shuts itself off for the world it seeks to control. Thus naming the empire has the potential to put American Studies scholars in conversation with critics around the world. As a result, it may help make the contours of U.S. power more visible. On the other hand, the denial and disavowal of empire has long served as the ideological cornerstone of U.S. imperialism and a key component of American exceptionalism. She argues, “The talk about empire conceals more than it reveals and makes certain kinds of utterances unspeakable.”

Kaplan suggests different creative alternatives to make American Studies a better discipline rather than just calling America an empire since the discourse “seemed to say more about the persons using the term than about the phenomenon itself.”

First, she suggests that American Studies scholars expose the imperialistic appropriation of the name America and then turn away from it. Moreover, scholars can not lose sight of the power of America in American Studies.

Second, American Studies scholars have the obligation to study and analyze the meanings of America in their multiple dimensions, to understand the enormous power wielded in its name, its ideological and affective force, as well as its sources for resistance to empire.

Third, American Studies scholars need to study more about the differences among nation, state, and empire, when they seem to fuse and how they are at odds, to think of how state power is wielded at home and abroad in the name of America.

Fourth, scholars need to study how meanings of America have changed historically in different international contexts.

Fifth, she suggests that through studies of political, literary, and cultural images, they must understand how “America” is a relational, a comparative concept, how it changes shape in relation to competing claims to that name and by creating demonic others, drawn in proportions as mythical and monolithic as the idea of America itself.

Finally, American Studies scholars need to create alternative venues for international conversations to show that scholars have visions of American studies and of America.

How Human Relationship is Portrayed in Short Stories

Human relationship is the human’s capacity to make human contacts. Moreover, it’s about how we treat with people and how we connect our needs with relationships. The concept of love and its various dimensions are also come under human relationships. Love comes in many shapes and sizes. For example, a parent may be a child’s first love. After this family members, neighbors and different other environmental and cultural aspects can be the symbol of love. However, defining human relationships is very complex phenomena since the value of relationships is perceived in various way. Love is the central entity that develops, bounds and strengthen individual and social relationship. However, the concept of love is also very debatable.

Sometimes this intimate relationship is so ambiguous that, it is not clear whether “love” is the appropriate term to name this kind of relation. For example, Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Spring in Fialta’ centers on the adulterous relationship between two married people Victor and Nina. Their feelings are hard to explain exactly. Victor says, “I call her Nina, but I could hardly have known her name yet, hardly could we have had time, she and I, for any preliminary.” So, it is hard to name or explain Victor’s feelings for Nina since he doesn’t know even her name. Furthermore he say, “…and I was already kissing her neck, smooth and quite fiery hot from the long fox fur of her coat-collar, which kept getting into my way until she clasped my shoulder, and with the candour so peculiar to her gently fitted her generous, dutiful lips to mine.” We may say that their relationship is more physical infatuation than what we ideally call love. It shows people may sometimes knowingly or unknowingly confuse love with other kinds of feeling.

Though, both love and infatuation are intense emotions and feelings, they are not similar concepts and are often confused for each other. They differ in their intensity, faithfulness, loyalty, confidence and willingness to make sacrifices for one another. Moreover, love develops gradually over time; sometimes in unplanned way. However, infatuation occurs almost instantaneously. Infatuation commonly occurs when sexual attraction is in the center of relationship. However, sexual attraction cannot completely be ignored in love too. It shows love is complex phenomenon and never a clear-cut concept.

Family is the basic social institution where a strong love and relationship develops and flourish. However, In R.K Naraya’s short story ‘Naga’, the father ran away with someone else’s wife leaving his son with the cobra. Moreover, he takes the monkey along with him. The snake charmer boy misses the monkey very much. Generally, we cannot expect that a father can betray his own young son. The slum women say “awful strumpet, to seduce a man from his child” as she had saw a women in blue sari with him. This is the irony of human relationship that one cannot fully love and be faithful even with his or her blood. Another side of love ironically be seen when the young boy loves the cobra and save its life. Though he was trying to leave the old cobra initially, later he rescue it. The rescue of the cobra and saving of its life breaks the anthropocentric definition of love. Though his father abandons him, he saves cobra’s life. Thus, we cannot clearly define what love is and what its limitation is. Next, we can say that love not only accepts person’s flaws but also other creatures feelings.

Moreover this story mocks at the politicians, popularly known as “people’s representatives”. Though these politicians have beautiful slogans to uplift poor people, they just use slums as a vote bank. Instead of developing healthy relationship with public and solving the problems of poor people, they just sustain their political career and take benefit. But the situation of their “vote banks” remains pathetic forever.

Human needs have direct connections with our relationships with our surroundings. In one hand, having needs is not selfish, weak, or dependent. One the other hand, needs are only fulfilled thorough relationships. In other words, if we do not have any needs, we would not have maintained relationships with various dimensions of nature and valued this bond. The living was the need of snake charmers in ‘Naga’, they developed relations with monkey, and they performed in the streets and earned money. Similarly, the “unfortunate child” could get idlies with the help of a women who insists the seller to give him “fresh” and “extra”.

Albert Camus in “The Adulterous Woman” presents symbolic adultery which is prevalent in Janine’s mind but not in action. Marcel and Janine, a childless couple, married for 25 years are in a place of sand, Arabs. It seems as if their love is dying. They starry night skies and silent evenings signifies their gaps. “The years had passed in semi-darkness behind the half-closed shutters. Summer, the beaches, excursions, the mere sight of the sky were things of the past. Nothing seemed to interest Marcel but business.” It shows how lonely Janine is.

The sudden glance of a French soldier and a couple of other feelings followed by a long and impassioned emotional storm inside her shows complexity of love, relationships and marriage. It also shows the other side of human relationship when sometimes it can become personal and social bondage. She is not happy with the situation and she always wants to run away from her husband. Yet, she is not able to choose her way. However, in her thoughts, she enjoys this freedom whenever she gets attention from attractive men. The question is that why she is not happy? The answer is not clear. “They made love in the dark by feel, without seeing each other. Is there another love than that of darkness, a love that would cry aloud in daylight?” As Camus says, “She does not know”, we also do not know. However, she want to be free but ironically she says, “Hold me tight, and never let me go.” Her reply to her husband “It’s nothing” when she was weeping indicates her loneliness.

Similarly, Wolfgang Hildresheimer’s short story ‘Why I Transformed Myself into a Nightingale’ presents role of family in our lives. The speaker’s father was a zoologist and his mother was an actress. At the age of five, his parents gave him a magic set. Before he could read or write, he learned how to make “childish magic”. He describes the magic kit they give him to amuse himself with, which he soon masters and discards when he reads the condescending legend on it, “The Little Magician.”  Later, he asks for regular magic lessons and is caught up in giving performances for those who know him well. A noticeable change comes about in the magician’s attitude toward what he does, however, as he grows up:

As the narrator narrates, “This experiences had a decided influence on my letter development in that the joy of changing one useless object into another taught me to search for happiness in knowledge which serve no practical purpose.” However the narrator did not found this happiness before his metamorphosis.

“I outgrew my teacher and began experimenting on my own.  I didn’t neglect my academic education, though. I read a lot and went around with school friends whose patterns of development I observed.”  Not only narrator, but also other character in the story are shaped by their family circumstances. The narrator explains them, “One friend who had been given an electric train in his childhood was preparing for a career with the railroad; another who had played with tin soldiers decided on a career as a military officer.  In this way, the work force was regulated by early influences.” Even there is the indication that Mr. Werhahn, now a newspaper editor, had got a typewriter when he was young. Since he got this typewriter in his young age, presumably, he developed his interest in the printing industry. Nevertheless, the magician is at least convinced that he himself is not influenced by early training, though it becomes obvious through his later “choice of form” that he is deceiving himself.

In Richard Ford’s short story ‘Communist’, the narrator presents triangle relationship: intimacy and conflicts between him, his mother Aileeen and her boyfriend Glen Baxter. Les’s father has been already died. Meanwhile, Glen leaves Aileen following the conflicts between them, and the geese leave the wounded goose behind to die alone. Finally Les and his mother Aileen lost contact ad have not talked for years. The story repeatedly points to the fragility of human relationships. Even we are forced to rethink on the concept of love and human relationship, whether they really exists or they are merely illusions. “Sixteen is young,” Les says in the concluding lines, “but it can also be a grown man.” He is prematurely forced to come of age, “pushed out into the world, into the real life.” He seems to be a victim of having “too much awareness too early in life.” From the example from ‘Communist’, love is a distinctive mode of valuing a person, concept or idea. Glen could not value Aileeen, as a result, she left him.

In conclusion, love is the foundation of human relationships in which basic structure of society is based on. Similarly it is love that harmonize relationships. However, love can be destructive too if one could not value it. Finally, the above examples from various stories, love is more than just words, it is also a faith. Love for your community, family, neighbors, friends, environment and self is all about generating good will and good deeds

Work Cited

Modernism: Tales From Around The Globe, 2015, IACER



Beauty of Brilliant Blunders

Brilliant Blunders! Sounds funny?

Recently I read an article in Project Syndicate written about brilliant blunders. In this article (the one you are reading) I am going to recapitulate the article titled “Brilliant Blunders” by Mario Livio, who has also written a book on the same topic. The writer argues that mistakes are essential for scientific progress. Moreover, “discovering what does not work is vital to learning what does.”

The article starts with the statement of Thomas Alva Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This statement sums up a fundamental truth about scientific inquiry: “the progress in science is a complex, zigzag path, involving many false starts.” The writer further argues that blunders are inevitable for innovative thinking, because they search the way for other explorers too. According to writer, “the mistakes arise from thoughtful, meticulous experimentation based on bold ideas – the kind of ideas that can lead to major breakthroughs.” The writer raises an important question whether today’s highly competitive, funding-starved scientific atmosphere can accommodate such ‘brilliant blunders’. However, he has failed to answer why modern science has failed to find its way back.

At the beginning, a researcher may have a hypothesis but he or she still has lot of unknown factors as the writer argues, “any scientific theory must be falsifiable based on existing observations or experimental results.” A scientific theory must give “specific predictions of future observations or experimental results.” If those observations or results contradict the predictions, the theory is rejected, or at least must be modified. In order to reach perfect results and sort out “truth” from “false”, we have to search the whole of reality.

The writer presents some examples to support his/her arguments. Twentieth century astrophysicist Fred Hoyle proposed Steady State model of the universe. He argued that the universe did not evolve following the so-called “big bang”, instead, it was constant, remaining the same throughout eternity. The theory, later, proved wrong and falsified. It “energized the entire field of cosmology” and proved the universe started from big bang. Similarly, nineteenth century physicist William Thomson, later known as Lord Kelvin, calculated that the earth was less than 100 million years old. When falsified, Kelvin’s insight helped to resolve problem related to the length of time needed for Darwin’s theory of evolution to operate.

The writer, now, encourages researchers and funding agencies to be open for mistakes and take risk. He presents the data that 49 percent manufacturing startups and 37 percent information startups survive for four or more years who take risk to produce breakthrough innovations. The writer presents Tom Watson, Jr., who led IBM. He insisted that startups should have the courage to take thoughtful risks. He says “We must forgive mistakes which have been made because someone was trying to act aggressively in the company’s interest.”

The writers presents example of Robert Williams, director of Space Telescope Science Institute. In 1995, he turned the face of the telescope to the other side of the target. “The result was an image of more than 3,000 galaxies some 12 billion light-years away – the so called Hubble Deep Field.” The writer again presents another case of medicine claiming “half of discoveries of new medicines have originated from accidents.”

The writer concludes that the “space for brilliant blunders is vital to achieving the kind of creative breakthroughs that drive scientific progress”, thus, funding institutions should recognize the beauty of brilliant blunders.