Space in America: Theory, History, Culture

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Klaus Benesch, Kerstin Schmidt
Rodopi, 2005 - 588 pages
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America's sense of space has always been tied to what Hayden White called the narrativization of real events. If the awe-inspiring manifestations of nature in America (Niagara Falls, Virginia's Natural Bridge, the Grand Canyon, etc.) were often used as a foil for projecting utopian visions and idealizations of the nation's exceptional place among the nations of the world, the rapid technological progress and its concomitant appropriation of natural spaces served equally well, as David Nye argues, to promote the dominant cultural idiom of exploration and conquest.
From the beginning, American attitudes towards space were thus utterly contradictory if not paradoxical; a paradox that scholars tried to capture in such hybrid concepts as the middle landscape (Leo Marx), an engineered New Earth (Cecelia Tichi), or the technological sublime (David Nye). Not only was America's concept of space paradoxical, it has always also been a contested terrain, a site of continuous social and cultural conflict. Many foundational issues in American history (the dislocation of Native and African Americans, the geo-political implications of nation-building, immigration and transmigration, the increasing division and clustering of contemporary American society, etc.) involve differing ideals and notions of space. Quite literally, space and its various ideological appropriations formed the arena where America's search for identity (national, political, cultural) has been staged. If American democracy, as Frederick Jackson Turner claimed, is born of free land, then its history may well be defined as the history of the fierce struggles to gain and maintain power over both the geographical, social and political spaces of America and its concomitant narratives.
The number and range of topics, interests, and critical approaches of the essays gathered here open up exciting new avenues of inquiry into the tangled, contentious relations of space in America. Topics include: Theories of Space - Landscape / Nature - Technoscape / Architecture / Urban Utopia - Literature - Performance / Film / Visual Arts.

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