Christina Ljungberg and Mario Klarer (eds.) Cultures in Conflict/ Conflicting Cultures. SPELL 29, 2013

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(available online one year after publication)

"Cultures in Conflict/Conflicting Cultures looks at the tensions and conflicts on numerous structural levels that have been a leitmotif of American culture throughout its entire history, namely in the form of a deep and profound preoccupation with the Other as a source of conflict or friction. The essays in this collection explore such moments of conflict in American culture from a variety of perspectives, most frequently looking at structural areas of friction within different forms of artistic expression, including film, photography, digital technologies, advertisements, and representations of sexual violence."

Table of Contents

Introduction, 11

Barbara Klinger (Indiana)
Cinema and Immortality: Hollywood Classics in an Intermediated World, 17

Isabel Capeloa Gil (Oporto)
Framing War: Domesticity and the Visuality of Conflict, 31

Johannes Binotto (Zurich)
Bond Rerouted: 007 and the Internal Conflict in/of Digital Media, 51

Cornelia Klecker (Innsbruck)
“Are You Watching Closely?”: The Conflict of Mind-Tricking Narratives in Recent Hollywood Film, 65

Anna Iatsenko(Geneva)
Narrative Conflicts and Violence of Reading in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, 79

Barbara Straumann (Zurich)
The Conflict of Voice in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, 93

Johannes Mahlknecht (Innsbruck)
“Based on Entirely Coincidental Resemblances”: The Legal Disclaimer in Hollywood Cinema, 109

Bryn Skibo-Birney (Geneva)
Revolutionary Writing: The Symbiosis of Social and Literary Conflict and Aesthetic Production in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, 123

Roberta Hofer (Innsbruck)
A Tug of War with Silky Strings: Struggles for Power Between Human Puppets and Their Puppeteers, 141

Simone Puff (Innsbruck)
Colors in Conflict: Light vs. Dark Reloaded; or, the Commodification of (Black) Beauty, 159

Ralph J. Poole (Salzburg)
“It’s Called Hazing, Asshole:” Locker-Room Dramas of Sexual Violence Against Males in Sports, 177

Notes on Contributors, 199

Index of Names, 205

Cinema and Immortality: Hollywood Classics in an Intermediated World
Barbara Klinger

In our Darwinian media universe, some texts will disappear from view, while others survive, sometimes to become “immortal.” Rather than consider immortality as produced by a text’s aesthetic qualities, I focus on the phenomenon of the film reissue – the re-release of new versions – as vital to a film’s successful circulation through time. The re-release of a film in various venues, from movie theaters to television, involves its transformation to suit the requirements of new technologies and media. Hence, investigating the reissue means theorizing the significance these transformations have for textual study. In the process, we confront not only cinema’s immortality as opposed to its mortality, but other conceptual conflicts as well: the film text’s stability versus its instability; the essential cinematic versus intermediated cinema; and authenticity versus the copy. These conflicts lead to disciplinary questions: what kind of film history and film aesthetics best respond to cinema’s intermediality through decades of recycling? How does the appraisal of cinema’s intermediality – its constitutional relationships to other media involved in its circulation – shift accordingly? How might this shift ultimately result in new approaches to adaptation? To address these issues, I examine a group of Hollywood mainstays, including Gone with the Wind and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Framing War: Domesticity and the Visuality of Conflict

Isabel Capeloa Gil

The extraordinary experience of mutual destruction presented by violent conflict exceeds the anthropological ordering enacted by culture, hence supporting a discourse of domestic framing. This has also been the case whenever visual media have sought to depict, represent or report conditions of warfare. War and the domestic nexus of home and family seem at times in danger of becoming interrelated discourses. The essay looks at the intertwining of the ideology of home and the rhetoric of war in war photography and aims specifically at discussing the ways in which art reacts against this discursive practice. Drawing on Martha Rosler’s series Bringing the War Home, it underpins how a counter-domestic visuality is constructed as a way of denaturalizing the embedding of home and nation, particularly at a time of growing limitations for the practice of news journalism.

Bond Rerouted: 007 and the Internal Conflict in/of Digital Media

Johannes Binotto

While the James Bond that we know from the movies is equipped with almost superhuman qualities, the original character in Ian Fleming’s novels seems much more fragile. Being in constant battle not only with the political enemy but also with his internal, neurotic conflicts, Bond needs his missions as defense mechanisms to prevent him from psychological breakdown. This essay argues that the second to last installment of the Bond movie series, the 2008 film Quantum of Solace finally confronts this neurotic aspect of 007, not so much by psychologizing the character but rather by transposing internal conflict to the filmic level. The complex visual strategies of digitally enhanced filmmaking, with its over-determined images, depict a conflicted war zone where not only the secret agent but also the very system he is defending is shown as being ultimately split and pitted against itself.

“Are You Watching Closely?”: The Conflict of Mind-Tricking Narratives in Recent Hollywood Film
Cornelia Klecker

Although films with alternative plotting to traditional cinematic storytelling have existed since the earliest days of the medium, the trend seems to have gathered steam recently. Complex narrative is, of course, a rather broad term that covers a large number of films. In my article, I would like to focus on, what I will be calling, mind-tricking narratives, a subcategory of complex narrative. I use this term to classify a rather new
phenomenon in contemporary mainstream film. As the expression already suggests, these are narrative techniques that deliberately play with the viewers’ experience, response, and expectations during the viewing of a film usually featuring an utterly surprise outcome in the end. The main issue in my article is how film plots have to be structured in order to achieve the desired goal, i.e. to trick the audience’s minds. How can a filmmaker withhold the necessary facts for the viewers to deduce, conclude, perhaps even predict, the unavoidable outcome, yet at the same time, present enough information so that the story holds true and sustains the audience’s re-evaluation or even reviewing? For that reason, I will compare the narrative structures of the two 2006 films, The Prestige and The Illusionist, directed by Christopher Nolan and Neil Burger, respectively. In a “dos” and “don’ts” analysis The Prestige will serve as a prime example for a mind-tricking narrative while The Illusionist fails to live up to the task.

Narrative Conflicts and Violence of Reading in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy
Anna Iatsenko

In her ninth novel entitled A Mercy, Toni Morrison explores the beginnings of America. Set in the latter part of the seventeenth century, the novel engages with such problematic issues as the institutionalization of slavery, forceful conversion to Christianity of the native peoples, the sale of European women for overseas marriages and other instances where different cultural, religious and economic epistemes enter into direct and oftentimes brutal conflict. To illustrate the consequences of this systematic and institutionalized violence, Morrison creates a character – Florens – a young slave girl who tells a story of her abandonment by her mother. By investing Florens with narratorial authority, Morrison makes her character manipulate the readers’ trust only to upset it in the very last pages of the novel. This narratological tour de force not only mirrors the abdication of agency that Florens performs as a character, but also echoes the readers’ transferral of agency onto the narrator, allowing Florens to govern her own reading of the story she tells. Ultimately, the structure of A Mercy and the use of the narrative technique expose the violence inherent in the act of reading by putting into tension the narrative structure and reading practice.

The Conflict of Voice in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance
Barbara Straumann

Taking as my theoretical point of departure Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia and Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of culture as a battleground of conflicting opposites, I argue that there is a conflict of voice at the centre of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance. To be more precise, the text foregrounds a power struggle between the voice of the feminist performer Zenobia and the voice of the first-person narrator Miles Coverdale. Coverdale’s narrative is motivated by his wish – and failure – to read Zenobia, who defines herself by virtue of her perpetual performance. Disturbed by the fact that Zenobia has a position of her own, Coverdale seeks to contain her powerful voice, which continues to haunt him twelve years after her death. In my paper I trace how the conflict of voice between the dead performer and the haunted narrator is inscribed textually as well as the ways in which this highlights a cultural conflict over the woman’s voice.

“Based on Entirely Coincidental Resemblances”: The Legal Disclaimer in Hollywood  Cinema
Johannes Mahlknecht

Every Hollywood film includes in its paratext at least one statement clarifying the relation between real life and the events and characters it presents. A film is either “based on a true story” or it is “a work of fiction,” in which every similarity to facts in the actual world “is entirely coincidental and unintentional.” As reliable statements about individual films’ relationship to reality, however, such claims and disclaimers prove highly inadequate. As practical tools for raising audience interest and/or protection against legal action, they reflect the conflict between Hollywood’s enthusiasm for real-life stories and simultaneously its fear of them. This article defines and discusses functions, manifestations, problems and legal as well as narrative relevance of the Hollywood claims and disclaimers. Located at the margins of most films and thus often unnoticed by the viewer, these elements on the one hand mirror prevalent notions about truth status versus fiction in Hollywood filmmaking. On the other hand, by shifting our viewpoint from the viewer’s impressions to the producer’s own statements, they provide interesting incentive for reevaluation.

Revolutionary Writing: The Symbiosis of Social and Literary Conflict and Aesthetic Production in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
Bryn Skibo-Birney

The American Sixties was an era of social and cultural conflict, the effects of which created groundbreaking new aesthetic products. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters played a major role in creating these conflicts and their subsequent aesthetics, as they experimented with LSD, linguistic expression and the limits of the body and mind during their Acid Tests. At the same time, journalists like Tom Wolfe created a radical form of literary expression with New Journalism, combining the nonfiction subjective journalism with fictional social realism, resulting in immersive, emotionally-involving true stories that “read like novels” (The New Journalism 22). These controversial figures, their conflicts and aesthetic products are brought uniquely together in Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which, this paper proposes, acts as a symbiotic vehicle of expression between the socio-cultural and literary upheavals that helped shape the Sixties. The controversial style of subjective journalism accurately portrays the intersubjective, present-tense aesthetics of the Pranksters by adopting their techniques into its language. Consequently, this relationship of style and subject calls into question the very nature of how a conflict is “written” into the public zeitgeist.

A Tug of War with Silky Strings: Struggles for Power Between Human Puppets and their Puppeteers
Roberta Hofer

Movies like Being John Malkovich or Stranger than Fiction, and books like Slow Man by J. M. Coetzee confront us with the idea of human puppets – which in itself, of course, creates a conflict of logic and feasibility. Additionally, however, these real-life marionettes are always part of a far graver conflict with their human puppeteers; they fight for power, control, and for independence. Connected by strings and emotions, it is often the puppet masters which end up getting caught in the ties that they established, dependent of the thing they created. This swap of dominance, of course, poses a challenge to the standard narratological settings: questions of authorship and narrative authority arise and points of view shift dramatically. The main conflict is a metaleptic one as borders between diegetic worlds are annihilated and redefined in very paradox ways. This article explores these clashes by applying concepts of puppeteering, as well as metalepsis, to the media of film and literature. The analysis of key scenes will illustrate that underlying the superficial levels of absolute dominance and submission, we can, in fact, find a twisted mise en abyme – mirror-images where the reins have quite literally been grabbed by the once enslaved marionettes.

Colors in Conflict: Light vs. Dark Reloaded; or, the Commodification of (Black) Beauty
Simone Puff

If we believe recent studies “biracial” has now become the new beauty ideal in the US. This move away from a “white” standard to one that better reflects the realities of a twenty-first century multi-racial America, however, only extends skin color privilege to the group that is closest to those being “white.” In other words, while there is a trend towards a broadening of beauty ideals, this does not necessarily imply that old standards vanish, merely that they become less obvious when they are perpetuated. This essay discusses conflicts of “Light vs. Dark” based on different shades of skin color among African Americans. Approaching a series of articles and advertisements in Ebony magazine from a critical discourse analysis viewpoint, I argue that the dichotomy between economic interests on the one hand and the magazine’s attempt to instill in its readers a positive sense of Blackness on the other hand makes for a complex set of (color) narratives. They are in constant conflict with each other, having their roots in the commodification of a racialized version of Black beauty that is still biased towards the lighter shades of brown skin.

“It’s Called Hazing, Asshole”: Locker-Room Dramas of Sexual ViolenceAgainst Males in Sports
Ralph J. Poole

Sexual abuse against boys and men in sports has rarely been studied, since the majority of harassed and assaulted victims indeed are female. There has been, nevertheless, substantial institutionalized violence against boys in school sports and sports teams, and colleges have a longstanding tradition of ritually hazing freshmen. Films like The Basketball Diaries and TV series like CSI and Blue Mountain State have picked up these traditions and practices, approaching this male-on-male violence from radically differing perspectives and formats however, reaching from fictionalized documentary to farcical comedy. This paper attempts to assess a double conflict that reflects the still largely tabooed topic of violence against males in both research and representation: based on reviewing the scant research on sexual violence against males from a historical and social perspective, the focus will be on examining the conflicting ways mainstream visual media have taken up the challenge to represent such undocumented and illicit violence.

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