Empire Burlesque

The Fate of Critical Culture in Global America

Empire Burlesque

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: Published: April 2003

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory

Empire Burlesque traces the emergence of the contemporary global context within which American critical identity is formed. Daniel T. O’Hara argues that globalization has had a markedly negative impact on American cultural criticism, circumscribing both its material and imaginative potential, reducing much of it to absurdity. By highlighting the spectacle of its own self-parody, O’Hara aims to shock U.S. cultural criticism back into a sense of ethical responsibility.

Empire Burlesque presents several interrelated analyses through readings of a range of writers and cultural figures including Henry James, Freud, Said, De Man, Derrida, and Cordwainer Smith (an academic, spy, and classic 1950s and 1960s science fiction writer). It describes the debilitating effects of globalization on the university in general and the field of literary studies in particular, it critiques literary studies’ embrace of globalization theory in the name of a blind and vacant modernization, and it meditates on the ways critical reading and writing can facilitate an imaginative alternative to institutionalized practices of modernization. Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalytical theory, it diagnoses contemporary American Studies as typically driven by the mindless abjection and transference of professional identities.

A provocative commentary on contemporary cultural criticism, Empire Burlesque will inform debates on the American university across the humanities, particularly among those in literary criticism, cultural studies, and American studies.


"[A] useful corrective to the excesses of the 'new Americanist' criticism. . . . Recommended." — J. McWilliams , Choice

"Readers will find wisdom and insight aplenty in this work. . . ." — George Cotkin , American Studies International

“In the spirit of Yeats, his tutelary figure, Daniel T. O'Hara gauges the state of America's imperial anarchy and puts forth an imaginative response, compounded from Foucault, Lacan, and Henry James. This is a defense of literature like no other.” — Jonathan Arac, Columbia University

Empire Burlesque provides a unique perspective on how much the globalism that, properly, should be ‘post-American' is actually another (re)production of America. It is impressive work.” — Patrick O'Donnell, author of Latent Destinies: Cultural Paranoia and Contemporary U.S. Narrative


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniel T. O’Hara is Professor of English at Temple University. He has written and edited a number of books including Radical Parody: American Culture and Critical Agency after Foucault and Lionel Trilling: The Work of Liberation. He is review editor of the journal Boundary 2.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: We Welcoming Others, or What's Wrong with the Global Point of View? 1

I. Reading as a Vanishing Act

1. Edward W. Said and the Fate of Critical Culture 29

2. Why Foucault No Longer Matters 43

3. Lentricchia's Frankness and the Place of Literature 62

II. Globalizing Literary Studies

4. Redesigning the Lessons of Literature 95

5. The Return to Ethics and the Specter of Reading 114

6. Class in a Global Light: The Two Professions 136

III. Analyzing Global America

7. Transference and Abjection: An Analytic Parable 163

8. Ghostwork: An Uncanny Prospect for New Americanists 183

9. Specter of Theory: The Bad Conscience of American Criticism 220

IV. Reading Worlds

10. Empire Baroque: Becoming Other in Henry James 237

11. Planet Buyer and the Catmaster: A Critical Future for Transference 301

Notes 339

Bibliography 357

Index 365

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3019-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3032-5
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