Virtual Americas

Transnational Fictions and the Transatlantic Imaginary

Virtual Americas

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: Published: August 2002

Author: Paul Giles

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Arguing that limited nationalist perspectives have circumscribed the critical scope of American Studies scholarship, Virtual Americas advocates a comparative criticism that illuminates the work of well-known literary figures by defamiliarizing it—placing it in unfamiliar contexts. Paul Giles looks at a number of canonical nineteenth- and twentieth-century American writers by focusing on their interactions with British culture. He demonstrates how American authors from Herman Melville to Thomas Pynchon have been compulsively drawn to negotiate with British culture so that their nationalist agendas have emerged, paradoxically, through transatlantic dialogues. Virtual Americas ultimately suggests that conceptions of national identity in both the United States and Britain have emerged through engagement with—and, often, deliberate exclusion of—ideas and imagery emanating from across the Atlantic.

Throughout Virtual Americas Giles focuses on specific examples of transatlantic cultural interactions such as Frederick Douglass’s experiences and reputation in England; Herman Melville’s satirizing fictions of U.S. and British nationalism; and Vladimir Nabokov’s critique of European high culture and American popular culture in Lolita. He also reverses his perspective, looking at the representation of San Francisco in the work of British-born poet Thom Gunn and Sylvia Plath’s poetic responses to England. Giles develops his theory about the need to defamiliarize the study of American literature by considering the cultural legacy of Surrealism as an alternative genealogy for American Studies and by examining the transatlantic dimensions of writers such as Henry James and Robert Frost in the context of Surrealism.


“Though Virtual Americas is conditioned by Anglophone literary traditions, its critique of disciplines, such as American studies, that have ‘engendered their own imagined community’ will prove useful for Inter-American scholars working in other languages and literatures. . . . Virtual Americas deserves attention especially in times when some consider how the US cultural and technological apparatus helps reconfigure uncritical ‘monolithic national narratives’ and when academics are disciplined for examining the production of effects in a virtual culture.” — Óscar Fernández, Comparative Literature Studies

"Virtual Americas explores, with immense insight and breathtaking speed, both familiar and relatively obscure texts. . . ." — Hsuan L. Hsu , College Literature

"Taken of that basis, as a thought experiment in comparative method, [Giles'] book has much to offer, both in its unfamiliar readings of familiar texts and in its often lively assessment of the state of American studies today." — Bryan Wagner , American Literature

"This book is important for its strong challenge to American Studies, as well as for its illuminating and provocative essays on individual authors. . . . [A]n urgent and timely project." — Maria Stadter Fox , Intertexts

"Virtual Americas is an important contribution to recent attempts to read American literary history from outside traditional parameters. . . . [This] study is at its most impressive, I think, when it allows us to see both the material reality and the self-authorizing fictionality (what it calls virtuality) of American literature's nationalizing narratives." — Stuart Burrows , Modern Fiction Studies

Virtual Americas is an ambitious, wide-ranging, well-written, and strikingly original text. There aren't many books about which one can say all those things—I think it will cause something of a stir.” — Lucy Maddox, Georgetown University

“Paul Giles's Virtual Americas is a major contribution to recent debates about transnationalism, U.S. and English cultural relations in the modern and postmodern eras, and the impact of these topics on the old and new American Studies. This is a first-rate book.” — John Carlos Rowe, University of California, Irvine


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paul Giles is Reader in American Literature at the University of Oxford. Among his books are Transatlantic Insurrections: British Culture and the Formation of American Literature, 1730–1860; and American Catholic Arts and Fictions: Culture, Ideology, Aesthetics.

Table of Contents Back to Top

1. Virtual Subjects: Transnational Fictions and the Transatlantic Imaginary

2. Narrative Reversals and Power Exchanges: Frederick Douglass and British Culture

3. “Bewildering Intertanglement”: Melville’s Engagement with British Tradition

4. “Charged and Queer”: Henry James and the Surrealization of America

5. From Decadent Aesthetics to Political Fetishism: The “Oracle Effect” of Frost’s Poetry

6. Virtual Eden: Lolita, Pornography, and the Perversions of American Studies

7. Crossing the Water: Gunn, Plath, and the Poetry of Passage

8. Virtual Englands: Pynchon’s Transatlantic Heresies

9. Virtual Americas: Cyberpastoral, Transnationalism, and the Ideology of Exchange


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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2967-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2954-1
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