American Studies and Film, Blindness and Insight

TitreAmerican Studies and Film, Blindness and Insight
Type de publicationJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuteursAuerbach, J
JournalAmerican Quarterly
Date Published03/2006

First, although American studies as an academic field emerging in the United States after World War II has always been a notoriously self-conscious discipline, perpetually worried about its own methods and paradigm dramas, nobody to my knowledge had undertaken a systematic analysis of the discipline's attitude toward film.1 Second, and perhaps even more surprising, I found a puzzling lack of engagement with film on the part of these academics. A full account of the consolidating and authorizing of American studies as an academic discipline after WWII would entail a wide variety of evidence: the activities of professional organizations such as the ASA, regional and national conference programs, course syllabi and curriculum development at various universities, the granting of degrees and other credentials, as well as article and book publication. While I will have occasion later in this essay to discuss briefly the teaching of film by American studies practitioners, my emphasis on the journal American Quarterly and other midcentury publications is designed to highlight the field's production of knowledge rather than its transmission (via teaching and conference talks, for example, including marginalized or dissenting perspectives and voices that are often difficult to recover).4 It is not simply that scholarly publications leave a clearer paper trail; I would insist that such print production remains the single most crucial way to gauge the methodological and ideological contours of any academic discipline, its "field imaginary"-those unconscious presuppositions that drive its sense of itself.5 And in the field imaginary of American studies, film does not seem to play any significant role until the 1970s, judging at least by American Quarterly, which was not simply the discipline's leading publication, but in fact the only national scholarly journal devoted to American studies in the 1950s.