Visions of America From Abroad
America is the great, ongoing experiment of modernity, a nation thoroughly structured by all that is considered new in the Western world: liberal democracy, science, technology, industry, capitalism. The colonization of America by Europe led to our nation's status as a laboratory for political, social, and artistic theories which otherwise may never have been attempted. Although the USA is only a small part of the American continent, and there is a long and rich human history that predates Europe's awareness of it, the focus of a disproportionate amount of attention from Europe is on our relatively short history as a nation. From the very beginning of the process, however, Europeans have viewed us and our country with profound ambivalence. On the one hand, we are the territory upon which the dreams and aspirations of the boldest visionaries can develop. On the other hand, Europeans justifiably fear what can happen in a society which is so unencumbered by the authority exerted by previous generations. The fear of America as a Frankenstein nation without the soul of tradition has been the preoccupation of many of Europe's leading intellectuals over the last two hundred years. With every passing day, there are more and more others looking at us with ambivalence. As recent history has shown, America is not just a European obsession. Our ties to Europe have weakened in the last few decades, and we now find ourselves in a more multilateral geopolitical environment. The attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, was a brutal awakening for most Americans to the hostility that exists in many parts of the world, not only against our foreign policy but against our very identity as a people. Is such hostility related to the European ambivalence toward America, or is it a new phenomenon, with separate historical and intellectual roots? This course will be conducted as a seminar. Each week, we will examine texts and films that center on a particular theme of European-American intellectual relations, the emerging complicated relationship between Islam and America, and the longstanding tension with Latin America. While this course will teach us much about our American identity by looking at our society through the eyes of others, it will also teach us as much if not more about these others themselves. Among the texts of European writers included in the seminar are works by Alexis de Tocqueville, Jean Baudrillard, Simone de Beauvoir, and Bernard-Henri Levy. The texts of Middle Eastern writers include works by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Sayyid Qutb; among the Latin American authors are Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. We will also view and discuss several films by directors such as Wim Wenders, Aki Kaurismaki, Jean-Luc Godard, and Charlie Chaplin. No prerequisite. This course can count towards the major in French (modern languages or area studies) under certain conditions to be arranged with Prof. Guiney. Enrollment limited.