Current Research Project

Jun.-Prof. Dr. Jan D. Kucharzewski

Once More into the Fray: Hunters, Sailors, and the American Liminal

The aim of this project is to develop, from 1800 to the present day, a comprehensive literary and cultural analysis of a hegemonic ideal of manhood prevalent in U.S.-American culture. This ideal associates normative gender identity and a corresponding notion of national identity with a successful overcoming of liminality. The research project will therefore examine the significance of liminality in constructions of American masculinities. Initially a concept developed by cultural anthropologists, liminality refers to a precarious phase of unsettledness in rites of initiation meant to symbolically integrate a subject into a dominant structure. This temporary suspension of established standards and norms will be identified as a constituting trope of nationhood and manhood in the cultural history of the U.S. Located on the nexus between literary studies, film studies, cultural studies, and cultural history, the project will transfer the allegorical functions of ritualistic liminality to literary as well as cinematic texts. American literature and film repeatedly stage allegorical excursions into liminal realms which ‘authenticate’ a distinctly American idea of autonomous masculinity. This thesis of an ‘American Liminal’ as a decisive catalyst of hegemonic identities will be particularized through diachronic discussions of fictional representations of hunters and sailors as paradigmatic figures of liminality: Hunters and sailors leave civilization behind to enter wildernesses of water and land. In these realms/phases of liminality, he (and the gendering of those figures is consistently masculine) undergoes trials which symbolically consolidate heteromasculinity. Although frequently idealized as emblems of ‘authentic’ masculinity, hunters and sailors also enact crossings that potentially unsettle hegemonic parameters. Since the white male body often serves as a metonymy for the American body politic, it will be shown how discourses of gender, power, and ethnic identity are principally informed by liminal processes and phenomena. The current state of the research indicates that there are no similar approaches that utilize the theoretical framework of liminality for an analysis of national mythologies and hegemonic masculinity in the U.S. Neither has the remarkable connection between hunters and sailors as analogous conceptualizations of American manhood been addressed in academic writings. Given the prevalence of hunters and sailors in historical and contemporary cultural productions as well as their immediate relation to a preeminent typology of manhood, this absence seems glaring. By introducing the notion of an ‘American Liminal’ as a central motif in U.S. cultural history, the project will close a significant gap in academic examinations of American masculinities and advance the understanding of principle American myths in unique and innovative ways.

Contents

  1. “Let’s Keep Going”: Liminality, Masculinity, and Manifest Destinies
  2. “Ghostlier Demarcations”: Theorizing with/in/through Liminality
  3. “The Coming Only is Scared”: Towards an American Liminal
  4. “The Milk and Sperm of Kindness”: Nautical Liminality and Fluid Masculinities
  5. The Chase is Better than the Catch: Hunting for Hegemony
  6. Conclusion

© Jan Kucharzewski 2019

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