(Un)Imagined Shores


The theme of the IASA 6th World Congress, ‘Oceans Apart: In Search of New Wor(l)ds’ was a fitting context in which to ask the question how did the Americas become America? And, inversely, how can America be turned inside out to reveal the Americas to which it is ineradicably, albeit perhaps surreptitiously—yet certainly historically—linked, and what might that meanfor our understanding of American Studies as a field? How does the ocean itself, and its boundaryless significance, figure in whatever understanding of America and/or the Americas comes to the fore.The essays included in this issue of the Review of International American Studies each consider this question in very different ways, from the exploration of the role of the ocean in American literature, to that of the power of the ocean’s imaginary reality itself to shape our understanding of that literature. Ever present within these questions is that of the long history of empire embedded in the idea of America and all things American, what exactly that history is to mean, and how it is to be understood, especially when contextualized by the cultural significance of the ocean. With the ocean in mind, in keeping with the Congress theme, the meaning of America seems to radically shift, as the reality of the Americas becomes more evident. As this stable meaning is troubled, as traditional boundaries begin to reform in new configurations, the possibility for new discoveries about the meaning of America comes into greater prominence. But this view from the ocean, with its new perspective on old understandings, doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘out to sea’.

As Giorgio Mariani asserts, there is often a certain anxiety, even among those, like the members of the International American Studies Association, who adventurously leave their academic and intellectual points of origin to carve out new epistemological roadmaps, leading not infrequently beyond known disciplinary parameters, as these have been structured within the university. What is it about the unboundedness of uncontained knowledge, for which the sea is a striking metaphor, that can hide a subtle yet nonetheless yawning fear? There is the ever-present possibility of drowning, requiring the superhuman control necessary to calmly tread water until a familiar shore appears, rather than using every reserve of energy to flail uselessly about in panic, destroying all possibility of potentially adaptive measures. There is the desire to return to the power of what is known even in the midst of a willful voyage to the unknown, a siren’s song of familiarity slamming shut the door to the new visions that the amorphous reality of limitlessness can invite. But once the idea of treading water is accepted to the point of dictating action, once calm acceptance is allowed to set in, so too does the ocean begin to seem less of an enemy, the mind clears, solutions appear, and direction based on sharpness of thought and intrepid decision takes flight. Previously unthought avenues to understanding open up, and then, new shores. This, then, is the spirit in which the President’s Address and the three plenaries to follow are offered, couple with Paweł Jędrzejko’s fitting examination of Polish literature filtered through an oceanic American literary enounter. Taking America to sea, they are all a compass leading not to what is already known, but to what can be, if we but continue to calmly tread on.

Cyraina Johnson-Roullier
Editor-in-Chief, RIAS


Published : 2015-05-01

Johnson-RoullierC. (2015). (Un)Imagined Shores. Review of International American Studies, 8(1). Retrieved from https://journals.us.edu.pl/index.php/RIAS/article/view/3388

Cyraina Johnson-Roullier  johnson.64@nd.edu
RIAS Editor in Chief, IASA Notre Dame University  United States
Cyraina Johnson-Roullier, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame, specializes in literature of the Americas, modern literature and cultural theory. She is the author of Reading on the Edge: Exiles, Modernities and Cultural Transformation in Proust, Joyce and Baldwin (SUNY, 2000), and has published essays on modernism, literary and feminist theory, African-American literature and literature of the Americas. She has received a Presidential Fellowship at the State University of New York, Buffalo; a Research Fellowship from the Consortium for a Strong Minority Presence at Liberal Arts Colleges; a Ford Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship; and numerous internal grants and awards, including a Henkels Visiting Scholars Series grant. She has held visiting appointments in Literature of the Americas in the Franke Institute and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, and in Emergent Literatures (Literature of the Americas) at the University of Geneva in Geneva, Switzerland. Her research interests are interdisciplinary, focused on cultural and feminist theory, gender and ethnic studies and hemispheric approaches to American literature, and primarily engaging the work of both black and white American modernists. Professor Johnson-Roullier is currently working on a book on American modernism and the Atlantic world. She is Concurrent Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame, as well as a Fellow of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies and a Senior Fellow in Notre Dame's Gender Studies Program. She served as co-editor of IASA's Review of International American studies from 2006-2010, and was appointed editor-in-chief of the journal in Spring 2010.

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