American Studies
American Studies

New Books By UT AMS Faculty Dr. Julia Mickenberg and UT AMS Graduates Dr. Joel Dinerstein and Dr. Andrew J. Friedenthal

Fri, April 14, 2017
New Books By UT AMS Faculty Dr. Julia Mickenberg and UT AMS Graduates Dr. Joel Dinerstein and Dr. Andrew J. Friedenthal

In this first week of April, the Department of American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin is celebrating new books by faculty member Dr. Julia Mickenberg and graduates and Dr. Joel Dinerstein (PhD '00) Dr. Andrew Friedenthal (PhD '14)

Dr. Mickenberg's book, calledAmerican Girls In Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream was released by the University of Chicago Press. According to the publisher: 

As Julia L. Mickenberg uncovers in American Girls in Red Russia, there is a forgotten counterpoint to the story of the Lost Generation: beginning in the late nineteenth century, Russian revolutionary ideology attracted many women, including suffragists, reformers, educators, journalists, and artists, as well as curious travelers. Some were famous, like Isadora Duncan or Lillian Hellman; some were committed radicals, though more were just intrigued by the “Soviet experiment.” But all came to Russia in search of social arrangements that would be more equitable, just, and satisfying. And most in the end were disillusioned, some by the mundane realities, others by horrifying truths.

Mickenberg reveals the complex motives that drew American women to Russia as they sought models for a revolutionary new era in which women would be not merely independent of men, but also equal builders of a new society. Soviet women, after all, earned the right to vote in 1917, and they also had abortion rights, property rights, the right to divorce, maternity benefits, and state-supported childcare. Even women from Soviet national minorities—many recently unveiled—became public figures, as African American and Jewish women noted. Yet as Mickenberg’s collective biography shows, Russia turned out to be as much a grim commune as a utopia of freedom, replete with economic, social, and sexual inequities.

American Girls in Red Russia recounts the experiences of women who saved starving children from the Russian famine, worked on rural communes in Siberia, wrote for Moscow or New York newspapers, or performed on Soviet stages. Mickenberg finally tells these forgotten stories, full of hope and grave disappointments.

Dr. Dinerstein's book, called The Origins of Cool in Postwar America, was also released by The University of Chicago Press:

Cool. It was a new word and a new way to be, and in a single generation, it became the supreme compliment of American culture. The Origins of Cool in Postwar America uncovers the hidden history of this concept and its new set of codes that came to define a global attitude and style. As Joel Dinerstein reveals in this dynamic book, cool began as a stylish defiance of racism, a challenge to suppressed sexuality, a philosophy of individual rebellion, and a youthful search for social change.

Through eye-opening portraits of iconic figures, Dinerstein illuminates the cultural connections and artistic innovations among Lester Young, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, among others. We eavesdrop on conversations among Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Miles Davis, and on a forgotten debate between Lorraine Hansberry and Norman Mailer over the "white Negro" and  black cool. We come to understand how the cool worlds of Beat writers and Method actors emerged from the intersections of film noir, jazz, and existentialism. Out of this mix, Dinerstein sketches nuanced definitions of cool that unite concepts from African-American and Euro-American culture: the stylish stoicism of the ethical rebel loner; the relaxed intensity of the improvising jazz musician; the effortless, physical grace of the Method actor. To be cool is not to be hip and to be hot is definitely not to be cool.

Dr. Friedenthal's book, called Retcon Game: Retroactive Continuity and the Hyperlinking of America was released by the University Press of Mississippi, which describes the book thus:

Andrew J. Friedenthal deems retroactive continuity, or "retconning," as a force with many implications for how Americans view history and culture.

Friedenthal examines this phenomenon in a range of media, from its beginnings in comic books and now its widespread shift into television, film, and digital media. Retconning has reached its present form as a result of the complicated workings of superhero comics. In comic books and other narratives, retconning often seems utilized to literally rewrite some aspect of a character's past, either to keep that character more contemporary, to erase stories from continuity that no longer fit, or to create future story potential...

In the first book to focus on this subject, Friedenthal regards the editable Internet hyperlink, rather than the stable printed footnote, as the de facto source of information in America today. To embrace retroactive continuity in fictional media means accepting that the past itself is not a stable element, but rather something constantly in contentious flux. Due to retconning's ubiquity within our media, we have grown familiar with narratives as inherently unstable, a realization that deeply affects how we understand the world.

 

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