Journal of American Studies

Historicizing the Transnational: Robert Coover, Kathy Acker and the Rewriting of British Cultural History, 1970–1997

a1 University of Oxford, 1A South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3TG.

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On the face of it, the move to classify any particular cultural period might seem such a slippery, arbitrary undertaking that the result would almost inevitably appear excessively homogenizing or otherwise misleading. The first use of the term “Enlightenment” in the English-speaking world was not until 1865, for example, while the notion of literary Romanticism as a discrete historical phenomenon did not emerge until the later part of the nineteenth century, long after Wordsworth and Coleridge had died.1 The more sceptical wing of microhistorians and new historicists would say this merely exemplifies the categorical distance and difference between particular situations and the subsequent rationalizations imposed forcibly upon them. A counterargument, however, might suggest it is only through retrospective mapping of this kind that what Arjun Appadurai calls the “isomorphic” qualities running through particular eras can be brought to light.2 Works or phenomena apparently quite diffuse and unrelated can be brought together in illuminating constellations, thereby suggesting ways in which structural patterns of certain kinds, ideological as well as economic, have helped to shape, if not altogether determine, cultural narratives at particular junctures in history. Fredric Jameson's 1984 essay “Periodizing the 60s,” for instance, rigorously eschewed both the anecdotal indulgence and the sentimental forms of nostalgia which have accumulated persistently around that decade through its insistence that history “is necessity, that the 60s had to happen the way it did, and that its opportunities and failures were inextricably intertwined, marked by the objective constraints and openings of a determinate historical situation.