Professor of English and American Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Resident at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:November 2021
Research topic at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:»American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability«
Security emerges as the original motivation behind human beings’ desire for stable community in the political fairytale that philosophy tells of the social contract. If the concept of security takes shape as a story, it is crucial to examine the narratives that it sets in motion as well as those that it forecloses. While discussions of security are often dominated by social science, an understanding of security—how it makes us feel, how it contours ideas of privacy and property, how it affects our thinking about whiteness and race, how it serves as both the origin and endpoint of political community—requires attention to literary and other aesthetic materials. The topic of cannot be left to policy investigations that fail to take up the full range of emotions from safety to terror that literature displays.
American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability explores the concept of security and investigates the structures of state as well as the structures of feeling that flow from what philosophers posit as the impetus to form a political community in the first place. The question is not whether people need security since risk, as Ulrich Beck contends, represents a defining feature of modernity. Rather, the goal is to examine how security provides an organizing principle for collective life in ways that both enhance freedom and limit it. In the contexts of early America, the violence of settler colonialism and ever-present fears of mass slave rebellion made white vulnerability a constitutive feature, not simply of political life, but of existence itself. Across a multiracial society organized around the frontier and the plantation, the demands for constant readiness, surveillance, and other security measures spawned feelings of unease, fear, terror, in a word, insecurity. Through critical attention to a range of novels, tracts, pamphlets, and newspapers, including the complete run of the first Black newspaper in the US, Freedom’s Journal (1827-29), American Insecurity examines how security’s generative capacity to provide a foundation for art and culture, as Hobbes proposed in Leviathan, is matched only by its capacity to incite fear and promote terror.
Research partner:Russ Castronovo cooperates with Johannes Voelz, Professor of American Studies at Goethe University, in the context of two collaborative research projects: »Democratic Vistas: Reflections on the Atlantic World«, hosted by the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, and the excellence cluster initiative »ConTrust: Trust in Conflict – Political Life under Conditions of Uncertainty«. His stay is sponsored by the State of Hesse within the framework of the Hesse Wisonsin Partnership Program, the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt am Main, and »ConTrust«.
Scholarly profile of Russ Castronovo Russ Castronovo‘s research and teaching span three centuries of American literature and culture from the 18th through the 20th centuries, concentrating on the intersections of politics and print culture. From the broadsides and pamphlets of the American Revolutionary era in Propaganda 1776 (Oxford UP, 2014) to the aesthetic treatises, films, and anarchist tracts of the 1870s-1920s in Beautiful Democracy (University of Chicago P, 2007), the four monographs he has authored and the five books he has edited or coedited all build upon interdisciplinary foundations in political theory, film, art history, philosophy, and literary studies to engage questions about race and democracy in the humanities broadly. His publications appear in journals such as PMLA, Critical Inquiry, New Literary History, boundary 2, American Literature, American Literary History, and the Journal of American Studies.
Please find more information about Russ Castronovo here.
Main areas of research:American literature, African American literature, American Studies, political and cultural theory and popular culture
- Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America (New York, Oxford University Press, 2014)
- Beautiful Democracy: Aesthetics and Anarchy in a Global Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007)
- Necro Citizenship: Death, Eroticism, and the Public Sphere in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001)
- Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)
- States of Emergency: Toward a Future History of American Studies, co-edited with Susan Gillman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).
- Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics, co-edited with Dana Nelson (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002)