Towards Comparative Masculinity Studies

A Transatlantic Analysis of the Literary Production of National Masculinities in Great Britain and the United States from World War II to the Present.
Organised by Prof. Dr. Stefan Horlacher (TU Dresden) and Prof. Kevin Floyd (Kent State University), funded in cooperation with Kent State University (Ohio) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.


Stefan Horlacher © Stefan Horlacher



Prof. Dr. Stefan Horlacher

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Fakultätsgebäude der Fakultät Sprach-, Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaften, Raum 3.13 Wiener Straße 48

01219 Dresden


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+49 351 463-33848
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+49 351 463-35135


09:30 - 10:30
während der Vorlesungszeit.

Find out more about the three conferences:

Towards Comparative Masculinity Studies" undertakes to understand culturally differentiated mascu­linities not as simply incommensurate with each other, but as operating in relation to each other, to think difference and commonality together and to develop a method that can account for both. The research project thus consists of an in-depth analysis of the literary production of national mascu­linities in the US and Britain within a rigorously trans­atlantic framework as well as of the ways in which hegemonic masculinities have to be understood in relation to their varied national and trans­national others.

The project compares and contrasts the ways in which in Britain and the United States the cultural and especially literary production of masculinities is mediated by the national, i.e. how masculine iden­tity and national identity mutually inform each other. By understanding the larger context for the emer­gence of more plural, culturally differentiated and ultimately transnational masculinities and by high­lighting the mediating factor of national difference within this broader horizon, the analytical method applied will be able to conceptualize and emphasize difference and commonality simultaneously. This is particularly so when masculinity is viewed as having a largely textual or narrative relational identity and as consisting of a dynamic subject position that has a specific relation to patriarchal power and to the symbolic order.

The project will however not only examine how different forms of national identity in Britain and the US have influenced the construction of masculinity in these countries, but also how alternative construc­tions of masculinity have influenced the very construction of national identity itself, leading to a re-ne­gotiation of what it means to be British or American. If work on masculinity in literary studies still frequently tends to focus on the literary representation of masculinity, it is absolutely necessary to analyse from a comparative perspective how narrative texts themselves produce certain kinds of national­ly-specific masculine identification and how this changes over time. Special attention will be paid to the performative function of literature (cf. Stein 2004) given that the latter opens up a space for the creative construction and critical engagement with a variety of new male subject positions. The representative  novels examined can thus be viewed as machines of cultural (re-)production, encompassing a range of critical positions that extend from a crucial literary stocktaking via the emergence of new perspectives to the redefinition of 'Britishness'/'Americanness' and the modification of the image of Britain/America. Moreover, an understanding of the concept of nation as a narrative form which transforms fatality into continuity and contingency into meaning (Anderson 1991) highlights the structural affinities between national and gendered identity on the one hand, and literature and the imagination on the other (cf. Taylor 1994; Freiburg 1998).

As masculinity has also been widely under­stood in the scholarly literature as a set of cultural and textual practices that normalize the body and psyche as masculine, the aim of this project is to demonstrate how literary texts produce and perform gender identity as much as they produce national identity, the underlying thesis being that the production by literary texts of national and masculine identity together is one of the defining characteristics of the post-war literary landscape in Britain and the US. Therefore the ways in which national masculinity is produced through narrative is examined in at least two different but closely related senses: Firstly, in order to develop, both gendered and national identity assume an imagined, retrospectively posited narrative trajectory: a founding myth (cf. Assmann 1992; Hobsbawm 1990) in the sense of a coherent cultural and/or ethnic past, powerful enough to unify in the present otherwise differentiated, even divergent, social subjects under the umbrella of national identity. Second, both of these forms of identity are themselves the distinctly modern product of the emergence of entirely new narrative forms, the novel form in particular. Thus the production of national identity takes a per­sistently narrative form, while also being itself the historically specific product of distinct kinds of narrative texts; important examples of such texts would include texts that take unified national or masculine narratives for granted, such as the powerful US narrative of the open frontier, of the so-called settlement of the West. This retrospectively posited story of national unity, which ideologically reunifies divergent and dispersed social subjects within an "imagined community" of national manhood, must constantly be reproduced within entirely new historical and media contexts (cf. Clark 2000). But if narrative texts contribute to the ongoing cultural norm of a coherent, stable sense of national masculinity, it is also the privilege of literature to closely question and deconstruct these very concepts in order to testify to their fluidity and transitoriness.

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Letzte Änderung: 21.09.2016