Department of Gender and Cultural Studies seminar series 8 March
Bildung and Cultural Studies
Meaghan Morris / Melissa Hardie
Bad Answers: ‘What is Cultural Studies?’
Why is it often so hard to give a capsule answer to the question, “What is Cultural Studies”? After some fifty years of institutional as well as critical experiments, can we come up with anything better than an open-ended list of social justice topics that are easily targeted as “grievance studies” in battles for resources; that are addressed in other disciplines these days anyway; and that carry “theory” and “culture wars” baggage from those U.S. academic contexts in which Cultural Studies has been least successful in securing a material base.
I will argue that there are good reasons for our difficulty with this question, which nevertheless has to be answered persuasively as soon as we are running programmes and offering concrete prospects to students. To explore this difficulty, I will revisit two answers that have resonated elsewhere in the past but have different implications in today’s higher education economy as it evolves in the era of what David Graeber has called “bullshit jobs”. One is Stuart Hall’s 1981 vision of “popular culture” as a site of struggle where “socialism” might be constituted. The other is the liberal arts ideal of “whole person education” popular in East Asian contexts (and that I implemented myself for many years in Hong Kong). The latter draws on ethical models that have close affinity with the concept of bildung, while remaining flexibly vague about the meaning and value of “culture”. I regard this vagueness as a potential strength, especially when it can be disguised, but whether and how “whole persons” can contest their fate within this paradigm is an open historical question.
Meaghan Morris is Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. She is a figure of world stature in the field of Cultural Studies. She was Chair of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society (2012 – 2016) and past Chair of the international Association for Cultural Studies (ACS), 2004-08. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities, and a former ARC Senior Fellow, from 2000-2012 she was founding Chair Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong.
Bad Bildung: Ivana Trump’s For Love Alone
In this paper I begin by defining the celebrity novel object as a novel or novel-like object which seeks to cordone a ground of protected or heightened speech by demarcating that speech as literary and formal, with the privileges that literary form provides. A genre such as bildungsroman serves this purpose especially well since its generic affordances both bolster claims to literary distinctiveness and arguably mechanise or at least facilitate the reorientation of historical events and facts into literary plot and character. I focus on Ivana Trump’s 1992 celebrity novel object For Love Alone: the print document, audio book, and the telemovie made of it the year after print publication. The novel was reviewed (negatively) as joining ‘the canon of ghost-written literature’ and its status as collaboratively written novel-object led to its easy revision as a telemovie in 1993, both because it sits better in the context of collaborative practice that defines television production and because the necessary telescoping of its narrative rendered its claim to bildung status pristinely clear.
Trump’s storyline merges her and her husband’s lives and attributes as those of her heroine alone, and, after thematising cold-war politics, the entertainment, real estate, and shipping industries, centers on the novelistic ‘private’ experience of adultery and the reaction to it registered in public action. The protagonist (a thinly disguised Ivana) takes on the character of agency itself, denuding the cheating spouse (a thinly disguised Donald) of the capacity to act and finally even a location as required for acting. As such, its calculation of the formation of identity is an important registration of what Corey Robin describes as the ‘reactionary mind.’ The novel object offers ‘bad bildung’ in generic, psychical and political terms. I read the mise-en-scene of the telemovie, in particular, for the ways in which it motivates and expresses the formation of ‘bad’ character. Although in the reading the terms ‘bad’ certainly aligns with judgements of taste – bad writing, bad direction, bad décor – the ‘bad’ of ‘bildung’ more expansively captures the novel object’s critique of the sour politics of reaction in favour of more liberatory models of response to the conservative ethos it describes.
Melissa Hardie is Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Undergraduate Programs) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney. Her current research is focused by an interest in the affordances of genre and the play between genres in ‘novel objects,’ textual forms which seem to traverse generic/epistemological categories. She has an enduring commitment to feminist and queer political projects, social and cultural criticism, literary theory and popular culture.
The Department of Gender and Cultural Studies hosts a lively departmental research seminar series. Participants include staff, associates and postgraduate students from the department, as well as presenters from other University of Sydney departments and from outside, both nationally and internationally.
Please join us after the seminar for drinks at the Holme Courtyard Bar
Everyone is welcome to attend.
2019 Seminar Series convenors:
Thom van Dooren and Elsepth Probyn
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