Nightmares in American Culture
As culture reflects upon what is perceived as reality, American culture also reflects upon the American Dream. Optimism, industriousness, family, prosperity, modernity, technology, individuality; those are all elements of that conception. The American Dream is a shining one, yet it is a dream, a dream believed to be realized through human efforts.
Such a dream can also be confronted by its opposites. Through this reflection and even deconstruction, surfaces can be severed from substance, dreams from "reality": The dream can become a nightmare.
Thus studying American culture does not just mean to take a look at the bright side, which America is usually associated with, it also means to get down to the assumedly lower regions so long avoided by high-brow approaches. Studying American nightmares cannot only be as effective as studying more balanced accounts, it can be even more effective with the conflicts lying bare and the lines drawn clearer and in a more dramatized, even poetic and archaic way.
The counter side of positivist thinking is fear, the counter side of enlightenment thought is a world populated and ruled by heroic forces of light and darkness, a world full of supernatural occurrences. These nightmarish shadow worlds do have a point, their core showing fear, angst and doubt, enabled to even put the entire edifice of the dream in question by effectively distorting the accepted image of reality, by making "other" which is believed one's "own". By approaching common beliefs through a process of radical alienation, horror and related genres are able to adjust some common truths and lies.
This year's Students Conference will be dedicated to probing into this culture of nightmares, to studying these Haunted Dreams, to take a close look at horror and related genres in order to more thoroughly understand the occurrence, the function and the necessity of such cultural items.
The range of topics will both feature historic overviews and aesthetic considerations, as well as a diachronic comparison, starting with literary classics from the American Renaissance, leading over to modernist and post-modernist accounts in literature, movies and television. We will also discuss national traumata, past and recent, in the fields of history and politics.
The conference is organized by students of the American Studies Program at Humboldt-Universitšt zu Berlin. We invite all students interested in the project. The presentation of a paper is not a requirement for participation, so please feel free to come and enjoy exciting papers, interesting discussions and related film screenings.
original call for papers