University at Buffalo, Michigan State University "Reinvent" a Major Journal of the Americas

Benefits to both institutions expected to be significant, say editors

Release Date: June 19, 2001 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The benefits to an educational institution of editorial involvement with a major scholarly journal are intangible and, in any case, hard to calculate.

Nevertheless, David E. Johnson, assistant professor of comparative literature in the University at Buffalo's College of Arts and Sciences, and his colleague Scott Michaelsen, associate professor of English at Michigan State University, have taken on the co-editorship and concurrent "reinvention" of just such a journal -- CR: The New Centennial Review.

The first issue of the newly reinvented CR, published just in time for the 45th anniversary of the original journal, is marked by seriousness of purpose and savvy writing on the Americas by some of the field's most distinguished and original writers.

Johnson says this undertaking, collaboration between two Great Lakes' universities, is expected to help define their role as key institutions in the emerging field of hemispheric and global American studies.

"The journal provides us with an international forum or platform, not so much for our own writing," he says, "as for our vision of what comparative Americas studies should be. It gives the opportunity to determine a field."

"It is our hope," he adds, "that The New Centennial Review will disseminate this material and do for UB and MSU what Diacritics has done for Cornell or Critical Inquiry has done for the University of Chicago -- reinforce our identities as important locations for innovative Americas cultural and literary studies.

"In the long run, CR should help various departments at UB recruit faculty members, graduate students and funding sources with an interest in rethinking the foundations and limits of the Americas," Johnson notes.

Although published by the Michigan State University Press and heavily financed by Michigan State's College of Arts and Sciences, the journal is distinguished by UB affiliation from top to bottom.

Its two editors, for instance, are longtime friends and colleagues who invented the term "border theory" to encompass scholarly work going on in Chicano-Latino studies, border studies and research on borderlands areas.

They both hold doctorates from UB, co-edited "Border Theory: The Limits of Cultural Politics" (University of Minnesota Press) and co-authored "Anthropology's Wake: After Cultural Analysis" (forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press).

"There is much fine work in this field done at UB," Johnson says, "Many faculty members are doing excellent research and writing in the field and have organized major conferences and symposia on the Americas, but we need to get that information out there and showcase their work in order to draw top new faculty members and graduate students to the field."

One of the journal's three distinguished editorial advisory boards is comprised of 13 members of the faculty of UB's College of Arts and Sciences, another of 14 members of the MSU faculty. Three former graduate students from the UB Department of Comparative Literature, now faculty members at major educational institutions, contributed to the first issue, and the second issue will include essays presented at UB's March 2000 conference, "Borders of the Americas."

One of next year's issues, says Johnson, will feature material to be presented here in August at the Pan American Symposium sponsored by the UB Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Another issue will support UB's intellectual commitment to Cuba by translating and publishing essays from important Cuban journals from the 1940s and '50s, including works by José Lezama Lima, Cintio Vitier and Antón Arrufat.

Considerable financial support for that issue has been provided by three of UB's endowed chairs: the David Gray Chair in Poetry (Charles Bernstein), the Eugenio Donato Chair in Comparative Literature (Rodolphe Gasché) and the James McNulty Chair in English (Dennis Tedlock).

In addition to the enthusiasm and support of its new editors, editorial boards and contributors, CR gets a strong leg up from its original incarnation.

In the years since its founding in 1957, the journal has published important critical and theoretical scholarship concerning the humanities. Its contributors included Russell Nye, Talcott Parsons and Edward Said, author of "Orientalism," widely considered the founding text of postcolonial studies. For Centennial Review, Said provided the first-ever translations from Eric Auerbach's classic work, "Mimesis."

The journal began to flounder in the 1970s and '80s as the field of theoretical and critical literary studies changed. Although it continued to publish, the journal lost not only significant readership, but also its direction and many of its identifiable traits.

"In the meantime," says Michaelsen, "the MSU Department of English created in 1997

what we believe is the first Ph.D. program in the literatures of the Americas. I realized at that time that although some journals are interested in the Americas and others in interdisciplinary studies, none focused exclusively on the Americas in an interdisciplinary context."

When the editor of The New Centennial Review became ill, Johnson and Michaelsen proposed to the dean of the MSU College of Arts and Sciences that they take over editorial leadership and reinvent the publication and its mission. Their efforts resulted in its emergence this year as a theoretically inflected interdisciplinary journal of the Americas.

The first issue of the re-named and freshly designed CR is dedicated to the concept of cultural citizenship. Is soccer revolutionary, its contributors ask. When does a "mole" fly? Is there nothing to the myth of globalization? Is Kafka Canadian?

Issue 1.1 includes essays by such noted scholars as Donald Pease, director of the Dartmouth College Institute in American Studies and general series editor of "New Americanists" at Duke University Press, and Ohio State University's Ileana Rodríguez, distinguished for her astute readings of Latin-American "politically committed" literature-texts produced within the context of Latin-American guerrilla movements.

Scott Cutler Shershow of Miami University, Ohio, looks at manifestations of myth and nihilism that emerge in the discourse of globalization. Grant Farred of Duke University writes about "colouredness" and citizenship in post-Apartheid South Africa.

University of Miami Americanist Russ Castronovo, who has written provocatively of politics, ideology and history in American literature and society, employs Elián Gonzales and the 19th-century fictional mulatto protagonist Iola Leroy to trace the complex maps of identity that produce "reluctant citizens" of one group or another.

"As the first issue suggests," says Johnson, "CR is devoted to comparative studies of the Americas that suggest possibilities for plural futures that are not reiterations of its past.

"We're looking for philosophically inflected interventions, provocations and insurgencies that trouble the limits of the potentialities of the Americas. We also encourage more global and theoretical work with implications for the Americas."

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