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Unbecoming Americans: Writing Race and Nation from the Shadows of Citizenship, 1945-1960 (The American Literatures Initiative) Paperback – December 13, 2012

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This is a great book, valuable for the light it sheds on a little known period in American literary history as well as for the way it rereads these texts. For students of narratives, official and otherwise, it is a compelling reminder of how stories function as the scaffolding on which we build our understandings."
(Journal of American Culture 2013-12-01)

"Joseph Keith compellingly demonstrates how a select group of authors fashioned a radical cosmopolitan literary tradition at the subaltern limits of U.S. citizenship that subverted racial logics, reimagined the state, and addressed the question of 'how shall the human race be organized?'"
(Donald Pease author of The New American Exceptionalism 2012-10-24)

"A highly original work that is grounded in compelling literary and historical analysis. Unbecoming Americans illuminates Cold War America and U.S. critical race theory with insights drawn from subaltern historiography and postcolonial theory."
(David Lloyd author of Irish Culture and Colonial Modernity, 1800-2000 2012-05-29)

"A compelling book. Unbecoming Americans is built on the hope that reading, language, and form have the subversivepotential to promote new ideas."
(Modern Language Studies)

"Unbecoming Americans provides a sophisticated synthesis of disparate texts, highlights the significance of discursive critique during the early years of the Cold War, and encourages scholars to investigate other neglected works in search of both alternative perspectives of social discourse and alternative conceptions of the social itself."
(Reviews in Cultural Theory 2013-01-01)

"Keith has engaged an interesting topic that literary and cultural studies scholars will savor."
(Journal of American History 2013-12-01)

"Unbecoming Americans is a valuable addition to the study of mid-century and Cold War American culture, as it reveals to us in new ways how political history and literary form intersect at the dawn of the American century."
(Literature and History)

"Its overall value lies in its nuanced attention to how an outsider status can function as a corrective to US exceptionalism and engender a mode of resistance. [Unbecoming Americans] is not only timely—it is academically significant and politically germane."

About the Author

JOSEPH KEITH is an assistant professor of English at Binghamton University, SUNY.


Product Details

  • Series: The American Literatures Initiative
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (January 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813559669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813559667
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,747,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joseph Keith opens the book with a beautifully written introduction that describes the arresting cover image of a silhouette looking out a prison window at the Statue of Liberty. What he explains surprised me - that Ellis Island served as a detention center after WWII for "immigrants and aliens the state wished to deport." Mr. Keith's evocative opening description of the image foreshadows his poetic writing style throughout - where he builds his arguments in layered ways beginning with a specific text or historical moment and expanding his original arguments from there. Through the examination of the works of four authors (Richard Wright, Carlos Buloson, Claudia Jones, and C.L.R. James) the book is a fascinating look at the politics of citizenship during the early cold war and how exclusion from the nation led these writers to imagine alternative global political and literary forms. It's enlightening, well researched, highly intelligent and makes wonderfully original arguments about the changes and limits of U.S. citizenship and empire after WWII and the politics of literary form.
I learned a lot from reading this book – not only about these authors but about this period in American literary history - it’s also a very timely book considering how contested citizenship and "what it means to be American" is today in the US.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joseph Keith has a good point he's trying to make, if you can pick apart the buzzword-laden writing. It is a struggle to get through, and unfortunately will not appeal to a wide audience. I purchased a kindle version, that's why I don't have a page number...suffice to say this is about 4 pages into the first chapter.

"Clearly informed by poststructuralist critiques of teleological progress and a unitary construction of the subject, these analyses have suggested that the developmental logic of the bildungsroman reproduces a narrative of synthesis that essentializes identity and politics by hegemonically imposing a universal form onto heterogeneous differences, ultimately reinforcing a logic of development that necessarily privileges the nation (in this case, "America") as the pinnacle of modernity."

If you can wade through prose like that, then this book is for you. If not, then I do not suggest this book.

I gave this book a 2 out of 5 stars because his prose made the points about these authors and their genre difficult to understand in some parts and completely incomprehensible for the majority of the book. It got more than one star because it wasn't too expensive.
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