Freedom Lab Presents: US Studies Speakers’ Series – Boris Vejdovsky

Date/Time: Dec 15, 4pm China time
Location: Zoom ID 334 3189 585
Speaker: Boris Vejdovsky (University of Lausanne, Switzerland)

The speaker will be discussing the film, Stagecoach, an early Western, in 1939. Freedom Lab will have a film screening the evening before, on Dec 14, 5:30pm China time. Learn more here >>

The Global Performance of American Culture: Rhetoric and Symbolic Forms in American Western Movies

The Western has often been read as a quintessentially American form of popular art, a genre that has expressed over decades the moods and anxieties of the nation. While many studies have shown that the Western metonymically expresses the social, political, racial, and sexual tensions of the nation, relatively little attention has been paid to its aesthetic and political forms. In other words, many critics have paid attention to what the Western says, but not so much to how it does it; while it is always dangerous to seek to oppose form and content, I propose to focus on the rhetoric and the prosody the Western. By referring to German art historian Erwin Panofsky (The Perspective as Symbolic Form) I argue that the Western establishes symbolic forms that have had a performative effect in shaping American culture well beyond the circle of moviegoers. By drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida (Of Grammatology), but also Judith Butler (Bodies the Matter, Excitable Speech), I further propose that the symbolic forms put in place by the Western not only operate performatively in American popular culture, but that they also participate in the way US culture has had a political impact on our contemporary world. I will seek to show that these symbolic forms create a sense of community and of immunity for the nation and beyond. This point finally leads me to a reflection on the role of American studies and their responsibility to examine the performative aspect of American culture and its global impact.


Boris Vejdovsky

Boris Vejdovsky, Ph.D., is Associate Professor (Maître d’enseignement et de Recherche I) at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, where he teaches American literature and American studies; he is the co-director of the “New American Studies” program, which proposes an intersdisciplinary and multilingual specialization degree to M.A. students. His teaching and research focus on aesthetic, ethical, and political cultural formations of the U.S., the American world, and its global influence. In his work he has been exploring the rhetorical constructs that have been shaping the U.S. public and private spheres and influencing the world beyond the U.S. domestic borders. He has worked on the metaphors of race, sex and gender, in particular, as well as on questions of masculinity and the definitions of U.S. space and territory.

His publications include articles on American authors including Cotton Mather, Herman Melville, Wallace Stevens, Tony Kushner, Ernest Hemingway, and Elizabeth Bishop. He is the author of Ideas of Order: Ethics and Topos in American Literature (2009) and of Ernest Hemingway, la vie, et ailleurs (2011). The latter was published internationally and translated into six languages including British, American, and Chinese editions. He is also the editor of several collections of essays and the General Editor of the series Transatlantic Aesthetics and Culture (Peter Lang) that has published eight volumes to date. His current research project is titled “Framing the American West”; it explores the aesthetic and political formation of the landscapes of the American West and their political significance.

Boris Vejdovsky has served or is serving on the boards of several academic organizations, including SANAS (Swiss Association for North American Studies), EAAS (European association for American Studies) and the ELC/CEL (European Language Council). He was the president of the Senate of the University of Lausanne (UNIL) (2011-13). He has served two terms on the International Committee of the American Studies Association (2007-13 and 2020-2023) and chaired that committee from 2009 to 2013.