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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Research Centre for the Study of Democratic Cultures and Politics Events & Colloquium

ARC PhD Workshop – MANAR ELLETHY (Roosevelt Institute for American Studies/University of Leiden) & HANNE NIJTMANS (University of Groningen)

When:We 26-04-2023 15:00 - 17:00
Where:Harmonie building room 1315.0048 & online

The format will consist of pre-circulated papers (max. 10 pages), that will be shared with you a week before the session. During the session, Manar and Hanne will give short presentations about how the paper fits into their larger PhD projects. The event will be hybrid.

If you would like to join us (either in-person or online) and receive the pre-circulated paper, and you are not already on the ARC mailing list, please contact Hanne Nijtmans ( h.w.nijtmans ).

Manar Ellethy: “Black Life is Revolution”: The Quest for Survival


The 1960s was a monumental era in American history, marked by significant political transformations in race relations and Black citizenship. It also gave rise to an interest in documentary filmmaking among Black communities, activists, and organizations specifically aiming to complicate, counter, and rectify incorrect, oversimplified, and racist visions of Black socio-political issues. My dissertation titled Paying the Dues: Early Black Documentary Film and the Quest for Truth examines Black documentary film practices in the 1960s produced between 1963 and 1969. This paper, forming the second chapter of my dissertation, deals with one of the greatest myths in the American historical imagination about the Black freedom struggle. This myth posits an irreconcilable moral and ideological distance between non-violence in the South and Black Power radicalism in the North; a contrast too often summarized in the personas of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The paper re-examines the contribution of white racial liberalism in the North to the creation and enforcement of this myth and the silencing of Black solidarity through the lens of the documentaries. In many ways, the myth about the moral and ideological irreconcilable distance between different strategies and geographical struggles in the movement is woven into the fabric of America’s imaginations about its Black population. An imagination that has persistently demonized and irrationalized Black rage, radicalism, self-defense, and Black Power, as well as what was believed to be “unreasonable impatience”, while reluctantly claiming to accept an idealized Black moderate. The aim of this paper is to analyze how this myth of distance is subverted in the documentaries in question by examining how the films’ truth-narratives engage with solidarity through what I propose to be the element of radical survival.

About the speaker

Manar Ellethy holds a master’s degree in International Relations: Culture and Politics from Leiden University. She is currently a PhD candidate at Leiden University and the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies in the Netherlands. Her dissertation is part of the Racial Democracy research project under the supervision of Prof. Damian Pargas. Her dissertation titled Paying the Dues: Early Black Documentary Film and the Quest for Truth explores Black documentary film practices in the 1960s.

Hanne Nijtmans: '“Either Way, They’ll Call it Paranoia:” Female Paranoid Subjectivity in US Neoliberal Empire'


Critically acclaimed fictional podcast Homecoming (Gimlet Media, 2016), starring Catherine Keener and David Schwimmer, is one of podcasting’s success stories with over a million listeners and an Amazon original TV adaptation. Homecoming’s found-footage narrative (see Hoover, 2022) patches together recorded therapy sessions and phone conversations about the ‘Homecoming Initiative,’ supposedly a facility that accommodates veterans’ transition into civilian life. The show centers former employee Heidi Bergman (Keener), who uncovers a conspiracy that involves the involuntary drugging and brainwashing of veterans to redeploy them. Although Homecoming’s thematic content offers a timely commentary on post-9/11 US culture, the podcast remediates tropes and forms from an earlier ‘age of conspiracy,’ building on postmodern literature and culture—notably Pynchon’s canonical Crying of Lot 49 (1966).

This paper zooms in on Homecoming’s female protagonist, Heidi, as she offers new insights into the nature of US neoliberal empire in the twenty-first century: her oscillation between on the one hand a career-driven woman seeking to emancipate herself through her work for the security state (see Grewal, 2017), and on the other hand a paranoid subject critical of the state brings into focus how discourses of feminist liberation can be coopted. Moreover, Homecoming marks a larger shift in twenty-first century paranoid subjectivity: rather than a predominantly masculine form of knowledge production (see Ngai, 2005), I argue that in Homecoming and other fictional podcasts (e.g. see Rabbits and Limetown), paranoia is now typically female, pointing to the complex interconnections of gender, US empire, neoliberalism, and technology in the past decade. These female paranoid subjects offer counternarratives to US neoliberal empire, as their all-consuming quests to uncover conspiracies preclude their productive participation in both the security state and the domestic sphere. At the same time, like The Crying of Lot 49’s protagonist Oedipa Maas, Heidi faces the difficulties of a deeply patriarchal world, as gaslighting and accusations of ‘hysteria’ make her doubt her own judgement, making her an unreliable narrator.

About the speaker

Hanne Nijtmans is an American Studies PhD Candidate at the University of Groningen. Her project titled ‘The Paranoid Style in American Podcasting’ focuses on the recent resurgence of the paranoid style in American culture (2012-present), and pays special attention to fictional podcasts. Beyond this project, her research explores the ways new media, including video games, podcasts, and interactive narratives construct different, and at times illusory, forms of agency. Her essays appeared in New Horizons in English Studies and the collection Video Games and Spatiality in American Studies.