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Ersatz America

Hidden Traces, Graphic Texts, and the Mending of Democracy
Rebecca Mark

BUY Cloth · 320 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813936253 · $65.00 · Dec 2014
BUY Paper · 320 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813936260 · $29.50 · Dec 2014
BUY Ebook · 320 pp. · ISBN 9780813936277 · $29.50 · Dec 2014

From the popular legend of Pocahontas to the Civil War soap opera Gone with the Wind to countless sculpted heads of George Washington that adorn homes and museums, whole industries have emerged to feed America’s addiction to imaginary histories that cover up the often violent acts of building a homogeneous nation. In Ersatz America, Rebecca Mark shows how this four-hundred-year-old obsession with false history has wounded democracy by creating language that is severed from material reality. Without the mediating touchstones of body and nature, creative representations of our history have been allowed to spin into dangerous abstraction.

Other scholars have addressed the artificial qualities of the collective American memory, but what distinguishes Ersatz America is that it does more than simply deconstruct--it provides a map for regeneration. Mark contends that throughout American history, citizen artists have responded to the deadly memorialization of the past with artistic expressions and visual artifacts that exist outside the realm of official language, creating a counter narrative. These examples of what she calls visceral graphism are embodied in and connected to the human experience of indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, and silenced women, giving form to the unspeakable. We must learn, Mark suggests, to read the markings of these works against the iconic national myths. In doing so, we can shift from being mesmerized by the monumentalism of this national mirage to embracing the regeneration and recovery of our human history.


Ersatz America is an astonishing work of scholarship--a brilliant, original, ambitious book that will find a broad audience. Rebecca Mark asks all the right questions, beginning with how we retrieve a democracy in which social justice can live and breathe in spite of stultifying nationalistic mirages.

Minrose Gwin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movement

About the Author(s): 

Rebecca Mark is Professor of English at Tulane University and the author of The Dragon’s Blood: Feminist Intertextuality in Eudora Welty’s "The Golden Apples" and the coeditor of The South: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures.

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