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Phenomenal Woman Beitrag open-access

Michelle Obama’s Embodied Rhetoric and the Cultural Work of Fashion Biographies

Stefanie Schäfer

Amerikastudien/American Studies, Volume 60 (2016), Issue 2-3, Page 235 - 254

Michelle Obama’s role as the first black First Lady of the U.S. is contextualized in discourses of feminism and race, in the historical meaning of the First Lady, and in the world of fashion and celebrity. Her strategy in engaging these discourses is described here as an ‘embodied rhetoric,’ in which she caters to media attention but refuses to comment on her fashion choices, thereby creating a void for interpretation that is filled by a plethora of readings. Drawing from biography and iconicity theory as well as fashion and First Lady Studies, this article discusses three iconic appearances of Obama that demonstrate her stances on the First Lady’s role, black female stereotypes, and fashion as empowerment, respectively. It examines the cultural work of two genres of celebrity texts, biographies and fashion biographies, in order to extrapolate her ‘real’ character and historical meaning for American womanhood. Obama’s case illustrates the interdependence between iconic persona and public mythmaking: The First Lady’s ‘office’ serves as a template for the creation of an American fashion icon. As a consequence, the Presidency is no longer a solitary office, but one occupied by a First Couple ruling by political and fashion power. This article discusses three iconic appearances of Obama that comment on her First Lady role, on black female stereotypes, and on fashion as empowerment, respectively. It examines how biographies and fashion biographies interpret these appearances in order to extrapolate her ‘real’ character and historical meaning for American womanhood.


“Recognition Is a Form of Agreement” Beitrag open-access

The Workings of Self-Narration in The Catcher in the Rye and Invisible Man

Stefanie Schäfer

Amerikastudien/American Studies, Volume 57 (2013), Issue 4, Page 603 - 626

Theories of recognition provide an understanding of selfhood as based on narrative identity. In striking up and maintaining a relationship with the Other through telling my story, I am acknowledged as a conversation partner and as a self, endowed with a personal history and biographical experience. The driving force of this process is the hope or struggle for recognition, for being seen and acknowledged by the Other.1 This essay uses Paul Ricoeur’s concept of recognition to read fictional first-person narration as a scenario of encounter between narrator and addressee. It draws from narrative psychology, autobiography theory, and narratological concepts of reader positioning to consider how readers encounter a fictional narrator. The relevance of such a reception-based model is illustrated by revisiting two classics of twentieth-century American literature featuring narrators who raise their voices from the margins: J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. By reading these novels as narratives of recognition, I argue that the rise to iconic status of the narrators, Holden Caulfield and the Invisible Man, can be related to the intense scenario of address that calls readers to recognize these fictional tellers.

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