The globalization of "American City": whiteness, multiculturalism, and empire in James Ivory's The Golden Bowl.

Author:Baker, Jayson

Abstract: "The Globalization of 'American City:' Whiteness, Multiculturalism, and Empire in James Ivory's The Golden Bowl" Readers of Henry James fiction develop an acumen navigating richly detailed fragments of elite mobile groups temporarily inhabiting cosmopolitan cities in Europe and the United States. The Golden Bowl (1904) is in some ways a remarkable Jamesian text for failing to describe "American City" for readers. James leaves impressions of the American cityscape, its population and landmarks, up to his readers. This loosely drawn city enables James Ivory to develop a cinematic cityscape refracting the thinking and feeling of privilege and vulnerability in the global age. The Golden Bowl (Ivory, 2000) is remarkable in its own right for developing scenes of an urban milieu starkly contrasting with the opulent and decadent interiors common to costume drama productions animating the early 20th century. Reading Ivory's altered cityscapes through Gilles Deleuze's cinema theory explain anxieties within white class positions. The disparaging picture of industrialization and immigration in "American City" evinces the way globalization re-territorializes urban communities and revises class, ethnic, and gender hierarchies in service to industries of the emerging digital economy.


American cities are spaces of modernity. Urban American locales assist industrial and postindustrial organizations develop networks of production and consumption beyond national borders to increase wealth. Cities thus accommodate industries working together to broaden the nation's international influence. The American metropole today transforms from industrial centers established at the turn to the twentieth century to make room for postindustrial organizations better positioned to bolster the nation's reach in the digital economy. In the emerging global era nearing the twenty-first century, industrial spaces de-territorialize and reterritorialize enabling high technology firms to take shape as drivers of the international scene. While upraising the condition of some groups, internationalism threatens established conceptions of citizenship and produces fear of eroding social and geographic borders. New waves of immigrants and guest workers energize the "information age" boon as software engineers, digital experience designers, and infrastructure workers. Repurposing spaces of modernity accommodates postmodern culture and encourages participation in the global economy allowing for different forms of cross-class, intercultural, interethnic, and interracial encounters. Reinvigorating the nation's influence across the globe by redeveloping urban spaces thereby renews fear of emerging groups and stress tests established domestic social hierarchies.

Contemporary migratory flows refract, echo, and resist impressions, perceptions, and representations of American immigration in urban spaces. Real and fictional depictions of American cityscapes explain attitudes, feelings, and thoughts about internationalism as imagined in the past and as experienced as globalization today. James Ivory's The Golden Bowl draws a disparaging image of "American City" through the use of digital postproduction editing techniques emphasizing the unpleasantness of factory work and unclean immigrant communities empowering urban industrialism as imagined in the past. The Ivory film uniquely participates in what John Carlos Rowe identifies as the "Henry James Revival" happening at the onset of global era, when the U.S-Soviet antagonism waned and Internet technologies ushered in a new global field of exchange and opportunity. Rowe asserts, "[Jamesian texts] help us understand the difficult and interconnected qualities of our modern and now postmodern societies, so dependent on their means of communication" (1991, xi). The complexities of contemporary life, the ways the mind processes encounters with others, the difficulties knowing and understanding global human engagements, and technological innovation are a few of the thematic threads in James' novel animated in James Ivory's The Golden Bowl. Other Jamesian adaptations: Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady (1996), Agnieszka Holland's Washington Square (1997), and Iain Softley's The Wings of the Dove (1997) also reintroduce Jamesian themes and borrow the author's cultural prestige to accumulate audiences at art-house cinemas, multiplexes, and through digital distribution.

A way to differentiate the past from the present explains James Ivory's The Golden Bowl reanimating modernity where complexities of citizenship began to emerge as nations urbanized and established imperial networks boosted by the demands of industrial production. David Harvey explains the modern epoch as producing "tensions between internationalism and nationalism, between globalism and parochialist ethnocentrism, between universalism and class privilege" (Harvey, 1990, 24-5). The modern city fortified the nation as a locus of wealth extended by international agreements or fashioned through competing and collaborating international partnerships. Ivory's images of an internationalizing American City in the early twentieth century activate impressions of former urban spaces conflicting and resonating with recent impressions of the global era. David Harvey explains globalization as not extending economic possibilities to all communities of the global imperium but as a "restoration and reconstitution of class power worldwide" (2000,58). Harvey rethinks globalization as "uneven development" which garners power in the hands of a few (65). By transferring manufacturing to nations largely beyond the global north, the United States and others achieve greater financial wealth by controlling the material supply chain, transferring the expense of material production elsewhere, and developing media networks to broaden demand. This economic behavior creates "accumulation of dispossession," the economic practice of privatizing land through corporate ownership, suppressing human rights, and entrapping nations and its citizenry in debt (68

Ivory's use of digital technologies draws attention to white privilege, multiculturalism, power and subordination explaining the way hypertext facades, the new way of fashioning financial empires in the digital age, dislocates industrial centers behind images of groups anxiously negotiating their class positions. Increasingly smaller pools of wealthy groups amass a wider global reach than a century ago through "flexible accumulation," a process mimicking an earlier mode of economic imperialism when manufacturing firms in American cities sought to dictate a satellite territory's participation in the industrial economy (Harvey 1990, 156). Throughout the 1990s, electronic communication technologies provide greater degrees of nimbleness in the management of labor, materials, and distribution, a feature of contemporary globalization inconceivable in the early twentieth century.

The Golden Bowl reasserts and reimagines class power in the global economy through digital cinematic technologies reconstructing images of industrialization and immigration maligning American City as a hostile space populated by foreigners working in factories. At the time of the film's release, attitudes relegating manufacturing to spaces outside the United States illustrate the postindustrial shift to production of virtual technologies or immaterial products made possible by the digital boon and globalization. Class power is staged in this recent era of internationalism through images of white leisure classes emphasizing a kind of postindustrial exclusivity far removed from outmoded factory systems. Ivory's film participates in discourses of postmodernity and globalizing American cities by digitally reconstructing images of European immigrants toiling in American manufacturing centers of old. Whiteness thereby imbricates a new hierarchical system where white elites and white ethnic classes rival and cooperate as each seek opportunities in the emerging global field. In one sense, The Golden Bowl partly belongs to British Heritage Cinema, a type of costume drama "telling symbolic stories of class, gender, ethnicity, and identity, and staging them in the most picturesque landscapes and houses of the Old Country" (Higson, 2003,50). Opulent and prestigious film sets, decor, costume, and actors performing former social mores are commonly displayed to this subgenre of costume cinema. Laura U. Marks' aptly named book The Skin of the Film takes aim at Jamesian adaptations and other forms of Heritage Cinema for their "ethnographic reconstructions of cultures that no longer exist" and criticizes the persistent image of whiteness at the center of global power in heritage movies (2000,233). No doubt tracing the movements of mostly well-to-do whites reinstalls whiteness at the epicenter of privilege and mobility. For Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, discussions of race and thus images of whiteness in movies involve "two complimentary procedures: the denial of difference and the denial of sameness" (2003,24). Revising international hierarchies in the global era restages whiteness as a unifying identifier of Euro-American economic and social power, yet within this loose image of solidarity emerges deep fissures along class, ethnic, and gender lines described through Charlotte Stant's (Uma Thurman) images of American City.

Digital technologies construct American City by re-imagining the past to illuminate how early twentieth century internationalism and industrialization are vital material with which spectators imagine contemporary globalization. Images of ethnic whites working in grim and gritty factory settings interact and conflict with scenes of leisure classes surrounding the powerful industrial magnate, Adam Verver (Nick Nolte), who signifies the newly empowered social formation of the industrialist emerging at the turn to the twentieth century...

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