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Settler Common Sense

Settler Common Sense: Queerness and Everyday Colonialism in the American Renaissance

Mark Rifkin
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Settler Common Sense
    Book Description:

    InSettler Common Sense, Mark Rifkin explores how canonical American writers take part in the legacy of displacing Native Americans. Although the books he focuses on are not about Indians, they serve as examples of what Rifkin calls "settler common sense," taking for granted the legal and political structure through which Native peoples continue to be dispossessed.

    In analyzing Nathaniel Hawthorne'sHouse of the Seven Gables, Rifkin shows how the novel draws on Lockean theory in support of small-scale landholding and alternative practices of homemaking. The book invokes white settlers in southern Maine as the basis for its ethics of improvement, eliding the persistent presence of Wabanaki peoples in their homeland. Rifkin suggests that Henry David Thoreau'sWaldencritiques property ownership as a form of perpetual debt. Thoreau's vision of autoerotic withdrawal into the wilderness, though, depends on recasting spaces from which Native peoples have been dispossessed as places of non-Native regeneration. As against the turn to "nature," Herman Melville'sPierrepresents the city as a perversely pleasurable place to escape from inequities of land ownership in the country. Rifkin demonstrates how this account of urban possibility overlooks the fact that the explosive growth of Manhattan in the nineteenth century was possible only because of the extensive and progressive displacement of Iroquois peoples upstate.

    Rifkin reveals how these texts' queer imaginings rely on treating settler notions of place and personhood as self-evident, erasing the advancing expropriation and occupation of Native lands. Further, he investigates the ways that contemporary queer ethics and politics take such ongoing colonial dynamics as an unexamined framework in developing ideas of freedom and justice.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4206-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on the Cover
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxii)

    A few years ago, I bought a house, my first venture into owning real estate. At first, I was a bit disoriented in it, adjusting to the new—and larger—dimensions of my living space.¹ Having moved many times over the prior ten years, I was familiar with the perceptual and physical realignment that occurs when in a new home-place. However, I soon realized that my dysphoria was of a different kind than previously; my sensations seemed to be less about where things were in relation to my body than the ways the entire house and the lot on which...

    (pp. 1-38)

    In “Eulogy on King Philip” (1836), Pequot minister and activist William Apess explores how forms of citizen-feeling emerge in the context of institutionalized structures and imperatives that are themselves predicated on the disavowal of Native sovereignty. The project of settlement appears as crucial in the construction and persistence of U.S. modes of governance: “a foundation was laid in the first Legislature to enslave our people by taking from them all rights, which has been strictly adhered to ever since. Look at the disgraceful laws, disfranchising us as citizens. Look at the treaties made by Congress, all broken. Look at the...

  7. 2 ROMANCING THE STATE OF NATURE Speculation, Regeneration, and the Maine Frontier in House of the Seven Gables
    (pp. 39-90)

    In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, small-scale landholders in the southern part of the District of Maine waged a virtual war of insurgency against efforts by largely absentee owners to survey their lands and demand payment for them. Those who had moved into the area in order to start farms in the last decades of the eighteenth century largely had fled increasingly overcrowded conditions in eastern Massachusetts, in which prices were escalating quickly due to the growing paucity of available land, and they hoped to settle enough territory to provide for themselves and their families.¹ At stake in...

  8. 3 LOVING ONESELF LIKE A NATION Sovereign Selfhood and the Autoerotics of Wilderness in Walden
    (pp. 91-140)

    In a journal entry on September 1, 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne observes of Henry David Thoreau that he is “inclined to lead a sort of Indian life among civilized men,” noting in particular “the absence of any systematic effort for a livelihood.”¹ He suggests an “Indian life” entails being outside of the capitalist economy, existing in some space other than that of “civilized men.” Native peoples in New England in this period, however, very much were enmeshed in the political economy of indenture, debt, itinerant seasonal labor, diaspora in search of wage work, and ongoing land loss due to nonnative agricultural...

  9. 4 DREAMING OF URBAN DISPERSION Aristocratic Genealogy and Indian Rurality in Pierre
    (pp. 141-194)

    Over the first half of the nineteenth century, especially in the wake of the War of 1812 and the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York City emerged as perhaps the single most important commercial and trade center in the United States.¹ Along with its increased significance within regional, national, and international economies came a massive growth in population that also produced a steady increase in the gap between workers and the wealthy, engendering a range of socialisms—many of which called for an alteration in the distribution of land. Reformers understood the cycle of impoverishment and exploitation...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 195-238)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-274)
  12. Index
    (pp. 275-294)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)