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B o o k R e v i e w s Nature’s State: Imagining Alaska as the Last Frontier. By Susan Kollin. Chapel Hill: University ofNorth Carolina Press, 2001. 242 pages, $39.95/ $16.95. Reviewed by Eric Heyne University ofAlaska Fairbanks Susan Kollin’s Nature’s State will be received very differently by two distinct audiences. Her title deliberately echoes Perry Miller, who more than thirty years ago “warned about the need to assess what he regarded as the ‘sinister’ dynamics operating behind national conceptions ofNature” (22). One set ofKollin’s read­ ers will have no trouble with the idea that “nature is perhaps culture’s best inven­ tion” and will be eager to uncover the “sinister” aspects ofAmerican consumerism Richard Shaw. STILL LIFE WITH GREEN APPLE. 1998. 14" x 10" x 10". Ceramic (porcelain with art decal over glaze). Nora Eccles Treadwell Foundation Gift, Nora Eccles Harrison Museum ofArt, Utah State University. 3 7 6 WAL 3 7 .3 F a l l 2 0 0 2 and imperialism shaping our conception of Alaska (21). Her other set of readers will be brought up short by the claim that “landscapes are not naturally given, but rather are socially constituted entities,” and dismayed to learn that environ­ mentalist writers such as John Muir, Robert Marshall, and Margaret Murie actu­ ally contributed to the hegemony of a consumerist ethos (19). Nature’s State is both an excellent test case for the value of cultural studies itself and a good lit­ mus test for the reception ofcultural studies among scholars ofwestern literature. Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it. It’s not that cultural studies is brand-new to the readers of Western American Literature. The spring 2001 issue included both an essay review by Kollin of Krista Comer’s Landscapes of the New West: Gender and Geography in Contemporary Women’s Writing (1999), praising Comer for “[e]schewing the naive realism and other atheoretical paradigms upon which the New Western History has developed” in favor of “cultural studies and postmodern theory,” and an essay by Ann Lundberg arguing, among other things, that Muir’s writing “implicates him in the removal of the Indians which his account implicitly justi­ fies and metaphorically reproduces” (88, 45). It took a while for cultural studies to move west, but it’s definitely arrived. We’re not in Kansas anymore; were in “Kansas,” a place just as fantastic and imaginary as Oz—which is precisely the point. There’sno thereanywhere. Alaska is “an anomalous space,” “a sacred region,” “an exceptional terrain set off from the rest of the country, a new world that can redeema corruptedAmerica,” “a wildernessplayground for Euro-American adven­ turers, and a prime site for the United States’ economic and territorial expan­ sion”—everything except the rock, water, ice, and biomass we picture when someone says the word Alaska (50, 57, 173, 131). Kollin’s purpose is precisely to explain how that picture got into our minds. In describing “how the thinking that fetishizes Alaska as a pristine natural space connects to larger national preoccupations,” Kollin offers some excellent readings of well-known “tourist” writers such as Jack London and John Muir, lesser-known visitors such as Rex Beach and Lois Crisler, and indigenous writ­ ers like Tlingit poets Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Robert Davis (22). Her main thesis is that Alaska has been “fetishized” as a kind of compensation for destruction of the land and indigenous peoples of the lower forty-eight. As long as we have Alaska, America is still somehow whole, innocent, unspoiled. (This way of thinking is not unlike that implied in my favorite Alaskan bumper sticker: “Please, God, give us another Prudhoe—we promise not to piss it away this time.”) But in order for Alaska to function as “the last frontier,” a space forpeople to re-enact romantic adventures ofdiscovery, the territory must first be made over as empty, then imaginatively frozen in time, and finally her­ metically sealed except to a lucky few outsiders. There may be enough room to allow Native people to carry on their traditional way of life alongside the huge swatches of national park and preserve, especially...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 375-378
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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