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Settler Common Sense

Queerness and Everyday Colonialism in the American Renaissance

Mark Rifkin

Publication Year: 2014

In Settler 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’s House 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’s Walden critiques 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’s Pierre presents 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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book began as a request. Bob Levine and Caroline Levander asked me to contribute something to the Blackwell Companion to American Literary Studies. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write, but since previously I’d been focusing primarily on struggles around Native self-representation, I decided that I would think about questions of settler subjectivity. ...

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Note on the Cover

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pp. xiii-xiv

Upon first view, the cover may raise some questions, particularly the use of a headdress for a book concerned with peoples from the Northeast. Such regalia was not, to my knowledge, part of the cultural repertoire of Native nations in New England and New York. I admit that when I first viewed the cover, I was not sure what it had to do with the book. ...

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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. ...

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1 Ordinary Life and the Ethics of Occupation

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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. ...

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2 Romancing the State of Nature Speculation, Regeneration, and the Maine Frontier in House of the Seven Gables

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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. ...

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3 Loving Oneself Like a Nation Sovereign Selfhood and the Autoerotics of Wilderness in Walden

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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 ...

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4 Dreaming of Urban Dispersion Aristocratic Genealogy and Indian Rurality in Pierre

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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 ...


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pp. 195-238


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pp. 239-274


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pp. 275-294

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About the Author

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Mark Rifkin is professor of English and women’s and gender studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781452942063
E-ISBN-10: 1452942064
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816690602

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2014