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The Planetary Dead: Margaret Fuller, Ancient Egypt, Italian Revolution WAI CHEE DIMOCK Do the dead remain "human"? Does their m.elnbership in the species persist beyond their biological end? Or does that membership cease the monlent their breath ceases'? ~7hat is the principle that aggregates them, that makes us speak of them as one, a collective unit, "the dead"? And how does this oneness ofthe dead reflect on the human species in general, currently not one, but perhaps needing to be? ~at does it mean to belong to a species made up of two populations: those who are physically present, and those who are not, who are no longer fullfledged members, but also not quite nonmembers? This essay ponders these questions by way of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, a text that, at first blush, m.ight seem far removed from such concerns. Its no-nonsense title gives the impression that this is a book about contemporary women, clearly defined, clearlyperiodized. The actual text, of course, is nothing like that. Talking about contemporary women, Fuller goes back to the dead, to the ancient civilizations: Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia. She includes, among her roster of names, figures who would seem to have no truck with the nineteenth century -figures such as Isis and Panthea-before moving on to the usual suspects, the likes of Madame De Stael, Mary Wollstonecraft, and George Sand. ESQ I v. 50 11ST-3RD QUARTERS I2004 23 WAI CHEf DIMOCK III LARGE-SCALE CAUSATION It is instructive to take a look first at Fuller's discussion of someone belonging squarely: to the nineteenth century, Madame De Stael: De Stael's name was not ... clear of offence; she could not forget the Woman in the thought; while she was instructing you as a mind, she wished to be admired as Woman; sentimental tears often dimmed the eagle glance. Her intellect , too, with all its splendor, trained in a dra-wing-room, fed on flattery, was tainted and flawed; yet its beams make the obscurest schoolhouse in New England warmer and lighter to the little rugged girls who are gathered together on its wooden bench. They may never through life hear her name, but she is not the less their benefactress.I Fuller begins by listing De Stael's faults, and they are numerous . But, as the syntax makes clear, these faults are only half the story; the paragraph literally splits down the middle, giving tangible shape to De Stael's split career. Halfway through, it relocates itself, leaves Europe behind, crossing the Atlantic, winding up on a different continent. Even though De Stael, a pampered aristocrat, has a somewhat spotty record herself, the Hbeams" of her intellect nonetheless travel far, casting their light on schoolgirls in New England. She is the "benefactress" of these schoolgirls. Something has been passed on. How that passing on takes place-and what it does to the benefactress as well as to the beneficiaries-is the central argument of1iVman in the Nineteenth Century. What Fuller is developing here is a model of large-scale causation, based on remote agency, unforeseen effects, action at a distance. A light beams out from a remlote source; it is picked up by faraway receptors. This long-distance exchange means that causation cannot be limited to the boundaries imposed by any single numerical unit. 24 THE PLANETARY DEAD It cannot be adequately mapped by the spatial coordinates of a territorial jurisdiction, nor can it be mapped by the temporal coordinates of the nineteenth century. Its full contours become legible only on a much larger scale, operating not on the level of the individual, and not even on the level of the nation, but across the length and width of human life, the level on which long-term results can emerge. This emphasis on long-term results suggests that the very definition of Hwoman" has to be changed. Rather than centering on the finite life of a biological individual, it can now take in processes that go beyond that finite life.2 In practice, what this means is that Hwoman" must now be tracked as a durational as well as extensional phenomenon. It has the same elongation , and the same...


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