- Accountabilities: Authority, Feminism, West
A major resurgence of feminist thought and action is happening. New energy and fight is showing itself in US public and scholarly life alike.1 It’s the political moment, to be sure—a moment of emergency in the US accompanied by worldwide feminist mobilization and the global Women’s Marches of January 2017. A certain doldrums or feminist fatigue has been interrupted—a rude awakening and opening out from the accumulated malaise laid on by Western world postfeminist and postracial neoliberalisms of the last fifteen years. Clearly, a jostling on this scale does not appear without a history. This special issue of Studies in the Novel, set in motion in the summer of 2016 before the election of Donald Trump, indicates one piece of that history. Edited by Sigrid Anderson Cordell and Carrie Johnston, the issue chronicles the work of cultural critics and literary scholars as they strategize about research on issues of women, gender, and sexuality, and the geopolitical space of the US West. An upcoming seminar in March 2018 of C-19, the Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, led by Jennifer Tuttle and Jean Pfaelzer, will be devoted to “Feminist Critical Regionalism and the Climate of Western Literary Studies,” offering another sign that more focused work is coming.2 Of course the short and longer-end effects of these scholarly efforts, not to mention feminist activisms as they unfold in real time, is the question of the hour.
Reading this special issue, one has the sense that working on the US West from feminist perspectives is something of an extreme sport—you need to be in shape for it. “The West” as an imagination, as a material place, as a history, always seems to get the upper hand, to take back immediately whatever benefit was gained through rebellion, refusal, or critical intervention. The reason for its particular force field of power, which scholars have written a great deal about, has to do with the regional West as a double for the US nation—the story of settling the West is the story of [End Page 419] America. Perhaps the major critical intervention of the last twenty years in the field of western literary studies is to delink region from nation and to reposition West as global (Kollin), spectral (Tatum), relationally transnational (Hsu), a system of local/global Wests (Comer 2010), westness (Campbell), or border space (Saldívar). This repositioning has reframed regional analyses in transnational and critical regional directions in order to accomplish various kinds of intrusions on knowledges of empire as well as established radically alternative genealogies and lived geographies.
Moreover, the critical turn to Wests, to westness as a system and colonial world network, has brought the phenomenon of settler colonialism into the fore of the critical field. The US West is an example par excellence of not just Anglo settler logics and history (Wolfe, Veracini) but simultaneous and competing Spanish colonialities and modernities (Aranda). Settler maps, meanings, and place making has been made more textured still for US West studies by way of the enormous offerings of Indigenous studies. The recent expansion and depth of that field as a field (Allen), what it teaches about ongoing or “enduring” indigeneity (Kauanui), the fact of thoroughly different and incommensurate understandings of place and territory (Byrd) that map over and inhabit the so-called “West” toward indigenous histories and futures (Bernardin)—all of these have reoriented the political and ethical stakes, and epistemological contexts, for scholars’ work. Notwithstanding any of this activity, however, and not a surprise given the imperial origin stories at stake, “the West” of popular discourse—that place of proving and opportunity and settler sovereignty—bounces back in culture and politics with regularity and ease.
What also bounces back is the masculine whiteness of West discourse. Even as the field of US West study has moved into transnational and global framings, and into a sustained reckoning with competing settler colonialities, there is not yet a simultaneously wholesale critical reckoning with the nexus of racialized women, gender, and sexuality across these scales and histories (Comer 2015, 2016). So to make the obvious point: there is no settler coloniality...