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  • Unsettled Time, Sensuous Duration:Methodologies of Native Becoming
  • Kara Thompson (bio)
Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination
Mark Rifkin Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017. vii + 277 pp.

To open Beyond Settler Time is to encounter the messy, uneven, and prismatic calculus of Native and non-Native spacetimes. The first chapter, "Indigenous Orientations," distills the book's central arguments and key interventions, including Mark Rifkin's concept of temporal sovereignty: the experiences, collective and personal, of time not reducible to—though not entirely set apart from—settler tactics and temporalities. Native peoples remain oriented to homelands and territories as part of their experiences of peoplehood, and as expressions of their sovereignty and self-determination; such orientations both predate and endure genocide, dispossession, and the coercive policies attendant to settler civility and modernity. To insist on designated and discernible boundaries between modern and traditional is to cast Native peoples into a "natural" and "pure" before-time, where "conquest" serves as the clear line between before and after—and thus is assumed to be over and done with.

And yet, efforts to redress the modern/traditional binary also take for granted that time presents a neutral and mutual context for the unfolding and sensations of events. To insist that Native people are indeed coeval and modern is to assume settler legacies of violence and coercion as silent, but sanctioned, backgrounds and frames of reference. Rifkin instead opens up a conceptual space for expressions of temporal sovereignty, whereby "Native and non-native trajectories … might be distinguished without resorting to a notion of shared time," which is predominantly skewed toward non-Native framings (30). Indigenous narrations of time, including periodization, the felt presence of human and nonhuman ancestors, and the being-in-time related to land and occupancy, may not accord with non-Native articulations of the past, the present, the future, whereby time flows in a universal line of development. Rifkin argues for the [End Page 569] exertion of temporal sovereignty as an ongoing re-creation, oriented to the densities of history and the feelings of belonging to communities and territories, and to futures "that are neither equivalent to nor simply disconnected from the past" (32).

Rifkin takes an ambitious risk with temporal sovereignty. Though time's theoretical, perceptual, and political abstractions are cavernous and craggy, he offers clear and grounded readings of relativity theory, and captures time's dynamic and experiential contours. For instance, from Henri Bergson, Rifkin borrows duration to characterize forms of collective memory, experience, and engagement as, what he calls throughout, a Native becoming. The third chapter reads the histories of Osage land allotment (the settler nation's practice of dividing treaty lands into prescribed units to heads of households and individuals) through John Joseph Mathews's 1934 novel Sundown. The characters in Sundown inhabit multiple copresent temporal modes, and the novel's queerness—less homoeroticism than emplacement and duration alongside settler colonial impositions—captures the densities of Osage life, "particularly the ways postallotment political economy racializes and renders anomalous sensations emerging from the dynamics and duration of Osage inhabitance" (125).

This chapter shows what happens when settler allotment policies meet the counterforce of extant Osage modes of becoming. And the chapter that follows turns settler projections of inertia and surrender into modes of becoming and prophecy, with readings of Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer and Leslie Marmon Silko's Gardens in the Dunes. Silko, for instance, unsettles the straight time and fixed points of chronologies, generations, and histories with nonnuclear modes of pleasure; the novel offers up a grammar of time that exceeds the chronobiopolitics of settler historicity and realizes instead the queerer syncopations of enmeshment, multiplicity, and syncreticism.

Throughout, the book focuses on the dynamic motions of storying. Stories provide backgrounds for Indigenous experiences of time; they shape perceptions and orientations, and influence the horizon. Readers who work at the junctures and crossing vectors of Native/Indigenous, settler colonial, and queer studies will be especially invested in Rifkin's method of thinking Indigenous storying through queer time, or the modes of being-in-time that do not adhere to linear, normative, heteroreproductive timelines. Theories of queer time demonstrate the imposed straightness of time, but...


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pp. 569-571
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