Introducing a special issue on settler colonialism and western American literature: Alex Trimble Young, Lorenzo Veracini, ‘”If I am native to anything”: Settler Colonial Studies and Western American Literature’, Western American Literature, 52, 1, 2017, pp. 1-23

17Jul17

Excerpt: The field of western American literary studies emerged in the 1960s and ’70s as a regionalist critique that imagined a western ethics of place against the Turnerian consensus that then dominated American studies. Working in tandem with historical critiques that were recasting the frontier as a site of imperial, patriarchal, and ecological violence, the critique offered by western literary regionalism hinged on an effort to decouple the frontier from the West. By imagining a regional identification that would work in opposition to the logic of Turner’s frontier, this critique has reimagined the West as a potential emancipatory place for the staging of environmentalist, feminist, queer, and antiracist challenges to American political and cultural norms.

This tradition of place-based (and often bioregional) western literary studies met a challenge from a new generation of critics beginning in the 1990s. The “postwestern” critics, informed by poststructuralist theory, followed Turner to the extent that they understand the West more as a “form of society” than as a definable geographical space. Rejecting the place-centered critique as inflected with lingering patriarchal and nationalist politics, the postwestern critics worked to extricate “westness” as a social construct from the nationalist constraints that Turner imagined. In postwestern critique, there is no “authentic” frontier or “true” West, whether critical or celebratory, to which we have recourse to explain “westness.” “Westness” is reconceived as something between (in post-western critique’s more Baudrillardean mode) the totalizing simulacrum of the “hyperreal West” or (in its more Deleuzean mode) a transnational form of potentiality.



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