Monday, April 16, 2007

Manifest Destiny: Expansion and Consolidation (1803-1896); or; Welcome to Postcolonial Hawthorne Again

Welcome once again, Seinan Gakuin Postcolonial Hawthorne students, to CitizenSE. This is a continuation of my earlier introduction to the course and also of my even earlier attempt to offer a new periodization scheme for U.S. (and other new world) literatures. In it, I want to discuss the relationship between the "Manifest Destiny" period I identify in my title--which spans the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 that began the process of contintental expansionism that continued throughout the century to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 that marked the close of the post-Civil War consolidation of a new political consensus in the re-United States--and the periods that came before it. All three periods are relevant to the question of whether it makes sense to think of Hawthorne and early American literature as "postcolonial." What are those three periods?

1) New Worlds for All: Encounters and Plantation (1492-1776)
2) After the Great War: Revolution and Constitution (1763-1815)
3) Manifest Destiny: Expansion and Consolidation (1803-1896)

In my original talk where I first broached this scheme, I linked these periods as follows:

As Anzaldua, Conde, Silko, and Yamashita show, encounters between European explorers, traders, and settlers with indigenous Americans and with enslaved Africans took place across the hemisphere, and different kinds of [creole cultures and] plantation complexes emerged. As Conde and Mukherjee hint, the aftershocks of England’s catastrophic victory over France in the great war of the eighteenth century paradoxically created the conditions for the age of revolutions across the hemisphere. As Butler, Jones, Morrison, Silko, and Yamashita suggest, newly independent nation-states across the Americas dealt with the conflicts that came with expansion and consolidation, including [slave revolts,] border wars, civil wars, and Indian wars.

The [bracketed phrases] include ideas I would add to the talk were I to give it today.

So a short way of describing the Manifest Destiny period would be to say that a recently-colonized and newly-independent nation became a colonizing power over the course of the 19th C. What makes this period relevant to the question of what is postcolonial in postcolonial studies is how people who originated the field responded to it. Because the U.S. became a colonizing power, it shouldn't be analyzed under the rubric of postcolonialism, which is about the ambiguities of liberation from 19th and 20th C European colonialism in Asia and Africa. That is, the founders of postcolonial studies saw the U.S. as a partner in 19th C European colonialism and a competitor and eventual successor over the course of the 20th C. Colonizing nations can't be postcolonial.

But later generations of postcolonialists and Americanists began to question this consensus. I've put on the course ANGEL space an early effort by Lawrence Buell among the recommended readings for our class's introductory unit to give you one example of this line of thinking. And I can put more if you're interested.

Here let me just note that it might be useful to see the two 20th C world wars as roughly equivalent to the 18th C's world war among European powers, something that the second chapter of Thomas Bender's A Nation Among Nations (which will also be among our supplemental readings for the course) made me start wondering about. If we see what is called the French and Indian Wars in the United States or the Seven Years' War outside it in Bender's perspective--as a global war that lasted for much of the 18th C--then the costs of Britain's victory in the war and the consequences of France's attempts to undermine its colonial rule that it could no longer challenge directly fed directly into what historian Lester Langley calls the age of revolution in The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850. That is, Britain faced the dilemma of needing to raise money through taxes and tariffs on its overseas colonies to help finance its costly war, which, as with other colonizing nations at the time, led to unrest in the colonies and movements for independence. So Bender's and Langley's work raises the question of how different the first British Empire (in the Americas) was from the second (in Asia and Africa). And it suggests a parallel with the two World Wars of the 20th C: certainly in 1945 no European nation could afford to maintain its colonies and with the U.S. choosing to invest in Europe and Japan in the Cold War with the U.S.S.R. that soon emerged in the aftermath of W.W. II, the door was opened for decolonization and independence movements of all kinds in areas that had formerly been under the control of mid-20th C European and non-European empires. What we now call the Third World--the literally hundreds of new nations that formed in the decades after W.W. II, which tried to maintain their independence from the First (liberal capitalist) and Second (state socialist) worlds--may not be all that different from the non-U.S. independent nations of the Americas (some of which finally gained independence in this same post-W.W. II period).

But what about the U.S.? (And Canada, Australia, New Zealand, apartheid South Africa, and other white settler nations.) At most, critics of the Buell thesis argue, the excluded, oppressed, and marginalized groups in these nations could be considered postcolonial, in that there is no longer de jure colonial control of these populations as epitomized, say, in the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence or the boarding school policy in the turn-into-the-20th-C-U.S. (and as the movie suggests, other places). So recent non-European immigrants, American Indians and First Nations/indigenous peoples of all kinds, African-Americans and descendants of those enslaved by plantation-era systems of all kinds might possibly count as postcolonial in the U.S., but certainly not the U.S. itself.

But why not the U.S. before the Civil War, Buell asks. I encourage you to read his and others' arguments on these issues, now that you have my scorecard, because they will help you develop and test your own views on the central questions animating this course:

1) Was Hawthorne postcolonial? Why or why not?
2) What is at stake in conceiving of him as postcolonial or not? Why does it matter? Why should we care? What follows from our answer, either way?

So we'll start simply next week with a single Hawthorne story, "Roger Malvin's Burial." I'll be posting on it between now and then if you want to check in CitizenSE again, but I'll also be putting discussion questions on our course ANGEL space. Enjoy! And feel free to post your answers--and questions of your own--before we meet in class next week. See you in class Wednesday.

Note to my non-Seinan Gakuin students: I'm happy to enroll you in the course ANGEL space--just send me an email!

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