Troubling Interpretation: Settler-Colonial Theory Applied to Settler Writings (MLA 2015)

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Pamela Grieman
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Settler colonialism can be described as a transnationalist mode of critical inquiry whose logics of elimination and displacement have structured the appropriation of land in different places at different times.The United States, one can argue, is in the final stages of settler colonialism, having completed the expropriation of the majority of indigenous lands, whereas Palestine still struggles against the settlement of its territories. In Patrick Wolfe’s formulation, settler colonialism differs from colonialism through its enactment of the logic of erasure—the attempt to displace the native, to lay claim to indigenous lands, and therefore to eliminate indigenous peoples and their cultures altogether. This invasion, Wolfe asserts, is not an event, but a structure that is instantiated through settler systems of governance, law, and institutionalized policies.

Indigenous scholars have deployed the precepts of settler colonialism to investigate the ways in which settlers have engaged in practices of erasure and attempts to eliminate indigenous societies across various geographies, cultures, genres, and bodies. And feminist scholars have expanded the settler-colonial field of inquiry to focus its critical gaze on issues of gender, the body, place, and agency. In her recent book, Mark My Words, indigenous scholar Mishuana Goeman uses the concept of literary “(re)mapping” to analyze the ways in which Native women’s stories seek to (re)map the “violent erasures of alternative modes of mapping and geographic understandings” that were undertaken by settler society (2).

This special session poses the question whether this theory can be usefully deployed to challenge interpretations of the writings of (unacknowledged) settler colonials themselves, and what ramifications this investigation has on contemporary interpretations of writers’ work. Doris Lessing, for instance, is widely viewed as a feminist writer. Reading her work through a settler-colonial lens, I suggest, will trouble the interpretation of her work as a feminist manifesto (of sorts) for women; rather, her depiction of feminist agency can be read as a depiction of skin privilege and settler-colonial power. The goal of this panel is to expand the interpretative range of settler-colonial theory.

Send abstracts of 400 words and a brief bio to Pamela Grieman The deadline is March 7, 2014.

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