The Deterritorialization of American Literature

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The Deterritorialization of American Literature
The theme of this book is the relationship between American literature
and global space and how this equation has fluctuated and evolved over
time. My concern will be not only with works of fiction or poetry that are
organized explicitly around particular conceptions of place but also with
how a wide range of texts are informed implicitly by other kinds of geo-
graphical projection, of the type found in cartography and other forms
of mapping. My thesis will be that the interrelation between American
literature and geography, far from being something that can be taken as
natural, involves contested terrain, terrain that has been subject over the
past four centuries to many different kinds of mutation and controversy.
I will argue that these instabilities have too frequently been overlooked
in the ways the subject of American literature has been codified and insti-
tutionalized, especially over the past hundred years. Cultural geographer
David Harvey has written about the desirability of reconstructing a ma-
trix of “historical-geographical materialism” within which social forma-
tions of all kinds might be analyzed (Condition 359), and to reconsider
American literature specifically in the context of geographical material-
ism is to think through the variegated forms of its imaginary relations to
the real dimensions of physical space. Concomitantly, I will suggest that
the association of America, and by extension the subject of American lit-
erature, with the current geographical boundaries of the United States is
a formulation that should be seen as confined to a relatively limited and
specific time in history, roughly the period between the end of the Ameri-
can Civil War in 1865 and the presidency of Jimmy Carter, which ended
in 1981. During the colonial period and the early years of the republic,
the country’s more amorphous territorial framework engendered paral-
lel uncertainties about the status and authority of American discourse;
similarly, since about 1981, the multidimensional effects of globalization
have reconfigured the premises of U.S. national identity in relation to a
wider sphere. The identification of American literature with U.S. national
territory was an equation confined to the national period and not some-
thing that was equally prevalent either before or afterward. I am not,
therefore, attempting simply to describe American literature as a global
phenomenon, as if the subject could imperially claim the whole world
as its rightful sphere; more modestly, I am seeking to trace historical
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2 • Introduction
variables in the uneven ways American literature has imaginatively mapped
itself in relation to a global domain over the past three hundred years.
My critical method involves the use of spatial and temporal coordi-
nates that are themselves, of course, metaphorical constructions. While
it is important to acknowledge how any boundary that historians or ge-
ographers draw, in time or space, must inevitably be arbitrary in some
way, it is also important not to lose sight of the valuable cultural work
that such a perspectival process of remapping can perform. As Fredric
Jameson observed in his classic essay “Periodizing the 60s,” the value
of this kind of historicization lies in the way it can bring to light struc-
tural analogies between apparently disparate events within particular
eras. Such an orientation has the beneficial effect of moving narratives
of the past away from both anecdotal self-indulgence and merely senti-
mental forms of nostalgia; instead, there is, in Jameson’s words, a con-
trary insistence that “[h]istory is necessity,” that the past “had to happen
the way it did, and that its opportunities and failures were inextrica-
bly intertwined, marked by the objective constraints and openings of a
determinate historical situation” (178). Arjun Appadurai has similarly
described the identification of “isomorphic” correspondences between
disparate points on a grid as a way of bringing into juxtaposition events
that might in other circumstances have been considered entirely unre-
lated (Modernity 182), thereby elucidating significant correspondences
that would otherwise have remained hidden. In The Shaping of America,
his multivolume attempt to obtain “a geographical perspective on 500
years of history,” D. W. Meinig cuts the historical cake slightly differently,
outlining an “Atlantic America, 1492–1800,” followed by “Continental
America, 1800–1867,” “Transcontinental America, 1850–1915,” and fi-
nally “Global America, 1915–2000.” Like Meinig, I see the prerevolu-
tionary period as “a vast, unplanned, uncontrolled, unstable” landscape
(I, 205) and the nineteenth century as a time when the national territory
was consolidated, although Meinig sees globalization as emerging in em-
bryonic form at the beginning of the twentieth century, whereas I argue
for more of a disjunction between modernist and postmodernist periods.
The crucial point, though, is not so much where any particular emphasis
or hypothetical boundary might lie but the ways in which geographi-
cal consciousness enters subliminally into American cultural narratives,
evoking tensions and crosscurrents that destabilize the reproduction of a
self-authenticating literary subject.
My second theoretical caveat, following from the paradox of peri-
odization, derives from Paul Ricouer’s observation in Time and Narra-
tive of how cultural historians have no choice other than to read time
backward, as what Ricoeur calls “retrodiction” rather than prediction
(I, 135). This method inevitably involves projecting from effect to cause,
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 3
rather than the other way around. This means not only that all history is
narrative but also that we reorganize such narratives in the light of what
Ricoeur calls a “redistribution of horizons” (III, 173), changing our view
of the past in accordance with revised expectations about the present and
the future. This in turn lends all historical remapping a reflexive dimen-
sion, since scholars necessarily find themselves imitating the formula that
Edgar Allan Poe ascribed to the writing of detective stories and other
fictional narratives, starting with the “dénouement” and then retracing
forward what had already been traced backward.1 This kind of structural
double bind has manifested itself recently in the manifold attempts to
change the genealogy of American literary history, to revise beginnings
rather than ends. Cyrus Patell has written of how readings of contempo-
rary American ethnic authors typically run alongside a revisionist critique
of the literary canon, so that “US culture’s reception of previous texts by
minority authors influences the production and reception of future texts
from emergent literary cultures” (“Representing” 64). As an example of
this teleological mise-en-abîme, he has described the Dutch ethnic lega-
cies embedded in cosmopolitan New York as more of a corollary to mul-
ticultural, twenty-first-century America than the time-honored Puritan
origins of New England (“New Capital”). The pattern that we impose
upon the past, in other words, is necessarily intertwined and enmeshed
with concerns of the present.
This recognition of the inevitably perspectival slant of institutional
narratives can, therefore, serve beneficially to demystify the established
canonical framework of American literary studies. At the beginning of the
twenty-first century, it has become increasingly apparent that twentieth-
century narratives of American cultural history, framed as they were by
assumptions about the country’s national destiny, became accustomed to
looking out for phenomena that seemed to anticipate the national power
of the United States, power that had been consolidated in hegemonic
terms only relatively recently. The very category of the “early republic” is
itself, of course, an anachronistic term, implying there was a later republic
into which these anterior events naturally led. This is why, for example,
the Puritan poet Edward Taylor was often celebrated in the last century
as a harbinger of the tortuous romantic spirit of Emily Dickinson, in the
same way that Anne Bradstreet was hailed as an honorary ancestor by
post-1945 writers such as John Berryman, who prized her confessional
aspects, and Adrienne Rich, who emphasized her sturdy spirit of feminist
independence.2 All these misprisions involve a creative and interesting
For an exposition of this theory, see Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Composition” 13.
The most systematic critique of this retroactive critical teleology has come from studies
by Spengemann.
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Figure 1. Detail from Matthew Lotter, “A Plan and Environs of Philadelphia” (1777).
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 5
use of the past, but in a historical sense they are manifestly misleading,
since they tend to gloss over Taylor’s Calvinist silences and Bradstreet’s
courtly, Renaissance conservatism in the interests of aligning them with a
national narrative that is projected backward so as to validate American
national culture of a later time.
There is, however, little to suggest such a sense of national triumphal-
ism appeared a fait accompli to American themselves in the first half of
the nineteenth century, when their structures of governance and tentative
moves toward political cohesion were based on what many at the time
considered to be the dubious theoretical hypothesis of federal union. In
the first sixty years of U.S. history, in the aftermath of the colonial period,
the country’s sense of national identity was as uncertain, as provisional,
as its cartography. The map of Philadelphia drawn in 1777 by German
cartographer Matthew Lotter (figure 1) symptomatically illustrates the
gaping discrepancy between a tiny rational grid at the heart of the city
center and the sprawling, amorphous terrain in the unmapped, unreg-
ulated countryside of surrounding Pennsylvania (Boelhower 495). The
western part of the present-day United States was even more inchoate: to
look at a historical map of Latin America in 1830 (figure 2) is to see the
territories of Mexico extending up through present-day California, Ari-
zona, and New Mexico, with the shape of the nation itself appearing very
different from the “sea to shining sea” model with which we are familiar
today.3 The point here, quite simply, is that when Ralph Waldo Emerson
writes in his 1844 essay “The Poet” about America being a “poem in our
eyes” (22), it was precisely that: a hypothetical or imaginative concep-
tion or at least one that had not yet achieved any firm sense of territo-
rial grounding or enclosure. Walt Whitman’s nationalistic poetry in the
1850s similarly encompasses a tentative, optative dimension, something
that is frequently overlooked because of the blustering and hortatory
tone of his verse. Anne Baker has described how the structural anxieties
attendant upon annexing “vast tracts of uncharted territory” (1) in the
nineteenth century played themselves out in obsessions among American
writers about “a fear of boundlessness and a need to impose form on
space” (27), something apparent in Henry David Thoreau’s punctilious
surveys of the natural world, as well as Herman Melville’s more parodic
engagement with “parallels and meridians,” which Mardi describes as
“imaginary lines drawn round the earth’s surface” (9–10). All the politi-
cal investments in notions of Manifest Destiny in the 1840s and 1850s,
the drive to expand westward and to claim the land in the name of the
On the instability of U.S. nationalism in the West in the early nineteenth century, see
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Figure 2. “Latin America in 1830,” from Patrick Imbert and Marie Couillard,
Les Discours du Nouveau Monde au XIXe siècle au Canada français et en
Amérique latine (1995). Shelfmark: CO4 R1179. Map from back cover.
Reproduced with permission by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 7
Stars and Stripes, speak to a desire to, as it were, fill in the blank spaces on
the map, to subjugate the continent in a cartographic as well as a military
sense. Indeed, the frequent U.S. wars in the early nineteenth century—
with the British in 1812 culminating in the Battle of New Orleans, with
the Mexicans in the 1840s over Texas and the southwest territories, and
with Native Americans over the question of Indian removal—all speak to
an impulse to redescribe the map of the nation. This is one reason maps
themselves were so popular in America at this time, as Martin Brückner
has shown (140–41), and why geography came to be considered a basic,
compulsory subject in American schools, occupying a more prestigious
place on the curriculum than history; the textbook Geography Made
Easy, produced by the “father of American geography” Jedediah Morse
in 1784, had gone through twenty-two editions by 1820, and during this
antebellum era geographical writing was considered, in Bruce A. Har-
vey’s words, a “patriotic genre” (28). The reciting of place names became
as familiar in American educational contexts at this time as the learning
by rote of spelling or multiplication tables in other countries, and it testi-
fied to the pioneering attempt imaginatively to appropriate what was, of
course, a dauntingly large and unsettled continent.
To talk of the territorializing impulse of early nineteenth-century
American culture, then, is to suggest that its way of identifying itself as
something different did not necessarily involve simply a mimetic reflec-
tion of locality. The writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson have traditionally
been thought of as a source for the national identity of American lit-
erature because of his principled emphasis on what he calls in “Nature”
(1836) an “original relation to the universe” (7). But there is, in fact,
very little description of the natural world in this or any other part of
Emerson’s writing, and the way he marks his originality is not through
mimesis but through intertextuality, through taking icons and ideas from
classical European culture and spinning them round in a new way. The
exuberantly weightless quality of Emerson’s prose thus derives from the
way he remaps nineteenth-century American culture in relation to the
classical monuments of the past. Just as Handel’s biblical oratorios of
a hundred years earlier rehouse epic mythologies of the past within a
radically disjunct neoclassical environment, a form of what Ronald Paul-
son calls “sacred parody” (Hogarth’s 214) that flaunts ebulliently the gap
between past and present, so Emerson presents himself in a deliberately
belated fashion as the intellectual heir of Plato and Montaigne, some-
one whose project involves the vertiginous transformation of one cul-
ture into another. In academic terms, it is unfortunate that Emerson has
been designated by the twentieth-century critical tradition of American
romanticism most closely associated with Harold Bloom as the institu-
tional progenitor of American literature—the ultimate source of tran-
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8 • Introduction
scendentalism, pragmatism, William James, Wallace Stevens, and so on—
without an equivalent emphasis on what Emerson describes in his essay
“Experience” (1844) as the inherently intertextual quality of perception:
“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads,” he writes, “and, as we
pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the
world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus” (30).
“Experience,” with its “focus” on what Emerson calls the attainment of
a soul’s “due sphericity” (46), exemplifies ways in which, for inhabitants
of the United States in the 1840s, their home would have appeared to be
positioned in a paradoxical situation somewhere between the empirical
and the abstract, between place and placelessness. It is one of the burdens
of Emerson’s writing that location itself is always relative and arbitrary,
that Goethe is his neighbor as much as the man in the next street, that, as
he remarks in “The Poet,” banks and tariffs are “dull to dull people” but
in fact rest on “the same foundations of wonder as the town of Troy, and
the temple of Delphi” (21–22). To read Emerson in intertextual terms, in
other words, is to deterritorialize him, to extract him from the limiting
circumference of antebellum New England and to think about ways in
which he attempts deliberately to reconceptualize Enlightenment univer-
salism within an alternative New World environment.
In the 1850s, geography itself increasingly became part of the rhetoric
of Manifest Destiny in the United States. The American Geographic So-
ciety was established in 1851, three years before Arnold Guyot, the most
influential American geographer of his era, took up the chair at Prince-
ton he was to occupy for the next thirty years. Emerson himself owned
the 1851 edition of Guyot’s The Earth and Man, in which the author’s
project was to develop a theory of hemispheric evolution as providential
and thus as entirely consonant with the exceptionalist qualities of U.S.
national identity. The “vital principle” (17) of geography, asserted Guyot,
was the “mutual exchange of relations” (19) between “inorganic nature”
and “organised beings” (17), so that the physical world should not be
seen merely as an inert or inanimate object, but as a phenomenon “organ-
ised for the development of man” (293–94). According to “the decrees
of Providence” (28), he claimed, “nature and history, the earth and man,
stand in the closest relations to each other, and form only one grand har-
mony” (29). Guyot’s conception of hemispheric symmetry was of a piece
with his narrative of westward historical progression, the notion that
the center of civilization, which had originated in Asia, was now pass-
ing from Europe to North America. Guyot further verified the cultural
superiority of North to South America by presenting this hemispheric an-
tithesis as analogous to that which appertained in Europe: “The contrast
between the North and South, mitigated in the temperate regions of the
mother country, is reproduced in the New World, more strongly marked,
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 9
and on a grander scale, between North America, with its temperate cli-
mate, its Protestant and progressive people, and South America, with its
tropical climate, its Catholic and stationary population” (284). It is not
difficult to see why this version of geographical providence would have
appealed especially to Emerson in the 1850s, after the war with Mexico,
the annexation of Texas, the evacuation of the British from the Pacific
Northwest, and the American incorporation of the Oregon Territory. In
his journal for 1853, Emerson notes how “Columbus was the first to
discover the equatorial current in the ocean” (XIII: 5), and in a later jour-
nal entry, he cites with approbation a passage from The Earth and Man,
where Guyot declares it “beyond a doubt . . . that the waters of the ocean,
move with the heavens; that is, in the direction of the apparent course of
the sun and stars, from east to west” (XIII: 169).
What crucially changed the cultural and political landscape of the
United States was, of course, the Civil War, which after its conclusion
in 1865 consolidated the geography of the nation by ensuring it would
henceforth be integrated into one political territory. It is not surprising
that scholars, particularly in the United States, have kept returning com-
pulsively to the Civil War as a turning point of national destiny because,
despite all the internecine regional and racial conflicts it highlighted, the
outcome of the war also facilitated the emergence of the United States as
the world’s leading economic power in the second half of the nineteenth
century. It was then that the country began to take the continental shape
that we know today: California was admitted to the union in 1850; Or-
egon in 1859; Kansas in 1861; Nevada in 1864; Nebraska in 1867; Colo-
rado in 1876; the Dakotas, Montana, and Washington in 1889; Idaho
in 1890; and so on. The joining together of the North and the South, in
other words, ran in parallel with the joining together of the East and the
West; America was metamorphosed from a series of local economies into
an imposing continental edifice. Given the simultaneous growth in com-
munications and technology at this time, the expansion westward of the
railways, the development of the telegraph, and so on, it becomes easy to
see how the United States could understand itself as a coherent political
and economic entity by the year 1900 in a way that simply had not been
possible when Emerson wrote “Nature” in 1836.4
This incorporation of the United States as a culturally and politically
unified entity was anticipated during the Civil War by Abraham Lincoln,
who in his Gettysburg Address invoked a self-replicating, circular struc-
ture of representation—“government of the people, by the people, for the
people”—as though the country were modeled around a myth of egali-
On the cultural and economic development of the United States in the late nineteenth
century, see Trachtenberg, Incorporation.
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10 • Introduction
tarian democracy, something that was certainly very far from the minds
of the founding fathers eighty years earlier.5 Not coincidentally, it was
around Lincoln’s time that the United States began to take on the form of
a singular noun, rather than the plural noun that had conventionally been
used in the first half of the nineteenth century, with this shift from plural
to singular exemplifying again the consolidation of the nation into a state
of indivisible unity. It was also around the turn of the twentieth century
that the notion of the land as bearing inherent national values came to
be invested with a sacred aura. Florida and New Orleans, for instance,
were bartered and traded quite happily in the early nineteenth century,
but, as Benedict Anderson has observed, after the Civil War the idea of
the United States as a national space became mystified in such a way that
no politician would have dared thenceforth to think of paying off the
national debt by, say, simply selling off the Florida Keys or southern Cali-
fornia to the highest bidder. In this sense, America’s purchase of Alaska
from Russia for $7.2 million in 1867 was the last major commercial
transaction of its kind, although the United States also bought the Virgin
Islands from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million, a transaction motivated
in part by security concerns during World War I.
Much of the critical language in this era of burgeoning U.S. national-
ism tended to involve a justification of American difference, of the par-
ticular qualities of American scenes and locations, such as we see in the
novels of Theodore Dreiser, William Dean Howells, and others. This was
also the era of the mythology surrounding Ellis Island, through which
immigrants were to be socially assimilated and homogenized into Ameri-
can citizens. The high-water mark of immigration to the United States
was 1.3 million in 1907, the year before Israel Zangwill produced his
play The Melting Pot, which promulgated the myth of America as a land
of immigrants even in critiquing its efficacy. This kind of double vision,
simultaneously constructing and deconstructing an image of America as
promised land, was characteristic of the way American modernism tended
to be wrapped into a rhetoric of nativist utopia, a rhetoric that served as
the foundational basis and underlying grid for all the subsequent vacil-
lations and ironies that permeate its texts.6 Although Randolph Bourne’s
essay “Trans-National America,” published in 1916, starts off in its first
sentence by proclaiming “the failure of the melting pot” in the face of
“diverse nationalistic feelings” (107) among the American immigrant
population during World War I, the penultimate paragraph of Bourne’s
For an analysis of how the nineteenth-century “democratic society was not the society
the revolutionary leaders had wanted or expected,” see G. Wood 365
On the complementary aspects of racial identity and textual irony in American mod-
ernist narratives such as The Great Gatsby, see Michaels, Our America 41–42.
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 11
essay looks forward prophetically to a new version of the United States
predicated on a greater tolerance of ethnic diversity, what Bourne calls “a
future America, on which all can unite, which pulls us irresistibly toward
it, as we understand each other more warmly” (123).
Thus, American literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
century tends not only to be saturated in locality but also to understand
that locality as a guarantee of its own authenticity and its patriotic al-
legiance, something articulated most explicitly by the polemical essays of
Howells in defense of the methods of realism. This is the realm of what
Philip Fisher has called “hard facts,” where the relationship between the
local and the national becomes self-allegorizing, in the sense that the val-
ue of particular places—Willa Cather’s Nebraska or Robert Frost’s New
England or William Carlos Williams’s New Jersey—are validated not by
their specific local characteristics or phenomenological qualities but from
their synecdochic embodiment of a national impulse, their sense of being,
as Williams put it, “in the American grain.” Tom Lutz’s work on literary
cosmopolitanism has emphasized the extent to which regional writing in
late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America was mediated by
an external perspective that sought to integrate region and nation as the
geographical corollaries of each other, as patriotic manifestations of what
Howells called “our decentralized literature” (Lutz 38). John Dewey’s
1920 essay “Americanism and Localism” paradoxically declared “local-
ity” to be “the only universal” aspect of American national identity (15),
while Carrie Tirado Bramen, in The Uses of Variety, has described how
an emphasis on diversity, both ethnic and regional, became an “inviolable
sign of national exceptionalism” for twentieth-century American culture
(1). Tracing this discourse of material and spatial abundance back to Wil-
liam James’s writings on pluralism in 1909, Bramen shows how, far from
opposing identitarian politics, James became the precursor of latter-day
theorists such as Cornel West who, even as late as the 1990s, imagined a
commitment to multiculturalism to be emblematic of the way in which
an open U.S. culture might differentiate itself from the more repressive,
restrictive systems of other countries (Bramen 297).
This move to integrate and reconcile local variation within a larger
national matrix was perpetuated in the early twentieth century through
the rationalized industrial methods perfected by Henry Ford and others,
which were based around a factory system where the national model was
reproduced in every state of the union. The defining issue in John Dos
Passos’s novel USA, published as a trilogy in 1938, is how by this time
national similarities have become more important than regional differ-
ences, how an industrial model of mass production and consumption has
worked its way into every corner of the United States. (The title of USA’s
first volume, The 42nd Parallel, is taken pointedly from the geographical
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12 • Introduction
line of latitude that extends east to west across the U.S.) All this gener-
ated tremendous political cohesion and economic wealth for the country
in the middle part of the twentieth century, enabling it to intervene de-
cisively in World War II and to establish itself iconically, particularly in
Europe, as an emblematic land of the free, a cold war alternative to both
the brutality of Fascism and the poverty of Communism. It was in the
aftermath of World War II that the American Studies Association was
founded in the United States, in 1951, and most of the American studies
programs in Europe also originated around this time. All these programs
traded off the idea of America as an exemplary and exceptional nation,
a beacon of both material regeneration, through its laissez-faire eco-
nomic system, and of cultural modernity. Such modernity was thought
to emerge through a stylistic emphasis on colloquial informality, typified
in the 1950s by jazz and other forms of popular culture, as well as in
the incisive vernacular of Saul Bellow and the Beat writers, all of which
seemed to imply a welcome escape from the ossified class structures
and social hierarchies of Europe. In a Time cover story of 1941, Henry
Luce, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, famously described the twentieth
century as “the American century.” As Neil Smith has observed, such
a prophecy on Luce’s part necessarily involved an assumption of “geo-
graphical amnesia” (460), a putative triumph over the coordinates of
physical space, the replacement of an imperial design based on terri-
torial possession by one driven instead by a liberal internationalism,
through which American economic and cultural ideas would penetrate
overseas markets. As in the American studies model, U.S. national iden-
tity became associated with the export of goods across national borders,
with the aim ultimately of consolidating the exceptionalist aspects of
nationalist iconography.
What I want to suggest, though, is that the United States has now
moved in significant ways beyond this national phase and that since the
inauguration of Ronald Reagan as president in January 1981 the country
has entered what we might call a transnational era, one more centered
around the necessarily reciprocal position of the U.S. within global net-
works of exchange. To give greater historical specificity to this matrix of
transnationalism, we can look back to the idea of deterritorialization first
broached in 1972 by French theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari,
in their psychoanalytical work Anti-Oedipus, to describe how flows of
desire traverse the boundaries of distinct, separate territories:
The decoding of flows and the deterritorialization of the socius thus
constitutes the most characteristic and the most important tendency of
capitalism. It continually draws near to its limit, which is a genuinely
schizophrenic limit. . . . [C]apitalism, through its process of production,
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 13
produces an awesome schizophrenic accumulation of energy or charge,
against which it brings all its vast powers of repression to bear. (34)
Far from seeing in the State the principle of a territorialization that
would inscribe people according to their residence, we should see in the
principle of residence the effect of a movement of deterritorialization
that divides the earth as an object and subjects men to the new imperial
inscription, to the new full body, to the new socius. (195)
The State can no longer be content to overcode territorial elements that
are already coded, it must invent specific codes for flows that are in-
creasingly deterritorialized. (218)
This term deterritorialization has subsequently been used in a broader
cultural and political context by critics such as Caren Kaplan, who has
related it to the experience of women and ethnic minorities in “becoming
minor” or living on the edge (“Deterritorializations” 359), and by Appa-
durai, who has discussed it more specifically in relation to the processes
of globalization:
[M]y approach to the break caused by the joint force of electronic me-
diation and mass migration is explicitly transnational—even postna-
tional. . . . [I]t moves away dramatically from the architecture of clas-
sical modernization theory, which one might call fundamentally realist
insofar as it assumes the salience, both methodological and ethical, of
the nation-state. . . . Until recently . . . imagination and fantasy were
antidotes to the finitude of social experience. In the past two decades,
as the deterritorialization of persons, images, and ideas has taken on a
new force, this weight has imperceptibly shifted. (Modernity 9, 53;
my italics)
Speaking in 2004, a senior diplomatic figure from the U.S. Embassy
in London expressed the view that the crucial political shift within his
own professional lifetime was not the election in 2000 of George W.
Bush rather than Al Gore to succeed Bill Clinton, but the country’s de-
cisive move in 1980 from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. Of course,
as noted earlier, all such imaginary divisions in history are arbitrary
and approximate, but this dividing line might have some plausibility
because, during the 1970s and 1980s, the economic infrastructure of
the United States began to change significantly. Richard Nixon antici-
pated this shift toward a global economy in August 1971 when he an-
nounced that the United States would no longer redeem currency for
gold, thereby effectively abandoning the gold standard and ushering in
an era of fluctuating exchange rates. David Harvey dates the decline
of “the Fordist regime” from 1973, the same year that money became
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14 • Introduction
“de-materialized,” as a fully floating system of currency conversion was
adopted so that money no longer had “a formal or tangible link to pre-
cious metals” (Condition 140, 297). With the loss of the mechanism
that effectively regulated the growth rate of the country’s money sup-
ply, the United States, like other nation-states, found itself increasingly
drawn into the marketplace of global exchange, something given greater
momentum in the 1980s by the free-market philosophies of President
Reagan, and in the 1990s by the dramatic growth in information tech-
nology that made it increasingly possible to transfer capital around the
globe at a moment’s notice. These developments were replicated slightly
later in other parts of the world: in Britain, for instance, the election of
Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1979 brought to an abrupt end
the postwar years of liberal social consensus in that country, but the key
symbolic event in Europe was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which
not only effectively ended the cold war but also fatally undermined the
social and economic cohesion of what had been postwar Europe’s most
successful corporate state, West Germany. Michael Denning sees the fall
of the Berlin Wall as heralding the crucial break between what he calls
the age of three worlds, demarcated according to the discrete geopoliti-
cal zones that dominated area studies in the cold war period, between
1945 and 1989, and the subsequent era of globalization. Denning makes
the point that pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the
transfer of finance capital across national borders crucially destabilized
at this time the autonomy of inward-looking political regimes of all
kinds, “Manley’s social-democratic Jamaica as well as de Klerk’s apart-
heid South Africa” (Culture 46).
It is important to emphasize how these forces of deterritorialization
have also operated insidiously to disturb and dislocate the national iden-
tity of the United States itself, in particular the relationship between its
domestic space and the wider world. In Empire, produced not coinci-
dentally at the height of the neoliberal economic boom in 1999, Michael
Hardt and Antonio Negri described international capitalism as “a de-
centered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively in-
corporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers”
(xii), and they suggested this was a “new imperial form of sovereignty”
(xiii), one not to be identified with any particular “nation-state” (xiv).
But such a version of imperialism would appear to be oddly reminiscent
of a disembodied transcendentalism, wherein finance capital, rather than
Emerson’s transparent eyeball, has become the force field whose center
is everywhere and its circumference nowhere: “Empire presents a super-
ficial world,” write Hardt and Negri, “the virtual center of which can be
accessed immediately from any point across the surface” (58). By seeking
simply to supersede spatial geography, Hardt and Negri implicitly mimic
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 15
the rhetoric of empire in the way they render territorial formations ob-
solete, so that, as Neil Smith puts it, their “recognition of empire remains
clouded by the lost geography ideologies that should be its target” (457).
Within a world of geographical materialism, however, the actual expe-
rience of deterritorialization manifests itself as more jagged and fractious,
bound up with tensions and inconsistencies that cannot be comfortably
subsumed within global systems or regimes of capital accumulation. One
fictional representation of this fraught state can be found in the novel
Primary Colors by Joe Klein, published as an anonymous account of Bill
Clinton’s election campaign in 1992. The presidential candidate, called
there “Jack Stanton,” addresses a group of workers in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire, and says he will not delude them into thinking he can protect
their jobs for life in a new situation where transnational corporations
can swiftly pull investment in and out of the country in a way that would
never have occurred to Henry Ford sixty years earlier:
So let me tell you this: No politician can bring these shipyard jobs back.
Or make your union strong again. No politician can make it be the way
it used to be. Because we’re living in a new world now, a world without
borders—economically, that is. Guy can push a button in New York
and move a billion dollars to Tokyo before you blink an eye. We’ve got
a world market now. And that’s good for some. In the end, you’ve gotta
believe it’s good for America. . . . I’ll fight and worry and sweat and
bleed to get the money to make education a lifetime thing in this coun-
try, to give you the support you need to move on up. But you’ve got to
do the heavy lifting your own selves. I can’t do it for you, and I know
it’s not gonna be easy. (161–62)
Stanton (or Clinton) deliberately positions himself here in relation to the
flexible conditions of the global marketplace, the realm of outsourcing
and transnationalization. He acknowledges that American corporate in-
terests can often be served more easily by relocating service or produc-
tion industries to Mexico or Asia, where wages are lower and costs are
cheaper, rather than through domestic investment. This effectively means
the stable patterns of middle-class prosperity and security that character-
ized the earlier Henry Ford era have all but evaporated. Corporate profits
have, of course, increased rapidly; but their growth is not related directly
to or shared by large sections of the working population, as tended to be
the case in the mid-twentieth century, when corporations such as Ford
usually took a benevolent, patriarchal interest in the long-term welfare
of their employees.
The interaction between American culture and globalization is a vast
topic interwoven with developments in telecommunications and media as
well as the expansion of transnational corporations, and the main point
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16 • Introduction
to be noted here is simply that it happened. For example, the hamburger
chain McDonald’s only opened its first two foreign outlets, in Canada
and Puerto Rico, in 1967; but by 1999, overseas sales for McDonald’s
had actually overtaken domestic sales, and today a majority of its outlets,
approximately 17,000 out of 30,000, are located outside the territorial
boundaries of the United States (N. Ferguson 18). Indeed, the relation-
ship between geographical location and cultural identity has changed so
radically in the wake of recent changes in communications technologies
that Linda Basch and others argue traditional distinctions between mi-
grants and immigrants no longer hold good. They point, for example, to
the Grenadian constituency in New York that remains socially, politically,
and often economically part of its ancestral domain; of Grenada’s official
population of 90,000, in fact, only 30,000 of them actually live there,
and this has led to a new construct of what Basch et al. call a “deterrito-
rialized” nation-state, within which people can remain active electroni-
cally in their old countries. Such two-way relationships have increasingly
been legally formalized: since the late 1980s, for example, the Philippine
state has continued to collect income tax on all Filipino citizens residing
abroad on a special overseas visa issued by the government. This has
meant also that the U.S. Congress has found itself increasingly under
direct pressure from Filipino voters in the United States to involve itself
directly in Filipino domestic politics, with the consequence that the tradi-
tional distinctions between domestic and foreign have come to appear in-
creasingly unclear. Nor should this Filipino example be seen as especially
anomalous; in The Transnational Villagers (2001), Peggy Levitt offers a
case study of how migrants from Miraflores, a town in the Dominican
Republic, to Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood of Boston, participate simul-
taneously in the social, political, and economic lives of their homeland
and their host society. The transnational village, in Levitt’s sense, func-
tions not through spatial proximity but through cheap telecommunica-
tions and airfares, and to conceive of a nation-state that stretches beyond
its traditional geographical boundaries is also to imagine, by a reverse
projection, an American state whose territory is no longer automatically
synonymous with the interests of U.S. citizens.
This is neither to present neoliberalism or globalization as a simple
fait accompli nor to suggest that local or national politics have no part
to play in the organization and redistribution of resources. What it is to
argue, in relation to the study of American literature and culture, is that
since the 1980s, the rules of engagement have changed so significantly
that old area-studies nostrums about exceptionalist forms of national
politics and culture, pieties about American diversity or whatever, have
become almost irrelevant. In terms of ways in which this move toward a
transnational infrastructure has manifested itself in American literature,
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 17
some of the most illuminating instances occur in the works of writers
such as Douglas Coupland and William Gibson—one brought up in Van-
couver, Canada, but who writes about the Pacific Northwest as a transna-
tional region; the other born in South Carolina, but resident in Vancouver
since 1972—whose representations of American digital culture, as we
shall see in chapter 6, are organized obliquely around parallel computer
universes. There is an extended treatment of the theme of deterritorializa-
tion in Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition (2003), whose heroine works
for a public-relations company called Blue Ant, described in the book as
“more post-geographic than multinational” (6). As she shuttles across
national boundaries, Gibson’s heroine thinks back to her father, who for
twenty-five years had been “an evaluator and improver of security for
American embassies worldwide” and whose watchword had always been
“secure the perimeter” (44). But the old cold warrior is lost in Manhattan
on the morning of 9/11, with his wife subsequently suggesting, as a pos-
sible solution to the enigma of his disappearance, “that when the second
plane hit, Win’s chagrin, his personal and professional mortification at
this having happened, at the perimeter having been so easily, so terribly
breached, would have been such that he might simply have ceased, in
protest, to exist” (351).
Gibson’s novel, written and published in the shadow of what one of
its characters calls the “recent unpleasantness” in New York City (310),
highlights ways in which 9/11 has become for the United States the most
visible and haunting symbol of the permeability of the country’s borders,
its new vulnerability to outside elements. In this sense, it is no surprise
how the enormous stress on “homeland security” in the administration
of George W. Bush (2001–9) should have operated as a reaction against
this widespread sense of dislocation and trauma. To turn a home into a
“homeland” is, by definition, to move from a zone in which domestic
comforts and protection could be taken for granted to one in which they
had to be guarded anxiously and self-consciously; in that sense, the very
phrase “homeland security” could be seen as a contradiction in terms,
since it rhetorically evokes the very insecurity it is designed to assuage. As
Jean Baudrillard has said, terrorism might be seen as an almost inevitable
counterpart to the development of international market economies, since
its enabling structures are almost identical, based as they are around the
exploitation of computer and aeronautic technologies, rapid capital trans-
fers, the wide dissemination of scientific and other kinds of information,
and the all-encompassing power of a global media: above all, the power
of terrorism trades off a culture of TV spectacle (“L’Esprit” 409). Where-
as for most Americans, World War II and the subsequent cold war took
place in alien locations, the distant world of European battlefields or the
shadowy realm of spies coming in from the cold, the most uncomfortable
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18 • Introduction
thing about 9/11 was the way it demonstrated how borders separating the
domestic from the foreign could no longer be so easily policed or, indeed,
even identified. Such permeability became conflated in the minds of many
Americans both with a threat to Christian fundamentalist values and with
the loss of job security for large numbers of people in what Edward Soja
has called a “postfordist” economic landscape (Postmodern 3), one driven
by internationally mobile capital and technology rather than by labor or
other traditional forms of production. The powerful impact of 9/11 might
thus best be understood in terms of how it appeared not as an entirely un-
expected event, a bolt from the blue, but how, on the contrary, it resonated
as a symbolic culmination of the various kinds of deterritorializing forces
that had been gathering pace since the Reagan years.
The larger framework here relates to the gradual diminution rather
than the agglomeration of U.S. power. Political theorist Immanuel Waller-
stein has concluded that the relative decline of American hegemony over
the next fifty years is inevitable, not because of any particular policies
pursued or not pursued by U.S. presidents but because of more structural
reasons: in particular, the increasing modulation of domestic economies
within a transnational axis of geopolitical space. The amorphous pro-
cesses associated with globalization will affect the United States politi-
cally as well as economically: as Niall Ferguson has pointed out, any na-
tion is less powerful politically if it has a thousand nuclear weapons when
every other nation has one than if it has one and other nations none at
all (299). One of the policies pursued by George W. Bush, a policy surely
doomed to long-term failure, was to freeze nuclear “proliferation,” as the
American administration called it, at a stage most favorable to the United
States (Wallerstein 287). This is a familiar enough ploy within the annals
of imperial history, going back to the ancient Romans, who attempted
strenuously to prevent potential enemies from getting their hands on all
kinds of dangerous weapons. But given the way the Internet has speeded
up global exchanges of information, so that scientific knowledge is no
longer locked within cold war vaults but rather dispersed among many
different centers, such an ambition of exceptionalist superiority and iso-
lationism, geared toward preserving U.S. world domination, would ap-
pear to have little chance of long-term success. Nor is it at all likely that,
for all its politically calculated rhetoric about the “axis of evil,” U.S. gov-
ernments themselves have been unaware of how this balance of power
is slowly shifting. Indeed, one of President G. W. Bush’s own advisory
bodies, the National Intelligence Council, produced in December 2004
a report entitled Mapping the Global Future, which described globaliza-
tion as “an overarching ‘mega-trend,’ a force so ubiquitous that it will
substantially shape all the other major trends in the world of 2020,” so
that “how we mentally map the world in 2020 will change radically.” The
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 19
report went on to predict openly that, although the U.S. will continue to
be “the most important single country across all the dimensions of power”
by 2020, it will also see “its relative power position eroded” (10–11).
In this light, one of the most interesting aspects of contemporary
American literature is how it represents ways in which these pressures
of deterritorialization are being internalized and understood affectively.
John Updike, for instance, came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s
by chronicling the fortunes of Harry Angstrom in the Rabbit series of
novels, and especially for the way he drew analogies between the fate of
his main character and the contemporary condition of the United States.
As we shall see in chapter 4, though, part of the structural difficulty with
this Rabbit sequence is that the parallels between the life of a white Penn-
sylvania automobile worker and the fate of the country as a whole seem
ultimately to become forced and exclusionary. Updike’s Rabbit novels
are attuned specifically to the nationalist ethos of a post–World War II
era when white, middle-class America was assumed to represent the fate
of the country at large and when the national radio and television net-
works imagined themselves to be speaking on behalf of a unified people.
However, in Seek My Face (2002), there is a specific meditation on what
Updike’s narrator calls “the fading Protestant hegemony” (70–71) and
on the erasure of the national security that formerly went along with
such a clearly defined sense of American identity. Ensconced at the age of
seventy-nine in her house in Vermont, the painter Hope Chafetz thinks
of how “[o]wning this house restored her to certain simplicities of child-
hood, when houses and yards demarcated territories of safety and drew
upon deep wells, mysterious cisterns brimming with communal reserves”
(81). She also watches the evening news on television and sees in place
of the regular NBC newscaster, Tom Brokaw, what she calls “a perfectly
stunning young woman, light topaz eyes as far apart as a kitten’s,” whose
“name wasn’t even Greek, it was more like Turkish, a quick twist of syl-
lables like an English word spelled backward. The old American stock is
being overgrown,” she thinks: “High time, of course: no reason to grieve”
(11). The elegiac tone in this novel is related not only to Hope’s personal
sense of aging but also to her recognition of how the old American order
itself is passing, how the traditional iconography of national identity now
appears to be as insecure as the superannuated charms of Christian theol-
ogy, whose demise, in typical Updike fashion, is also lovingly chronicled
in this book.
Another kind of map is provided by Leslie Marmon Silko as a preface
to her 1991 novel Almanac of the Dead, a narrative that ambitiously
rewrites the history of America from the standpoint of Native American
communities. Centered on Tucson, Arizona, this “five hundred year map”
extends from the Laguna Pueblo Reservation in the north to Mexico City
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20 • Introduction
Figure 3. “Five Hundred Year Map,” reprinted with the permission of Simon
& Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 1991 by Leslie Marmon Silko. All rights reserved.
From Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (1991).
in the south, and it represents the current U.S.–Mexico border as inciden-
tal to the flow of human and cultural traffic through this land across the
centuries (14–15). The novel itself, like the cartographic image preceding
it (figure 3), encompasses a perspective of inversion that involves redraw-
ing the map of the United States in space as well as time. Silko’s novel
deliberately eschews the chronologies of U.S. history to establish for the
Arizona region an entirely different kind of cultural vantage point, see-
ing the American Southwest in the context of Aztec civilizations and the
Apache wars, thereby rendering the familiar national narrative of the
United States contingent and reversible. This in turn works as a corol-
lary to the chronology of “the people’s history” (742) in the last section
of this book, which foregrounds slave history and chooses provocatively
to overlook the celebrated landmarks of established U.S. history. Silko
herself has described the U.S. government as an illegitimate enterprise
founded on land stolen from Native American peoples, though Alma-
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 21
nac of the Dead portrays American culture more in terms of a complex
legacy of mixed ancestries, a hybrid concoction of Spanish and other
indigenous cultures interlinked with the apparatus of the global village.
Elsewhere, Silko has written in her essay “The Border Patrol State” of
the shift after 1980 by agencies of the U.S. government away from an
exclusive emphasis on guarding the mythical “Iron Curtain”; instead, the
Immigration and Naturalization Service sought at the end of the twen-
tieth century to prevent free travel not only across but also within U.S.
borders, especially in the American Southwest, thereby constructing the
kind of defensive mechanisms against a perceived threat of mass migra-
tion and “illegal aliens” (121) that anticipated the subsequent fetish of
“homeland security.” Indeed, Native American culture offers an interest-
ing microcosm and symbol of the current fate of U.S. culture, since the
concept of deterritorialization was forcibly applied to Native American
people in the early nineteenth century, when Andrew Jackson, president
of the United States between 1829 and 1837, urged the nation to ac-
cept the loss of Indian tribes as inevitable. In The Pioneers (1823), James
Fenimore Cooper represents the breakup of the ice on Lake Otsego as
an organic analogue to the historical dispossession of Native American
peoples, a process that the author tries effectively to naturalize.7 From
this perspective, one might say that the loss of territorial security that
was visited upon Native Americans in the nineteenth century has now
become, in different ways and under different circumstances, something
that is afflicting U.S. culture as a whole.
My general hypothesis, then, is that the nationalist phase of American
literature and culture extended from 1865 until about 1981 and that the
current transnational phase actually has more in common with writing
from the periods on either side of the War of Independence, when na-
tional boundaries were much more inchoate and unsettled. The geogra-
phy scholar Robert David Sack has linked the idea of territory above all
to themes of power, protection, and political control, themes sometimes
projected onto the territorial formation itself, as in the familiar notion
of something being “the law of the land” (33). He has also written of
how the notion of territory has frequently been endowed with an idea
of mythical content, as in the way the ancient division of the Chinese
Empire into four quarters was fondly imagined to be “a mirror of cosmic
order” (77). Such forms of sublimation involve what Deleuze and Guat-
tari called a process of “reterritorialization” (258), where the appropria-
tion of territory is designed to occlude its own material flux, an approach
that manifests itself, often in circuitous ways, even in contemporary read-
ings of American literature. For instance, in Landscape and Ideology in
For a discussion of this historical process, see Lipscomb.
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22 • Introduction
American Renaissance Literature, Robert E. Abrams invokes the idea of
what he calls “negative geography” (2) to explain the resistance of Tho-
reau and others to rationalistic cartographies, cartographies understood
by Abrams as alien impositions from the European world on a pristine
American scene. In this reading, the escape from abstract geographical
mapping into what Abrams calls “a sense of indefinite existential prom-
ise” (12) becomes an implicit guarantee of an American literary nation-
alism that justifies itself by its escape from “the hallucinatory authority
of centralized, panoptic vision” (78), defining itself instead through its
relationship to the unmapped sublime. Abrams thus critically recapitu-
lates the classic transcendentalist move whereby the erasure of specific
locations in history and geography becomes the sign of the writer’s
separatist self-reliance and American authenticity. But to place culture
and geography in this kind of mutually exclusive relationship is, of
course, to overlook ways in which their narratives are inextricably in-
tertwined. In this sense, Abrams’s version of “negative geography” oper-
ates much like a traditional form of dehistoricization, a transliteration
of material conditions into a version of mythic idealism from which the
lineaments of time and space are frozen out. By contrast, a discourse of
geographical materialism would seek to restore these spatial dynamics to
American literature.
In an era of global warming and various other forms of transnational
circulation, when issues of the environment cannot be reduced simply to
local or national specificities, such a dissolution of spatial relations into
“negative geography” must surely appear a parochial strategy. One of
the conceptual problems associated with the study of U.S. literature has
always been an inbred tendency toward a relatively constricted theoreti-
cal matrix, with the culture’s own distinct preference for familiar terms of
reference and supposedly natural affinities with the native soil engender-
ing a self-perpetuating loop through which American writers were criti-
cally validated for being identifiably American. On the other hand, the
displacement of U.S. territorial autonomy has the potential for opening
up new possibilities for the study of America’s place within the world,
so that theorists of transnationalism whose first allegiance is to alterna-
tive political formations might usefully be read against the grain of the
American polis. For example, in We the People of Europe? Reflections on
Transnational Citizenship, French political thinker Etienne Balibar dis-
cusses ways in which nations have traditionally attempted to guard their
borders so as to preserve the integrity of their public sphere and have
consequently defined themselves primarily through various mechanisms
of exclusion. Balibar also points out, though, how in the twenty-first cen-
tury such borders are no longer “entirely situated at the outer limit of
territories” but are—through international media, finance, and so on—
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Deterritorialization of American Literature • 23
dispersed everywhere within them: “border areas . . . are not marginal
to the constitution of a public sphere but rather are at the center” (1–2).
The primary concern of Balibar’s work is the changing political system in
Europe and its slow evolution into something more like a federal union;
but, by Ricoeur’s logic of “retrodiction,” it is possible that such altered
conditions in twenty-first-century Europe will help provoke a radical re-
examination of the culture and history of the United States. Over the
next fifty years, suggests David Crystal, Europe will probably evolve into
a more integrated political state within which English will emerge as the
dominant language, even though this use of English as a lingua franca
will exist alongside a range of other European languages historically em-
bedded in particular national cultures (5–7). What this would produce
is a model of political union where multinationalism and multilingual-
ism are the norm, and this may well induce scholars in the twenty-first
century to reappraise American literary history of earlier eras, when, as
we shall see in chapter 3, the official rhetoric of melting-pot assimilation
and monolingualism tended simply to gloss over the many aspects of U.S.
culture that did not conform to these hegemonic ideals. Rather than see-
ing Europe as positioned in the kind of conceptual opposition to America
that characterized the exceptionalist impulse of American studies in the
twentieth century, this transnational dynamic would provide an impetus
for scholars to think of relations between the United States and the rest of
the world in terms of more complex, analogical processes of convergence
and divergence.
Deterritorialization as used by Deleuze and Guattari, then, had a quite
specific psychoanalytical meaning, but the term can be extrapolated to
make inferences about ways in which subjects of all kinds, both indi-
vidual and national, find themselves compelled to relate to what Appa-
durai calls the “theory of rupture that takes media and migration as its
two major, and interconnected, diacritics” (Modernity 3). Rather than
merely understanding U.S. power to be a “colossus,” in Niall Ferguson’s
imperious phrase, there is an important sense in which we should read
the United States itself as one of the objects of globalization, rather than
as merely its malign agent, so that all the insecurities associated with
transnationalism are lived out experientially within the nation’s own bor-
ders as well. The Global Remapping of American Literature thus seeks
to inscribe an alternative version of American literary history, one turn-
ing upon an international rather than a nationalist axis. By restoring a
matrix of historical and geographical materialism to the United States at
the beginning of the twenty-first century, we come to understand how
the idea of American culture has always been bound up inextricably with
particular configurations of space, configurations that have changed their
shape many times over the past 300 years.
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24 • Introduction
It is, of course, impossible to encompass everything, and the aim of this
book is not to write an encyclopedic survey but rather to offer symptom-
atic readings that shed a kind of refractive light on anomalies, inconsis-
tencies, and blind spots within canonical national narratives. By relating
individual authors to larger orbits and making illuminating juxtaposi-
tions between different temporal and spatial categories of American lit-
erature, I hope to raise the kinds of questions that are often occluded
in “close” readings of particular texts, where meaning is treated as an
immanent phenomenon. In this sense, to place American literature within
a larger spatial circumference might be seen as analogous to reading it
across different temporal dimensions; part of my aim in this work is to
bring the conventionally partitioned field of “early” American literature
more into comparative juxtaposition with the modern and postmodern
periods. Indeed, the organization of this book, the first section centered
on temporal and the last on spatial dimensions, is designed to offset what
Doreen Massey has called the academic tendency to tame and homog-
enize the aleatory conditions of space by turning “geography into history,
space into time” (5). Massey argues that any critique of the “historicism”
of globalization—“its unilinearity, its teleology, etc.”—must also involve
“reframing its spatiality,” so that such a “reconceptualization could
(should) be of temporality and spatiality together” (89). By cross-cutting
temporal latitudes with spatial longitudes and by considering specific
U.S. regions (the South, the Pacific Northwest) alongside historical devel-
opments, this book will attempt to recognize the heterogeneous quality of
global narratives, how their trajectories have operated in interestingly un-
even ways across different geopolitical locations. I am aware, of course,
that a choice of different geographic zones would have produced differ-
ent perspectives, and chapters 5 and 6 are intended merely as examples
of ways in which the spatial and temporal aspects of American literary
culture have been intertwined. At the center of this book, in Part Two, is a
consideration of how the subject of American literature became consoli-
dated and institutionalized in the modernist era, together with an account
of the pressures this national model came under in the second half of the
twentieth century. I use the “rhetoric of broadcasting” as a way of gaining
a particular analytical purchase on these changing conceptions of space,
though it is, of course, not my intention to suggest that electronic media
were the only contributory factors to these processes of dislocation. Ed-
ward Said’s notion of “adversarial internationalism” (Culture 244) might
be said to take many forms, and here such a critical internationalism is
designed to cut across conventional formations of American literature,
suggesting how, despite the ways in which it has been buttressed by the
ghosts of American exceptionalism, forms of global space have always
been inherent within it. From this perspective, deterriorialization, like
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25. Copyrighted Material
Deterritorialization of American Literature • 25
transnationalism, can be seen as a doubled-up, recursive term that seeks
to bracket off or problematize the trope associated with a prior metanar-
rative: territory, nation, or homeland. It speaks to a paradoxical situation
where affective loyalties, local affiliations, and subliminal legacies are
ironically traversed by larger vectors of political and economic disenfran-
chisement, vectors that threaten to push the nation further and further
away from the representative center of its own imagined community. To
speak of American literary culture under the rubric of deterritorialization
is thus not simply to encumber it within monolithic orders of globaliza-
tion or imperialism but, rather, to think of it as a socially constructed,
historically variable and experientially edgy phenomenon, whose valence
lies in the tantalizing dialectic between an illusion of presence and the
continual prospect of displacement.
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