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The Crosstemporal Conundrum: Indigenous Specters in Antebellum American Literature

Paul Giles

Pages 331 - 354



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Starting from a “crosstemporal” theoretical position, this essay argues that discursive engagement with Indigenous cultures among “early” American writers has the effect of projecting the chronological span of fictional and philosophical narratives backward as well as forward. By reconfiguring Native American culture as a field with which American writers engage discursively rather than just literally, it becomes possible to expand the temporal trajectories of antebellum American literature and to see it as operating in a more complex, multidirectional manner. By tracing the emergence of global narratives of America through the writings of Chateaubriand in the 1820s, and then comparing the works of American writers such as Sedgwick, Emerson, and Melville to the works of Native American writers such as Occom and Apess, this essay suggests how dialogue with Indigenous cultural perspectives expands the horizons of antebellum American literature in space as well as time. It combines theoretical inquiry about temporality, periodization, and the reconstruction of history with a textual analysis of how Aboriginal cultural formations are represented in Melville’s novel Pierre. This raises questions about how and why certain U.S. narratives have been canonized and the exclusions linked to traditional versions of American exceptionalism.

Keywords: transnational; Indigenous; temporality; Chateaubriand; Melville, Pierre

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