alex trimble young on the frontier in western american literature


Alex Trimble Young, ‘Settler Sovereignty and the Rhizomatic West, or, The Significance of the Frontier in Postwestern Studies’, Western American Literature 48, 1 & 2 (2013).

Contemporary “postwestern” literary scholarship has largely turned away from frontier historiography toward a “critical regionalist” approach in its efforts to move western literary studies away from familiar national paradigms. As western studies has moved away from what historian Kerwin Klein calls “big frontier tales,” frontier historiography has made a forceful reemergence in contemporary transnational settler colonial studies.This essay seeks to put the “big frontier tales” of settler colonial studies into conversation with postwestern studies through a reading of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s conception of “the rhizomatic West” in A Thousand Plateaus, a text that has been especially influential in postwestern studies and American studies writ large. In addition to exploring Deleuze and Guattari’s Beat Generation and Myth and Symbol School sources, this essay glosses critiques of Deleuze and Guattari by Chickasaw scholar Jodi Byrd and British-Israeli theorist Eyal Weizman, both of whom relate Deleuzian rhizomatics to the ideological and spatial forms of settler colonial expansion.Having outlined a critique of “the rhizomatic West” from this perspective, it offers a brief reading of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road through the lens of settler colonial theory in order to argue that an engagement with frontier historiography should inform our understanding of contemporary understandings of “westness.”

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