Settler colonial modernism in the face of revolution: Bradley Flis, Border Ends: Anti-Imperialism, Settler Colonialism, And The Mexican Revolution In U.S. Modernism, PhD Dissertation, Wayne State University, 2018


Abstract: From 1910-1920, the Mexican Revolution became a source of anxiety, interest, and inspiration to those who paid attention to its political turmoil as reported in the popular press. It would lead to the reinvigorating of a debate about U.S. intervention in the political affairs of Mexico, indeed, for some, the question was one of annexation. Responding to a growing imperialist culture in the U.S., William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, John Reed and Max Eastman of The Masses were among those who looked to modernist aesthetic practice to critique military and economic expansionism in Mexico.

This dissertation explores that discursive interplay between U.S. modernism and anti-imperialism through representations of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), in writing itself conceptualized as “revolutionary.” While the writers that I take up in this study each, though in different ways, represented Mexico as a site of revolutionary modernity that points to a shared, transnational cultural affinity toward constructions of “the new” as the basis of an anti-imperialist politics, each also, confronts in their writing the disrupting presence of the American Indian within this anti-imperialist vision. Each of these writers in their own way explicitly connects an interest in the aesthetics of the “new” with the colonial history of the “New World.”

At the same time, they register self-consciously in their texts the contradiction of using an anti-imperialist discourse to consolidate national identity in the face of ongoing settler colonialism: the appropriation and occupation of native land, the genocide of native peoples, and the erasure of native culture. In key texts about Mexico written by Stein, Williams, Reed, and Eastman, references to a history of U.S. settler colonialism and the presence of the American Indian emerge as a limit to their anti-imperialist poetics and a challenge to their desires for the construction of a “new,” modernist national culture.

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