A settler society reproduces queerly: Ryan Tan Wander, Queer Times Out West: Genres of the Settler Colonial US West, 1868-1912, PhD Dissertation, University of California, Davis, 2019


Abstract: “Queer Times Out West: Genres of the Settler Colonial US West, 1868-1912” examines how frontier literatures of the US West narrate the co-constitution of sexuality and US settler colonialism. In portraying relations between and among white, Indigenous, and racialized bodies in the spatiotemporal zone of the frontier, late nineteenth and early twentieth-century frontier literatures imaginatively re-presented US settler colonialism’s reliance on white settlers who adopt the sexual backwardness associated with Natives, Mormons, and subordinated racial groups. Despite the “closing” of the frontier in 1890, US settlement remained active and contested over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. White settlers’ claims to Native “primitivity” were at the heart of the settler imperative to inhabit an indigenizing primitivity while remaining oriented toward the future. Authors and literary genres intimately tied to frontier representation, I argue, portrayed white “primitivity” on the frontier as a form of sexual backwardness that simultaneously authorizes and threatens the US national future that it is supposed to found. National modernization, evolutionary thinking, and sexology differentiated populations and individuals based on universal timelines of “progress,” imposing teleological narrative order on variegated forms of sexual, social, and economic life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Such ordering relegated Indigenous and racialized others to the past at the same time that it sutured white settlers’ appropriation of an indigenizing sexual backwardness to the settler future. Frontier literatures serve as a privileged medium for repeating or reconfiguring this narrative ordering of sexuality, offering chronotopes that incline toward multiple potential futures at a time when US sovereignty out West was not a foregone conclusion. Bringing scholarship on the imbrication of sexuality and US settler colonialism into dialogue with work on temporality in nineteenth-century US literature and culture, my project demonstrates that these frontier literatures’ narrative forms work through the threat and asset that the contradictory temporality of white settler sexuality represented in a crucial moment of settler colonial consolidation.

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