New dealing, not a new deal: Benjamin Balthaser, ‘New Deal Settler Colonialism, Indigeneity, and the 1930s Literary Left’, PMLA, 2021

08Feb21

Excerpt: At the conclusion of his 1932 cross-country travelogue, American Jitters, the critic Edmund Wilson reaches the end of the continental United States to gaze upon the sugar magnate John Speckles’s iconic Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. Wilson describes the hotel as “white as a wedding cake” and, in a nod to the imperial “Great White Fleet” of San Diego, notes also that it is “polished and trim as a ship” and that its presence is a monument intended to “dominate” the coast before the “shoreline gives way to Mexico” (254). This image of whiteness and imperial domination stretching off into the infinity of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean is then coupled with a dialectical image of Wilson reaching back in time, to the history that brought the hotel into existence: “it was the same year the first vestibule train was put on the tracks by George Pullman and the revolt of the Apaches under Geronimo . . . to assert their independence . . . had been put down by the government and the Apaches penned up in a reservation.” Wilson’s construction, in which he simultaneously looks forward, over the ocean to the “sugar plantations of Honolulu,” and backward, into the connection between settler colonialism and capitalist industry, topped by an absurdly white hotel, marks a troubling convergence of settler-colonial time and capitalist space in left-wing thought in the United States.



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