The earthquake of settler colonialism: Dana Luciano, ‘Unsettled Ground: Indigenous Prophecy, Geological Fantasy, and the New Madrid Earthquakes’, American Quarterly, 74, 4, 2022, pp. 821-843


Abstract: This essay explores the differing relations to land, time, and history—human and planetary—that organized responses to the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–12 and that now characterize responses to the Anthropocene. Indigenous and settler accounts connected the earthquakes to a catastrophic rupture in time, but they located that catastrophe differently. For the US, the disaster was seismic, a geological revelation of human powerlessness. Federal intervention sought to restore the region to the future-oriented time of the nation, while Romantic history and geological fantasy supplemented the inscription of settler-national time on the land by identifying the “Indian” with cultural and geological pasts. Indigenous interpretations connected the quakes to the ongoing rupture that colonialism instantiated. Circulated through the pan-Indigenous revival, the polychronicity of anticolonial assessments of the quakes drew on the energy of prophecy, reflecting what Mark Rifkin identifies as prophecy’s ability to gather other-than-chronological possibilities as they interwove the earth’s past and the land’s present state to make Indigenous futures possible again. Recent approaches to the Anthropocene replicate this division, alternately perpetuating the necropolitics of geological fantasy and embracing a reparative adaptation of what Kyle Powys Whyte (Citizen Potawatomi) describes as “kinship time.

%d bloggers like this: