“Water, Water Everywhere”: Flows, Fate, and Transcendental Settlerism in Margaret Fuller's “Summer on the Lakes, in 1843”
Keywords:Margaret Fuller, fluidity, transcendentalism, settler colonialism, race
In this article I offer revisionist close readings of the first chapters of Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, where Margaret Fuller documents the beginning of a journey through the Great Lakes region during the era of ‘Indian removal’ and the US invasion and settling of lands further westward. I argue that while Fuller builds an understanding of the world that is directable and fluid, the ability to reform the world is in her writing, through a theory of fixed racial hierarchies, reserved only for the white settler. In close readings, I demonstrate how on the banks of the mighty flows of Niagara Falls, the Great Lakes, and the Rock River, the text documents and attempts to direct the fluid power flows of a continent—and, parallel to this, how it focuses on theorizing the divergent ‘settler’ and ‘Indian’ at the crossroads of what Fuller calls “inevitable, fatal” white progress. Along these lines, I contextualize the book’s aesthetics and politics as exemplary of what I call ‘Transcendental settlerism.’ Such colonial-critical readings, I suggest, are vital for more thoroughly understanding the legacy of Transcendentalism and the history of race, colony, and liberal imaginaries of progress in the United States.
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