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Narrating the American Wilderness: The Narratological Transformation of Indigenous Ecologies to “Wild” Land

  • Johnson, Robyn MacKenzie
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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Building off the extensive criticism surrounding the American wilderness in settler-colonial and Indigenous studies, “Narrating the American Wilderness” examines how the paradoxical variations of the wilderness (the demonic, the sublime, and the innocent) condition settler-colonialists to accept a fictional wilderness as reality. Through continual (re)creation of the wilderness narrative in multiple media over decades, I argue that the wilderness narrative has transformed from myth to an embedded sociocultural belief that serves settler-colonialism’s logic of elimination. Incorporating the wilderness narrative into multiple media (literature, advertisements, and maps), settler-colonialism works to systematically erase Indigenous ecologies (networks of relations between Indigenous people(s) and nonhuman entities) and transform diverse ecosystems that actively participate in Indigenous ecologies into landscapes. The ultimate goal of such erasure and transformation is to replace Indigenous ecologies with a settler ecology that reinforces the settler-colonial ideology of the human-nature hierarchy and dismisses the potential for nonhuman agency. To establish the settler ecology, settler-colonialists incorporate the narratological tools of transporting boundaries, hyper-separation, and narrative mapping to interweave and superimpose their ideologies and values onto wilderness spaces. By exposing these narratological tools and the wilderness’s settler-colonial functions, I argue that we can begin to dismantle the settler ecology and recognize nonhumans’ agencies and narratives.

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