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Emergent WorldsAlternative States in Nineteenth-Century American Culture$
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Edward Sugden

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781479899692

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479899692.001.0001

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Transition States in the Chaotic Pacific, 1812–1848

Transition States in the Chaotic Pacific, 1812–1848

(p.35) 1 Transition States in the Chaotic Pacific, 1812–1848
Emergent Worlds

Edward Sugden

NYU Press

This chapter explores the historical fold between a declining Spanish colonialism and a coming but not inevitable US imperial nation-state. Terming this midzone the “transition state,” it shows how critical narratives often falsely read the Pacific between 1812 and 1848 in terms of the transformations that occurred subsequently. Before that, individuals who theorized the Pacific gave voice to various transitional forms of consciousness—how they reckoned time, formulated space, or articulated their politics. In each of these domains, they imagined that the world could still be remade into new social forms. A personage the chapter terms the “queer migrant” emerged and embodied these transitional energies. The coming of the United States into the region closed down this space of potential. For those writers who sought to imagine the early Pacific world, such as Herman Melville and James Fenimore Cooper, this was a tragedy. They therefore developed a form—the Pacific elegy—that mourned the loss of this world yet, in mourning it, archived it so that future readers could reactivate it. Overall, this argument challenges the narrative of westward-tending imperialism that has dominated American studies.

Keywords:   transition state, 1848, Pacific, time, space, politics, Pacific elegy, Herman Melville, James Fenimore Cooper, queer migrant

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