Pierson v. Post and the Literary Origins of American Property
This introductory chapter lays out the central philosophical questions about property and ownership that undergird the entire book. After discussing the nature and scope of ownership anxiety in Anglo-American property theory, the chapter goes on to provide a careful history of property practices as they evolved in antebellum American culture. A close reading of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Pioneers, demonstrates the ways in which American literary writers responded to such ownership anxieties by exploring a phenomenology of possession, a rich literary account of the embodied aspects of ownership. This phenomenology of possession is then situated in relation to theories of sensation, embodiment, affect, and emotion as they appear in the writings of phenomenological thinkers such as Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricoeur. The chapter concludes by discussing the crucial significance of space and spatial structure as it informs and infuses these literary phenomenologies of ownership; Cooper’s engagement with hunting law is particularly instructive here, revealing the close imbrication of space and property in antebellum culture.
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