XenocitizensIlliberal Ontologies in Nineteenth-Century America

XenocitizensIlliberal Ontologies in Nineteenth-Century America

Jason Berger

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780823287758

Publisher: Fordham University Press

Abstract

Sociality under the sign of liberalism has seemingly come to an end—or, at least, is in dire crisis. Xenocitizens returns to the antebellum United States in order to intervene in a wide field of responses to our present economic and existential precarity. In this incisive study, Berger challenges a shaken but still standing scholarly tradition based on liberal-humanist perspectives. Through the concept of xenocitizen, a synthesis of the terms “xeno,” which connotes alien or stranger, and “citizen,” which signals a naturalized subject of a state, the book uncovers realities and possibilities that have been foreclosed by dominant paradigms. Xenocitizens glimpses how antebellum writers formulated, in response to varying forms of oppression and crisis, startlingly unique ontological and social models for thinking about personhood and sociality as well as unfamiliar ways to exist and to leverage change. Today, the old liberal-national model of citizen is not only problematic, but also tactically anachronistic. And yet, standard liberal assumptions that undergird the fading realities of humanist and democratic traditions often linger within emerging scholarly work that seeks to move past them. Innovatively reorienting our thinking about traditional nineteenth-century figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau as well as formative writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wells Brown, and Martin Delany, Xenocitizens offers us a new nineteenth century—pushing our imaginative and critical thinking toward new terrain.