What is it about?

This review provides a broad overview of Mark Rifkin's Beyond Settler Sovereignty, a monograph that focuses on understanding settler colonialism via queer theories of temporality (viz., Bergson, Berlant, Fabian). These theorists to lay the groundwork for a heteronormative framing of temporality which Rifkin then uses to engage key NAIS scholars (esp. Goeman, Simpson, Warrior).

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Why is it important?

Rifkin presents a set of analytic tools that scholars can employ when engaging Indigenous texts with temporal formations, shedding light upon crucial differences in Native American conceptions of time, place, and becoming. Rifkin diminishes any belief in a "global 'coevalness'" within settler colonialism and uses key concepts like cross-temporality, backgrounding, and asynchrony to debunk any investment in it.


In his second chapter, Rifkin opens with an anecdote about viewing the film Lincoln and its silent portrayal of Seneca hahësnowa:nëh (Chief) Ely S. Parker, a representation that he finds ultimately stands for Native peoples' struggles for sovereignty and the ways in which Native American identity precludes inclusion in a national narrative that centralizes the Civil War as integral to becoming. Rifkin traces a process he calls the emancipation sublime and uses it to denote the war's meaning as a vehicle for making apparent the state's inherent democracy, a process that disallows Native peoples' inclusion in the "temporality of the union" (51–52). Rifkin's argument is convincing in many ways, but would be helped by spending time on the intersections of "the union" and Parker's role in both it and the Iroquois Confederacy, given the founding fathers' employment of Hodinöhšö:ni:h governance as a template for designing US democracy. This concern is a minor quibble in a book spilling over with impressive insights about Indigenous temporalities and their relationship to sovereignty, however.

Penelope Kelsey

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Beyond Settler Sovereignty: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination by Mark Rifkin, Western American Literature, January 2019, Project Muse,
DOI: 10.1353/wal.2019.0046.
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