In How the Earth Feels Dana Luciano examines the impacts of the new science of geology on nineteenth-century US culture. Drawing on early geological writings, Indigenous and settler accounts of earthquakes, African American antislavery literature, and other works, Luciano reveals how geology catalyzed transformative conversations regarding the intersections between humans and the nonhuman world. She shows that understanding the earth’s history geologically involved confronting the dynamic nature of inorganic matter over vast spans of time, challenging preconceived notions of human agency. Nineteenth-century Americans came to terms with these changes through a fusion of fact and imagination that Luciano calls geological fantasy. Geological fantasy transformed the science into a sensory experience, sponsoring affective and even erotic connections to the matter of the earth. At the same time, it was often used to justify accounts of evolution that posited a modern, civilized, and Anglo-American whiteness as the pinnacle of human development. By tracing geology’s relationship with biopower, Luciano illuminates how imagined connections with the earth shaped American dynamics of power, race, and colonization.
Acknowledgments ix Introduction. The “Fashionable Science” 1 1. “The Infinite Go-Before of the Present”: Geological Time, Worldmaking, and Race in the Nineteenth Century 31 2. Unsettled Ground: Indigenous Prophecy, Geological Fantasy, and the New Madrid Earthquakes 57 3. Romancing the Trace: Ichnology, Affect, Matter 87 4. Matters of Spirit: Vibrant Materiality and White Femme Geophilia 114 5. The Natural History of Freedom: Blackness, Geomorphology, Worldmaking 137 Coda. Ishmael’s Anthropocene: Geological Fantasy in the Twenty-First Century 171 Notes 181 Bibliography 211 Index
Dana Luciano is Associate Professor of English and Women's & Gender Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America (2007), which won the 2008 MLA Prize for a First Book. She co-edited, with Ivy G. Wilson, Unsettled States: Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies (2014), and “Queer Inhumanisms,” a special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies, with Mel Y. Chen (2015).
“Tracking the strange pleasures and anxieties around geologic thinking in literary texts, popular culture, and scientific disciplines, Dana Luciano beautifully renders how time is felt and experienced at different scales and intensities. Her account of how biopolitics underwrote the pleasingly terrifying view of deep time as expressed by the fossil record is a signature accomplishment. How the Earth Feels makes a stunningly original contribution. I savored every sentence in this book.”
~Stephanie Foote, author of, The Parvenu’s Plot: Gender, Culture, and Class in the Age of Realism
“This wide-ranging book takes geology as nothing less than the foundation of modernity, a form of world-making extending from the nineteenth century to our own time, featuring the giddy fantasies of racism and colonialism as much as the rigors of a new science. Empiricism and materialism double here as biopolitics. Clear-eyed, lucid, timely.”
~Wai Chee Dimock, author of, Weak Planet: Literature and Assisted Survival