On Lingering and Being Last: Race and Sovereignty in the New World

“In the beginning, all the world was America,” wrote John Locke. As the thinkers of the modern liberal order knew at the time, the new world functioned as a kind of hothouse or accelerator for the elaboration of the crucial concepts of that order: sovereignty, autonomy, the homology between individual and collective. But this new world was also where racialization, as a structuring principle of Euro-American modernity, was implanted. Looking at texts from Aphra Behn, Olaudah Equiano, Thomas Jefferson, William Godwin, Charles Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley, John Neal, and Herman Melville, On Lingering and Being Last demonstrates that the intractable contradictions of liberalism are also, and from the beginning, racialized.

I put a lot of my heart and soul into this book. It is intricate and melancholy.

An excerpt from the Introduction: “Royal slaves and captive kings and last chiefs are attempts to imagine the mystery of autonomy; they are figures who bear the meaning of the social collectivity in their very isolation, somehow mortal like the rest of us and yet able to enter a zone of quasi-immortality, by turns exalted and abjected” (10).

Here are some of the blurbs the book received:

Wai Chee Dimock: 

“This stunning account of racialized sovereignty in then New World gives us an American literature unlike anything we have seen: steeped in melancholy, haunted by the ‘Logan effect,’ at once ancient and modern.”

Elizabeth Maddock Dillon:

“Elmer offers compelling, original, and searchingly attentive readings of New World texts, yielding a richness of insight that makes for an immensely pleasurable foray into theoretically sophisticated and difficult terrain.”

Paul Downes:

“Working from a genuinely transatlantic perspective, On Lingering and Being Last…is a series of scrupulously researched and elegantly articulated expositions of gothic humanitarianism, melancholic nationalism, and the ideological vicissitudes of the ethnic sublime.”

You can find the book here: Fordham UP, 2008. https://www.fordhampress.com/9780823229413/on-lingering-and-being-last/