Sunday, October 8, 2023

Russ Castronovo's "American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability"

Russ Castronovo is the Tom Paine Professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His books include Fathering the Nation, Necro Citizenship, Beautiful Democracy, and Propaganda 1776.

Castronovo applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability centers on one of the conceptual origin points for this book as whole. In his fairytale about the creation of property, John Locke famously asked readers to imagine a hunter chasing rabbit. As this page from the book’s third chapter explains, Locke draws a startling conclusion that “when the hunter discovers, tracks, and pursues the rabbit, he ‘hath begun a property.’ He does not even have to catch it, for Locke, pursuit creates property.”

This simple story became important for me because I wanted to understand how something could become property even before one has it in one’s hot little hands. The answer, as I discovered in the course. of writing this book is that there is an intimate connection among security, surveillance, and property. Here, I start to untangle this conceptual mystery by turning to white renditions of the frontier, contending that James Fenimore Cooper’s novels disclose the settler colonial logic by which the carving out of property from the wilderness is essential to white ideas about security. In short, I can report that American Insecurity passes the Page 99 Test with flying colors.

And yet, it gives the false impression that the book is wholly concerned with literary and historical episodes from another century. The surveillance programs of the 21st century, the algorithms that pinpoint our locations and predict our behaviors, and the contemporary anxieties about terrorism and crime that make individuals so frequently feel insecure are big part of this book. In this way, American Insecurity sets up a dialogue between earlier instances of vulnerability and present-day fears in an effort to understand how and why so much of our democratic energy has been sacrificed to security.
Learn more about American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability at the Princeton University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Propaganda 1776.

--Marshal Zeringue