The Deaths of Settler Colonialism: Extinction as a Metaphor of Decolonisation in Contemporary Settler Literature



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Publication Source

Settler Colonial Studies. Volume 8, Issue 1, Pages 30-46.

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Analyses of settler-colonial narrative have focused on how settlers imagine the past, identifying a problem of origins that makes history an object of anxiety. The meaning settlers attribute to the future has been, less thoroughly examined. This article addresses that gap by analysing literary texts from South Africa, Australia, and Canada that posit an ‘end’ to settler colonialism, imagining futures beyond the settler-colonial present. It argues that a key metaphor of the settler future is extinction. This concept allows the death of the settler subject to be constructed as comparable, to the elimination of indigenous peoples, superseded societies, maladapted species, or even – through the invocation of climate change – to the end of humanity itself. The article analyses the implications of settler extinction, arguing that the works in question rely on a slippage between the settler subject and ‘the human’ that replicates features of settler-colonial and patriarchal ideology. The article suggests that while extinction does offer a path for settlers to contemplate futures without them, it also operates as a mechanism of disavowal. Extinction is thus a metaphor of ending that enables survival, allowing settlers to avoid, a true reckoning with the disestablishment of settler-colonial power structures.


postcolonial literature, settler-colonial narrative, extinction, futurity, metaphor, ecocriticism, climate change, Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee