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Early African American Print Culture  

Eric Gardner

Not until the end of the 20th century did scholars begin to look at early African American print culture in the depth it deserves. A story painfully intertwined with the transatlantic slave system and racism, early black print engagement combined, from its beginnings, responses to white aggression and a powerful set of individual and communal desires to read about, record, and, via print, share truths of black life in the United States. Some of the first creators of black print in the United States, from the authors of the earliest slave narratives to poet Phillis Wheatley, had to think through questions of individual and communal identity vis-à-vis emerging American socio-political structures and find ways to ensure control over their own voices in a white-dominated culture that tried to exclude, use, or abuse those voices. But early black print culture is not simply the story of a single genre like the slave narrative or of exceptional individuals like Wheatley. Rather, it is also the story of organizational print tied to churches, conventions, and activist groups. It is as well the story of a diverse range of modes, from the rich pamphleteering tradition (perhaps most excitingly expressed by David Walker) to early black periodicals like those edited by Samuel Cornish and Philip Bell. Especially after 1830, it also became the story of a range of black women (from Maria Stewart and Jarena Lee to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper), of African Americans across the North (and occasionally in the midst of the slave South), and of an increasing number of formats, genres, and approaches. And it became a story of how black activists might interact (in print and beyond) with white antislavery activists, recognizing both shared and different goals and philosophies as they attempted to fight not only for emancipation but for broader civil rights.

Article

Cotton Famine Poetry: Technology, Trade, and Transatlantic Discourse  

Simon Rennie

The Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861–1865 (also known as “The Cotton Panic” or simply “The Distress”) was largely caused by the Union blockade of Confederate goods, including cotton, during the American Civil War. The economy of the highly industrialized English county of Lancashire was heavily dependent on cotton. The poetry associated with this crisis represents a demographically diverse documentation of emotional response, commentary, and reportage. Almost four hundred poems have been collated and analyzed on the database developed at the University of Exeter, but it is known that there are hundreds more still to be added to this collection, which have yet to be processed or even discovered. The bulk of the poems were recovered from local Lancashire newspapers and other UK publications, but there is also verse published in Australia, France, Ireland, and dozens from publications representing both sides of the American Civil War itself. Almost all of the poetry first saw the light of day in newspapers, and in Lancashire these publications were local to each of the mill towns affected by the crisis. Towns such as Bolton, Rochdale, Blackburn, Preston, and Burnley had grown exponentially in the decades up to the Famine, and their populations, in many cases newly literate, were served by discrete periodicals performing important municipal services as conveyors of news, opinion, entertainment, and advertising. In addition, almost all British newspapers in the 1860s featured a weekly poetry or literature column, and though they sometimes included verse from classic living or historical authors, they often encouraged readers to submit poetry for publication. Cotton Famine poetry provides a window into the feelings and opinions of ordinary people in reaction to one of the most concentrated periods of industrial economic distress in the latter half of the 19th century.

Article

Zombies in Print  

Sarah Juliet Lauro and Christina Connor

A general discussion of literary living dead might begin with the Epic of Gilgamesh, European Gothic tales, some of Edgar Allan Poe’s perturbations, or any number of well-known walking corpses from classic literature. However, zombies are one particular kind of living-dead creature among many others, separate from the fleshy embodied ghosts of diverse cultures, including the Jewish golems, European revenants, and Chinese jiangshi. The zombie is distinct because of its origins in the folkloric myth of the corpse raised by a bokor (a witch doctor, for lack of a better term), a Caribbean belief that has roots in African soul-capture mythologies and that was a direct reflection of the transatlantic slave trade. This folkloric figure migrated into U.S. popular culture via anthropological narratives and thereafter was repurposed in cinema. Any discussion of the zombie in literature is inseparable from its cinematic sibling, but for the creature that developed out of Caribbean mythologies, folklore is its ultimate ur-text. Zombies were first registered in a few scattered colonial accounts documenting the beliefs of the enslaved population of Caribbean isles. These accounts were penned by authors who denigrated the foolishness of the enslaved people’s belief in reanimated corpses (17th–19th century). The first zombie stories to be popularly consumed came out of nonfictional pseudo-anthropological texts reporting on the culture of Haiti during the U.S. occupation (1915–1934), but the zombie quickly moved into the horror genre. Its marketability was recognizable after the 1932 film White Zombie (dir. Victor Halperin) depicted the threat that the Vaudou zombie could pose for white protagonists. The zombie’s migration into U.S. fiction occurred first in the pulps of the early 20th century. This would continue throughout the 1950s, as many zombie-like living dead dripped and oozed across the pages of EC horror comics. The Vaudou zombie, a folkloric living dead that was deeply shaped by the Haitian people’s history of slavery and colonialism, remained visible in Caribbean literature but this iteration very rarely cropped up in U.S. fiction after the cinematic transformation of the zombie into a flesh-hungry viral undead. Primarily, the zombie is considered a cinematic monster because it underwent its major transformation on screen with George Romero’s ghouls rising from the dead to devour their victims in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. The zombie’s evolution from a mindless Vaudou slave to a cannibalistic, contagious reanimate can be traced throughout the middle decades of 20th-century horror films and this same transformation occurred in horror literature. During these middle decades, many crossover monsters in science fiction tales incarnated the fears of the period—particularly fears of technological capability and Cold War tensions. Various characters in these works had traits that have come to be associated with zombies, such as mindlessness and cannibalism. One might point to a kind of lull in zombie fiction (both on-screen and in literature) in the 1980s and 1990s, but the zombie experienced a resurgence in the new millennium and a return to prominence in both cinematic and textual narratives. In the era of the new millennial zombie, the living dead could be found everywhere, spawning beyond even the boundaries of genre fiction. The cinematic zombie’s newfound speed (associated with Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later) mirrored the rapidity of the zombie’s production and proliferation: no longer consigned to the pages of horror paperbacks or science fiction dystopias, zombies appear in comedy, romance, historical fiction, literary mash-ups, parodic how-to guides, and even children’s books. In addition, zombie-themed video games and merchandise flooded the market, and one could find a plethora of zombie cultural events, including college courses, art exhibits, and costumed foot races during this zombie renaissance. In a few short centuries, the zombie evolved from a folkloric figure associated with Vaudou cosmology and its reflection of slavery, to a horror and science fiction bogeyman representing a range of social ills, to a perplexing liminal figure that cannot be contained in one genre or medium. But no matter how much the zombie changes—perhaps because of its ancestral origins in the slave trade—zombie narratives continue to have resonance with colonialism, critiquing capitalism’s abuses of humans by their fellows.

Article

Postcolonial Fiction, Oceans, and Seas  

Kritish Rajbhandari

While Pan-Africanist and Pan-Asianist movements from the early to mid-20th century sought transnational alliances against Western imperialism, anti-colonial nationalisms during the late 20th century emphasized national independence and sovereignty and forged notions of culture and identity based on land and territorial belonging. Hence, the territorial nation as the primary site of anti-colonial struggle emerged as the dominant scale of critique within the field of postcolonial literary studies. However, the transnational turn in the humanities has also brought into focus aspects of postcolonial fiction that look beyond colonial and national boundaries. Postcolonial writers and critics have turned to the ocean and the seas for alternative spatialization to challenge land-based methodologies overdetermined by nationalist and area-studies paradigms. Scholars have theorized different spatial scales for ocean-based criticisms drawn from geographical, historical, and cultural contexts. In all three of the world’s major oceans, the sea has been a site of imperial interpellation as well as a traumatic passage into slavery, servitude, and exile. Scholars of the Black Atlantic have contributed oceanic frameworks that center the sea and the ship as the locus for Afro-diasporic experiences, whether as a fluid foundation for a transnational community, as a site of collective memory, or as an abyss of the Middle Passage that continues to structure Black lives globally. Writers from the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions have similarly sought to recuperate alternative maritime histories and indigenous epistemologies that contest the narratives of the ocean as an empty space claimed by Western imperialisms and globalization. Scholars of ocean-oriented postcolonial writing have emphasized horizontal modes of relations, such as Afro-Asian connections in the Indian Ocean or indigenous-indigenous connections in the Pacific. Postcolonial fictions often deploy forms of magical realism, speculation, pastiche, and fragmentation to convey the absences and silences in the historical archive and alternative epistemologies and ontologies of the colonized. These texts revisit the sea voyages of the past from the perspectives of the enslaved, indentured, and colonized subjects, enabling ways to rethink narratives of globalization from the periphery. They include fictions that depict littoral regions and communities as a site of physical and cultural permeability between the land and the sea, undermining territorial or ethnic exclusivism. While some novels are diasporic narratives reflecting on transoceanic migrations, whether forced or voluntary, undertaken in the past, others depict the perils of sea journeys undertaken by present-day migrants in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. Certain fictions also engage with the impacts of continuing militarization of world’s oceans, such as the construction of military bases and nuclear tests in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Still others draw on indigenous knowledge to shed light on the tenuous relationship with the ocean while depicting impacts of global warming and climate change on the precarious existence of both human and nonhuman beings of the sea.

Article

Circumventing Racialism through mulataje  

José F. Buscaglia-Salgado

Mulataje is a neologism, reclaimed in 2003 in Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean by José F. Buscaglia-Salgado. Prior to this reclamation, the term was used sparingly and in a very limited way to refer to “racial mixing” in societies that were predominantly composed of Afro- and Euro-descendants in the Caribbean and Brazil. As such it was simply an adaptation and a synonym of mestizaje, used in the context of the Afro-diasporic populations of the Atlantic World. Conceptually reformulated, in its current acceptation, mulataje identifies a counterhegemonic culture that, since the earliest times in modernity, has moved against all colonialist calculations aimed at the possibility of moving beyond and leaving behind all things racial. As a most fundamental practice of being and of knowing informing individual self-conception and social action in the modern colonial world, mulataje speaks to the movements, great and small, individual and collective, that have attempted to outmaneuver all racial codes and racialist conventions as they have informed the distribution of labor and the allocation of natural resources and political rights past and present. Ultimately, the movement of mulataje points to the possibility of dethroning race as a valid and privileged category of knowledge.

Article

Southern Poetry: Antebellum to Contemporary  

Claire Raymond

Southern poetry embraces dichotomous elements: it contains poems lauding the Confederacy, and also poems deeply critical and mournful of the racist violence, oppression, and racist terrorism that characterize the region’s history. Yet a common thread runs through Southern poetry—attention to the land, the rural South as a character in its own right, and with that attention to the land a quality of haunting and being haunted by the history of the South: the violence of colonization, enslavement, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow. Twentieth-century poet Etheridge Knight, born in Mississippi, lyrically describes the earth of Mississippi merging with the graves of his ancestors, calling him home to a place where, as a black man, he is not safe. Nineteenth-century poet Sidney Lanier, born in Georgia and, like Knight, a man who had experienced imprisonment, shapes in his poetry a mythical country where trees and rivers and indigenous crops become forces superseding the human; but Lanier, a soldier for the Confederacy, does not mention enslavement in his poetry. In Southern poetry, this blind spot—the white Southern poet who does not see or reflect upon the racist violence of enslavement, Jim Crow, lynching—is often submerged into a poetry melancholic and obsessed with unnamable violence and loss, even as African American poets of the South often name this loss in terms of personal memory. Myth—of the aristocratic, agrarian South—in white Southern poetry, and memory—of personal risk and suffering—in African American Southern poetry, can be understood together as a common pull to write the land, albeit from different perspectives.

Article

Law and American Literature  

Jeffory A. Clymer

Law and American literature is a subfield of the wider interdisciplinary field of law and literature. Law and literature are socially embedded discourses that rely on narrative and figures of speech to describe events, render them meaningful, and persuade audiences. Even as law and literature each has its own unique rhetorical forms (e.g., the statute, the legal opinion, the novel, the poem), as well as specific techniques and protocols for creating, organizing, and disseminating their narrative products, they share a fundamental commitment to ordering and interpreting our understanding of the world around us. Although the law itself is often thought of as an objective arena to which disputes are brought for adjudication and resolution, law does much more than simply arbitrate preexisting disputes. It is inherently a political and rhetorical practice that has coercive power to shape in myriad ways the most significant and intimate aspects of our lives. Law confers and delimits rights and opportunities, privileges some identities and disadvantages others, and defines acceptable and proscribed behaviors. Unsurprisingly, then, the law and important legal issues have been a constant source of interest and inspiration for American literary authors. Although obviously lacking law’s coercive or normative power, literature alternatively provides ways of thinking and imagines modes of being that help to form readers’ understandings of the world and their places in it. Over the 21st century, American writers’ longstanding interest in the law has been particularly resonant for Americanist literary critics, who often combine a theoretically informed historicist interpretive methodology with an interest in social justice. Scholars of “law and American literature” have provided sophisticated analyses of literature and law’s intersection on a litany of subjects. Prominent among these topics has been scholars’ examination of the many ways that legal and literary works have parsed the racial dynamics of the United States, a nation that has repeatedly used the law to construct and organize racial difference. Significant areas of imbrication between law and American literature over the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries include slavery, citizenship, property, and incarceration.

Article

The Reception of African American Literature in Prewar and Postwar Japan  

Keiko Nitta

Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s gunboat diplomacy provided the Japanese with the first known opportunity to observe a major American performing art inspired by black culture: the minstrel show. The “Ethiopian entertainment,” held on the USS Powhatan, presented “Colored ‘Gemmen’ of the North” and “Plantation ‘Niggas’ of the South” to shogunate officials four times in 1854. While this performance initiated a binational cultural exchange, the 1878 tour of the Fisk Jubilee Singers was an epoch-making event; the group’s successful concerts, given in three cities, offered Japanese audiences their first opportunity to appreciate genuine African-American artistic pieces—spirituals, distinguished from blackface minstrelsy. The Japanese attitude toward African Americans at this initial stage was a mixture of pity and wonder. A growing self-awareness of Japan’s inferior status vis‐à‐vis Western nations, however, gave rise to a strong interest in slavery and racial oppression. The popularity of studies focused on American race problems since 1905, including multiple versions of the biography of Booker T. Washington, attests to prewar intellectuals’ attempt to define the position of the Japanese people by both analogy and contrast with African Americans. In the meantime, a partial translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), serialized from 1897 to 1898 in a liberal paper, the Kokumin, and a translation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) in 1921 paved the way for Japan’s introduction to the New Negro literature, the first major body of black writings gaining in popularity in the American literary market in the 1920s. Successive publications of works by W. E. B. DuBois, Walter White, Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, and Langston Hughes in translation in the 1930s generated a distinctive artistic backdrop comparable to the American Jazz Age. Various authors of the era—from novelists to haiku poets—learned about literary motifs informed by blackness and began to elaborate their own racial representations to delineate the affectional substructure of modernity. Even though World War II briefly disrupted the expansion of the Japanese literary imagination through the creative inspiration of African Americans, a translation of Richard Wright’s Native Son within the year of the original publication (1940) signifies the persistence of interest throughout the war period. Indeed, defeat in 1945, resentment over the subsequent U.S. occupation, coincident remorse for their country’s imperial aggression, and anger at its eventual rearmament following the Korean War, in conjunction, reoriented postwar authors toward the development of black characters in diverse works over the following four decades. In addition, the civil rights movement facilitated studies in African-American literature in universities from the 1960s onward. Today, African-American literature is one of the most popular areas in English departments in Japan; one can find virtually every subject from the slave narrative to rap music in undergraduate course syllabi.

Article

Southern Gothic Literature  

Thomas Ærvold Bjerre

Southern Gothic is a mode or genre prevalent in literature from the early 19th century to this day. Characteristics of Southern Gothic include the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters; dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation. While related to both the English and American Gothic tradition, Southern Gothic is uniquely rooted in the South’s tensions and aberrations. During the 20th century, Charles Crow has noted, the South became “the principal region of American Gothic” in literature. The Southern Gothic brings to light the extent to which the idyllic vision of the pastoral, agrarian South rests on massive repressions of the region’s historical realities: slavery, racism, and patriarchy. Southern Gothic texts also mark a Freudian return of the repressed: the region’s historical realities take concrete forms in the shape of ghosts that highlight all that has been unsaid in the official version of southern history. Because of its dark and controversial subject matter, literary scholars and critics initially sought to discredit the gothic on a national level. Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) became the first Southern Gothic writer to fully explore the genre’s potential. Many of his best-known poems and short stories, while not placed in a recognizable southern setting, display all the elements that would come to characterize Southern Gothic. While Poe is a foundational figure in Southern Gothic, William Faulkner (1897–1962) arguably looms the largest. His fictional Yoknapatawpha County was home to the bitter Civil War defeat and the following social, racial, and economic ruptures in the lives of its people. These transformations, and the resulting anxieties felt by Chickasaw Indians, poor whites and blacks, and aristocratic families alike, mark Faulkner’s work as deeply Gothic. On top of this, Faulkner’s complex, modernist, labyrinthine language creates in readers a similarly Gothic sense of uncertainty and alienation. The generation of southern writers after Faulkner continued the exploration of the clashes between Old and New South. Writers like Tennessee Williams (1911–1983), Carson McCullers (1917–1967), and Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) drew on Gothic elements. O’Connor’s work is particularly steeped in the grotesque, a subgenre of the Gothic. African American writers like Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) and Richard Wright have had their own unique perspective on the Southern Gothic and the repressed racial tensions at the heart of the genre. Southern Gothic also frames the bleak and jarringly violent stories by contemporary so-called Rough South writers, such as Cormac McCarthy, Barry Hannah, Dorothy Allison, William Gay, and Ron Rash. A sense of evil lurks in their stories and novels, sometimes taking on the shape of ghosts or living dead, ghouls who haunt the New Casino South and serve as symbolic reminders of the many unresolved issues still burdening the South to this day.

Article

Comparative African American and Asian American Literary Studies  

Julia H. Lee

Comparative African American and Asian American literary studies traces the diverse (if uneven) ways that African American and Asian American authors have explored the relationship between the two groups and delves into the histories and the politics behind these interracial representations. The literature ranges from the polemical to the fantastic, from the realist to the postmodern, and from the formally innovative to the generically conventional. While some may assume that the politics behind such representations are either coalitional or conflictual in nature, the literature is highly ecumenical, including narratives that engage in Orientalism and/or Negrophobia, Third World rhetoric, postcolonial critique, and political radicalism. African Americans have long been interested in Asia as a potential site for resistance to American racism and empire, while Asian American authors have looked to the experiences of black Americans to understand their own experiences of racism within the United States. Despite the fact that there is a long-established tradition of Afro-Asian literary representation, literary criticism has only taken up a sustained and in-depth study of this topic within the past two decades. Afro-Asian literary studies is part of a late-20th-century “comparative turn” within US-based race studies, which goes along with the increasing transnational/diasporic orientation of formerly nation- or area-based disciplines.

Article

Arab Wests: Maghrib, Europe and the Americas in the Modern Literary Imagination  

Ahmed Idrissi Alami

“Arab Wests” is defined by long and complex processes of mobility, cultural exchanges, and imperial encounters in the Western Mediterranean and across the Atlantic in the early modern period. Two novels, Granada: A Trilogy (1994) by Radwa Ashour and The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami (2014), reimagine Arab culture in early modern literary imagination across multiple geographies in the Western Mediterranean and the New World. The two narratives reflect significant aspects of the importance of the late 15th to early 16th centuries to the development of Arab culture in the early modern world—a historically unique time that coincides with advancing global capitalism and its constitutive relations and derivative effects such as slavery, dispossession, conquest, and territorial expansion in North Africa and the Spanish conquest of the New World. This period saw major transformations in trade routes, shifting the center of exchange to the transatlantic sphere and making Iberia an important hub for launching early modern global capitalism. All these new shifts in politics and material economies indicate that the center of action, previously located farther east, would soon be displaced to the Ibero-Maghreb and the Atlantic. Within this purview, the analytical trope of “Arab Wests” offers a site to reimagine the Western Mediterranean cultures and polities as interactive gravitational coordinates in the rapidly changing power balance in the early modern age. The Arab communities and cultures of the regions of al-Maghrib and al-Andalus have been configured and represented in these two novels in relation to each other as well as through their connections to the New World in the early modern period. Given that the history of Spain is intricately connected to and dependent on that of the Arab Muslims in Iberia, the so-called Moors, these narratives highlight the continuities and iterations of the colonial politics of conquest, exile, and dispossession between the three geographical locations of al-Maghrib, al-Andalus, and the New World. They also challenge the narrow view and understanding of early modern Atlantic world history and its Eurocentric models of analysis and interpretation. The interconnected model of early modern history demonstrates how Arab Muslim cultural history in the Western Mediterranean is not only relevant to understanding the major socio-cultural and political transformations in North Africa and Iberia at that time but is also an integral and significant player in imagining and rewriting the “frontier” and the account of the emerging global Atlantic history in which Africa, Europe, and the Americas are linked through diverse forms of exchanges as well as conflicts. Ashour’s and Lalami’s texts, which draw on a rich and diverse repertoire of Arabic conventions of writing and storytelling, put “Arab West” historical fiction within a transatlantic network of narratives through their rhetorical content and textual dynamics, which also resonate with 21st-century issues such as racial identity politics, global Arab diasporic identity, and transnational forms of belonging. Despite the historical remoteness of the context of these fictions, the narratives are animated by an immediacy that corresponds and speaks to our modern sensibilities, especially the global realities that emerged post-9/11, the increasing awareness of systemic racism, and the call for more engaging and rigorous revisionist readings of imperial histories as well as more ethical representations of our interconnected past legacies.

Article

Literary and Cultural Representations of Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean  

Zelideth María Rivas

Representations of Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean have been caught in the fissures of history, in part because their presence ambivalently affirms, depends upon, and simultaneously denies dominant narratives of race. While these populations are often stereotyped and mislabed as chino, Latin American countries have also made them into symbols of kinship and citizenship by providing a connection to Asia as a source of economic and political power. Yet, their presence highlights a rupture in nationalistic ideas of race that emphasize the European, African, and indigenous. Historically, Asian Latin American and Caribbean literary and cultural representations began during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1565–1815) with depictions of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino slaves and galleon laborers. Soon after, Indian and Chinese laborers were in demand as coolie trafficking became prevalent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Toward the end of the 19th century, Latin American and Caribbean countries began to establish political ties with Asia, ushering in Asian immigrants as a replacement labor force for African slaves. By the beginning of World War II, first- and second-generation immigrants recorded their experiences in poetry, short stories, and memoirs, often in their native languages. World War II disrupted Asian diplomacy with Latin America, and Caribbean and Latin American countries enacted laws that ostracized and deported Japanese immigrants. World War II also marked a change for Asian immigrants to Latin America and the Caribbean: they shifted from temporary to permanent immigrants. Here, authors depicted myriad aspects of their identities—language and citizenship, race, and sexuality—in their birth languages. In other words, late 20th century and early 21st century literature highlights the communities as Latin American and Caribbean. Finally, the presence of Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean has influenced Latin American and Caribbean literature and cultural production, highlighting them as characters and their cultures as themes. Most importantly, however, Latin American modernism emerged from a Latin American orientalism that differs from a European orientalism.