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On Lingering and Being Last

Race and Sovereignty in the New World

Jonathan Elmer

Publication Year: 2008

What are we talking about when we talk about sovereignty? Is it about formal legitimacy or practical authority? Does it require the ability to control the flow of people or goods across a border; is it primarily a principle of international recognition; or does its essence lie in the power to regulate the lives of a state's citizens? Political theorists, historians, scholars of international relations, lawyers, anthropologists, literary critics-all approach the dilemmas of sovereign power with a mixture of urgency and frustration.In On Lingering and Being Last, Jonathan Elmer argues that the logic of sovereignty that emerged in early modern Europe and that limits our thinking today must be understood as a fundamentally racialized logic, first visible in the New World. The modern concept of sovereignty is based on a trope of personification, the conjunction of individual and collective identities. In Grotius, Hobbes, and others, a fiction of sovereign autonomy enabled states to be personified as individuals, as bodies politic, even as individual humans could be imagined as miniature states. The contradictions of this logic were fully revealed only in the New World, as writers ranging from Aphra Behn to Thomas Jefferson and Herman Melville demonstrate.The racialized sovereign figures examined in On Lingering and Being Last-the slave king Oroonoko, the last chief Logan, and their avatars-are always at once a person and a people. They embody the connection between the individual and the collectivity, and thereby reveal that the volatile work of sovereign personification takes place in a new world constituted both by concepts of equality, homogeneity, and symmetry-by an ideal of liberal individualism-and by the realities of racial domination and ideology in the era of colonial expansion. The conjunction of the individual, race, and New World territorialization, Elmer argues, is key to understanding the deepest strata in the political imagination of Atlantic modernity.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-20

Sovereignty seems to be everywhere these days, and no one is very happy about it. Political theorists, cultural observers, historians, scholars of international relations, lawyers, anthropologists, literary critics—all approach the dilemmas of sovereign power with a mixture of urgency and frustration....

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1. On Lingering and Being Last: Aphra Behn and the Deterritorialized Sovereign

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pp. 21-49

By April 1677, Nathaniel Bacon had been dead for half a year, and many of his fellow rebels had been hanged or had their holdings confiscated. The king’s commissioners were in Virginia to try to make sense of things and put the profitable colony back on track. Charles II was irritated at Governor...

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2. The Future Perfect King:Olaudah Equiano and thePoetics of Experience

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pp. 50-77

Is a life after death possible for Oroonoko, Aphra Behn’s royal slave? He shows no interest at all in Christian conceptions of an afterlife. To be honest, Behn herself does not show much interest in the issue either, but at one point the narrator tries to do her duty with regard to Imoinda, ‘‘endeavouring...

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3. Was Billy Black? Herman Melville and the Captive King

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pp. 78-117

It sometimes happens, when I am teaching Billy Budd, that a brave student will ask, after a day or so of discussion, ‘‘Is Billy black?’’ How could such a misunderstanding come about? It’s true that Melville’s language is notoriously difficult for students,...

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4. Jefferson’s Convulsions: Archiving Logan

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pp. 118-146

The last man to go down with the ship in Moby-Dick is Tashtego, the Gay- Head Indian, whose final act is to nail a sky-hawk’s wing to the mainmast: ‘‘The submerged savage beneath, in his death-grasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial...

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5. Sovereignty, Race, and Melancholyin the Transatlantic Romantic Novel

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pp. 147-186

‘‘Who is there to mourn for Logan?—Not one.’’ I return to these final words of Logan’s lament, words at once obdurate and magnetic, fascinating and repulsive. I return to them precisely because there is nothing to be done. Logan’s discursive isolation is melancholic, in the precise sense that it is not...

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6. Treaties, Trauma, Trees: The Dream of Hadwin

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pp. 187-218

Here is a parable from ‘‘west of everything.’’

In 1997 a man named Grant Hadwin swam the frozen Yakoun River with his chainsaw in tow and cut down an extremely rare golden spruce in the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia. The tree was...


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pp. 219-248


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pp. 249-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248216
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823229406
Print-ISBN-10: 0823229408

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 801846581
MUSE Marc Record: Download for On Lingering and Being Last

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- History and criticism.
  • Sovereignty in literature.
  • Race in literature -- Congresses.
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