Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-viii

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Prologue

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pp. ix-xviii

The tar baby is an electric figure in contemporary culture. As a racial epithet, a folk archetype, an existential symbol, and an artifact of mass culture, the term “tar baby” stokes controversy, in the first place because of its racism. At least since the 1840s, “tar baby” has been used as a grotesque term of abuse, and it continues to feel like an assault no matter the circumstances in which it is employed. At the same time, “tar baby” has operated...

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Chapter 1 IDEAS OF CULTURE

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pp. 1-19

A rabbit and a wolf are neighbors. In the summer, the rabbit wastes his time singing songs, smoking cigarettes, and drinking wine, while the wolf stays busy working in his fields. The rabbit then steals from the wolf all winter. The next year, the wolf decides he will catch the rabbit by placing a tar baby, a lifelike figurine made from tar softened with turpentine, on the way to his fields. When the rabbit meets the tar baby in the road, and the...

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Chapter 2 STATES OF NATURE

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pp. 20-50

In To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans (2000), their brilliant and wide-ranging survey of African American history, Robin D. G. Kelley and Earl Lewis outline the main points in the standard interpretation of the tar baby story. Situating the story in its canonical setting, Kelley and Lewis describe how slaves gathered by their quarters when work was done to share songs and stories, including the tar baby, a narrative that...

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Chapter 3 STICKING FAST

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pp. 51-73

Circumscribed from the start of the story by his crime against nature, the rabbit stands at once as slave to master, native to settler, lazy rascal to frugal elite—stands, furthermore, in these positions as they were defined in the jurisprudence written by his enemies. When we attempt to account for this introductory sequence, rather than factoring it out of the story, we are left with several problems, one of which is how to explain the identification...

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Chapter 4 SAY MY NAME

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pp. 74-89

In most cases on record, the tar baby story has a three-part narrative structure: a problem statement, concerning the competition for resources between two representative characters, or between one character and a community; an intermediate sequence in which the struggle intensifies through a scene of captivity, in which the fight between enemies becomes a struggle for recognition; and a solution, which sometimes involves punishment but...

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Chapter 5 THE BRIAR PATCH

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pp. 90-113

For anyone interested in deriving a theory of politics from the rabbit’s tactical intelligence, the most important moment in the story comes at the very end. As with every other stage, the conclusion varies according to version. Sometimes the rabbit escapes from the trap by persuading some other animal to take his place. In one case, the wolf demands that the rabbit abandon his lazy ways (“Brudder Rabbit, ef we turns you loose, is you gwine...

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EPILOGUE

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pp. 114-125

As the most celebrated, the most thickly documented, and the most historiographically significant case in the global trickster tradition, the tar baby story provides something like a natural center for this book, an anchoring point around which associated ideas and examples can be set into a constellation that would not otherwise be available to analysis. The established ethnographic approach to the tar baby has led us to misconstrue the...

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TWELVE EXAMPLES

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pp. 126-168

SOUTH AFRICA
1879

“The Story of the Dam” was published in July 1879 in The Folk-Lore Journal, a publication based in Cape Town, South Africa, whose purpose was to preserve superstitions, legends, and ballads discovered in the colonies. This version was common among the Khoikhoi, an ethnic group in southwestern Africa whom Dutch colonizers called...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 169-170

I would like to thank the following friends and colleagues for their questions, suggestions, and support during the writing process: Alex Benson, Stephen Best, Kelvin Black, Marianne Constable, Nadia Ellis, Brad Evans, Richmond Eustis, Catherine Gallagher, Robert Levine, Eric Lott, Kim Magowan, Giuliana Perrone, Beth Piatote, Lloyd Pratt, Kent Puckett, Megan Pugh, Leigh Raiford, Michael Ralph, Elena Schneider, Darieck...

Notes

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pp. 171-244

Select Bibliography

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pp. 245-256

Index

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pp. 257-262