The Slave's Rebellion
Literature, History, Orature
Publication Year: 2005
Episodes of slave rebellions such as Nat Turner's are central to speculations on the trajectory of black history and the goal of black spiritual struggles. Using fiction, history, and oral poetry drawn from the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa, this book analyzes how writers reinterpret episodes of historical slave rebellion to conceptualize their understanding of an ideal "master-less" future. The texts range from Frederick Douglass's The Heroic Slave and Alejo Carpentier's The Kingdom of this World to Yoruba praise poetry and novels by Nigerian writers Adebayo Faleti and Akinwumi Isola. Each text reflects different "national" attitudes toward the historicity of slave rebellions that shape the ways the texts are read. This is an absorbing book about the grip of slavery and rebellion on modern black thought.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Blacks in the Diaspora
Table of Contents
In order that I do not become like a stealer of favors, I would like to thank the following for their contributions to the completion of this project. David Simpson, then the chair of the English department at the University of Colorado, Boulder, was the first person to suggest that a paper on slave rebellions and African American literary history that I gave at the Novel of the...
No element of modern black history agitates the speculative faculty of writers trying to conceptualize the telos of black struggles more than episodes of historical slave rebellions. Dealing with themes that range from the justness of anti-slavery violence to the unjust inequities that have resulted from the historical misunderstanding of black women’s struggles, texts discussed in this...
1. Hegel’s Burden: The Slave’s Counter Violence in Philosophy, Critical Theory, and Literature
At the beginning of his very lucid and tightly argued On the Postcolony, Achille Mbembe recommends that critics should cease formulating theoretical statements about the possibility of Africa’s autonomy and come to terms with the reality that African societies permanently lost their “‘distinctive historicity’” when they ceded control to Europe. Since then, nothing important has happened in Africa that is “not embedded in times and rhythms...
2. Nat Turner and Plot Making in Early African American Fiction
Eugene Genovese clinches his analysis of the relative insignificance of violent revolts—events he described as the only truly “political action” that could have “challenged the power of the [slaveholding] regime” (598)—in antebellum African American consciousness with the evidence observed from the general silence of slave autobiographies on such topics: “as the slave...
3. Reverse Abolitionism and Black Popular Resistance: The Marrow of Tradition
Nikki Giovanni describes Charles Chesnutt as “the zero” figure in African American fiction because his novel The Marrow of Tradition repudiates popular conventions of representing black characters in nineteenth-century American writing. Some of the leading characters gently defy attempts to subordinate them without a legitimate warrant. A few others are outright...
4. Slave Rebellion, The Great Depression, and the “Turbulence to Come” For Capitalism: Black Thunder
When Arna Bontemps’s Black Thunder revisited the meaning of subaltern revolt in the form of a historical slave rebellion, the intellectual fine points of racial and class solidarity that baffled Chesnutt’s post-Emancipation milieu were being rendered insignificant by the gritty deprivations and cruelties of the Great Depression era. To individuals who cannot fulfill basic...
5. Distilling Proverbs of History fom the Haitian War of Independence: The Black Jacobins
Intellectuals in other parts of the black world were also preoccupied with deciphering the meaning of slavery’s past for the future of their contemporary societies. Within négritude, arguably the best known strain of anti-colonial rethinking of world politics to emerge in this era, black writers all over embraced the past of their people, in the words of Aimé Césaire, “totally, with-...
6. Slave Rebellion and Magical Realism: The Kingdom of this World
Seeds of the bloody slave revolts in Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of This World grow narratively out of Macandal’s discovery of the enormous lethal power concealed in common plants. Prior to becoming the leader of Haiti’s first nationwide slave insurrection, Macandal operates the sugar processing machine at the Lenormand de Mezy plantation until his left arm becomes...
7. Slavery in African Literary discourse: Orality Contra Realism in Yor
The governing assumptions of orality scholarship have served theoretical constructions of the unity of precolonial and postcolonial African experience very well, probably because its paradigms are highly amenable to analyzing the raw materials of the history of peoples with a relatively short experience of writing. Adopting axioms of orality studies, particularly those...
8. Prying Rebellious Subaltern Consciousness Out of The Clenched Jaws of Oral Traditions: Ef
The “negative” readings of the previous chapter highlight covert and overt strategies of excluding unruly subaltern presence in contemporary constructions of African traditions. That the reading exercise is even possible indicates that slaves and other bonded classes are not completely removed from cultural view after all. This chapter proposes a more positive...
9. Reiterating the Black Experience: Rebellious Material Bodies and Their Textual Fates in Dessa Rose
Sherley Anne Williams’s novel about a female slave rebel appeared in 1986 amidst two auspicious developments: the domestication of poststructuralist theories of textuality for African American literary criticism was at its height, and the admission of black women writers into the American national canon was under way. The publication history of Dessa Rose, its dominant themes,...
Conclusion: What is the Meaning of Slave Rebellion
In the late spring of 1841, about the time the U.S. Supreme Court freed the Amistad slave rebels, a wealthy, free black man from Philadelphia, Robert Purvis, commissioned Nathaniel Jocelyn to paint a portrait of the leader of the revolt, Singbe Pieh, also known as Cinque....