The archival record of a fugitive slave case from 1810 consists of numerous testimonies and witness accounts, yet this archival record is a fragment: the full-length testimony of a formerly enslaved woman named Betty is preserved, but the case outcome is missing. Betty's narrative, absent of the legal outcome, forces readers to readjust their gaze away from the lens of power that would judge her words and toward the power of her own life. Through Betty's narrative, I argue for a reading of what I call fugitive performance. Fugitive performance responds to a call outlined by Achille Mbembe that is often overlooked. In "Necropolitics" Mbembe gives name to the death function in Michel Foucault's concept of biopower, focusing on how "letting die" rather than "making live" happens within an emerging system of chattel slavery. However, Mbembe also briefly discusses the life-sustaining acts that the enslaved culled from their surroundings. Mbembe argues that the enslaved stylized, performed, and created alternative lifeworlds through manipulating the biopower of chattel slavery. This essay suggests that the fugitive slave is such a performative figure; fugitive performance details how the enslaved stylized biopolitics to create alternative lifeworlds.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 675-695
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.