Abstract

Abstract:

The label superannuated or, equivalently, no value, appears in plantation logbooks to demarcate enslaved laborers whose age had diminished their utility. This essay argues that superannuation marks a key point of emergence in the biopolitical management of longevity as well as a distinct and often-overlooked phase in the history of old age in the United States. Rather than a fixed number measured in chronological years since birth, the age of an individual in chattel slavery was dictated by the amount of labor remaining before death. This definition of old age expressed by superannuation did not remain confined to the plantation but instead permeated American culture due to the continuity between slavery and racial capitalism. The biopolitical management strategies that accompanied superannuation attempted to prolong life and increase value. Attending to three different instantiations of superannuation—Henry in Charles Chesnutt's "The Goophered Grapevine"; P. T. Barnum's exhibition of Joice Heth; and Frederick Douglass's grandmother, Betsy Bailey—I demonstrate how age was manipulated to extract ever more value from the elderly.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 767-787
Launched on MUSE
2019-10-05
Open Access
No
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