Abstract

Abstract:

This essay proposes “reading with conviction” as a method for elaborating the alternative possibilities for living that can obtain a degree of visibility when dead ends—or points of absence, fragmentation, and distortion within the documentary record—frustrate the conventional protocols or the desired progress of research. As recent historical and literary studies scholarship has shown, slavery’s archives expose the enslaved to the palest, most perverse imitation of representation, entangling the memory of their lives with evidence of their exclusion from the province of human being. Yet each encounter with one of these dead ends, and thus with the limits of what an archive can verify, presents an occasion to relinquish positivist historiographic approaches and begin devising alternatives that valorize instead that which resists verification—most notably, the heterodox concepts, philosophies, and counter-facts that survive the convergence of omission and distortion. To this range of unverifiable alternates, this essay adds the convictions that archived subjects might have held, but that the conventions of archival texts would have prevented them from disclosing outright. Turning to The Address of Abraham Johnstone (1797)—the gallows confession and address of a formerly enslaved man sentenced to death for the crime of murder—the essay argues that careful, credulous attention to the residues of subversive conviction that breach the surface of Johnstone’s disfiguring textual performance enables us to turn inward on the space of enclosure he inhabited and become acquainted with the otherworldly designs it might have contained.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-147X
Print ISSN
0012-8163
Pages
pp. 331-354
Launched on MUSE
2020-07-09
Open Access
No
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