Abstract

Abstract:

Robert Wedderburn, an Afro-Jamaican radical involved in popular activism in the 1810s and 1820s, published a short-lived periodical, The Axe Laid to the Root, that prophetically conjures a world after revolution. Wedderburn frames the work of revolution as an ongoing struggle against property, possession, and slavery. But his speeches and writings linger in a particular tension, where the Haitian Revolution–often called the "first successful slave revolt"–offers new avenues for envisioning an anticolonial nation, but did not (or could not) fully transform a transnational order. This essay explores Wedderburn's proficiency in deploying prosopopoeia, or layered narratives where he speaks as or through an absent person, as a flexible ventriloquist practice. In particular, in his performances as his half-sister Elizabeth Campbell, he restlessly dislocates prophetic speech from any single voice, signaling that others should speak even if he perishes, a casualty of state execution or revolutionary upheaval. Through prosopopoeia, The Axe Laid to the Root as a text reclaims finitude and tragedy as constitutive of revolution–and of the world after world revolution.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0201
Print ISSN
0193-5380
Pages
pp. 373-390
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-12
Open Access
No
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