Synopses & Reviews
In this provocative and original exploration of racial subjugation during slavery and its aftermath, Saidiya Hartman illumines the forms of terror and resistance that shaped black identity. Scenes of Subjection examines the forms of domination that usually go undetected; in particular, the encroachments of power that take place through notions of humanity, enjoyment, protection, rights, and consent. By looking at slave narratives, plantation diaries, popular theater, slave performance, freedmen's primers, and legal cases, Hartman investigates a wide variety of "scenes" ranging from the auction block and minstrel show to the staging of the self-possessed and rights-bearing individual of freedom. While attentive to the performance of power--the terrible spectacles of slaveholders' dominion and the innocent amusements designed to abase and pacify the enslaved--and the entanglements of pleasure and terror in these displays of mastery, Hartman also examines the possibilities for resistance, redress and transformation embodied in black performance and everyday practice. This important study contends that despite the legal abolition of slavery, emergent notions of individual will and responsibility revealed the tragic continuities between slavery and freedom. Bold and persuasively argued, Scenes of Subjection will engage readers in a broad range of historical, literary, and cultural studies.
"Audacious....Original and provocative....What Hartman has to say about both slavery and its continuing resonances should be heard as widely as possible....A major scholarly contribution to the project of expanding and refining the nation's political memory."--The Nation
"A tour de force."--American Literature
"American historians, especially historians of the South, will learn much from Secenes of Subjection"--The Journal of American History
"A profoundly important subject...the author explores anew the calculated use of both blatantly overt and seemingly subtler forms of control over black bodies and black psyches."--Mississippi Quarterly
In the tradition of Eric Lott's award-winning Love and Theft, Hartman's new book shows how the violence of captivity and enslavement was embodied in many of the performance practices that grew from, and about, slave culture in antebellum America. Using tools from anthropology and history as well as literary criticism, she examines a wealth of material, including songs, dance, stories, diaries, narratives, and journals to provide new insights into a range of issues. She looks particularly at the presentations of slavery and blackness in minstrelsy, melodrama, and the sentimental novel; the disparity between actual slave culture and "managed" plantation amusements; the construction of slave culture in nineteenth-century ethnographic writing; the rhetorical performance of slave law and slave narratives; the dimension of slave performance practice; and the political consciousness of folklore. Particularly provocative is her analysis of the slave pen and auction block, which transmogrified terror into theatre, and her reading of the rhetoric of seduction in slavery law and legal cases concerning rape. Persuasively showing that the exercise of power is inseparable from its display, Scenes of Subjection will interest readers involved in a wide range of historical, literary, and cultural studies.
About the Author
Saidiya Hartman is Associate Professor of English at the University of California-Berkeley