The speaking and the dead: antislavery poetry's fictions of the person

Haslanger, Andrea (2019) The speaking and the dead: antislavery poetry's fictions of the person. The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, 60 (4). pp. 419-440. ISSN 0193-5380

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Many late-eighteenth-century antislavery poems represent enslaved persons as poetic speakers; a subset depict speakers who are dying or dead. These poems associate speech with death, using prosopopoeia to give voice to the dying and the dead. They separate rhetorical existence from biological life, calling attention to figure’s role in making these speakers speak. The antislavery poetry under discussion here—The Dying Negro as well as “The Dying African,” “The Desponding Negro,” and two anonymous poems that appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine—highlights figure’s status as a fiction. Unlike sentimental antislavery verse, which has typically been understood to use figure in an attempt to confer humanity, and which therefore has been seen to associate figure with life-giving and humanizing powers, these works sidestep such circuits of humanity and inhumanity. They not only cast light on the centrality of death to antislavery poetry, but also invite reflection on what follows from the division between living and speaking. The speaking dead are rhetorical persons but not politico-legal persons: they interrupt the slippage between these two categories of the person, clearly demonstrating the inability of figure to confer rights while still using it to call for radical change.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Depositing User: Andrea Haslanger
Date Deposited: 17 May 2018 12:54
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2021 17:34

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