An essential, mindblowing genealogy of legal & racialized subjectivity in America before, during & after abolition. Hartman's historic fine comb & analysis of the archive yields elemental formations of the social & political. Especially striking are Hartman's dense, brilliant examinations of how systemic injustices are folded into (racialized) individual obligation & affect, and the deliberate, repeated failures of universalist liberalism and "Consitutional colorblindness" in redressing social wrongs. I will be digesting this book forever.
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.
About the Author
Saidiya Hartman is Associate Professor of English at the University of California-Berkeley