Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America

TitleScenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsHartman, Saidiya V.
Number of Pages281
PublisherOxford University Press
CityNew York

In this exploration of racial subjugation during slavery and its aftermath, the author illumines the forms of terror and resistance that shaped black identity. This volume 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, the author 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, the author also examines the possibilities for resistance, redress and transformation embodied in black performance and everyday practice. This study contends that despite the legal abolition of slavery, emergent notions of individual will and responsibility revealed the tragic continuities between slavery and freedom. 

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