Daily Archives: February 9, 2010

From the Black Atlantic to Jack Black (HUM470)

I’d be interested to hear what you thought of the “jigsaw.” Remember, the course blog is open to your comments. For those who don’t engage all that much in class, submitting comments to blog entries is one way of pumping up your participation grade.

Final remarks on The Interesting Narrative:

The notion that the cosmos and the market are both ultimately guided by an invisible force for which human understanding cannot entirely account links the domains of Christian religion and capitalist economy. The effort to stand on the right side of these ineffable powers produces a new subject, a new self, which Equiano exemplifies in his narrative. This was the argument advanced in class on Tuesday. The collateral issue of value seems to play into this relationship. The slave trade, a form of mercantile capitalism, reified Africans, transforming subjects into objects. That “thingification” occurs according to a principle of quantification and equivalence. Didn’t Huggins tell us that slaves were on occasion used as units of currency? How many enslaved Africans equals a cargo of cotton or sugar? How does Equiano combat his objectification by means not only of religion– a belief system which posits humanity simultaneously as worthless except by the grace of God and the proper recipient of eternal salvation– but by the very instrument of his enslavement?

The basic methods we encountered in essays by Huggins, Baker and Gates may prove valuable in the future. From that fundamental critical move– relating text to context, what we might call historicism– to formal and structural operations highlighting rhetorical strategies, tropes and diction.

With Jack Black’s You Can’t Win we leap ahead roughly a century and travel deeper into the North American continent, from the colonial-era seaboard of Georgia and the Carolinas to what was then known as the Middle West in the years immediately preceding the final closure of the internal frontier. In some senses Equiano’s and Black’s works are a study in contrasts. Note the differences in language and story arc. On the other hand we might group them under the informal rubric of life narratives concerned with the process of “getting over,” of making one’s way in the world. As apparently crude as You Can’t Win might strike us, it is not without its own literary dimensions. On Thursday we’ll discuss the concept of the picaresque (pdf) and some aspects of popular fiction of the period such as the dime novel.