Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Idea of Slavery: Abstraction, Analogy, and Anti-Blackness

  • Author(s): Sorentino, Sara-Maria Maria
  • Advisor(s): Sexton, Jared
  • et al.
No data is associated with this publication.

"The Idea of Slavery: Abstraction, Analogy, and Anti-Blackness" retheorizes the history of the idea of slavery by illuminating the interplay between the three poles that make up my subtitle. Instead of conceiving of slavery as "timeless," or as historically particular, I highlight the effects of the historical abstraction of slavery (from the contingency of social status to the necessity of ontology) and trace the origins of this abstraction in the materialization of anti-blackness and the increasing analogizing of slaveness. In my survey of "the timeless slave," from Aristotle to Arendt and Agamben, I argue that Aristotelian philosophy only elaborated anti-blackness as a "virtual" problem. Blackness, both inside and outside the modern vortex, comes to function less as the negation of sovereignty or subjectivity than as an absent form whose "figurative capacities" sustain the state, the commodity form, and the institutions of civil society. By mobilizing Marx's concept "real abstraction," I provide a window into the centrality of slavery for the consolidation of the modern episteme, and because this window prefigures our interpretative frameworks, I shift the totality from capitalism to anti-blackness. The black slave toggles the abstraction of slavery, registering the modern materialization of metaphor and bearing what appear to be constitutive aporias.

My first chapter, "The Natural Slave," thus marks attempts to return to the Greek concept of the political as gestures immanent to the problem and development of anti-blackness, rather than solutions to it. Subsequent chapters take up an intellectual field (political theory and political economy, respectively), situate racial slavery at that field's conditions of emergence, and trace figural distortions to slavery, refracting attendant methodological, political, and philosophical questions through contemporary debates on the status of race and the potential of republicanism in the Atlantic world. These key discursive fields offer up theoretical objects—the "political slavery" of tyranny and the "wage slavery" of capitalism—whose symptomatic orbit around blackness generates modern man, fashions his racial variants, and comes to mediate the formal complexities of time, space, being, representation, and death.

Main Content

This item is under embargo until February 4, 2023.