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(Re)creating Social Life Out of Social Death : cross-cultural alliances in the circum- Atlantic, 1760-1815

  • Author(s): Gagnon, Jeffrey Charles
  • et al.
Abstract

In (Re)creating Social Life Out of Social Death I analyze literary representations of historical cross-cultural alliances and political coalitions forged between subaltern groups. I argue that black Atlantic writers promoted intersubjective alliances in an attempt to address experiences of familial, cultural, and political alienation associated with the transatlantic slave trade, the philosophical foundations of Western Enlightenment, and the modern formations of liberalism. As many critics have shown, black Atlantic authors and texts promoted black personhood by simultaneously engaging with and reconfiguring western notions of literacy and self- possessive individualism. However, these studies tend to overemphasize the individual self-fashioning of black identities at the expense of interpersonal, reciprocal relations. While black Atlantic authors and texts do highlight liberal individualism as a component of subjectivity, they also frame extreme individualism as a socially isolating component of western modernity. In doing so, they represent interpersonal relationships and collective experiences as integral to one's understanding of personhood. Intersubjective recognition among black and Native subjects posed another form of resistance to the modern formation of the liberal subject as a rational, autonomous, political individual subject free from political and psychological dependence on others. My study draws from and builds upon a growing body of scholarship emphasizing the importance of collectivity in eighteenth- century black Atlantic writing. However, these studies tend to emphasize relations among saltwater and plantation slaves. In contrast, my analysis addresses the active presence of Native culture and Native cultural ideas about political alliances, interpersonal networks, and notions of intersubjective belonging. Using the writings of Briton Hammon, Olaudah Equiano, and Paul Cuffe, I argue that black Atlantic writings from this period were part of larger, transnational conversations about and struggle over early meanings of cross-cultural, black-Native, intersubjectivity. In many cases, these alliances reconfigure human interdependence among people of color as positive features of human collectivity, rather than as degraded forms of pre-modern humanity

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