The Plantation in the Postslavery Imagination

The Plantation in the Postslavery Imagination

The Plantation in the Postslavery Imagination

The Plantation in the Postslavery Imagination

Synopsis

In a provocative new approach toward understanding transnational literary cultures, this study examines the specter of the plantation, that physical place most vividly associated with slavery in the Americas. For Elizabeth Russ, the plantation is not merely a literal location, but also a vexing rhetorical, ideological, and psychological trope through which intersecting histories of the New World are told. Through a series of precise, in-depth readings, Russ analyzes the discourse of the plantation through a number of suggestive pairings: male and female perspectives; U.S. and Spanish American traditions; and continental alongside island societies. To chart comparative elements in the development of the postslavery imagination in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, Russ distinguishes between a modern and a postmodern imaginary. The former privileges a familiar plot of modernity: the traumatic transition from a local, largely agrarian order to an increasingly anonymous industrialized society. The latter, abandoning nostalgia toward the past, suggests a new history using the strategies of performance, such as witnessing, reticency, and traversal. Authors examined include The Twelve Southerners, Fernando Ortiz, Teresa de la Parra, Eudora Welty, Antonio Benitez Rojo, Gayl Jones, Toni Morrison, and Mayra Santos-Febres, among others. Applying sharp analyses across a broad range of texts, Russ reveals how the language used to imagine communities influenced by the plantation has been gendered, racialized, and eroticized in ways that oppose the domination of an ever-shifting "North" while often reproducing the fundamental power divide. Her work moves beyond the North-South dichotomy that has often stymied scholarly work in Latin American studies and, importantly, provides a model for future hemispheric approaches.

Excerpt

The displacement and extermination of native populations, the forced exile and enslavement of millions of Africans, the tragedy of the Middle Passage, the ravaging of peoples and lands: these form the irreducible core of the legacy of the slaveholding plantation of the Americas, an institution that produced seemingly infinite riches for Old and New Worlds alike, and helped to fund the imperial projects of Europe and, later, of the United States. the present study proposes a model by which to evaluate the development, over the course of the twentieth century, of a trans-American poetic imaginary that has emerged from this brutal, dehumanizing past. It is an imaginary that the Martinican writer, Edouard Glissant, has disconcertingly likened to an “open word” that, always evolving, expanding, and questioning, stands in striking contrast to the tragically closed history it seeks to interrogate (Poetics of Relation 63–75). Throughout this book, I understand the plantation, in a literary context, to be not primarily a physical location but rather an insidious ideological and psychological trope through which intersecting histories of the New World are told and retold. Resituating it in a dynamic transnational context, the comparative analyses developed in the following chapters dislodge the literary plantation from stale rhetorics of nationalism, regionalism, and binary concepts of identity, thus altering its predictable contours and facilitating a reevaluation of its legacies.

As a great many historians and cultural critics have noted, the voices of those whose exploitation and loss were most intense under the plantation regime have, more often than not, been silenced or marginalized by the official archives of history. Consequently, our understanding of this history is far from complete. George . . .

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