"And Hold the Bondman Still": Biogeography and Utopia in Slave and Serf Narratives

By Mackay, John William | Biography, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

"And Hold the Bondman Still": Biogeography and Utopia in Slave and Serf Narratives


Mackay, John William, Biography


"Instinct of the race to survive and expand."

Nella Larsen, Passing

The next morning Uncle Robin and Aunt Judy were having their first breakfast in their new home. The whippoorwills were chirping outside. In the distance a Negro harmonica could be hear dreamily.

"Isn't it amazing, "Aunt Judy said, lifting a mouthful pancake with her silver fork, "last night we were in the Frederick Doug s Houses and now we're in the Master's Castle."

Ishmael Reed, Flight to Canada

I. BIOGEOGRAPHY

"Slaves aren't supposed to move, except when Master wants them to."

I have placed this rather unsurprising observation at the front of this essay because it points to a dynamic central to what we might call the "topographical imaginary" of slavery. The bondsman's "bonds" are tight circumscriptions, restrictions on movement that tend, in the extreme instance, to actual incarceration or worse: punitive binding of the body, confinement in the hold of a slave ship. (Slave narrators spend a lot of time in jail, too.) On the other hand, slaves, especially the kind of rural or "plantation" slaves I will be talking about here for the most part, are far-from-immobile beings, insofar as they are exploited for their labor. Indeed, one can almost define "exploitation" as getting people to move, and keeping them moving, in certain ways to the exclusion of others." This suggests an obvious paradox, for slaves must be kept still and moving at the same time. (Of course, something of this paradox applies to all of us "interpellated subjects," but we can probably agree that it applies to bond smen in a particularly acute way.) It follows, then, that exploitation demands some space of mobility, and that restriction on slave movement is a matter of degree, though always shadowed by the possibility of radical, absolute constraint.

I will be arguing in this essay that the question of slave mobility has crucial implications for our thinking about the life writing of bondsmen, and especially in relation to its historical/political substructure. In the forms of slavery that evolved and much later collapsed in the United States and in Russia--called here "US slavery" and "Russian serfdom" for short--the dialectic of expansion and constraint permeates this substructure completely. For all the differences between the versions of bondage that emerged in the two countries, neither can be conceptualized except in relation to the historical dynamics of an expansion crucially dependent upon bondage for its laboring material base. It has long been known, for example, that a close dialectical relationship existed between "the geographic and economic expansion of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" and "the emergence--in some cases the reemergence--of forced labor on both its eastern and western borders." (1) The consequence was a str iking historical parallelism: two forms of chattel slavery, US bondage and Russian serfdom, emerged at more or less the same time, and collapsed within four years of one another (in 1865 and 1861 respectively). The parallels extend to the level of social relations as well, for "by the middle of the eighteenth century the formal power of the [Russian landowner] over his serfs was as great as that of the American slaveowner over his chattel-almost total, short of deliberate murder" (Kolchin 41).

Historians have further noted (but not fully explored) the possibility of something like a common period of origin for the two systems. David Brion Davis has argued that "the turning point" leading to New World slavery came with the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453," after which time Mediterranean Europe was cut off from its major source of slaves," including large numbers of Russians. The already expanding slave trade then turned its attention from "the Crimea and the steppes of western Asia [to] sub-Saharan Africa" (56). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"And Hold the Bondman Still": Biogeography and Utopia in Slave and Serf Narratives
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.