Thinghood, Ethics, and Black Material Culture

Thinghood, Ethics, and Black Material Culture : Up From Chattels

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This study looks at the role that fictional and actual material things play in black-American literature and culture. The book analyzes cultural products ranging from fictional literary narratives and black memorabilia to black inventions in order to glean an ethics from the transition of enslaved black people being owned as things to their condition as free blacks who own, curate, and patent material things themselves. It explores the ethical implications of black thinghood on the reasons why and the ways in which African Americans empathize with, organize, and deploy objects in their lives. Using literary analysis, studying material artifacts, and engaging the work of black collectors, the volume documents how the subject-object relationships formed between black people and their material possessions not only create what Alexandre calls a "culture of significance" within African-American culture, but also proffer an immanent critique of consumer capitalism, particularly because it privileges the political, ecological, spiritual and aesthetic value of material things.
This first book-length study on the role of race in the study of thing theory demonstrates how to have a cogent and effective discussion about the productive intersections among American literature, art, the history of American slavery, and the process of simultaneously racializing and moralizing material objects on the one hand and desire on the other. Throughout, Alexandre argues that both the meaning and significance that black people impute to and with which they imbue such material objects as their heirlooms, inventions, and packed suitcases constitute a heretofore unexamined branch of black subjectivity, perseverance, and innovation. Placing enslaved black people at the center of her project, Alexandre crafts a necessary challenge to the fields of object-oriented ontology, thing theory, and new materialism, contributing to the fields of American literature, African American cultural history, and American studies.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 228 pages
  • 152 x 229mm
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1138934755
  • 9781138934757

Table of contents

Introduction: Black Thinghood, Blacks' Things 1. The Cotton of Black Folk: Weaving American Citizenship in W.E.B. Du Bois's The Quest of the Silver Fleece and Georgia Douglas Johnson's Plumes 2. Patenting Blackness: Black Inventions Toward Racial Uplift 3. The Suitcase Blues: Curating the Black Migration 4. Assignable Portions: The Function of Inheritance in African-American Culture 5. Blacks in Effigy: Sambo Dolls, Ventriloquist Dummies, and Black Self-Identification
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About Sandy Alexandre

Sandy Alexandre is Associate Professor of Literature at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
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