Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects

Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects

Duke University Press
August 2010
264 pages
21 illustrations
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4591-6
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-4609-8

Christina Sharpe, Associate Professor of English and Director of American Studies
Tufts University

Arguing that the fundamental, familiar, sexual violence of slavery and racialized subjugation have continued to shape black and white subjectivities into the present, Christina Sharpe interprets African Diasporic and Black Atlantic visual and literary texts that address those “monstrous intimacies” and their repetition as constitutive of post-slavery subjectivity. Her illuminating readings juxtapose Frederick Douglass’s narrative of witnessing the brutal beating of his Aunt Hester and Essie Mae Washington-Williams’s declaration of freedom in Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond, as well as the “generational genital fantasies” depicted in Gayl Jones’s novel Corregidora and a firsthand account of such “monstrous intimacies” in the journals of an antebellum South Carolina senator, slave-holder, and vocal critic of miscegenation. Sharpe explores the South African-born writer Bessie Head’s novel Maru—about race, power, and liberation in Botswana—in light of the history of the Khoi San woman Saartje Baartman, who was displayed in Europe as the “Hottentot Venus” in the nineteenth century. Reading Isaac Julien’s film The Attendant, Sharpe takes up issues of representations of slavery, display, and the sadomasochism of everyday black life. Her powerful meditation on intimacy, subjection, and subjectivity culminates in an analysis of the black and white silhouettes created by Kara Walker and the subtexts of the critiques leveled against the silhouettes and the artist.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. Making Monstrous Intimacies: Surviving Slavery, Bearing Freedom
  • 1. Gayl Jones’s Corregidora and Reading the “Days That Were Pages of Hysteria”
  • 2. Bessie Head, Saartje Baartman, and Maru Redemption, Subjectification, and the Problem of Liberation
  • 3. Isaac Julien’s The Attendant and the Sadomasochism of Everyday Black Life
  • 4. Kara Walker’s Monstrous Intimacies
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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