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Joseph R. Slaughter: Kissing the Book: Slavery, Copyright, and the Making of (Black) Literary Property

Aesthetic Seminar

2019.08.26 | Yasmin Marie Jensen

Date Thu 10 Oct
Time 14:15 17:00
Location Kasernen, Aarhus University, Langelandsgade 139, Aarhus C, Building 1584, Room 124

“Kissing the Book” considers the role of plagiarism and translation in the making of “black” literary property within the overlapping contexts of nineteenth-century colonialism, slavery and the slave trade, and the emergent legal logic of copyright, through the literary lens of Caryl Phillips’ novel Cambridge. For more than 50 years, the empire-writes-back model of postcolonial reading and textual production has, wittingly and unwittingly, dominated the metropolitan disciplinary study of texts from Pascale Casanova’s “literarily deprived territories”; at their most facile, such readings cast authors from the global periphery as intellectually immature and culturally dependent – as simply derivative of European “originals.” Notions of dependence and derivation are embedded in our dominant models of world literary systems, and even charges of cultural appropriation aimed at defending the integrity of subordinated literatures repeat the identitarianist property logic at the bottom of such systems. Looking at early examples of explicit and illicit acts of plagiarism and translation in 18th and 19th century Anglophone and Francophone writing, by both ex-slaves and pro-slavery propagandists, I am interested in how the logic(s) of personal property, which subtend both our neoliberal economic order and our neoliberal ideas about identity (among many other things), were entangled together in the realms of literature and law, were being “worked out” simultaneously in the languages of literary originality and civil liberty around the issue of slavery.

The seminar is public, and we welcome everybody. 

Programme: Aesthetic Seminar Autumn 2019

Seminar, Kunsthistorie, Æstetik & Kultur og Museologi, Afd. for Digital Design og Informationsvidenskab, Contemporary Aesthetics and Technology