In conjunction with the Join RAM: One Month of Kuwasi Balagoon Liberation School we at the Base and Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement – NYC are hosting a series of study groups about Black liberation and Afro-pessimism particularly. This week we will be reading part of Afro-Pessimist author Saidiya Hartman’s text, “Scenes of Subjection.” We’re reading chapters 1&2. Below is a description of the text.
Saidiya Hartman illumines the forms of terror and resistance that shaped black identity. Scenes of Subjection examines the forms of domination that usually go undetected; in particular, the encroachments of power that take place through notions of humanity, enjoyment, protection, rights, and consent. By looking at slave narratives, plantation diaries, popular theater, slave performance, freedmen’s primers, and legal cases, Hartman investigates a wide variety of “scenes” ranging from the auction block and minstrel show to the staging of the self-possessed and rights-bearing individual of freedom. While attentive to the performance of power–the terrible spectacles of slaveholders’ dominion and the innocent amusements designed to abase and pacify the enslaved–and the entanglements of pleasure and terror in these displays of mastery, Hartman also examines the possibilities for resistance, redress and transformation embodied in black performance and everyday practice. This important study contends that despite the legal abolition of slavery, emergent notions of individual will and responsibility revealed the tragic continuities between slavery and freedom.