Campus

Oconee

Publication date

6-2021

Publisher

University Press of Mississippi

Book or Journal Information

Faulkner and Slavery [edited collection], edited by Jay Watson and James G. Thomas, Jr.

Keywords

enslavement, public health, economy, U.S. South, disease, Charles Chestnut, William Faulkner, race and racism, biopower

Abstract

Stephanie Rountree finds slavery to be inextricable from “the logic of US liberal democracy” both before and after Emancipation. In “A Literary Genealogy of ‘Slavery’s Capitalism’ in Chesnutt and Faulkner,” Rountree introduces the concept of “anteliberalism” to designate a national literary history probing “the triangulation of capitalism, citizenship, and corporeality in post-Eman­cipation US governance” as it continues to answer to “enslaving logics.” Rountree traces this critique of liberalism from Light in August—where slavery’s biopolitical legacies can be seen not only in the corporeal dis­cipline and racialized (non)citizenship of Joe Christmas but also in the depleted, hookworm-infested bodies of Doane’s Mill, Alabama, upon the departure of the rapacious industrial lumbering operation once situ­ated there—back to Charles Chesnutt’s 1900 story “Lonesome Ben,” whose character-narrator Julius McAdoo witnesses to the ongoing con­sumption of enslaved bodies into the post-Reconstruction decades and beyond. Chesnutt’s Ben is a runaway slave who subsists by eating clay from a local stream bank, only to discover that the yellowish soil leaves him pale-skinned and unrecognizable to his loved ones and even his master. Lonely and dejected, he pines away at the clay bank until his death, whereupon his decomposing body returns to the soil now eaten, a generation later, by poor whites who replicate his lethargy and sallow complexion—symptoms that happen to mimic precisely those of hookworm. In Rountree’s genealogy, Chesnutt’s characters thus anticipate both the hookworm-afflicted denizens of Doane’s Mill and the young Joe Christmas, whose toothpaste-eating in the dietitian’s closet falls afoul of the biopolitics of respectability advocated by Booker T. Washington and leads immediately to his racial denigration. For Rountree, these stories allegorize how the liberal nation-state actually tightened rather than relaxed its grip on the body-servants of US capitalism in the wake of Emancipation. Like other writers in the anteliberal tradition, Chesnutt and Faulkner offer sobering reminders that slavery’s constitutional abolition has not brought an end to slavery’s capitalism.

Author Biography

Stephanie Rountree is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia where she specializes in U.S. literature and media, gender studies, and southern studies. Her research has appeared in several scholarly publications, and together with Lisa Hinrichsen and Gina Caison, she is co-editor of Remediating Region: New Media and the U.S. South (LSU Press, November 2021) and Small-Screen Souths: Region, Identity, and the Cultural Politics of Television (LSU Press 2017). Her current monograph project, titled American Anteliberalism: Literatures of Enslavement and Public Health, investigates black enslavement’s formative role in the development of U.S. Public Health as evidenced in post-Emancipation literature. Currently, she serves as a Georgia Governor’s Teaching Fellow (2021-2022) and as the Program Coordinator for the Society for the Study of Southern Literature’s 2022 Biennial Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

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A Literary Genealogy of Slavery's Capitalism in Chestnut and Faulkner

Stephanie Rountree finds slavery to be inextricable from “the logic of US liberal democracy” both before and after Emancipation. In “A Literary Genealogy of ‘Slavery’s Capitalism’ in Chesnutt and Faulkner,” Rountree introduces the concept of “anteliberalism” to designate a national literary history probing “the triangulation of capitalism, citizenship, and corporeality in post-Eman­cipation US governance” as it continues to answer to “enslaving logics.” Rountree traces this critique of liberalism from Light in August—where slavery’s biopolitical legacies can be seen not only in the corporeal dis­cipline and racialized (non)citizenship of Joe Christmas but also in the depleted, hookworm-infested bodies of Doane’s Mill, Alabama, upon the departure of the rapacious industrial lumbering operation once situ­ated there—back to Charles Chesnutt’s 1900 story “Lonesome Ben,” whose character-narrator Julius McAdoo witnesses to the ongoing con­sumption of enslaved bodies into the post-Reconstruction decades and beyond. Chesnutt’s Ben is a runaway slave who subsists by eating clay from a local stream bank, only to discover that the yellowish soil leaves him pale-skinned and unrecognizable to his loved ones and even his master. Lonely and dejected, he pines away at the clay bank until his death, whereupon his decomposing body returns to the soil now eaten, a generation later, by poor whites who replicate his lethargy and sallow complexion—symptoms that happen to mimic precisely those of hookworm. In Rountree’s genealogy, Chesnutt’s characters thus anticipate both the hookworm-afflicted denizens of Doane’s Mill and the young Joe Christmas, whose toothpaste-eating in the dietitian’s closet falls afoul of the biopolitics of respectability advocated by Booker T. Washington and leads immediately to his racial denigration. For Rountree, these stories allegorize how the liberal nation-state actually tightened rather than relaxed its grip on the body-servants of US capitalism in the wake of Emancipation. Like other writers in the anteliberal tradition, Chesnutt and Faulkner offer sobering reminders that slavery’s constitutional abolition has not brought an end to slavery’s capitalism.