Gender, Sexuality, and Atlantic Slavery in 21st-Century Fiction
Professor Tunji Osinubi.
Although long considered a quintessentially African American genre, the historical novel of slavery—also known as the neo-slave narrative—has been refashioned as an important genre in twenty-first century Anglophone fiction. These new novels take up hitherto neglected subjects, sites, or moments in the history of the slave trade and Atlantic slavery: they explore the failures of abolition, the relationships between women’s emancipation and slavery, the differences within experiences of slavery, the rise of indentured servitude after formal abolition. Briefly, these new novels emphasize the micro-politics of enslavement and its adjacent subjugations, the multiple rationalities of domination within plantation and post-plantation societies, or the meaning of embodiment under such regimes.
While paying attention to the surge in this genre, we will focus on the representations of gender, sexuality, and carnal embodiments. In all recent novels, attention to sexuality—love, sex, sexual reproduction, sexual orientation and desire—and gender—embodiments and performances of various forms of masculinities and feminine subjectivities—or the consumption of slave bodies have become imperative in recalibrating representations of enslavement. The interjection of sex, sexual orientation, pleasure and the erotic into slave economies produces difficult attachments, identifications, unexpected visions of emancipation, and unpredictable forms of complicity and contradictory affiliations. What insights do we gain from attention to gender and sexuality in these novels from American, Caribbean, African, and South Asian writers? How does attention to the bundle of terms cathected under the term sexuality impact readerly encounters with these novels of “postcolonial literary economics”? The seminar will be based on discussions of seven novels and excerpts from books or articles on carnality, affect, and accounts of literary economics.