Scanned, copy-edited, spell-checked, and tagged by Kendra Hamilton, The University of Virginia, 11/10/95.
The old formulas had failed, and a new one had yet to be made, but, after all, the object was not extravagant or eccentric. One sought no absolute truth. One sought only a spool on which to wind the thread of history without breaking it.Henry Adams,
Relics of by-gone instruments of labour possess the same importance for the investigation of extinct economic forms of society as do fossil bones for the determination of extinct species of animals.Karl Marx,
Big Bill's stanza signifies American meaning embedded in rocky places. Ar- chaeology employs tropological energy to decode such meaning. In the fore- ground it places voices raised at the margin of civilization, at the very edge of the New World wilderness:
Little Brother Montgomery's stanza implies harm's unequivocal conquest by a blues voice rising. From piney woods, sagging cabins, and settling levees ver- nacular tones rise, singing a different America. Archaeology foregrounds and deciphers this song, and when its work is finished what remains is not history as such, but a refigured knowledge. Louis Althusser makes explicit the distinction between history as such and historical knowledge.
We should have no illusions as to the incredible force of that prejudice, which still dominates us all, which is the very essence of contemporary historicity, and which attempts to make us confuse the object of knowledge with the real object, by affecting the object of knowledge with the very "qualities" of the real object of which it is knowledge The knowledge of history is no more historical than the knowledge of sugar is sweet.
The result of archaeology's endeavors is: "A mood blared by trumpets, trom- bones, saxophones and drums, a song with turgid, inadeuate words." The song is a sign of an Afro-American discourse that strikingly refigures life on American shores.)
In 1822, Gideon Mantell, an English physician with a consum- ing interest in geology and paleontology, made a routine house call in Sussex. On the visit, he discovered a fossilized tooth that seemed to be a vestige of a giant, herbivorous reptile. Since he had nothing in his own collection that was like his find, he traveled to the Hunterian Collection of the Royal College of Surgeons in London and spent hours searching drawers of fossil teeth attempting to find a comparable speci- men. When he had nearly exhausted the possibilities, a young man who was also working at the Hunterian and who had heard of the Sussex physician's quest, presented him with the tooth of an iguana. The match was nearly perfect. On the basis of the similarity between the tooth of the living iguana and his own fossil discovery, Mantell named the bearer of the older tooth "Iguanodon" ("iguana tooth"). In 1825, his paper "Notice on the Iguanodon, a Newly-Discovered Fossil Reptile From the Sandstone of Tilgate Forest, in Sussex" appeared in the Philo- sophical Transactions of the Royal Society in London.
As the nineteenth century progressed and the fossil record expanded, it became apparent that Iguanodon was but one member of a family of reptiles that, in 1841, received the name "dinosaur" from Sir Richard Owen. By midcentury, it was possible to construct a feasible model of Iguanodon. Available evidence (including assumed homologies with living animals) indicated that the prehistoric creature was a giant, quad- ripedal reptile with a small triangular spike on his nose. The concrete and plaster model that was built on this plan in 1854 can be seen in England today.
The story of Iguanodon does not conclude at midcentury, however. The fossil record was substantially augmented later in the century by a splendid find of Iguanodon fossils at Bernissart, Belgium. Louis Dollo, the French paleontologist who oversaw the Bernissart site, was able to revise all existing models. Through cross-skeletal comparison and etho- logical inference, he concluded that Iguanodon was, in fact, bipedal. Moreover, he persuasively demonstrated that the triangular bone that had been taken for a nose spike was actually a horny thumb spike peculiar to dinosaurs.
The mode of thought implied by the Iguanodon example is similar to the mode of descriptive analysis designated by Michel Foucault the "archaeology of knowledge." Foucault writes of his project: "[the 'ar- chaeology of knowledge'] does not imply the search for a beginning; it does not relate analysis to geological excavation. It designates the gen- eral theme of a description that questions the already-said [i.e., a family of concepts] at the level of its existence" (p. 131). He defines a family of concepts as a discourse (e.g. medicine, natural history, economics).
Explanatory models for any family of concepts, he insists, must be based on an analysis of its primary conceptual structures--what he terms the discourse's "governing statements."
Archaeology, may . . . constitute the tree of derivation of a discourse. It will place at the root, as governing statements, those that concern the definition of observable structures and the field of possible objects, those that prescribe the forms of description and the perceptual codes that it can use, those that reveal the most general possibilities of characterization, and thus open up a whole domain of concepts to be constructed, and, lastly, those that, while constituting a strategic choice, leave room for the greatest number of subsequent options. (p. 147)
To survey the discursive family of"American history" from this perspective is to discover certain primary linguistic functions that serve as governing statements. "Religious man," "wilderness," "migratory errand," "increase in store," and "New Jerusalem" are prescriptive structures of a traditional American history. "Religious man" signals a devout believer in God for whom matters of economics and wealth are minimal considerations. "Wilderness" refers to a savage territory de- void of human beings and institutions. "Migratory errand" announces a singular mission bestowed by Cod on religious man, prompting him to sail the Atlantic and settle the wilderness. The "New Jerusalem" is the promised end of the errand; it is the prospective city of God on earth. It represents the transformation of the wilderness into a community of believers who interpret an "increase in store" as secular evidence of an abiding spiritual faithfulness.
The graphics of most school history texts--with their portrayals of Pilgrims landing on bleak and barren New World shores and a subse- quent "increase in store" and Thanksgiving--offer ample representa- tions of these primary structures. The mode of dress, physiognomy, and bearing of the figures in the foreground of such graphics declare seventeenth-century European man as the epitome of religious man. Generally in such pictures non-Europeans are savagely clad, merging with the wilderness. The written accounts from which such graphics derive establish quite explicit boundaries of what might be called "eth- nic exclusion." Describing the Pilgrims' arrival in the wilderness, Wil- liam Bradford writes: "It is recorded in Scripture as a mercy to the Apostle and his shipwrecked company, that the barbarians showed them no small kindness in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians [Native Americansl, when they met them . . . were readier to fill their sides full of arrows than otherwise."4
Traditional American literary history can be thought of as a branch of American history. As a kindred body of concepts, it reflects its parent- age by reading the key statements of the larger discourse onto the ancestry of literary works of art. The texts included in Robert Spiller's influential model of American literary history, for example, are ar- ranged and explained in terms of an immigration-and-development pat- tern of events. And in a recent essay, Spiller clearly implies that his literary-historical model, like the discursive family of which it forms a branch, is characterized by boundaries of ethnic exclusion:
We can. . . distinguish three kinds of ethnic groups which were not parts of the main frontier movement. These are the immigrant groups which came to this country comparatively late; the blacks who were brought to this country under spe- cial circumstances; and the Jews who in all their history have mingled with, but rarely become totally absorbed into, any alien culture. All three are of great importance to the Ameri- can identity today as expressed in its ever-changing literature, but only immigrations from European countries other than Great Britain followed a course close enough to our model to suggest inclusion here, even though the remarkable achieve- ments of thc Jews and the blacks in contemporary American literature suggest that--given a slightly different model--their contributions to our culture would lend themselves to similar analyses. (p. 15)
If one were to produce a graphic representation of the literary history implied by this quotation, it would consist of a European author in the foreground (or a succession of such authors) turning out ever more sophisticated works of art. This "basic evolutionary development" (p. 15) is equivalent to the larger historical discourse's notion of European, or Euro-American, progress toward New Jerusalem. Within the larger discourse, God's plan is assumed to reveal (and, ultimately, to fulfill) itself only through the endeavors of religious, European men. And just as such men are considered true builders of the New Jerusalem, so, too, they are considered exclusive chroniclers of their achievements in the evolutionary phases of an American national literature.
The exclusionist tendencies of Spiller are reinforced by the work of Cleanth Brooks, R. W. B. Lewis, and Robert Penn Warren in their giant anthology entitled American Literature: The Makers and the Making. In an introductory "Letter to the Reader," the editors write:
Since this book is, among other things, a history, it is only natural that its organization should be, in the main, chronologi- cal. But it is not strictly so; other considerations inevitably cross-hatch pure chronology. We have mentioned the two sec- tions on southern writing, which overlap periods treated else- where. Similarly, the two sections on black literature together span many decades, for like Faulkner and other white southern writers, black writers in America, whether of the North or the South, have worked in terms of a special condition and cultural context. (p. xix)
In short, any verbal creativity that lies outside traditional, orthodox patterns of a spiritually evolving American literature is merely a shadow ("cross-hatch") on national history and literary history con- ceived as determinate "chronologies."
The "special condition and cultural context" of the editors' introduc- tory "Letter" echo Spiller's "special circumstances." Brooks, Lewis, and Warren, like Spiller, begin with the Puritans and trace an evolu- tionary progression. But unlike Spiller, they find it necessary to ensure that shadows on an exalted past are not mistaken for acts of authentic literary creativity. "Literature of the Nonliterary World" is the title they provide for the concluding section of the first volume of their anthology. The section includes: David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Frederick Law Olmsted, "Folk Songs of the White People," Indian Oratory, "Folk Songs of the Black People," non-Puritan historians, southwest humorists, Abraham Lincoln, Davy Crockett, and so on. On the basis of definitions supplied by the editors, one must suppose that inclusions in this category ofthe excluded exist somewhere between second- ary literature and nonliterature (p. xxi). The editors' definitions obvi- ously conserve a Spiller orthodoxy.
When the discourses and practices contemporary with American his- tory are brought to bear on this orthodoxy, the religious orientation, sites, and authorities are subject, like the Iguanodon, to radical reinter- pretation. The savage barbarians of Bradford's earlier-cited passage manifest themselves not as scriptural reprobates but as negative func- tions of an ideology that classified European man as the acme of being. Similar revisions apply to both "religious man" and "increase in store." Euro-Americans who engaged in the transatlantic slave trade maintained a favorable balance of trade (both economic and spiritual) by defining Africans whom they loaded into ships' holds not only as heathens to be transported to Occidental salvation, but also as property, bullion, or real wealth. Africans thus deported from their homeland to the New World became, in a bizarre logic, spiritual revenue. As West Indian author George Lamming puts it:
The Americans took pleasure in their past because they were descended from men whose migration was a freely chosen act. They were descended from a history that was recorded, a his- tory which was wholly contained in their own way of looking at the world . . . [but the history of African-descended black people] was a commercial deportation."
"Commercial deportation" thus offers a new governing structure-- one that dramatically alters the traditional discourse. The statement first signifies an involuntary transport of human beings as opposed to the export or import of will-less merchandise. And instead of bleak and barren beginnings on New World shores yet to be civilized, the history signified by commercial deportation implies European man as slave trader, divider of established civilizations, dealer in "hides of Fellatah/ Mandingo, Ibo, Kru." The transportable stock on American vessels is no longer figured as a body of courageous Pilgrims, but as: "black gold" (p. 65). And providential history reveals itself as a spiritual dis- course coextensive with economic practices of men who turned the middle passage to profit (p. 65).
The graphics accompanying this alternative historical formation are strikingly different from those accompanying traditional accounts. They evoke Armageddon rather than New Jerusalem. And the shift |effected by the governing structure "commercial deportation" opens the way for a corollary shift in perspective on "American literary his- tory." What comes starkly to the foreground is the possibility of a new Afro-American historical and literary-historical discourse. That possi- bility is a function not only of an enlarged perspective, but also of the "method" of history itself. For if historical method consists in catalogu- ing elements, then all histories are, theoretically, open-ended--the pos- sible inclusions, limitless. In practice, histories are always limited by ideology. Catalogues are constituted through principles of selection--on the basis of ideologies. In other words, a history is an ideologically governed catalogue of figurative elements. And a shift, or rupture, in ideological premises promotes strikingly new figurations.
The ideological orientation brought to the foreground under the pros- pect of the archaeology of knowledge is neither a vulgar Marxism nor a new "positivism." What I am interested in is a form of thought that grounds Afro-American discourse in concrete, historical situation. I hope to outline here a type of dialectical understanding that views a determinant ideology as something akin to Thomas Kuhn's "para- digm." Where Afro-American narratives derived from "commercial deportation" are concerned, the model that seems best suited to an analysis is not only an economic one but also one based on literary considerations. Let me call this ideological frame of reference the "eco- nomics of slavery." The phrase "economics of slavery," like "commer- cial deportation," stands as a governing statement in Afro-American discourse. In specifically Afro-American terms, thc "economics of slav- ery" signifies the social system of the Old South that determined what, how, and for whom goods were produced to satisfy human wants. Now, the monographic histories of slavery reveal that this system evolved very differently in the Old South from the way it evolved h the Caribbean, and that, in each place, it involved a different dimension of experience. I propose here, however, that it is possible to telescope these dimensions, and to reveal others through a vertical, associative, metaphorical decoding of the phrase. Thus the diachrony of traditional historiography is complemented by a nonsuccessive, synchronic prospect. Hayden White defines this as a process of "tropological" understanding--a discursive mode that employs unfamiliar terms to qualify what in a given discourse is considered traditional. It constitutes an effort to incorporate into "reality" phenomena that are generally refused the status "real," so as to alter "reality" itself. The end of such an enterprise is to release us from a tyranny of conceptual overdetermi- nations by the conscious employment of metaphor. Let me illustrate this briefly by surveying several representative images of Afro- American dwellings in terms of the "economics of slavery."
Africans aboard a slaver. (From Daniel P. Mannix and Mal- colm Cowley: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518-1865. New York: Viking, 1972.)
Inspection and sale of slaves. (From Malcolm Cowley, ed.: Adventures of an African Slaver: Being a True Account of the Life of Captain Theodore Canot. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1928.)
In the Old South, according to John Blassingame, "The slaves often complained bitterly about what their masters described as 'adequate' housing. Most of the [slave] autobiographers reported that they lived in crudely built one-room log cabins with dirt floors and too many cracks in them to permit much comfort during the winter months." After his own critical observation on the "size and arrangements" of a people's dwellings in The Souls ol Black Folk, W. E. B. DuBois goes on to describe "Negro homes" in the "black belt" of Georgia at the turn of the century:
All over the face of the land is the one-room cabin,--now standing in the shadow of the Big House, now staring at the dusty road, now rising dark and sombre amid the green of the cotton-fields. It is nearly always old and bare, built of rough boards and neither plastered nor ceiled.
And a report on American working conditions in the late 1920s de- scribes a black logging camp as follows: "Across the railroad track from the depot and company store were about one-hundred shacks for Ne- gro workers. These are one room with a window at one end--not always glass but with a wood flap to let down." I would suggest that the scant diachronic modification in "size and arrangements" of black dwellings allows them to stand as signs for the continuing impoverish- ment of blacks in the United States.
The places that Africans in America have lived (and continue to live) signify the "economics of slavery." An "army-style barracks" formed the home of Horace Taft of Philadelphia, for example, while he was in North Carolina engaged in an experience that he describes as follows:
It was real slavery-time work I did down there. My first week's salary was $3. That was a week's pay. They kept all the rest. It was just horrible, the things I seen at those camps. I seen men beat with rubber hoses. I seen a woman beat. There was always someone guarding and watching you. You couldn't get away because they were sitting out there with guns.
Taft was kidnapped into a "migrant stream" of slave labor in 1979.
Yet, the dwellings of Africans in America cannot be confined exclu- sively to an economic signification. The nonmonetary, "mythical" di- mensions that arise from the "size and arrangements" of black homes are supplied by a black expressiveness we have come to know as "the blues." Samuel Charters provides the following bleak description of a dwelling outside Brownsville, Tennessee:
About a mile and a half from the turnoff into Brownsville there is a sagging red cabin, the bare patch of ground in front is littered with bits of clothing, dirty dishes, a broken chair.... The cabin has two rooms; one of them empty except for a few rags that lie in the filth of the floor . . . In the other room is a chair, a rusted wood stove, and two dirty, unmade beds. In the heat of a summer afternoon it looks like the other empty build- ings scattered along Winfield Lane.
This sagging cabin is like all such dwellings in its dilapidatedness and overcrowding (a man, his wife, and five children inhabit it); but what we are presented with in Charter's passage is identity in difference. For the "sagging red cabin" is the home of Sleepy John Estes, one of the greatest of the traditional blues singers. The blues thereby serves to modify, ameliorate, order, and qualify the cabin's bleak "size and ar- rangements." John Estes's song arises from a "slave community" and it is fittingly designated as "blues."
The major mode of Afro-American literary discourse is the slave narrative. Appearing in England and America during the eigh- teenth and nineteenth centuries, the thousands of narratives produced by Africans in England and by fugitive slaves and freed black men and women in America constitute the first, literate manifestations of a tragic disruption in African cultural homogeneity. When the author of The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789) arrived at the African coast in the hands of his kidnappers, he had left behind the communal, familial ways sanctioned by his native village of Essaka in the province of Benin. The last family member he embraces is a sister kidnapped in the same slave-trading raid that left him captive. His sibling serves as sign and source of familial, female love. And the nature of the final meeting is emblematic of the separa- tions that a "commercial deportation" effected in the lives of Africans: "When these people [Africans carrying Vassa and his sister to the coast] knew we were brother and sister, they indulged us to be together; and the man, to whom I suppose we belonged, lay with us, he in the middle, while she and I held one another by the hands across his breast all night; and thus for a while we forgot our misfortunes, in the joy of being together" (p. 24). The phrase, "The man, to whom I supposed we belonged," signals a loss of self-possession. The man's position "in the middle" signals a corollary loss of familial (and, by implication, conjugal) relations. But the full import of loss comes to the African in a moment of terror, when, arrived at the coast, he encounters the full, objective reality of his commercially deportable status:
The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast, was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonish- ment, which was soon converted into terror, when I was car- ried on board. I was immediately handled, and tossed up to see if I were sound, by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me.... When I looked round the ship too, and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and an- guish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. (My emphasis, p. 27)
His description captures, in graphic detail, the peremptory consign- ment of the African, chained body and soul, to the boiling hell of mercantilism.
At one interpretive level, the remainder of The Life of Olaudah Equiano is the story of a Christian convert who finds solace from bondage in the ministerings of a kind Providence. The Christian-missionary and civiliz- ing effects of the slave trade that were so much vaunted by Europeans find an exemplary instance in the narrator's portrait of himself after a short sojourn in England: "I could now speak English tolerably well, and I perfectly understood everything that was said.... I no longer looked upon [Englishmen] as spirits, but as men superior to us IAfricansl; and therefore I had the stronger desire to resemble them, to imbibe their spirit, and imitate their manners" (p. 48). Through the kindly instruc- tions of "the Miss Guerins," Englishwomen who are friends of his master, the young Vassa learns to read and write. He is also baptized and received into St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, in February 1759 (p. 49). As a civilized, Christian subject, he is able to survive with equanim- ity the vagaries of servitude, the whims of fortune, and the cruelties of fate. After his manumission, he searches earnestly for the true, guiding light of salvation and achieves (in chapter 10) confirmation of his per- sonal salvation in a vision of the crucified Christ:
On the morning of the 6th October, , all that day, I thought I should either see or hear something supernatural. I had a secret impulse on my mind of something that was to take place. . . In the evening of the same day . . . the Lord was pleased to break in upon my soul with his bright beams of heavenly light; and in that instant, as it were, removing the veil, and letting light into a dark place, I saw clearly with an eye of faith, the crucified Saviour bleeding on the cross on Mount Calvary; the scriptures became an unsealed book . . . Now every leading providential circumstance that happened to me, from the day I was taken from my parents to that hour, was then in my view, as if it had just occurred. I was sensible of the invisible hand of God, which guided and protected me, when in truth I knew it not. (Pp. 149-50)
The foregoing passage from The Life represents what might be termed the African's awakening and liberation from his coerced state of slavery. To the extent that the narrative reinforces a providential inter- pretation, the work seems coextensive with an "old" literary history that claims Africans as spiritual cargo delivered (under "special circum- stances") unto God Himself.
If, however, one returns for a moment to the conditions of disruption that begin the narrator's passage into slavery, if one considers the truly "commercial" aspects of his deportation, a quite different perspective emerges. Further, an ideological analysis grounded in the economics (as opposed to the European-derived "ethics") of slavery allows us to per- ceive a quite different awakening on the part of the African. For the fact is that Vassa's status as "transportable property" is mediated as much by his canny mercantilism as by his pious toiling in the vineyards of Anglicanism. The Life of Olaudah Equiano, that is, considered in ideo- logical terms, can be seen not only as a work whose protagonist masters the rudiments of economics that condition his life, but also as a narrative whose author creates a text that inscribes those very econom- ics as a sign of its "social grounding." The Life, therefore, is less a passive "mirroring" of providential ascent than it is a literary work, or cultural object, that, in Fredric Jameson's phrase, "brings into being that situation to which it is also, at one and the same time, a reaction. " If there is a "new," or different, historical subtext distinguishing Vassa's narrative from traditional discourse, that subtext is in part a symbolic "invention" of the narrative itself. It is a text that becomes discernible only under an analysis that explores the relationship between The Life and the economics of slavery.
After a year's labor for Mr. Robert King, his new owner, Vassa writes: "I became very useful to my master, and saved him, as he used to acknowledge, above a hundred pounds a year" (p. 73). Thus begins a process of self-conscious, mercantile self-evaluation--that is, a medita- tion on the economies of African, or New World, black selfhood--that continues for the next two chapters of The Life. "I have sometimes heard it asserted," Vassa continues,
that a negro cannot earn his master the first cost; but nothing can be further from the truth.... I have known many slaves whose masters would not take a thousand pounds current for them.... My master was several times offered, by different gentlemen, one hundred guineas for me, but he always told them he would not sell me, to my great joy. (p. 73)
These assertions of chapter 5 seem far more appropriate for a trader's secular diary than a devout acolyte's conversion journal.
Having gained the post of shipboard assistant, or "mate," to Captain Thomas Farmer, an Englishman who sails a Bermuda sloop for his new master, Vassa immediately thinks that he "might in time stand some chance by being on board to get a little money, or possibly make my escape if I should be used ill" (p. 83). This conflation of getting "a little money" and finding freedom sets the terms of narrative experience that lead to the African's receipt of a certificate of manumission in chapter 7. Describing his initial attempts at mercantilism, the narrator writes in ledgerlike detail:
After I had been sailing for some time with this captain [Mr. Farmer], at length I endeavored to try my luck, and commence merchant. I had but very small capital to begin with; for one single half bit, which is equal to three pence in England, made up my whole stock. However, I trusted to the Lord to be with me; and at one of our trips to St. Eustatius, a Dutch island, I bought a glass tumbler with my half bit, and when I came to Montserrat, I sold it for a bit, or sixpence. Luckily we made several successive trips to St. Eustatius (which was a general mart for the West Indies, about twenty leagues from Montser-- rat), and in our next, finding my tumbler so profitable, with this one bit I bought two tumblers more; and when I came back, I sold them for two bits equal to a shilling sterling. When we went again, I bought with these two bits four more of these glasses, which I sold for four bits on our return to Montserrat. And in our next voyage to St. Eustatius, I bought two glasses with one bit, and with the other three I bought a jug of Ge- neva, nearly about three pints in measure. When we came to Montserrat, I sold the gin for eight bits, and the tumblers for two, so that my capital now amounted in all to a dollar, well husbanded and acquired in space of a month or six weeks, when I blessed the Lord that I was so rich. (p. 84)
The ironies are manifold. Rather than a spiritual multiplication of"tal- ents" the slave, on shipboard as "mate," selects transactions from his ledger and transcribes them, like any merchant autobiographer, into a narrative of his adventures. The pure product of trade (i.e., transport- able property, chattel) has become the trader, with a well-husbanded store! Amid the lawless savagery visited upon blacks in the West Indies, Vassa calmly resolves to earn his freedom "by honest and honorable [read: mercantile] means" (p. 87). In order to achieve this end he re- doubles his commercial efforts.
In its middle section, The Life almost entirely brackets the fact that a mercantile self's trans-Caribbean profit-making is a function of an egre- gious trade in slaves between the West Indies and South Carolina and Georgia. Having been reduced to property by a "commercial deporta- tion," Vassa concludes during his West Indian captivity that neither sentiment nor spiritual sympathies can earn his liberation. He realizes, in effect, that only the acquisition of property will enable him to alter his designated status as property. With the blessings of his master, he sets out to make "money enough . . . to purchase my freedom . . for forty pounds sterling money, which was only the same price he [Mr. King] gave for me" (my emphasis, pp. 93-94).By chapter 7, the slave's com- mercial venture is complete. Having entered the "West India trade," he has obtained "about forty-seven pounds." He offers the entire sum to Mr. King, who "said he would not be worse than his promise; and taking the money, told me to go to the Secretary at the Register Office, and get my manumission drawn up" (pp. 101-102). Thus the West Indian slaveholder substitutes one form of capital for another. Presumably the merchant overcomes his initial reluctance to honor his promise by realizing that his "investment in black bodies" can be transformed easily enough into other forms of enterprise.
On Vassa's part, this entails a dramatic shift of voice--a shift that actually begins (in chapter 5), when he carefully transcribes his certifi- cate of manumission. The certificate is, in effect, an economic sign that competes with and radically qualifies the ethical piousness of its enfold- ing text. The inscribed document is a token of mastery, signifying its recipient's successful negotiation of a deplorable system of exchange. The narrator of The Life (as distinguished from the author) is aware of both positive and negative implications of his certificate, and he self- consciously prevents his audience from bracketing his achievement of manumission as merely an act of virtuous perseverance in the face of adversity. "As the form of my manumission has something peculiar in it, and expresses the absolute power and dominion one man claims over his fellow, I shall beg leave to present it before my readers at full length" (p. 103).
The document--which grants to "the said Gustavus Vassa, all right, title, dominion, sovereignty, and property" that his "lord and master" Mr. King holds over him--signals the ironic transformation of property by property into humanity. Chattel has transformed itself into freeman through exchange of forty pounds sterling. The slave equates his elation on receiving freedom to the joys of conquering heroes, or to the con- tentment of mothers who have regained a "long lost infant," or to the gladness of the lover who once again embraces the mistress "ravished from his arms" or the "weary hungry mariner at the sight of the desired friendly port." (p. 103).
Two frames of mind are implied by the transcription of the certificate and the freeman's response. First, the narrator recognizes that the journey's end (i.e., the mariner's achievement of port) signaled by manumission provides enabling conditions for the kind of happy famil- ial relations that seemed irrevocably lost with his departure from his sister. At the same time, he is aware that the evil of the economics he has "navigated" separated him from such relationships in the first in- stance. However, this seems to inspire no ambivalence in the author of The Life of Olaudah Equiano. For the structure of the text appears to reflect the author's conviction that it is absolutely necessary for the slave to negotiate the economics of slavery if he would be free. The mercantile endeavors of the autobiographical self in The Life occupy the very center of the narrative. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 mark an economic middle passage in a twelve-chapter account. They represent an active, inversive, ironically mercantile ascent by the propertied self from the hell of "commercial deportation." They are a graphic "reinvention" of the social grounding of the Afro-American symbolic act par excellence. For although they constitute a vivid delineation of the true character of Afro-America's historical origins in a slave economics, they also implic- itly acknowledge that such economics must be mastered before liberation can be secured.
Ultimately it is Vassa's adept mercantilism that produces the confla- tion of a "theory" of trade, an abolitionist appeal, and a statement of conjugal union that conclude The Life of Olaudah Equiano. After attest- ing that "the manufactures of this country must and will, in the nature and reason of things, have a full and constant employ, by supplying the African markets" (p. 130), the narrator depicts the commercial utopia that will result when the slave trade is abolished and a free mercantile commerce is established in which African raw materials are exchanged for British manufacture. The abolitionist intent of this "theory" of future commercial relationship is apparent. Equally apparent is the ap- peal for an economics of freedom that will produce a humane world in which slavery will be displaced by productive commerce. The African who successfully negotiates his way through the dread exchanges of bondage to the type of expressive posture characterizing The Life's conclusion is surely a man who has repossessed himself and, hence, achieved the ability to reunite a severed African humanity.
The entire process is epitomized in the penultimate paragraph of Vassa's work. "I remained in London till I heard the debate in the House of Commons on the slave trade, April the 2nd and 3rd. I then went to Soham in Cambridgeshire, and was married on the 7th of April to Miss Cullen, daughter of James and Ann Cullen, late of Ely" (p. 192). The free, public African man, adept at the economics of his era, participating in the liberation of his people, and joined, with self-possessed calmness, in marriage--it is a signal image in a discourse born in "commercial de- portation" and bred upon an "economics of slavery."
The ideological analysis I have applied to The Life of Olaudah Equiano has important implications for practical criticism because it discovers the social grounding of any genuinely Afro-American narrative. My claim here is that all Afro-American creativity is conditioned by (and part of) a historical discourse that privileges certain economic terms. The creative individual (the black subject) must perforce come to terms with "commercial deportation" and the "economics of slavery." His or her very inclusion in an Afro-American traditional discourse is contin- gent on an encounter with such privileged economic signs. This is not to say, of course, that a randomly chosen black narrative will automati- cally confirm the well-worn notions about the relation between means of production and general cultural consciousness. My point is not that commerce determines consciousness. It is rather that ideological analy- sis yields certain recurrent, discursive patterns that in turn reveal a unified economic grounding for Afro-American narratives. Thus the locus classicus for the entire genre of slave narrative, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself (1845), reads, ideologically, like a palimpsest of Vassa's "traditional" account. Douglass's work, that is, constitutes a manuscript where the "already said" is clearly visible. Were it superimposed on Vassa's work, it would trace the eighteenth-century African's economic topography in all ma- jor details.
"My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant--before I knew her as my mother," writes Douglass's narrator (p. 22). "It is a common custom," he continues, "in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at an early age.... I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone." The disruption of black familial relations signaled by the narrator's separation from his mother is equivalent to Vassa's kidnapping and severance from his sister. Doug- lass's narrator further announces that "it was rumored that my master [Captain Anthony] was my father," and he goes on to condemn un- equivocally the "wicked desires," "lust," and "cunning" of slave- owners, traits that enable them to sustain a "double relation of master and father" to their mulatto children (p. 23).
These assertions of the Narrative in effect recapitulate the "man in the middle" first encountered in Vassa's account. In both narratives, the effect of "owners" destroying Afro-American familial bonds (mother- infant, lover-beloved) is forcefully represented. In a world where people are property, separation (physical and emotional) is the norm. The lengths to which the "man in the middle" will go to reinforce such norms is indicated not only by Vassa's account of the treatment of African women on trading sloops, but by Douglass's account of his Aunt Hester's fate:
Aunt Hester went out one night--where or for what I do not know--and happened to be absent when my master desired her presence. He had ordered her not to go out evenings, and warned her that she must never let him catch her in company with a young man, who was paying attention to her belonging to Colonel Lloyd. The young man's name was Ned Roberts, generally called Lloyd's Ned. Why master was so careful of her, may be safely left to conjecture. (p. 24)
Discovering that Hester has, indeed, been in the company of Ned dur- ing her absence, the white owner strips her to the waist, binds her to a hook in the joist of the house, and flogs her until she is bloody. "I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight," Douglass reports, "that I hid myself in a closet, and dared not venture out" (p. 26).
The decisive delivery of the Afro-American into slavery takes place, however--as did Vassa's transport--by water. The "commercial depor- tation" of Douglass occurs when the young boy travels on the trading sloop Sally Lloyd to Baltimore to serve in the household of Mr. Hugh Auld. On the day that he is transported, the sloop, which normally transports tobacco, corn, and wheat (p. 27), carries "a large flock of sheep" bound for slaughter at "the slaughterhouse of Mr. Curtis on Louden Slater's Hill" (p. 46). The irrevocable break with beginnings, the helplessness of the young boy to determine his own destiny, the cargo status that marks his passage, and his immediately favorable re- sponse to the wonders of an alien world of experience--in all essentials the Narrative recalls Vassa's work.
A few pages after his account of a terrified response to the slave ship, Vassa describes his arrival at Barbados: "We were conducted immedi- ately to the merchant's yard, where we were all pent together, like so many sheep in a fold, without regard to sex or age. As every object was new to me, everything I saw filled me with surprise" (p. 32). The mixed sense of powerlessness and inquisitive suspense foreshadows Douglass's reaction to Annapolis fifty years later: "It was the first large town that I had ever seen, and though it would look small compared with some of our New England factory villages, I thought it a wonder- ful place for its size--more imposing even than the Great House Farm!"(p. 46). Douglass's response also suggests a telling contrast be- tween agrarian and industrial modes of existence. The capital of an industrially primitive southern slave state is less impressive than (in words that could only belong to a traveled narrator) some of "our New England factory villages." Vassa leaves an agrarian life devoid of"me- chanics" (p. 27) only to encounter on shipboard the wonders of the quadrant, a world of "mechanical" invention at the farm of his first Virginia master, and, finally, the captains of industry of his day to whom the concluding remarks of his narrative are directed. Similarly, Douglass moves progressively beyond an agricultural landscape where slavery is omnipotent to the freedom of the "New England factory village." Mediating the progress of both narrators toward the economic sophistication implied by their privileging of industrial norms is their urban experience.
London, for Vassa, represents the most desirable mode of existence. The residents of the English metropole represent for the African occa- sions for understanding and self-improvement that he feels are available nowhere else. He even rejects, for example, an opportunity while at Guadeloupe to escape slavery because the fleet in which he would have served as a seaman is bound not for England but for "old France" (pp. 90-91). It is among Englishmen in London that Vassa comes to realize the "superiority" of Europeans to Africans and receives the kindly in- structions of the Misses Guerin. Douglass's feelings toward Baltimore are scarcely as affectionate; still, the nineteenth-century author writes: "Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity" (pp. 46-47). And it is in Baltimore that Douglass (as does Vassa in London) discovers the "displaced" maternity of a kindly white womanhood. The familial affections blunted by the "man in the middle" in the feudal regions of slavery, find their rejuvenation in the ministrations of white urban women.
The women in both the Narrative and The Life of Olaudah Equiano are represented as examples of the best evangelical-missionary impulses of their day, fit vehicles for a kind Providence. Hence, in both cases, there is a convergence of literacy (through the white women's instructions) and Christianity (through the white women's desire to render such instruction.) An early result of Vassa's interaction with the Guerins is his baptism. Douglass ascribes his interactions with Sophia Auld to "divine Providence" (p. 47), but describes these interactions in Old Testament terms (p. 47).
Reflecting the slave's mastery of Christian instruction and compre- hension of the ironies of his enslaved situation, Douglass represents his relationship with Sophia Auld as a symbolic inversion of the Fall of Man. On first view, the calm of the Auld household marked by "a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions" is disrupted by the entry of the slave (as serpent?). The slave's presence seems to convert the Edenic calm into a domain of "tiger-like fierceness" and calculated deception. Discovering that his wife has begun to instruct Douglass, Hugh Auld severely reprimands Sophia, prohibits future instructions, and lectures her on slaves and education. But in fact it is not the entry of the slave that precipitates Sophia's transformation For if she stands in the role of Eve, it is in fact the slave who is her Adam, the subject of her providentially ordained instruction. The snake in this garden is Mr. Auld, who appears, ironically, in the guise of a chastising God rebuking the sinful "children."
In effect, Auld convicts himself as Satan, the old serpent successfully tempting Eve to perceive the Tree of Life (the bestowal of a humanizing, instruction) as an interdicted Tree of Knowledge. Douglass listens with fascination. The Narrative portrays him in his encounter "in the garden" as a pristine innocent, amazed at the devious ways of the world. The words of Auld-as-serpent become for the narrator--in an enfoldingly ironic series of inversions--a "new and special revelation" of the source of slaveholders' power. Auld's words, like Providential instruction, lead the slave to realize that this is no Eden of urban benevolence, but a false paradise of white repression He thus sets out to discover the true path to freedom. Like an allegorical pilgrim, he rejects soul-destroying ignorance and proceeds "with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at what- ever cost or trouble, to learn how to read" (p. 49).The symbolic inversion of the Fall attests the slave's mastery as a "reader." He refuses the role of hapless victim of texts (the slave- master's "false" moral rhetoric) and becomes instead an astute interpre- ter and creator of texts of his own. Hence, though Baltimore like Vassa's London bestows a traditional literacy and Christianity, Doug- lass's acquired skills as reader enable him to provide his own figurations. His ability ultimately results in a tension between two voices in the Narrative. The tones of a biblically oriented moral suasion eventually compete with the cadences of a secularly oriented economic voice.
This bifurcation of voices parallels the duality I have noted in The Life of Olaudah Equiano. One autobiographical self in the Narrative fol- lows a developmental history that leads from Christian enlightenment, to the establishment of Sabbath schools for fellow slaves, to a career of messianic service on behalf of abolitionism. Of his address to a pre- dominantly white audience at an abolitionist convention in Nantucket, Douglass says: "It was a severe cross, and I took it up reluctantly" (p. 119). The other self in the Narrative, one that contrasts with the cross- bearing pilgrim, follows a course dictated by the economics of slavery. It is this second, literate, secular self who produces inversions of re- ceived scripture such as that noted in the Auld encounter. It expresses itself sotto voce, subtextually, and, in a sense, "after the fact." It pro- vides economic coding for what, on casual first view, appear simple descriptions in the service of moral suasion.
Let me illustrate the nature of that voice by returning for a moment to the first three chapters of the Narrative, where Douglass describes the wealthy slaveowner Colonel Lloyd's "finely cultivated garden, which afforded almost constant employment for four men, besides the chief gardener, (Mr. M'Durmond)" (p. 33). This garden prefigures the "false" Eden of Auld. Its description is coded in a manner that makes it the most significant economic sign in the initial chapters of the Narrative. The entire store of the slaveowner's "Job-like" (p. 35) riches are imaged by the garden, which was "probably the greatest attraction of the place [the Lloyd estate]" (p. 33). Abounding in "fruit of every description," the garden is "quite a temptation to the hungry swarms of boys, as well as the older slaves . . . few of whom had the virtue or the vice to resist it" (p. 33). In a brilliant reversal, this garden and its attendant temptations, a familiar Christian topos, images all the wealth of the "man in the middle," and serves Douglass as a wholly secular sign of surplus value. In Colonel Lloyd's garden the fruits of slave labor are all retained by the master. And any attempts by the slaves to share such fruits are not only dubbed "stealing" but are also "severely" pun- ished. Even so, "the colonel had to resort to all kinds of stratagems beyond mere flogging to keep his slaves out of the garden" (p. 33).
The image of vast abundance produced by slaves but denied them through the owner's savagery transforms the garden and its temptations into a purely economic model. The narrator heightens the irony of this economic coding through implicit detailing of the process by which a cultural consciousness is determined by commerce. The folkloric apho- rism that a single touch of the "tarbrush" defiles the whole is invoked in the Narrative as a humorous analogue for Colonel Lloyd's designa- tion of those who are to be denied the fruits of the garden as unworthy. The colonel tars the fence around his garden, and any slave "caught with tar upon his person . . . was severely whipped by the chief gar- dener" (p. 33). It amounts to a symbolic use of tar (a blackness so sticky and entangling for American conscience that the Tar Baby story of African provenance has been an enduring cultural transplant) as a mark of deprivation and unworthiness, and Douglass comments: "The slaves became as fearful of tar as of the lash. They seemed to realize the impossibility of touching tar without being defiled" (p. 33). Through the genetic touch of the tarbrush that makes them "people of color," blacks become "guilty" of the paradoxically labeled "crime" of seeking to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
The "increase in store" of a traditional American history takes on quite other dimensions in this light. The keenly literate and secular self who so figures the economics of Lloyd's garden--summing in the pro- cess both the nil financial gain of blacks, and their placement in the left-hand, or debit, column of the ledgers of American status--is the same self encountered when the narrator describes the slaves on Auld's farm: "A great many times have we poor creatures been nearly perish- ing with hunger, when food in abundance lay mouldering in the safe and smoke-house, and our pious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet mistress and her husband would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them in basket and store!" (p. 66).
This is the same secular self, too, that returns as a teenager to south- ern, agrarian slavery. At the farm of Mr. Edward Covey, where he has been hired out for "breaking," the Narrative pictures four enslaved black men fanning wheat. Douglass constitutes one of their number, "carrying wheat to the fan" (p. 77). The sun proves too much for the unacclimatized Douglass, and he collapses, only to be beaten by Mr. Covey for his failure to serve effectively as a "mindless" cog in the machine of slave production. Seeking redress from his master (Auld), who hired him to Covey, Douglass finds that the profit motive drives all before it: "Master Thomas . . said . . . that he could not think of taking me from . . . [Mr. Covey]]; that should he do so, he would lose the whole year's wages" (p. 79).
The most bizarre profit accruing to the owners in the Covey episode, however, is not slave wages but slave offspring. If Colonel Lloyd takes the fruit of the slave's labor, Mr. Covey takes the fruit of the slave's very womb. He puts a black man "to stud" with one of his slave women and proclaims the children of this compelled union his property. This is a confiscation of surplus value with a vengeance! It manifests how aberrant relationships can become under the impress of a southern traffic in human "chattel." At Covey's farm, produce, labor, wages, and profit create a crisis that Douglass must negotiate as best he can. He resolves to fight Mr. Covey, the "man in the middle," physically.
In chapter 10, in contrast to a "resolved" young Douglass, stands Sandy Jenkins, the slave who is not allowed to live with his "free wife." Sandy offers Douglass a folk means of negotiating his crisis at Covey's, providing him with "a certain root," which, carried "always on . . . [the] right side, would render it impossible for Mr. Covey, or any other white man" to whip the slave (p. 80). This displacement of Christian meta- physics by Afro-American "superstition" ultimately denies the efficacy of trusting solely to supernatural aid for relief from slavery.
The root does not work. The physical confrontation does. By fight- ing, Douglass gains a measure of relief from Covey's harassments. Jenkins's mode of negotiating the economics of slavery, the Narrative implies, is not a man's way, since the narrator claims that his combat with Covey converted him, ipso facto, into a man. At this point, sig- nificantly, the text strongly suggests that Sandy is the traitor who re- veals the escape plot of Douglass and fellow slaves at Mr. Freeland's estate. Sandy represents the inescapable limits of Afro-American slavery in the South; he is the pure negative product of an economics of slav- ery. Standing here in clear and monumentally present contrast to Doug- lass, Sandy reveals the virtual impossibility of achieving freedom on the terms implied by the attempted escape from Freeland's.
At its most developed, southern extension, the literate-abolitionist self of the Narrative engages in an act of physical revolt, forms a Christian brotherhood of fellow slaves through a Sabbath school, and formulates a plan for a collective escape from bondage. But this progress toward liberation in the agrarian South is betrayed by one whose mind is "tarred" by the economics of slavery The possibility of collective free- dom is foreclosed by treachery within the slave community. A commu- nally dedicated Douglass ("The work of instructing my dear fellow- slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed" [p. 90]) finds that revolt, religion, and literacy all fail. The slave does, indeed, write his "own pass" and the passes of his fellows, but the Sabbath-school assembled group is no match for the enemy within.
What recourse, then, is available for the black man who would be free? The Narrative answers in an economic voice similar to that found in The Life of Olaudah Equiano. Returned to Baltimore and the home of Hugh Auld after a three-year absence, the teenage slave is hired out to "Mr. William Gardner, an extensive shipbuilder in Fell's Point. I was put there to learn how to calk" (p. 99). In a short space, Douglass is able "to command the highest wages given to the most experienced calkers" (p. 103). In lines that echo Vassa with resonant effect, he writes: "I was now of some importance to my master. I was bringing him from six to seven dollars per week. I sometimes brought him nine dollars per week: my wages were a dollar and a half a day" (p. 103). Having entered a world of real wages, Douglass sounds much like the Vassa who realized what a small "venture" could produce. And like Vassa, the nineteenth-century slave recognizes that the surplus value his master receives is stolen profit: "I was compelled to deliver every cent of that [money contracted for, earned, and paid for calking] to Master Auld. And why? Not because he earned it . . . but solely because he had the power to compel me to give it up" (p. 104).
Like Vassa, Douglass has arrived at a fully commercial view of his situation. He, too, enters into an agreement with his master that even- tually results in freedom. Having gained, contractually, the right to hire his own time and to keep a portion of his wages, Douglass eventually converts property, through property, into humanity. Impelled by his commercial endeavors and the opportunities resulting from his free com- merce, he takes leave of Mr. Auld. He, thus, removes (in his own person) the master's property and places it in the ranks of humanity. "According to my resolution, on the third day of September, 1838, I left my chains and succeeded in reaching New York" (p. 111). By "stealing away," Douglass not only steals the fruits of his own labor (not unlike the produce of Colonel Lloyd's garden) but also liberates the laborer (the "chattel" who works profitlessly in the garden).
That it is necessary for Douglass to effect his liberation through flight stands as a sign of the intransigence of southern patriarchs. As the young slave knows all too well, Auld cannot possibly conceive of the child of his "family," of the "nigger" fitted out to work for his master's profit, as a mere capital investment. Instead of exchanging capital, therefore, Douglass appropriates his own labor and flees to the camp of those who will eventually battle the Aulds of the South in civil war.
The inscribed document that effectively marks Douglass's liberation in the Narrative is, I think, no less an economic sign than Vassa's certifi- cate of manumission:
This may certify, that I joined together in holy matrimony Frederick Johnson and Anna Murray, as man and wife, in the presence of Mr. David Ruggles and Mrs. Michaels.James W. C. Pennington
Douglass's certificate of marriage, which he transcribes in full, signifies that the black man has repossessed himself in a manner that enables him to enter the type of relationship disrupted, or foreclosed, by the eco- nomics of slavery.
Unlike Sandy Jenkins--doomed forever to passive acquiescence and weekend visitation--Douglass enters a relationship that promises a new bonding of Afro-American humanity. As a married man, who under- stands the necessity for individual wage-earning (i.e., a mastery of the incumbencies of the economics of slavery), Douglass makes his way in the company of his new bride to a "New England factory village" where he quickly becomes a laborer at "the first work, the reward of which was to be entirely my own" (p. 116).
In fact, Douglass's representation of New Bedford seems closely akin to the economic, utopian vision that closes Vassa's account: "Every- thing looked clean, new, and beautiful. I saw few or no dilapidated houses, with poverty-stricken inmates, no half-naked children and bare-footed women, such as I had been accustomed to see in .... [Maryland]" (p. 116). Ships of the best order and finest size, ware- houses stowed to their utmost capacity, and ex-slaves "living in finer houses, and evidently enjoying more of the comforts of life, than the average slaveholders in Maryland" complete the splendid panorama. Such a landscape is gained by free, dignified, and individualistic labor-- that is, the New England ideal that so frequently appears in Afro- American narratives. The equivalent vision for Vassa, of course, com- prises ships of the finest size and best order plying their transatlantic trade between Africa and England. And presiding over the concluding vision in both narratives is the figure of the black abolitionist spokes- man--the man who has arisen, found his "voice, " and secured the confidence to address a "general public."
What one experiences in the conclusions of Vassa's and Douglass's narratives, however, is identity with a difference. For the expressive, married, economically astute self at the close of Douglass's work brings together the tensioned voices that mark the various autobiographical postures of the Narrative as a whole. The orator we see standing at a Nantucket convention at the close of Douglass's work is immediately to become a salaried spokesman, combining literacy, Christianity, and revolutionary zeal in an individual and economically profitable job of work. Douglass's authorship, oratory, and economics converge in the history of the Narrative's publication and the course of action its appear- ance mandated in the life of the author.
The author's identity and place of residence were revealed in the Narrative, and Douglass, who was still a fugitive when his work ap- peared, was forced to flee to England, where he sold copies of his book for profit, earned lecture fees, and aroused sufficient sympathy and financial support to purchase his freedom with solid currency. Although his Garrisonian, abolitionist contemporaries were displeased by Doug- lass's commercial traffic with slaveholders, the act of purchase was simply the logical (and "traditionally" predictable) end of his negotia- tion of the economics of slavery.
Here, as elsewhere, I am arguing for the importance of what ideological analysis reveals about the black spokesperson's economic conditioning. In Douglass's Narrative, the commercial "voice"(and the narrative transaction it implies) shows how the nineteenth-century slave publicly sells his voice in order to secure private ownership of his voice- person. The ultimate convergence here is between money and the nar- rative sign. Exchanging words becomes a function of commerce and a commercial function, and what it reveals--through a blend of ideologi- cal analysis and the archaeology of knowledge--is nothing less than the fundamental, "subtextual" dimension of Afro-American discourse.
I believe that this sort of analysis supports the recent dramatic shifts in the ordering principles of American historical and American literary-his- torical discourse. At the level of practical criticism, such shifts have offered "revised" readings of traditional texts. At a more global level, reconceptu- alizations of historical discourse have led to the laying bare, the surfacing and recognition, of myriad unofficial American histories . . . until we are left with a song known at the outset. A traditional American history and literary history give way, for example, before the blues artist's restless, troping mind:
You know I laid down last night, You know I laid down last night, and tried to take me some rest, But my mind got to ramblin' like wild geese from the west.Skip James
The "rambling" is si~onifiranfe in rocky places. Its discovery creates a vastly errlar,~oed perspective. Indeed, if one were to put forward a model of American literary history to represent our present knowledge, it would be far more akin to Dollo's accounts than the prosaic grradripedalism of the En,glish 1850s.
1. The story of (;idcon Mantell and Iguanodon is captivatingly recorded in Edwin H. Colbert's Men and Dinosaurs (New York: Dutton, 1968). I want to thank Professor Alan Mann for introducing me to both the story and the reference..
2. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knouwledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). All citations from the text refer to this edition and are marked by page numbers in parentheses.
3. The classic statement of this construction of American history is, of course, Perry Miller's Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uni- versity Press, 1956).
4. William Bradford, 'Of Plymouth Plantation," in American Poetry and Prose, ed. Non11an Foerster (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), pp. 20-21.
5. Robert Spiller, et al., eds., A Literary History of the United States, 4th rev. ed., (New York: Macmillan, 1974).
6. Robert E. Spiller, "The Cynic and the Roots: National Identity in Ameri- can Literature." In Toward a New American Literary History, eds. Louis J. Budd, Edwin H. Cady, and Carol L. Anderson (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 198(\). All citations from the text refer to this edition and are marked by page numbers in parentheses.
7. In Literature and the American Tradition (New York: Doubleday, 1970), Leon Howard details the conviction held by Puritans and Pilgrims alike that their signal task was to establish New World communities that would facilitate God's plan to cmistitutc the earthly paradise in America.
8. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973). All citations are hereafter marked by page numbers in parentheses.
9. One suspects it was this type of "spiritual revenue" that D. H. Lawrence had in mind when he described the God of eighteenth-century America as "the supreme servant of men who want to get on, to procure. Providence. The provider. The heavenly store-keeper. The everlasting Wanamaker. And this is all the God the grandsons of thc Pilgrim Fathers had left. Aloh on a pillar of dollars . . . He is head of nothing except a vast heavenly store that keeps every imaginable line of goods, from victrolas to cat-o-nine- tails." Studies in Classic Arnerican Lirerature (New York: Thomas Scitzcr, 1923), pp. 15, 27.
10. George Lamming, Season of Adventure (London: Allison and Busby, 1'379)' p. 93.
11. Robert Hayden, Selected Poems, (New York: October House, 1966), p. 67.
12. I have chosen to employ graphics because they scc'!lcd tO make thc point 50 effectively in an earlier version of this chapter presented as a lecture. The Miguel Covarrubias illustration of the inspection and sale of slaves is drawn from Malcolm Cowley, ed., Adventures of an African Slaver: Being a True Account of the Life of Captain Theodore (2anot (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing, 1928). The picture of the "cargo" of an African slaver is drawn from Daniel P. Mannix and Malcolm Cowley, Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518-1865 (New York: Viking, 1972).
13 Hayden White, in Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Balti- more: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), p. 5. Subsequent citations are marked by page numbers in parentheses.
14. John Blassingame, The Slave Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 159.
15. W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, in Three Negro Classics, ed. John Hope Franklin (New York: Avon, 1965), p. 3(14.
16. Quoted from Paul Oliver, The Story ofthe Blues (London: Chilton, 1969), p. 79.
17. Samuel Charters, "Sleepy John Estes," Saturday Review, November 1(l, 1962, p. 57.
18. In Great Slave Narratives, ed. Arna Bontemps (Boston: Beacon, 1969), pp. 4-192. Subsequent citations refer to this edition and are marked by page numbers in parentheses.
19. Fredric Jameson, "The Symbolic Inference; or, Kenneth Burke and Ideo- logical Analysis,": Critical Inquiry 4 (1978): 5()4.
20. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Written by Himself (New York: New American Library, 1968). All citations refer to this edition and are hcrcafter marked by page numbers in parentheses.