Fugitive TestimonyOn the Visual Logic of Slave Narratives

Fugitive TestimonyOn the Visual Logic of Slave Narratives

Janet Neary

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780823272891

Publisher: Fordham University Press


Fugitive Testimony traces the African American slave narrative across the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in order to rethink the epistemological limits of the form and to theorize the complicated interplay between the visual and the literary throughout its history. Gathering an archive of ante- and post-bellum literary slave narratives and visual art, the book redraws the genealogy of the slave narrative in light of its emergence in contemporary art and brings visual and performance theory to bear on the genre’s central problematic: that the ex-slave narrator must be both object and subject of the narrative to provide an eyewitness account of his or her own enslavement. The book takes as its starting point the evocation of the slave narrative in works by a number of current-day visual artists, including Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker, and Ellen Driscoll, and uses the representational strategies of these artists to decode the visual work performed in 19th-century literary narratives by Elizabeth Keckley, Solomon Northup, William Craft, and Henry Box Brown. Focusing on slave narratives’ textual visuality and aspects of narrative performance, rather than the intermedial, semiotic traffic between images and text, the book argues that ex-slave narrators and the contemporary artists under consideration use the logic of the slave narrative form against itself to undermine the evidentiary epistemology of the genre and offer a model of visuality as intersubjective recognition rather than objective division.