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Fugitive TestimonyOn the Visual Logic of Slave Narratives$
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Janet Neary

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780823272891

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823272891.001.0001

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Gestures Against Movements: Henry Box Brown and Economies of Narrative Performance

Gestures Against Movements: Henry Box Brown and Economies of Narrative Performance

(p.128) 5 Gestures Against Movements: Henry Box Brown and Economies of Narrative Performance
Fugitive Testimony

Janet Neary

Fordham University Press

This chapter traces the various circuits—economic, narrative, performative—that structure black abolitionist textual production through the cultural work of Henry Box Brown. Building on Daphne Brooks’s analysis of Brown’s texts in particular, this chapter argues that we should consider black abolitionist performance in tandem with narrative performance: the unruly narrative gestures uncontained by the slave narrative form or the expectations of its primarily white readership. While Brown’s use of illustration and panorama allow us to read the slave narrative anew, the chapter claims that ex-slave narrators utilized a similar recognition of the iconicity of the black body and visual savvy in their narratives, producing rhetorical performances that challenge the ideological containment of the slave narrative. In attending to the textual aspects of visual culture, the chapter brings to light Brown’s insurgent iconoclasm which emerges to disrupt the “discursively claustrophobic tone and form” of even his most constrained 1849 narrative.

Keywords:   abolition, abolitionist, Daphne Brooks, Henry Box Brown, iconicity, iconoclasm, narrative performance, textual visuality

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