Patterns of Positioning

On the Poetics of Early Abolition



‘Patterns of Positioning’ examines, in the time span prior to the US abolition of the trade of enslaved Africans in 1808, how the early transatlantic discourse of abolition unfolded in the North American sphere. It starts out from the premise that abolition was a set of formalized practices – a poetics – which gave formal shape to abolitionist discourse. By accessing canonical and non-canonized as well as previously unexamined material, and identifying argumentative patterns, narrative figures, and generic frames, this study provides a newly-informed and complex perspective on early abolition. It considers how the poetics of abolition reconfigured the discursive positioning of the enslaved and the protagonists of the poetics of abolition themselves.

‘Patterns of Positioning’ thus highlights how strategies geared toward overcoming structural inequality potentially reified such inequality and allowed for the personal self-aggrandizement of those who publicly denounced slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. By introducing a vocabulary to American Studies which reads the critique of the apparatus of enslavement as a poetics, ‘Patterns of Positioning’ facilitates an analysis of the fundamental dynamics of Western modern civil society, its practices and discourses.

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in: American Literature, 89.3 (2017), 658