353 Matching Annotations
  1. Feb 2018
    1. I found them very earnestly opposed to the idea of my starting a paper, and for several reasons. First, the paper was not needed; secondly, it would interfere with my usefulness as a lecturer; thirdly, I was better fitted to speak than to write; fourthly, the paper could not succeed.

      Whole set of thorny questions here: relative political value of speaking, editing, and writing compared (with subcomparisons between the relatively prestigious and durable publishing of books like the one we're reading v. the more ephemeral but wider-reaching publication in the periodical press). The question of financial capital: how to start up a publication written/edited/read by African Americans when that population is starved of capital?

    2. On their own motion, without any solicitation from me (Mrs. Henry Richardson, a clever lady, remarkable for her devotion to every good work, taking the lead), they raised a fund sufficient to purchase my freedom, and actually paid it over, and placed the papers 8 of my manumission in my hands, before [291] they would tolerate the idea of my returning to this, my native country. To this commercial transaction I owe my exemption from the democratic operation of the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850. But for this, I might at any time become a victim of this most cruel and scandalous enactment, and be doomed to end my life, as I began it, a slave. The sum paid for my freedom was one hundred and fifty pounds sterling.

      Remarkable example of bodily inscription, in that FD must reckon with what his body means, how it reads in public as a "free" body v. as an "enslaved" body. Moreover, he must think about how much he is worth, literally and figuratively, in these different states.

    3. in the language of the LAW, “held, taken, reputed, and adjudged to be a chattel in the hands of my owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever.” (Brev. Digest, 224).

      Classic example of bodily inscription, as we've seen in Kafka and Foucault.

    4. An end was put to the melee, by the captain’s calling the ship’s company to put the salt water mobocrats in irons. At this determined order, the gentlemen of the lash scampered, and for the rest of the voyage conducted themselves very decorously.

      Note how the ship becomes part of what Paul Guilroy famously called the "Black Atlantic," an indeterminate space between national boundaries in which identities and ideas of legality and social propriety get renegotiated.


      Smith has a fascinating biography himself: here's a thumbnail sketch.

    6. If, as has been stated, his intellection is slow, when unexcited, it is most prompt and rapid when he is thoroughly aroused.[17]

      The clinical tone regarding FDs capacities speaks eloquently to how much pressure black writers are under, in ways that anticipate Du Bois's arguments from 50 years later, to account for themselves, both their "outsides" and their "insides," so to speak.

    7. twelve thousand dollars of his own hard earned money,

      That's a lot of money in the 1850s. Underscores the way cultural capital and financial capital intersect, when you think about the challenges of building a black press (and a black cultural infrastructure more broadly).

    8. Yet, these gentlemen, although proud of Frederick Douglass, failed to fathom, and bring out to the light of day, the highest qualities of his mind; the force of their own education stood in their own way: they did not delve into the mind of a colored man for capacities which the pride of race led them to believe to be restricted to their own Saxon blood. Bitter and vindictive sarcasm, irresistible mimicry, and a pathetic narrative of his own experiences of slavery, were the intellectual manifestations which they encouraged him to exhibit on the platform or in the lecture desk.

      Note the gesture to fissures within the abolitionist movement which, in the 1850s, was splintering into a) a hard-core wing, bent on nothing short of total, federal abolition; b) a nascent Republican party growing out of the "free soil" movement to allow slavery in the South but keep all new territory free; and c) a colonization movement that wanted to repatriate enslaved people in Africa.

    9. The reader is, therefore, assured, with all due promptitude, that his attention is not invited to a work of ART, but to a work of FACTS—Facts, terrible and almost incredible, it may be yet FACTS, nevertheless

      Important tension, as with the 1845 LIFE: how to respect Douglass as a writer without losing focus on the documentary aspect, the facticity and typicality of the experiences related here.


      Smith was a notable abolitionist and filthy rich real estate mogul who supported Douglass in various ways: perhaps most relevantly in the founding of Douglass's newspaper, the North Star. Learn more here and there if you're interested.

    1. A PARODY

      Could this parody be an example of a sort of agitprop? His recreation of a southern hymn is an exposure of hypocrisy, and thus a call to arms.

    2. slaveholding religion

      This term "slaveholding religion" is powerful, not just in distinguishing christianity from the practices of slave-holders, but of identifying a specific culture and re-naming the structure of slavery.

    3. I spoke but a few moments, when I felt a degree of freedom, and said what I desired with considerable ease

      The power of community on agency - the ease with which he can speak when he knows he is being heard.

    4. But in spite of him, and even in spite of myself, I continued to think

      Thought as a weapon for freedom and the means of escape

    5. I deem it proper to make known my intention not to state all the facts connected with the transaction

      Inscriptive power means to him, the ability to not share certain information. In not telling everything, he denies those who may want to do wrong to those involved the information to do so - almost like pleading the fifth amendment, in staying silent for this reason he does not comply with the demands of persecutors.

    6. among the more ignorant slaves

      interesting that FD makes a clear distinction between him and the "ignorant" slave like Sandy. In a narrative seeking to argue for the abolishment of slavery and the equality of races, he others another slave. Is this counter intuitive? It reminds me of respectability politics today.

    7. It would astonish one, unaccustomed to a slaveholding life

      It seems that FD here addresses his audience here, specifically those who either are unaware of slavery or those who are apathetic to what goes on within it. It is persuasive, it clues in the outsider to the "accustomed" misery of the slave.

    8. master had deceived us into a belief was freedom, back to the arms of slavery

      Again the idea of deception

    9. deceived himself into the solemn belief

      The idea of deception, the idea that one can deceive himself into believing one thing or another, or deceive others into trusting such beliefs, is strong, because it questions the basis of morals within the white power structure.

    10. Ha, ha! Come, come! Dash on, dash on!

      Douglass, yet again inserts quiet irony to subvert our ideas of power. Covey's behavior and rhetoric is almost childish or playful. "Ha, ha!" and "dash on!" sound more like cries of a kids game than of a figure of authority. Furthermore, they are and far less articulate than Douglass' words.

    11. lashed me till he had worn out his switches, cutting me so savagely as to leave the marks visible for a long time after. This whipping was the first of a number just like it, and for similar offences.

      For the first time, he is inscribed upon through whipping.

    12. “nigger-breaker.”

      Dehumanizing in every way. The dual-meaning of "breaking" references training animals (horses specifically) as well as the act of physically (or symbolically) damaging something.

    13. he would quote this passage of Scripture—”He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

      Again, the literal application of scripture to justify abuse.

    14. stupid as we were, we had the sagacity to see it.

      Interesting choice of words - it seems that he is calling himself and the other slaves stupid ironically, to present the (incorrect) assumptions of the master and ministers. It also calls into question what qualifies as intelligence; emotional awareness? literacy? piety?

    15. he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty. He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter.

      Without presenting himself as being anti-religion, Douglass exposes the hypocrisy of Christianity as the master practices it to reaffirm his treatment of slaves as opposed to using it to be Good. This goes back to the question of agency - who has the power to ascribe meaning to something as culturally imbedded as the bible? And what happens when the bible is inscribed on by evil people?

    16. I have now reached a period of my life when I can give dates

      It is significant that he has control of his own timeline moving forward, as opposed to going off of the time as he could figure it out from white masters.

    17. by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine

      this incident is the topic of Fred Moten's essay "Resistance of the Object."

    18. darken their minds

      As Addison Gayle Jr. brings to bear in "Cultural Strangulation: Black Literature and the White Aesthetic," the "systematic aesthetic" of Western/Greek culture has long featured the codified binary of black/white. In this instance, even though "darken their minds" is a metaphor about illumination and knowledge (rooted in Platonic thought), it still reifies this racially charged linguistic prejudice.

    19. Who can read that passage, and be insensible to its pathos and sublimity? Compressed into it is a whole Alexandrian library of thought, feeling, and sentiment—all that can, all that need be urged, in the form of expostulation, entreaty, rebuke, against that crime of crimes,—making man the property of his fellow-man!

      More of the Greek background. Funny, ultimately, to recall that the center of the Hellenistic world was placed upon a heart of African civilization.

    20. An American sailor, who was cast away on the shore of Africa, where he was kept in slavery for three years, was, at the expiration of that period, found to be imbruted and stultified—he had lost all reasoning power; and having forgotten his native language, could only utter some savage gibberish between Arabic and English, which nobody could understand, and which even he himself found difficulty in pronouncing. So much for the humanizing influence of The Domestic Institution!”

      Though the author is condemning slavery here, he cannot do it without a recourse to othering. Even to an abolitionist, the opposite of possessing "reasoning power" is utterance of "savage gibberish" reminiscent of Arabic.

    21. debase their moral nature

      more coded language out of the fount of liberal thought

    22. without being gratified with the small privilege of a single word

      After using her life to care for this family, his grandmother isn't afforded the agency of a single word.

    23. They seemed to realize the impossibility of touching tar without being defiled.

      "Tar baby" used to be an insult used against Black people, often times darker skinned Black people in particular. The same way touching tar is defiling, to some, so is touching Black people. Our skin is viewed as being contagiously dirty.

    24. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.

      No one is really listening.

    25. He was called by the slaves a good overseer.

      Can there be such a thing?

    26. as a warning to the slaves remaining.

      This scare tactic was common practice to remind the slaves that they could be "worse off." It was simply another way to keep them enslaved.

    27. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday

      Stripped of identity. Forced to create their own

    28. You remember the old fable of “The Man and the Lion,” where the lion complained that he should not be so misrepresented “when the lions wrote history.”

      Only one side is told when the winners are recounting what occurred. This reminds me of the way in which Europeans painted Africans as savages and claimed to be helping them by enslaving them. In reality, the Africans taught the Europeans how to do simple things like bathe and eat with utensils.

    29. It may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether any other portion of the population of the earth could have endured the privations, sufferings and horrors of slavery,

      Black people are always perceived as being "strong" with children often being viewed as adults. No other race has had to go through all the hardships Black people have faced in America.

    30. It was committed in the presence of slaves, and they of course could neither institute a suit, nor testify against him

      Laws created to protect the whites from their crimes.

    31. and in an instant poor Demby was no more

      I wonder if Demby preferred death than continue living as a slave who gets constantly punished (tortured). Can his death be viewed as a suicide?

    32. He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendish barbarity

      The slave owners and their overseers are being portrayed as barbaric. The overseers are like the "apparatus" in Kafka's text.

    33. The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves

      Douglass is from a different "class" of slave since he is biracial. Also, he only has half of his racial identity since he is being rejected by his white side, his father.

    34. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance

      Shows how reading of a different culture's emancipation gave agency to him for his own

    35. We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine.

      Like objects and animals, dehumanized and objectified.

    36. He is a desperate slaveholder, who will shock the humanity of his non-slaveholding neighbors with the cries of his lacerated slave. Few are willing to incur the odium attaching to the reputation of being a cruel master;

      Interesting how the idea fo reputation and decency within society affects the narratives urban slave-owners will portray of themselves. The yelling and noise of whipping a slave is not undone in the city because they are morally righteous, but because the noise tells a story. It gives humanity to the brutalized slave and paints the slave holder (rightfully) as a monster.

    37. I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed.

      To be or not to be that is the question.

    38. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out.

      The double-edged sword. Reflects Du Bois's act of choosing to turn a curse into a gift and vice versa.

    39. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world.

      The hegemony's control over knowledge.

    40. marked my life

      Here he is inscribed upon

    41. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.

      Power corrupts.

    42. Narrative

      Narrative with a capital. His own story, his own tale.

    43. the freedom of the slaves, and the enslavement of the whites.

      Reminiscent of Trump's America and the term "reverse racism." There has been no reversal. If they fear being treated the way they treat another race, their guilt is clear.

    44. It is partly in consequence of such facts, that slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind.

      The racist myth of the "kind master" and the "happy slave" is born.

    45. When he spoke, a slave must stand, listen, and tremble

      Dehumanized in the very literal sense, unable to respond/react.

    46. if the colonel only suspected any want of attention to his horses

      The colonel cares more for animals than his slaves.

    47. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.

      Even when they sing songs that are supposedly happy.

    48. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.

      A testimony and prayer that was echoed by those of enslaved peoples around them and heard by nobody else?

    49. They would compose and sing as they went along, consulting neither time nor tune

      Composing a community.

    50. coarse negro cloth

      "coarse nego cloth" I am curious about this description. Is the coarseness of the cloth, cheaper to make and more available perhaps inherently equated to the enslaved man due to a slave owner's unwillingness to spend more on cloth? Is this to set up a dichotomy wherein we are supposed to assume there be a "soft/fine white cloth"?

    51. bloody transaction

      Torturous economics, "blood transaction," an exchange of inscription and payment.

    52. for a man to sell his own children to human flesh-mongers, it is often the dictate of humanity for him to do so; for, unless he does this, he must not only whip them himself, but must stand by and see one white son tie up his brother, of but few shades darker complexion than himself, and ply the gory lash to his naked back; and if he lisp one word of disapproval, it is set down to his parental partiality, and only makes a bad matter worse, both for himself and the slave whom he would protect and defend.

      Du Bois's double consciousness is present here in the form of a literal bi-racial identity. This is its curse.

    53. and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable;

      Reinforcing the hegemonic patriarchy, both as the executor of the peculiar institution and as a White man.

    54. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor

      Morrison's Beloved describes this. Sethe, a former slave, never knew her mother.

    55. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day.

      Forbidden, hidden in the night. Reminiscent of Du Bois's term "sons of night."

    56. to part children from their mothers at a very early age.

      Like chattel.

    57. The white children could tell their ages.

      They are individualized; their sense of time and their lives are framed only by themselves and no one else.

    58. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time.

      Their sense of time is framed entirely by the work that they are forced to do, by their masters' wants/needs. Their own sense of time (their birthday) is lost/overwritten.

    59. it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant

      Same sentiment echoed by Du Bois with the "suicide of a race."

    60. as horses know of theirs

      Reflects how enslaved peoples were frequently compared to animals and beasts by slavers.

    61. The colonel also kept a splendid riding equipage. His stable and carriage-house presented the appearance of some of our large city livery establishments. His horses were of the finest form and noblest blood. His carriage-house contained three splendid coaches, three or four gigs, besides dearborns and barouches of the most fashionable style.

      I am wondering if anyone has ideas as to the importance of this passage, and as to why it is contained in its own paragraph. It seems that form would reflect content, but I'm not sure I'm seeing the significance? Perhaps it is to juxtapose his treatment of animals over that of slaves?

    62. This garden was probably the greatest attraction of the place. During the summer months, people came from far and near—from Baltimore, Easton, and Annapolis—to see it. It abounded in fruits of almost every description, from the hardy apple of the north to the delicate orange of the south. This garden was not the least source of trouble on the plantation. Its excellent fruit was quite a temptation

      This passage seems to go along with the sort of theme that in writing, Douglass is inscribing his own creation. The discussion of the garden can be read as an allusion to Eden.

    63. revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness. They would compose and sing as they went along, consulting neither time nor tune. The thought that came up, came out—if not in the word, in the sound;—and as frequently in the one as in the other. They would sometimes sing the most pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentiment in the most pathetic tone.

      This instance is the first where the slaves have inscriptive power, to tell their own stories through song and in a group untainted by the white power's influence.

    64. His course was characterized by no extraordinary demonstrations of cruelty. He whipped, but seemed to take no pleasure in it. He was called by the slaves a good overseer.

      The internalization of their enslavement is evident in believing that because he is not extraordinarily evil, he is "good."

    65. I had therefore been, until now, out of the way of the bloody scenes that often occurred on the plantation.

      This begs us to question how the sense of peripheries and otherness affect narrative and agency. Douglass, up until now, is on the outskirts of conflict because of physical location, age, and race.

    66. copying the following portrait of the religion of the south

      Again, I think of Foucault's "genealogical" history, which is "effective" insofar as it "cuts" at the pretensions of consensus narratives via parody and other forms of ironization.

    67. I, however, finally became a subscriber to it. The paper came, and I read it from week to week with such feelings as it would be quite idle for me to attempt to describe. The paper became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy for my brethren in bonds—its scathing denunciations of slaveholders—its faithful exposures of slavery—and its powerful attacks upon the upholders of the institution—sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before!

      Douglass is thus not just a reader, but a subscriber: he's joined to a large, lateral body of readers linked by the periodical press to broader political issues/beliefs/feelings.

    68. Mr. Johnson had just been reading the “Lady of the Lake,” and at once suggested that my name be “Douglass.” From that time until now I have been called “Frederick Douglass;” and as I am more widely known by that name than by either of the others, I shall continue to use it as my own.

      Author himself becomes a blank, erasable/inscribable surface: no patronym, no stable name, name taken from literary tradition. The name comes from a poem by Walter Scott) that's drenched with nostalgia for an idealized Scottish past and (in a deep irony) gave rise to the KKKs tradition of burning crosses.

    69. But I remained firm, and, according to my resolution, on the third day of September, 1838, I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind. How I did so,—what means I adopted,—what direction I travelled, and by what mode of conveyance,—I must leave unexplained, for the reasons before mentioned.

      Complex dialectic linking the freedom of the writer before the blank page with the enslavement sanctioned by the law: the latter writes, as it were, a void into the former in this space.

    70. Of course, it was impossible to get any white man to volunteer his testimony in my behalf, and against the white young men

      Issue of race and testimony resonates throughout the book: whose testimony carries what authority in what contexts?

    71. wrote several protections, one for each of us.

      What is writing for? Within the acts of framing the text as credible, as typical, as the product of a "prodigy," and so on, the notion that writing is also forgery, deception, masking up.

    72. I kept up my school nearly the whole year I lived with Mr. Freeland; and, beside my Sabbath school, I devoted three evenings in the week, during the winter, to teaching the slaves at home. And I have the happiness to know, that several of those who came to Sabbath school learned how to read; and that one, at least, is now free through my agency.

      Literacy, as before, depicted as a social activity: just as the scrappy Baltimore lads help FD gain literacy, here he aids in the viral spread of reading within the slave community.

    73. This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood.

      Almost fable-like feeling here. A literalization of Hegel's narrative of the master-slave dialectic, whereby FD gets recognition as an equal via his physical conquest of the master

    74. I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way. During this time, my copy-book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write. I then commenced and continued copying the Italics in Webster’s Spelling Book, until I could make them all without looking on the book. By this time, my little Master Thomas had gone to school, and learned how to write, and had written over a number of copy-books. These had been brought home, and shown to some of our near neighbors, and then laid aside. My mistress used to go to class meeting at the Wilk Street meetinghouse every Monday afternoon, and leave me to take care of the house. When left thus, I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.

      Moving focus on the material side of writing: scarcity of writing materials, including "white space," in which to develop expressive potential.

    75. The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by being in Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard, and frequently seeing the ship carpenters, after hewing, and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write on the timber the name of that part of the ship for which it was intended.

      We think of "literacy" as being a unitary thing, and indeed most of us are fortunate enough to learn to speak/read/write simultaneously via an articulated curriculum. But note the distinctness with which the receptive/expressive dimensions of language are confronted here. For a long time, FD can consume texts but not produce them. And we realize that each of these practical skills has its inner "spiritual" dimension, impinging on the development and functioning of the subject in different ways.

    76. a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.”

      Here it is. This is the first time FD has found his life reflected, in some sense, in print.

    77. These words used to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free.

      Political economy of the slave system cracks a bit here to allow space for a counter-economy, one based on gift exchanges: FD gives bread to poor whites; they give language and sympathy.

    78. She at first lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was at least necessary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.

      You could cut the irony with a knife here. Elegant comment on the idea that education "ruins" the enslaved.

    79. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

      This moment resonates broadly throughout the text: reading, among the most basic preconditions of bringing enslaved experience into print, is illegal, making it a very tight bottleneck to pass through.

    80. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read

      As Foucault puts it, "wherever there is power, there is resistance": here, the very prohibition on reading elevates the drive to learn it in FDs mind.

    81. My home was charmless; it was not home to me; on parting from it, I could not feel that I was leaving any thing which I could have enjoyed by staying

      We feel the pressure of the norms of 19thC sentiment here: FD has the burden of explaining why he must narrate this leave-taking without the customary tears.

    82. I had no bed. I must have perished with cold, but that, the coldest nights, I used to steal a bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill. I would crawl into this bag, and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in and feet out. My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes.

      Surreal image of the pen of the author being laid in the cracked feet of the enslaved boy he once was. This poetic images makes us ask, "what are the material conditions for getting experience into print?" And "what kind of discourse issues from cracked, whipped, damaged bodies?"

    83. The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,—and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because “there is no flesh in his obdurate heart.”

      Strange space-time of writing: the Sorrow Songs, Douglass's tears at remembering them, and the dispersed set of readers' imaginations are all present, in some sense, in the synthetic space of print.

    84. This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.

      Crucial passage: note the elements of what Mikhael Baktihn calls "polyphony": different discourses joining together in the same discursive space. Here, we have the meaningful but opaque song of the slaves, Douglass's own narration, and the overseer's barbaric curses, curses that disorient the white supremacist hierarchies of "proper" and "improper" English.

    85. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.

      Interplay of material/spiritual, literal/metaphorical: the sight "strikes" with traumatic force, the traces of the beating are too vicious to be captured in the traces of words.

    86. I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night.

      Think about Foucault's arguments about "progressive" narratives from origins v. "effective" history that's written by "cutting." FD narrates the absence of origins and the parody his life makes of bourgeois narratives of "Bildung" or "development."

    87. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.

      FD establishes himself as writing himself into existence right from the start!

    88. He was such an impressive orator that numerous persons doubted if he had ever been a slave, so he wrote Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass.

      Note the paradox of being an enslaved writer: the very fact of eloquence/articulateness casts doubt on the authenticity of the expression. We'll have to unpack this!

    89. You, too, publish your declaration of freedom with danger compassing you around. In all the broad lands which the Constitution of the United States overshadows, there is no single spot,—however narrow or desolate,—where a fugitive slave can plant himself and say, “I am safe.” The whole armory of Northern Law has no shield for you. I am free to say that, in your place, I should throw the MS. into the fire.

      Metacomment on the various meanings of translating slavery into writing. Among other things, it's a magnet for the Law.

    90. I was glad to learn, in your story, how early the most neglected of God’s children waken to a sense of their rights, and of the injustice done them. Experience is a keen teacher; and long before you had mastered your A B C, or knew where the “white sails” of the Chesapeake were bound, you began, I see, to gauge the wretchedness of the slave, not by his hunger and want, not by his lashes and toil, but by the cruel and blighting death which gathers over his soul.

      Interesting use of 2nd person here: intimate mode of address

    91. his case may be regarded as a very fair specimen of the treatment of slaves in Maryland

      Again, the question of typicality v. extraordinariness.

    92. There stood one, in physical proportion and stature commanding and exact—in intellect richly endowed—in natural eloquence a prodigy—in soul manifestly “created but a little lower than the angels”—yet a slave, ay, a fugitive slave,—trembling for his safety, hardly daring to believe that on the American soil, a single white person could be found who would befriend him at all hazards, for the love of God and humanity!

      What does it mean that FD is so extraordinary? How would circumstances be different if he were just a "meh" speaker/specimen/writer, a bit lower than the angels?

    93. his first speech

      We might track the relationship between the spontaneity of speech and the belatedness of writing here: Garrison emphasizes the particular feelings that flow from feeling FDs live presence. How does this relate to the written text that follows?

    94. PREFACE

      Need to think about what the very existence of this preface means, in this slave narrative and many others. What are the unstated assumptions baked into the act of prefacing Douglass's works within this act of framing? How does this paratext to Douglass's narrative interact with Du Bois's argument?

    1. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.

      Frantz Fanon's The Fact of Blackness comes to mind:

      I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects.

      Sealed into that crushing objecthood, I turned beseechingly to others. Their attention was a liberation, running over my body suddenly abraded into nonbeing, endowing me once more with an agility that I had thought lost, and by taking me out of the world, restoring me to it.

    2. there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales and folklore are Indian and African;

      The American Identity is innately Native American and black.

    3. behold the suicide of a race

      The ability to control the narrative is thereby a lifeline.

    4. Lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the Nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men?

      Physical death and disease is paralleled to the lack of education, the inability to write and read. The bridled mind and illiteracy having the ability to maim and even kill.

    5. It was the ideal of “book-learning”; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know.

      The ballot and "book-learning" are tools that black people can use in order to strive by learning the rules or laws of the white man, and using their vote in order to change them.

    6. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another.

      The Hero's Journey and the arc of isolation/catharsis is present here. In both a literal and metaphorical sense, Du Bois and other "sons of night" get to be the hero, the main character, the protagonist. By becoming the writer, the author, the inscriber, he has given himself a narrative.

    7. Freedom

      "Freedom" and "God" and "Emancipation" all capitals and all perhaps paralleled as well.

    8. manhood

      Manhood is specified here. Unclear where this left black women at the time, though I am aware that in the future, both the women's rights movement and the civil rights movement often left black women sorely lacking in representation and a voice.

      Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I woman" rings clear here.

    9. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder

      This is clear even today. In the term African American there is a clear drawing in the sand, a delineation of what an American "looks like."

    10. and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation’s feast.

      What does he mean? What is the "swarthy spectre"?

    11. he Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.

      The words Du Bois utilizes here is seeped in mysticism. The magic of the "seventh son," the "gift" of the veil and "second-sight" not only sets him apart, othered,but also forces him to play act "normalcy" and to realize/recognize his own difference.

    12. tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

      The imagery is reminiscent of Milton's Paradise Lost, with the walls surrounding Eden.

    13. into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry

      Images of an underworld arises here.

    14. I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows

      Echoes the notion of the veil dividing life and death, rights and freedoms vs. the lack of them.

    15. vast veil.

      The use of the word 'veil' summons up imagery of the thin fabric between life and death. By being turned away, he does so from the rights of living beings as well.

    16. And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else

      For whom am I a problem? A problem for society, for the hegemony, or a problem for the innately racist and systematic peculiar institution?

    17. reduce the boiling to a simmer

      This analogy reminds me a lot of the discourse in a couple of years ago around microaggressions.

    18. for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.

      The problem of segregation, or the "veil".

    19. without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

      This reminds me of a common black household phrase: "You have to work twice as hard to be half as good." From childhood we are reminded that white mediocracy is often rewarded while black excellence can still be overlooked simply because of our complexion.

    20. worshipped Freedom

      The idea of worshipping freedom draws on the strong religious presence amongst Black people during the time of slavery. Like God, freedom was something to hope for. Both God and freedom gave the enslaved something to believe in.

    21. human

      I think the fact that he used the term "human opportunity" rather than solely saying "black opportunity" is important because historically, the Black community has advocated for rights and equality of all people, not just black people. This can still be seen today in the realms of feminism and police brutality.

    22. The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood.

      White people had long been given the knowledge necessary to succeed. However, the source of this knowledge was never readily available to black people. This made it even harder for Black people to succeed in a society already constructed against them.

    23. And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else

      The idea of being viewed as a problem is one that is instilled from childhood and is carried throughout one’s life. However, it remains peculiar because one is not labeled a problem by choice. Why must I carry and constantly suffer under a burden that I never asked for?

    24. tear down that veil

      The image of the veil, even as a child, allows him the double-consciousness he elaborates on in the next paragraph - of individual self awareness of his potential as well as awareness of the traits and opportunities he is ascribes by the other side.

    25. Freedom, too, the long-sought, we still seek,—the freedom of life and limb, the freedom to work and think, the freedom to love and aspire.

      The freedom he describes in this paragraph reflect the need for Black Americans to uplift and define themselves, i.e. gain inscriptive power over their history and identity

    26. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem

      He directly addresses the concept of the "negro problem" here when he says it is "half-named." It seems to suggest both that the other, unnamed half of the problem is the "white" half, and that the words "negro problem" were devised only by the side of white oppressors, and the POC half did not get a say in the defining of their own repression.

    27. bought

      I think his choice of verse is telling - to be free is still to be "bought," even if by God. Reinforces the question of agency black people have over their bodies and stories.

    28. General question: the guiding metaphor here is visual. Du Bois claims the "Negro" has "second sight," lives behind a "veil," and so on. What are moments in which writing impinges on this metaphor and makes things more complicated? How does Du Bois raise questions of access to writing, inscription, publication throughout this piece?

    29. the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,

      Why "gift"? Du Bois would seem to lay out a model of victimhood here, with the "Negro" being split and nearly torn. So is he being ironic here?

    30. How does it feel to be a problem?

      It's a strange question. What would be the usual way of wording this? What position does this question put Du Bois (and by extension, minority subjects in general) in?

    31. Between me and the other world

      Canny readers will hear this phrase echoing through African American writing, from Douglass, as we'll see, to Wright's poem "Between the World and Me," to Coates's recent book, which takes its title from the Wright poem.

    1. Up to this point I had to do some work by hand, but from now on the apparatus should work entirely on its own

      In place where the spectacular exercise of violence is de rigueur, where even those whose turn it is to die fail to take any interest in it, it seems interesting that the Officer is perpetually bound to the apparatus' upkeep. Furthermore, it's even weirder that the banal, self-sufficient violence which gives the Officer his active duty still only needs him in a very marginal sense - just to do handiwork and upkeep. The idea that the apparatus can successfully be automated further compounds the simultaneous sentimentality/detachment that the Officer feels toward it.

    2. Now he stood there naked.

      Why naked? How do you read this little ritual of disrobing? What might it have to do with the comedy that happens in the preceding paragraph?

    3. his women

      Third or fourth mention of the Commandant's 'women.' Connection to 'Honour your superiors'? Objectification of marginalized groups.

    4. I usually kneel down at this point and observe the phenomenon.

      The fetishistic obsession with inscription is particularly disturbing here.

  2. Jan 2018
    1. Guilt is always beyond a doubt.


    2. “It would be useless to give him that information. He experiences it on his own body.

      But hasn't the Condemned Man already experienced this subjection and degradation in his body? (like a vandalized house) The inscription of it on his body simply embodies what has already been true.

    3. “That’s cotton wool?” asked the Traveler and bent down. “Yes, it is,” said the Officer smiling, “feel it for yourself.”

      Kafka keeps bringing our attention to the cotton, perhaps to ensure we recognize the historical implications?

    4. harrow

      Common term used in farming/planting.

    5. epaulettes

      According to Google, "an ornamental shoulder piece on an item of clothing, typically on the coat or jacket of a military uniform"

    6. the administration of the colony was so self-contained that even if his successor had a thousand new plans in mind, he would not be able to alter anything of the old plan, at least not for several years.


    7. vacant-looking man with a broad mouth and dilapidated hair and face

      The descriptors "Vacant-looking" and "dilapidated" summon up imagery of haunted houses and manors left in ruin rather than people. These terms are primarily used to describe things, not people.

      Why then is our "Condemned" an empty house? What has pushed him from subject to object in this way?

    8. Officer to the Traveler,

      Officer, Traveler, Condemned. Everyone is defined solely by the roles that they inhabit.

    9. Then the Traveler heard a cry of rage from the Officer.

      How does affect work in this tale? What kinds of feelings are evoked in whom by what kinds of stimuli? What do these eruptions of feeling tell us about the unspoken value system that undergirds this society?

    10. That gave rise to certain technical difficulties with fastening the needles securely, but after several attempts we were successful. We didn’t spare any efforts. And now, as the inscription is made on the body, everyone can see through the glass. Don’t you want to come closer and see the needles for yourself.”

      Why glass? Given that the Apparatus is a mere tool, an agent of "justice," why such pains to make its workings visible? Why talk about it so much?

    11. The Traveler wanted to raise various questions, but after looking at the Condemned Man he merely asked, “Does he know his sentence?” “No,” said the Officer. He wished to get on with his explanation right away, but the Traveler interrupted him: “He doesn’t know his own sentence?” “No,” said the Officer once more. He then paused for a moment, as if he was asking the Traveler for a more detailed reason for his question, and said, “It would be useless to give him that information. He experiences it on his own body.”

      How you you read this crucial moment? Who knows what in this story, and how does Kafka exploit the lack of symmetry between Commandant, Officer, Traveler, Condemned, and so on?

    12. “He was indeed,” said the Officer, nodding his head with a fixed and thoughtful expression. Then he looked at his hands, examining them. They didn’t seem to him clean enough to handle the diagrams. So he went to the bucket and washed them again. Then he pulled out a small leather folder and said, “Our sentence does not sound severe. The law which a condemned man has violated is inscribed on his body with the harrow. This Condemned Man, for example,” and the Officer pointed to the man, “will have inscribed on his body, ‘Honour your superiors.’”

      Alas, the double entendre of "sentence" as a grammatical and legal entity at once is not active in German, but the slippage certainly fits here!

    13. “However,” the Officer said, interrupting himself, “I’m chattering, and his apparatus stands here in front of us. As you see, it consists of three parts. With the passage of time certain popular names have been developed for each of these parts. The one underneath is called the bed, the upper one is called the inscriber, and here in the middle, this moving part is called the harrow.” “The harrow?” the Traveler asked. He had not been listening with full attention. The sun was excessively strong, trapped in the shadowless valley, and one could hardly collect one’s thoughts. So the Officer appeared to him all the more admirable in his tight tunic weighed down with epaulettes and festooned with braid, ready to go on parade, as he explained the matter so eagerly and, while he was talking, adjusted screws here and there with a screwdriver.

      What's the effect of Kafka's use of abstraction here? Those who know his other works are perhaps used to this stylistic feature, but why the abstract titles/names, from Commandant to Traveler to apparatus?

    14. Of course, interest in the execution was not very high, not even in the penal colony itself.

      What's the tone of this story? Why does it matter that no one is interested in the execution, including the condemned?