chapter  1
30 Pages

Using American Slavery to Construct Black Aesthetics

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife-this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the old selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American [ ... J. (5)1

These assertions are supported by collaterally connected simulacra of theory about the formation, mediation and dissemination of a group's being sensible to its group-ness. In the wake of structuralism, barely preceding and for the most part accompanying the new writings on slavery, a new taste in language-oriented theory has developed for the difference embedded between what have long been encoded as separate terms. The interstices between words and what they mean are the domain of the new sharing. The word slavery, for example, long understood as the unlimited power of one person (group) over another, is more recently better understood as limiting the lives of both slave and master. A dominant group locks up not only the other but also itself, restricting the freedom, humanity, and happiness of both slave and master. This is not in any way to say the sufferings of both are equal, but the personal and social costs of such institutions are extremely high for both "sides." The

most famous early example of this interrelation is Herman Melville's Benito Cereno (1855).