Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History

Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History

By: Ian Baucom (author)Hardback

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In September 1781, the captain of the British slave ship Zong ordered 133 slaves thrown overboard, enabling the ship's owners to file an insurance claim for their lost "cargo." Accounts of this horrific event quickly became a staple of abolitionist discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. Ian Baucom revisits, in unprecedented detail, the Zong atrocity, the ensuing court cases, reactions to the event and trials, and the business and social dealings of the Liverpool merchants who owned the ship. Drawing on the work of an astonishing array of literary and social theorists, including Walter Benjamin, Giovanni Arrighi, Jacques Derrida, and many others, he argues that the tragedy is central not only to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the political and cultural archives of the black Atlantic but also to the history of modern capital and ethics. To apprehend the Zong tragedy, Baucom suggests, is not to come to terms with an isolated atrocity but to encounter a logic of violence key to the unfolding history of Atlantic modernity. Baucom contends that the massacre and the trials that followed it bring to light an Atlantic cycle of capital accumulation based on speculative finance, an economic cycle that has not yet run its course. The extraordinarily abstract nature of today's finance capital is the late-eighteenth-century system intensified. Yet, as Baucom highlights, since the late 1700s, this rapacious speculative culture has had detractors. He traces the emergence and development of a counter-discourse he calls melancholy realism through abolitionist and human-rights texts, British romantic poetry, Scottish moral philosophy, and the work of late-twentieth-century literary theorists. In revealing how the Zong tragedy resonates within contemporary financial systems and human-rights discourses, Baucom puts forth a deeply compelling, utterly original theory of history: one that insists that an eighteenth-century atrocity is not past but present within the future we now inhabit.

About Author

Ian Baucom is Associate Professor of English at Duke University. He is the author of Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity and a coeditor of Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain, also published by Duke University Press.


Acknowledgments ix Part One: "Now Being": Slavery, Speculation, and the Measure of our Time 1. Liverpool, a Capital of the Long Twentieth Century 3 2. "Subject $"; or, the "Type" of the Modern 35 3. "Madam Death! Madam Death!":Credit, Insurance, and the Atlantic Cycle of Capital Accumulation 80 4."Signum Rememorativum, Demonstrativum, Prognostikon": Modernity and the Truth Event 113 5."Please decide": The Singular and the Speculative 141 Part Two: Specters of the Atlantic: Slavery and the Witness 6. Frontispiece: Testimony, Rights, and the State of Exception 173 7. The View from the Window: Sympathy, Melancholy, and the Problem of "Humanity" 195 8. The Fact of History: On Cosmopolitan Interestedness 213 9. The Imaginary Resentment of the Dead: A Theory of Melancholy Sentiment 242 10. "To Tumble into It, and Gasp for Breath as We Go Down": The Idea of Suffering and the Case of Liberal Cosmopolitanism 265 11. This/Such, for Instance: The Witness against "History" 297 Part Three: "The Sea is History" 12. "The Sea is History": On Temporal Accumulation 309 Notes 335 Index 377

Product Details

  • ISBN13: 9780822335580
  • Format: Hardback
  • Number Of Pages: 400
  • ID: 9780822335580
  • ISBN10: 0822335581

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