What happens if we abandon the assumption that a person is a
discrete, world-making agent who acts on and creates place? This,
Monique Allewaert contends, is precisely what occurred on
eighteenth-century American plantations, where labor practices and
ecological particularities threatened the literal and conceptual
boundaries that separated persons from the natural world.
Integrating political philosophy and ecocriticism with literary
analysis, Ariel's Ecology explores the forms of personhood
that developed out of New World plantations, from Georgia and
Florida through Jamaica to Haiti and extending into colonial
metropoles such as Philadelphia. Allewaert's examination of the
writings of naturalists, novelists, and poets; the oral stories of
Africans in the diaspora; and Afro-American fetish artifacts shows
that persons in American plantation spaces were pulled into a web
of environmental stresses, ranging from humidity to the demand for
sugar. This in turn gave rise to modes of personhood explicitly
attuned to human beings' interrelation with nonhuman forces in a
process we might call ecological.
Certainly the possibility that colonial life revokes human
agency haunts works from Shakespeare's Tempest and
Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws to Spivak's theories of
subalternity. In Allewaert's interpretation, the transformation of
colonial subjectivity into ecological personhood is not a
nightmare; it is, rather, a mode of existence until now only
glimmering in Che Guevara's dictum that postcolonial resistance is
synonymous with "perfect knowledge of the ground."
Subjects: History, Language & Literature
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