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Kindred Specters

Kindred Specters: Death, Mourning, and American Affinity

Christopher Peterson
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Kindred Specters
    Book Description:

    Probing Derrida’s notion of spectrality as well as Orlando Patterson’s concept of “social death,” Christopher Peterson examines how death, mourning, and violence condition all kinship relations. Tracing the connections between kinship and mourning in American literature and culture, Peterson argues that socially dead “others” can be reanimated only if we avow the mortality and mourning that lie at the root of all kinship relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5394-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)

    The title sequence of Alan Ball’s HBO series about a family-owned funeral home,Six Feet Under, opens with a shot of a tree on a deserted hillside. As the camera pulls back, two clasped hands in the foreground of the shot break apart in time with a dissonant piano chord in the soundtrack. The image of the broken hands then dissolves into the hands of a mortician, washing in preparation for embalming. Aligning the icon of “the family tree” with the broken handclasp and the hands of the embalmer, the title sequence suggests a certain temporal adjustment to our conventional...

  5. 1 Giving Up the Geist
    (pp. 37-67)

    If “kinship” involves a dialectical reduction of the other to the same, then it is not altogether opposed to slavery.¹ Kinship, in other words, must be understood not only in terms of love and affection, but also in terms of violence. Contemporary analyses of slavery, however, tend to oppose kinship and slavery. Orlando Patterson’s seminal work on “social death” is exemplary of this line of thinking.² For Patterson, slavery destroys slave kinship structures, even as it works to justify itself by reintegrating slaves into its own domestic economy. Alienated from all rights or claims of birth, slaves are severed from...

  6. 2 Beloved’s Claim
    (pp. 68-96)

    What does it mean to claim one’s children as property? When Sethe declares in Toni Morrison’sBeloved, “she my daughter. She mine,” what is the difference betweenherclaim and the slave master’s?¹ That is, how can we understand the relation between a maternal claim and a property claim other than in terms of simple opposition and contestation? And what of Beloved’s claim, the claim of a ghost who reaches across time and space, trespassing the borders that separate the living and the dead? In the closing pages of the novel, Morrison writes: “Although she has claim, she is not...

  7. 3 The Haunted House of Kinship
    (pp. 97-134)

    Emily Dickinson’s “One need not be a chamber to be haunted” begins by posing the phenomenon of haunting as the excess of any structure of containment.¹ While Dickinson’s language does not deny the possibility that haunting might be interiorized, its interiorization is deemed inessential and perhaps even secondary to the haunting itself. Chambers, houses, and other such enclosures mark the conventional spaces in which the haunting that is peculiar to the Gothic tends to get contained. In the dynamic of haunting that Dickinson suggests here, however, haunting is imagined as “surpassing Material Place—” (333). Haunting is uncontainable and generalizable....

  8. 4 The Kinship of Strangers; or, Beyond Affiliation
    (pp. 135-156)

    From San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, to the legalization of gay marriage by the Massachusetts legislature, to President George Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman—recent years have witnessed unprecedented political tension around the subject of kinship. While gay activists and conservative politicians have been battling it out over gay marriage, scholars such as Judith Butler, Elizabeth Freeman, and Michael Warner have been urging us to envision queer forms of affiliation beyond the purview of the state.¹ State recognition does not...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 157-182)
  10. Index
    (pp. 183-188)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-189)