On Lingering and Being Last: Race and Sovereignty in the New World

On Lingering and Being Last: Race and Sovereignty in the New World

Jonathan Elmer
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    On Lingering and Being Last: Race and Sovereignty in the New World
    Book Description:

    What are we talking about when we talk about sovereignty? Is it about formal legitimacy or practical authority? Does it require the ability to control the flow of people or goods across a border; is it primarily a principle of international recognition; or does its essence lie in the power to regulate the lives of a state's citizens? Political theorists, historians, scholars of international relations, lawyers, anthropologists, literary critics-all approach the dilemmas of sovereign power with a mixture of urgency and frustration.In On Lingering and Being Last, Jonathan Elmer argues that the logic of sovereignty that emerged in early modern Europe and that limits our thinking today must be understood as a fundamentally racialized logic, first visible in the New World. The modern concept of sovereignty is based on a trope of personification, the conjunction of individual and collective identities. In Grotius, Hobbes, and others, a fiction of sovereign autonomy enabled states to be personified as individuals, as bodies politic, even as individual humans could be imagined as miniature states. The contradictions of this logic were fully revealed only in the New World, as writers ranging from Aphra Behn to Thomas Jefferson and Herman Melville demonstrate.The racialized sovereign figures examined in On Lingering and Being Last-the slave king Oroonoko, the last chief Logan, and their avatars-are always at once a person and a people. They embody the connection between the individual and the collectivity, and thereby reveal that the volatile work of sovereign personification takes place in a new world constituted both by concepts of equality, homogeneity, and symmetry-by an ideal of liberal individualism-and by the realities of racial domination and ideology in the era of colonial expansion. The conjunction of the individual, race, and New World territorialization, Elmer argues, is key to understanding the deepest strata in the political imagination of Atlantic modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4821-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Sovereignty seems to be everywhere these days, and no one is very happy about it. Political theorists, cultural observers, historians, scholars of international relations, lawyers, anthropologists, literary critics—all approach the dilemmas of sovereign power with a mixture of urgency and frustration. Social theorist William Rasch titles his bookSovereignty and Its Discontents, and anthropologist Aihwa Ong worries about sovereignty’s “mutations.”¹ Political scientist Stephen D. Krasner uses the same phrase as Rasch to begin his exasperated introduction to what he calls the “organized hypocrisy” of sovereignty.² His discontent with sovereignty is that we never seem to know what we’re talking...

  5. ONE On Lingering and Being Last: Aphra Behn and the Deterritorialized Sovereign
    (pp. 21-49)

    By April 1677, Nathaniel Bacon had been dead for half a year, and many of his fellow rebels had been hanged or had their holdings confiscated. The king’s commissioners were in Virginia to try to make sense of things and put the profitable colony back on track. Charles II was irritated at Governor Sir William Berkeley’s savage reprisals, and his commissioners were there, in part, to recall Berkeley to England. When they visited Green Spring House, the governor’s mansion, to take their leave, they found themselves unwitting players in a bizarre little spectacle. When the commissioners made their farewells, the...

  6. TWO The Future Perfect King: Olaudah Equiano and the Poetics of Experience
    (pp. 50-77)

    Is a life after death possible for Oroonoko, Aphra Behn’s royal slave? He shows no interest at all in Christian conceptions of an afterlife. To be honest, Behn herself does not show much interest in the issue either, but at one point the narrator tries to do her duty with regard to Imoinda, “endeavouring to bring her to the knowledge of the true God” (45). But we are told that “of all the discourses,” Oroonoko “liked that the worst” (45). For Oroonoko, it seems, the only conceivable after life would be one of honor and reputation, and such an immortality...

  7. THREE Was Billy Black? Herman Melville and the Captive King
    (pp. 78-117)

    It sometimes happens, when I am teachingBilly Budd, that a brave student will ask, after a day or so of discussion, “Is Billy black?” How could such a misunderstanding come about? It’s true that Melville’s language is notoriously difficult for students, andBilly Buddespecially so, with its ornate vocabulary and dense allusiveness. Consider the following passage:

    A barbarian Billy radically was—as much so, for all the costume, as his countrymen the British captives, living trophies, made to march in the Roman triumph of Germanicus. Quite as much as those later barbarians, young men probably, and picked specimens...

  8. FOUR Jefferson’s Convulsions: Archiving Logan
    (pp. 118-146)

    The last man to go down with the ship inMoby-Dickis Tashtego, the Gay-Head Indian, whose final act is to nail a sky-hawk’s wing to the mainmast: “The submerged savage beneath, in his death-grasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards . . . went down with his ship” (624). My focus in the previous chapter on the figure of the captive king led me away from what Wai-Chee Dimock has convincingly argued is the dominant racial logic ofMoby-Dick, namely, the fate linking Ahab and...

  9. FIVE Sovereignty, Race, and Melancholy in the Transatlantic Romantic Novel
    (pp. 147-186)

    “Who is there to mourn for Logan?—Not one.” I return to these final words of Logan’s lament, words at once obdurate and magnetic, fascinating and repulsive. I return to them precisely because there is nothing to be done. Logan’s discursive isolation is melancholic, in the precise sense that it is not open to the consolations of mourning. Logan is himself melancholic, of course—Why would he mourn? For whom would his mourning have meaning, reduced as he is to the last?—but hismore essential role is as theobjectof melancholic investment. Jefferson—or rather his text—is melancholic...

  10. SIX Treaties, Trauma, Trees: The Dream of Hadwin
    (pp. 187-218)

    Here is a parable from “west of everything.”

    In 1997 a man named Grant Hadwin swam the frozen Yakoun River with his chainsaw in tow and cut down an extremely rare golden spruce in the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia. The tree was both ancient—it had stood for more than three hundred years—and a genuine scientific puzzle, and its symbolic importance was recognized both by the timber company MacMillan Bloedel, which had, under pressure, set aside the land on which the tree stood, and by the local Haida nation, into whose oral history the tree had been...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 219-248)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 249-260)