The Body of Property: Antebellum American Fiction and the Phenomenology of Possession

The Body of Property: Antebellum American Fiction and the Phenomenology of Possession

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Body of Property: Antebellum American Fiction and the Phenomenology of Possession
    Book Description:

    What does it mean to own something? How does a thing become mine? Liberal philosophy since John Locke has championed the salutary effects of private property but has avoided the more difficult questions of property's ontology. Chad Luck argues that antebellum American literature is obsessed with precisely these questions. Reading slave narratives, gothic romances, city-mystery novels, and a range of other property narratives, Luck unearths a wide-ranging literary effort to understand the nature of ownership, the phenomenology of possession. In these antebellum texts, ownership is not an abstract legal form but a lived relation, a dynamic of embodiment emerging within specific cultural spaces a disputed frontier, a city agitated by class conflict. Luck challenges accounts that map property practice along a trajectory of abstraction and "virtualization." The book also reorients recent Americanist work in emotion and affect by detailing a broader phenomenology of ownership, one extending beyond emotion to such sensory experiences as touch, taste, and vision. This productive blend of phenomenology and history uncovers deep-seated anxieties and enthusiasms about property across antebellum culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6303-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-X)
  4. Introduction: Pierson v. Post and the Literary Origins of American Property
    (pp. 1-34)

    On December 10, 1802, along a deserted stretch of Long Island beach, two young men nearly came to blows over the carcass of a dead fox. The quarrel began as Jesse Pierson, a twenty-two-year-old schoolteacher from Southampton, New York, followed the shoreline home after a day of work in the town’s one-room schoolhouse. Alone with his thoughts at first, Pierson gradually heard the clamor of shouts, galloping horses, and baying hounds drawing nearer. Abruptly, he spotted a terrified fox streaking down the beach, trailed at a distance by a band of mounted horsemen and their pursuing dogs. In a matter...

  5. 1 Walking the Property: Ownership, Space, and the Body in Motion in Edgar Huntly
    (pp. 35-82)

    In April 1799, four months before the first volume ofEdgar Huntlywas published in Philadelphia, a short preview of the novel appeared in the New York periodical,The Monthly Magazine and American Review. This “Fragment,” as it was called, consisted of about four chapters taken from the middle of the finished book. In order to introduce the fragment, the editor of the magazine saw fit to include a brief two-paragraph letter, ostensibly written by Edgar Huntly himself:

    Mr. Editor,

    The following narrative is extracted from the memoirs of a young man who resided some years since on the upper...

  6. 2 Eating Dwelling Gagging: Hawthorne, Stoddard, and the Phenomenology of Possession
    (pp. 83-137)

    Midway throughTotality and Infinity, his seminal work on the phenomenology of the other, Emmanuel Levinas makes the surprising claim that property and possession absolutely require the existence of the home. “The primordial function of the home,” he tells us, “does not consist in orienting being by the architecture of the building and in discovering a site”; rather, “it makes labor and property possible” (156). It does so by providing a space in which material objects, or what Levinas calls “the element,” can be collected and held in reserve: “The uncertain future of the element is suspended. The element is...

  7. 3 Anxieties of Ownership: Debt, Entitlement, and the Plantation Romance
    (pp. 138-187)

    Over the course of the 1850s, as the sectional crisis between free and slaveholding states grew increasingly antagonistic, Southern planter and ideologue George Fitzhugh published a series of influential proslavery tracts. Beginning in 1850 with the pamphletSlavery Justifiedand culminating in 1857 with the incendiary treatiseCannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters, Fitzhugh mounted an audacious defense of white supremacy and black subjugation. His strategy in all of these works, broadly speaking, was twofold: first, he aimed to expose what he saw as the social and economic hypocrisy of a Northern market society that criticized Southern slavery while it...

  8. 4 Feeling at a Loss: Theft and Affect in George Lippard
    (pp. 188-235)

    Although by 1865 Karl Marx had long since lost his early enthusiasm for the writings of Pierre Proudhon, he continued to admire at least one quality of Proudhon’s masterwork,What Is Property?(1840). “In this book of Proudhon’s,” Marx observes, “there still prevails, if I may be allowed the expression, a strong muscular style.” The Frenchman writes with a “provocative defiance,” with a “withering criticism” and a “bitter irony.” His “revolutionary earnestness,” Marx recalls, “electrified” his readers and showcased a “deep and genuine feeling of indignation at the infamy of the existing order.” In short, Marx believes, the book is...

  9. Epilogue. Wisconsin, 2004: Racial Violence and the Bodies of Property
    (pp. 236-240)

    Almost exactly two hundred years after Jesse Pierson and Lodowick Post confronted one another on a Long Island beach and argued over the carcass of a dead fox, another hunting dispute unfolded in the wilderness, this time in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin. On November 21, 2004, a thirty-two-year-old deer hunter from St. Paul, Minnesota, named Chai Soua Vang was involved in an armed confrontation with another group of hunters over the right to use a particular tree-stand. The stand (a raised platform designed to give hunters a better vantage point and line of fire) was located on private land...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 241-270)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 271-290)
  12. Index
    (pp. 291-302)