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date: 22 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This essay argues that black literary production during the nineteenth century was articulated under complex discursive conditions. This discursive terrain provides a meaningful way to engage the complexity of the condition of the slave, a condition that continues to inform African American testimony to this very day. This essay maps the rhetorical markers constituting the terrain of abolitionist discourse—focusing on religion and corporeality—and charts the discursive milieu within which African American slave narratives have been read. Recasting the abolition debate as a discourse broadens our considerations of texts as “public” documents; that is, texts that were distributed to a wide population of discursive readers through a mixture of oral and written literacy. Placing these narratives within their larger context provides a fuller picture of the irksome overdeterminacies of abolitionism, Romanticism, and the emergence of a distinctive American literature and nationalism within which they were produced and first received.

Keywords: discursive terrain, slave narratives, religion, corporeality, discursive reader, rhetorical markers

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