Affordable Access

Access to the full text

Resisting (through) the Elements of Race: A Fugitive Humanist Reading of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad

Authors
  • Klestil, Matthias1
  • 1 University of Klagenfurt, Universitätsstr. 65-67, 9020 , (Austria)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Publisher
De Gruyter
Publication Date
Mar 18, 2022
Volume
70
Issue
1
Pages
39–57
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/zaa-2022-2048
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (2016) offers a meditation on elemental matter and its intersections with slavery, race, and resistance to racialization. Combining Lindgren Johnson’s concept of a fugitive humanism with elemental analysis for a reading of Whitehead’s sixth novel, the article proceeds in three steps. First, I briefly outline ways in which an elemental focus may connect with African American (Studies) perspectives, in particular Johnson’s fugitive humanism. Subsequently, my discussion explores the novel’s representation of an elemental biopolitics of slavery that involves what I identify as three elements of race. Whitehead presents the peculiar institution’s harnessing of these elements of fire, metal(s), and cotton as interconnected processes that not only help extract African American labor power and energy, but also racialize categories of the human. Finally, I focus on fugitive humanist forms of resisting to and through the elements. In this respect, the novel highlights through its protagonist how resistance strategies involve not only an ultimately uncontrollable elemental vitality, but also new forms of labor in which the human and the elemental emerge as co-agents.

Report this publication

Statistics

Seen <100 times