The Fugitive's Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession

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University of Chicago Press, May 15, 2010 - Literary Criticism - 376 pages
In this study of literature and law before and since the Civil War, Stephen M. Best shows how American conceptions of slavery, property, and the idea of the fugitive were profoundly interconnected. The Fugitive's Properties uncovers a poetics of intangible, personified property emerging out of antebellum laws, circulating through key nineteenth-century works of literature, and informing cultural forms such as blackface minstrelsy and early race films.

Best also argues that legal principles dealing with fugitives and indebted persons provided a sophisticated precursor to intellectual property law as it dealt with rights in appearance, expression, and other abstract aspects of personhood. In this conception of property as fleeting, indeed fugitive, American law preserved for much of the rest of the century slavery's most pressing legal imperative: the production of personhood as a market commodity. By revealing the paradoxes of this relationship between fugitive slave law and intellectual property law, Best helps us to understand how race achieved much of its force in the American cultural imagination. A work of ambitious scope and compelling cross-connections, The Fugitive's Properties sets new agendas for scholars of American literature and legal culture.

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User Review  - rivkat - LibraryThing

Literary theory attempt to meld property law with cultural analysis; mostly flew over my head. As I understand the argument: Slavery, or fugitive slaves, served as a metaphor or playing out of the ... Read full review

Contents

The Slaves Two Bodies
1
Chapter One Fugitive Sound Fungible Personhood Evanescent Property
27
Chapter Two The Fugitives Properties Uncle Toms Incalculable Dividend
99
Chapter Three Counterfactuals Causation and the Tenses of Separate but Equal
201
The Rules of the Game
269
Notes
277
Index
353
Copyright

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Page 10 - A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly or as incidental to its very existence.
Page 217 - The argument necessarily assumes that if, as has been more than once the case,' and is not unlikely to be so again, the colored race should become the dominant power in the state legislature, and should enact a law in precisely similar terms, it would thereby relegate the white race to an inferior position. We imagine that the white race, at least, would not acquiesce in this assumption.
Page 69 - And no word can be found in the Constitution which gives Congress a greater power over slave property, or which entitles property of that kind to less protection than property of any other description.
Page 171 - ... and with proof, also by affidavit, of the identity of the person whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested does in fact owe service or labor to the person or persons claiming him or her, in the state or territory from which such fugitive may have escaped as aforesaid...
Page 275 - Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.
Page 10 - It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men in succession with these qualities and capacities that corporations were invented and are in use. By these means, a perpetual succession of individuals are capable of acting for the promotion of the particular object, like one immortal being.
Page 217 - A]mendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguish distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.
Page 159 - By the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him...
Page 173 - What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.

About the author (2010)

Stephen M. Best is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.

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