'Careful living': Frederick Douglass's phenomenology of embodied experience

Lewis, J (2019) ''Careful living': Frederick Douglass's phenomenology of embodied experience.' Textual Practice, 33 (10). pp. 1657-1672. ISSN 0950-236X

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/0950236X.2019.1665914


In 'My Bondage' and 'My Freedom' Douglass wrote that, among the abolitionists, he ‘forg[o]t’ that his ‘skin was dark’ and his ‘hair crisped’. Few critics have paid much attention to this statement and those who have, have tended to read it figuratively. In this article I draw on the work of Merleau-Ponty, Fanon, and Leder to develop a phenomenological reading that attends to descriptions of lived experience and therefore takes this statement literally, as a revelatory expression of racial embodiment. I argue that it forms part of Douglass’s analysis of how black men and women were made to experience their ‘dark’ skin in nineteenth-century America, how this forced them into what he calls ‘careful living’, and how an alternative, resisting embodied persona might be expressed. Finally, I argue that reading phenomenologically, through the embodied experiences authors like Douglass describe, enables a shift in criticism, towards readings that fully attend to the complexity of lived experience.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Douglass, slave narrative, race, embodiment, phenomenology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
E History America > E151 United States (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
UoA: English Literature & Language
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1080/0950236X.2019.1665914
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2019 15:20
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:53
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/12668
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