Engaging in a long-standing debate about how to understand post-Reconstruction era “spectacle lynching,” Kilgore's essay revisits Charles Chesnutt's 1901 novel The Marrow of Tradition in light of current theories of racial violence read through the logics of corporate capitalism. It contends that Marrow highlights the deep affinities between two nineteenth-century national institutions of US popular culture—minstrelsy and lynching. Chesnutt's novel does not support the traditional view that late nineteenth-century popular industries functioned as a mask of progressive modernity in order to conceal the regressive barbarisms of racist violence, a violence understood as the resilient legacy of convulsive, psychoaffective white supremacy; as a conspiratorial compromise between a reunited North and South; or as a response to the rise of an African American middle-class in the wake of a depressed Southern economy. Instead, Chesnutt gives the reader a subtle and underappreciated look into the constitutive, imperial, and “modern” economic forces behind racial violence, represented, like cakewalk performances, as banal popular entertainment, part and parcel of the extension of US capital both intranationally and internationally. Thus, in an analysis of the violent marrow of US racism, Chesnutt offers a surprising diagnosis: the cakewalk of capital.
John Mac Kilgore; The Cakewalk of Capital in Charles Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition. American Literature 1 March 2012; 84 (1): 61–87. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1540950
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