This essay tracks the gesture of touching a button across a series of early twentieth-century photographic and literary texts, mapping the uneven shock and pleasure of electrified contact as it emerges under the body politic of Jim Crow. Examining William Vander Weyde's images of the electric chair at Sing Sing prison alongside James Weldon Johnson's 1912 novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, the essay argues that these texts invite us to recast early twentieth-century black resistance in electrical terms, terms that expose racial violence as a function of technological progress while, at the same time, reclaiming electricity as a form of material and rhetorical contestation.
Lindsay Reckson; Touching a Button. American Literature 1 March 2016; 88 (1): 31–65. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-3453648
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