The Intimacies of Four Continents
Lisa Lowe is Professor of English and American Studies at Tufts University. She is the author of Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics and the coeditor of The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, both also published by Duke University Press.
Autobiography Out of Empire
This chapter discusses the autobiographical genre as an illustration of the aesthetic narration of liberal emancipation, focusing on The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), the first autobiography in English by an enslaved African, in which the self-authoring individual is developed out of the collective subjectivity of colonial slavery. Equiano’s Narrative negotiated the voices of abolition and slave resistance, and the logics of coloniality in which trade in people and goods connected Africa, plantation Virginia, the colonial West Indies, and metropolitan England. As the subject writes his life, and comes to possess the meaning of slavery as his own past, the autobiography as a liberal genre does the work of subjugating the history of the collective enslaved within a temporality in which it is legible as the origin out of which the free modern subject emerges. Canonical interpretations of Equiano’s autobiography as the quintessential narrative of progress, in which the slavery of the past is overcome and replaced by modern freedom, may obscure the complex currents of the transatlantic world on which that promised freedom rests.