Sharon Patricia Holland is Townsend Ludington Distinguished Professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and author of
Vocabularies : Possibility
Chapter 1 thinks through some of the founding vocabularies of conversations about biopower and blackness, moving swiftly away from the idea of precarity and being taken toward other considerations of ethical life and commitment to the other. In doing this, the chapter returns to Hortense Spillers's most important essay (“Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe”) for black feminist thought and rethinks female insurgence as a paradigm for tracing/tracking gender. It uses her and Toni Morrison's work on the “flesh” to stage a different conversation about “flesh,” capacity, and the drag of ontology. This chapter rethinks flesh, gender, and violence in Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave and Steve McQueen's attempt to bring the narrative to cinematic life as 12 Years a Slave.