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This chapter charts a genealogy of rationalist engagements with science in black antebellum culture and thinks about the purchase of nonempirical thinking for enslaved and nominally free people in the age of slavery. It begins with the complicated status of reason amid transformations in science and religion in the early nineteenth century. It then turns to fascinating moments in The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831) and Martin Delany’s Blake; or the Huts of America (1859), where rationalist theories of mind come to the fore. It considers how black women’s antebellum manuscript cultures challenge the individual mind’s power through forms of collaboration and writing that foreground a distributed black intellect and collective genius. It ends by imagining an early American studies less beholden to historicist approaches and that takes seriously Black studies’ challenge to divisions between sense and reason, empiricism and speculation, what Fred Moten calls the “mysticism of the flesh.”

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