Recent texts in the historiography of slavery have focused on slave-owning women in an attempt to overturn the paradigm of the benevolent mistress. While “benevolence” has silenced and exceptionalized mistresses’ violence, newer interpretations draw from slave testimony to establish forms of equivalence between the power of the mistress and that of the master. Because this normalization of white women’s power nonetheless relies on standards of historiographical interpretation—the predominance of political economy, the imperatives of affect and agency—it does not sufficiently access how historiographical methods participate in stabilizing gender and pathologizing black rage. This article proposes that the difference between the mistress and master is a fantasy necessary to the circulation of the libidinal economy of slavery. In doing so, it pursues an inquiry into the pleasures of interpretation and speculates on the ways historiography invests in the white woman in order to extend its interlocutory life.
Mistresses as Masters?: The Textual Pleasures of the Plantation Present
sara-maria sorentino is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama. She earned her PhD in culture and theory from the University of California, Irvine. Her research asks methodological questions that excavate connections between antiblack violence, philosophical abstraction, and material reproduction. She has work published in Rhizomes, Theory and Event, International Labor and Working-Class History, Antipode, Postmodern Culture, and Telos.
Sara-Maria Sorentino; Mistresses as Masters?: The Textual Pleasures of the Plantation Present. differences 1 September 2021; 32 (2): 69–93. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-9309345
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