This article investigates the possibilities of storytelling and black Atlantic literature in forging new critical approaches to the archive of New World Asian indenture. It also emphasizes the significance of the comparative study of bonded labor to our understanding of “the Atlantic.” It explores forms of historical storytelling across a broad range of cultural materials, from Chinese American activist Wong Chin Foo's 1874 “fugitive coolie” narrative and bilingual Spanish-Chinese labor contracts to the novels of contemporary writers such as Cristina García, Amitav Ghosh, Toni Morrison, and Patricia Powell. What does it mean to place the archives of New World slavery and Asian indenture in conversation or in juxtaposition, especially when this counterpoint does not result in a structure of complementarity? By reading across multiple archives of enslavement, the author illuminates underexamined global circuits of comparative knowledge production about race and racial formations in the Atlantic plantation system. Recovery is not the primary aim of the comparative archive encounter. Rather, the adaptive acts of comparison and translation yield critical insights into the multiform workings of racial capitalism. This article pushes beyond the bounded analytic zone of the Atlantic to further complicate the “primary narrative” of the Middle Passage. Rather than opposed concepts, slavery and freedom existed on a continuum within an Atlantic economy that reached eastward along the routes of European colonial incursion into Africa and Asia to satisfy the endless demand for New World labor.
1 December 2015
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Edlie L. Wong; Storytelling and the Comparative Study of Atlantic Slavery and Freedom. Social Text 1 December 2015; 33 (4 (125)): 109–130. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-3315802
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