Although the linear trajectories from enslavement to freedom of slave narratives and antislavery novels have been generally accepted, moments of pause and recursiveness at the very instantiation of the narrators’ or protagonists’ emancipation suggest a different, nonlinear temporality. This essay triangulates the various emancipations of Harriet Jacobs in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Frado in Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig, and Solomon Northup in Twelve Years a Slave to reveal how the nonlinearity of their manumission circumscribes the freedom concept in such a way that renders it a crisis. Nineteenth-century French thinker Henri Bergson’s philosophy of durée is taken up as a theoretical and analytical point of departure. Durée, when refracted through postcolonial and Black studies interlocutors, offers a richly multivalent way to conceptualize the contemporaneousness of slavery’s past alongside and within the present and its myriad futures, while also conceiving the multi-directionality of these tenses (e.g., the present can also create a past) and acknowledging the agentive creativity of Black fugitive pursuits. In the end, the essay demonstrates how the latent, arrested, cyclical, and backward temporalities of emancipation are not abstractions but lived materialities engendered by the conditions and contexts of unremitting anti-Blackness and racial capital.

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