Raphaël Lambert: The Slaves in Douglass’s Narrative

Raphaël Lambert: The Slaves in Douglass’s Narrative

Raphaël Lambert: The Slaves in Douglass's Narrative

06. MajMaj. 2020 08:00 - 09:30

Prof. Raphaël Lambert
Kansai University
Oxford University (Associate Visiting Research Fellow 2019-20)

Being Property / Being Human:
The Slaves in Douglass's Narrative

Topic: Raphaël Lambert: Being Property / Being Human: The Slaves in Douglass's Narrative
Time: May 6, 2020 10:00 AM Warsaw

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Raphaël Lambert is a professor of African American literature and culture in the department of American and British Cultural Studies at Kansai University in Osaka, Japan. He has published essays in Journal of Modern Literature, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, and The African American Review. His latest piece, "From Édouard Glissant's 'The Open Boat' to the Age of Mass Migration," appears in the collection Cosmopolitanisms, Race, and Ethnicity: Cultural Perspectives (De Gruyter, May 2019), and his book, Narrating the Slave Trade, Theorizing Community (Brill) was published in January 2019. He is currently an Associate Visiting Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Here are the fragments of the Narrative prof. Lambert will discuss. Please, read them so you can follow the lecture.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself (1845)
Excerpt from Chapter 2: Final 4 paragraphs
1. The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves
and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the
dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the
highest joy and the deepest sadness. They would compose and sing as they went along,
consulting neither time nor tune. The thought that came up, came out -- if not in the word,
in the sound; -- and as frequently in the one as in the other. They would sometimes sing the
most pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentiment in the
most pathetic tone. Into all of their songs they would manage to weave something of the
Great House Farm. Especially would they do this, when leaving home. They would then sing
most exultingly the following words: --
"I am going away to the Great House Farm!
O, yea! O, yea! O!"
2. This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but
which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that the
mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible
character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could
do.
3. I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently
incoherent songs. I was myself within the circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those
without might see and hear. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my
feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and
complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against
slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes
always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found
myself in tears while hearing them. The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts
me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down
my cheek. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing
character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to
deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one
wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd's
plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him,
in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul, -- and if he is
not thus impressed, it will only be because "there is no flesh in his obdurate heart."
4. I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could
speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is
impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy.
The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as
an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to
drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy,
were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon
a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and
happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by
the same emotion.

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