• Illegible Will: Coercive Spectacles of Labor in South Africa and the Diaspora

    Pages: 280
    Illustrations: 7 illustrations
    Sales/Territorial Rights: World
  • Cloth: $99.95 - In Stock
  • Paperback: $25.95 - In Stock
  • Quantity
  • Add To Bag
  • Acknowledgments  ix
    Introduction  1
    1. Returning to Hankey: Sarah Baartman and Endless Repatriations  29
    2. "Force Refigured as Consent": The Strange Case of Tryntjie of Madagascar  73
    3. Performing Debility: Joice Heth and Miss Landmine Angola  109
    4. Slow Death: "Indian" Performances of Indenture and Slavery  149
    5. Becoming Undone: Performances of Vulnerability  181
    Notes  217
    Bibliography  249
    Index  263
  • "This is an eloquent, erudite, interdisciplinary study of centuries of willed relations that have played from Cape Town to New York in an Africanist archive of performance." — Jennifer DeVere Brody, author of, Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play

    "Illegible Will is, in short, a masterpiece. While it is common to find a book able to shed new light on well-worn material, or that engages with a completely new archive, it is exceedingly rare to find a book that does both. This is such a book. Hershini Bhana Young's interdisciplinary approach weaves imaginative literary renderings with historical documents to create a vibrant and capacious vantage point through which to approach coercive performances. A highly imaginative, poetic, and creative approach to the archive, Illegible Will is of tremendous value for those in performance studies, black studies, literature, queer studies, and dance studies." — Uri McMillan, author of, Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance

  • Permission to Photocopy (coursepacks)

    If you are requesting permission to photocopy material for classroom use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center at copyright.com;

    If the Copyright Clearance Center cannot grant permission, you may request permission from our Copyrights & Permissions Manager (use Contact Information listed below).

    Permission to Reprint

    If you are requesting permission to reprint DUP material (journal or book selection) in another book or in any other format, contact our Copyrights & Permissions Manager (use Contact Information listed below).


    Many images/art used in material copyrighted by Duke University Press are controlled, not by the Press, but by the owner of the image. Please check the credit line adjacent to the illustration, as well as the front and back matter of the book for a list of credits. You must obtain permission directly from the owner of the image. Occasionally, Duke University Press controls the rights to maps or other drawings. Please direct permission requests for these images to permissions@dukeupress.edu.
    For book covers to accompany reviews, please contact the publicity department.

    Subsidiary Rights/Foreign Translations

    If you're interested in a Duke University Press book for subsidiary rights/translations, please contact permissions@dukeupress.edu. Include the book title/author, rights sought, and estimated print run.

    Disability Requests

    Instructions for requesting an electronic text on behalf of a student with disabilities are available here.

    Rights & Permissions Contact Information

    Email: permissions@dukeupress.edu
    Email contact for coursepacks: asstpermissions@dukeupress.edu
    Fax: 919-688-4574
    Duke University Press
    Rights and Permissions
    905 W. Main Street
    Suite 18B
    Durham, NC 27701

    For all requests please include:
    1. Author's name. If book has an editor that is different from the article author, include editor's name also.
    2. Title of the journal article or book chapter and title of journal or title of book
    3. Page numbers (if excerpting, provide specifics)
    For coursepacks, please also note: The number of copies requested, the school and professor requesting
    For reprints and subsidiary rights, please also note: Your volume title, publication date, publisher, print run, page count, rights sought
  • Description

    In Illegible Will Hershini Bhana Young engages with the archive of South African and black diasporic performance to examine the absence of black women's will from that archive. Young argues for that will's illegibility, given the paucity of materials outlining the agency of black historical subjects. Drawing on court documents, novels, photographs, historical records, websites, and descriptions of music and dance, Young shows how black will can be conjured through critical imaginings done in concert with historical research. She critically imagines the will of familiar subjects such as Sarah Baartman and that of obscure figures such as the eighteenth-century slave Tryntjie of Madagascar, who was executed in 1713 for attempting to poison her mistress. She also investigates the presence of will in contemporary expressive culture, such as the Miss Landmine Angola beauty pageant, placing it in the long genealogy of the freak show. In these capacious case studies Young situates South African performance within African diasporic circuits of meaning throughout Africa, North America, and South Asia, demonstrating how performative engagement with archival absence can locate that which was never recorded.

    About The Author(s)

    Hershini Bhana Young is Associate Professor of English at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, and the author of Haunting Capital: Memory, Text, and the Black Diasporic Body.
Explore More

Sign up for Subject Matters email updates to receive discounts, new book announcements, and more.


Create a reading list or add to an existing list. Sign-in or register now to continue.

Contact Us

  • Duke University Press
  • 905 W. Main St. Ste 18-B
  • Durham, NC 27701
  • U.S. phone (toll-free): 888-651-0122
  • International: 1-919-688-5134
  • orders@dukeupress.edu