Monstrous Intimacies

Making Post-Slavery Subjects

Monstrous Intimacies

Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

More about this series

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 21 illustrations Published: September 2010

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Gender and Sexuality

Arguing that the fundamental, familiar, sexual violence of slavery and racialized subjugation have continued to shape black and white subjectivities into the present, Christina Sharpe interprets African diasporic and Black Atlantic visual and literary texts that address those “monstrous intimacies” and their repetition as constitutive of post-slavery subjectivity. Her illuminating readings juxtapose Frederick Douglass’s narrative of witnessing the brutal beating of his Aunt Hester with Essie Mae Washington-Williams’s declaration of freedom in Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond, as well as the “generational genital fantasies” depicted in Gayl Jones’s novel Corregidora with a firsthand account of such “monstrous intimacies” in the journals of an antebellum South Carolina senator, slaveholder, and vocal critic of miscegenation. Sharpe explores the South African–born writer Bessie Head’s novel Maru—about race, power, and liberation in Botswana—in light of the history of the KhoiSan woman Saartje Baartman, who was displayed in Europe as the “Hottentot Venus” in the nineteenth century. Reading Isaac Julien’s film The Attendant, Sharpe takes up issues of representation, slavery, and the sadomasochism of everyday black life. Her powerful meditation on intimacy, subjection, and subjectivity culminates in an analysis of Kara Walker’s black silhouettes, and the critiques leveled against both the silhouettes and the artist.


“Sharpe’s Monstrous Intimacies succeeds in illuminating the complex entanglements of desire and horror at the heart of Black and White subjectification ‘after’ slavery. More profoundly, this text powerfully balances the fact of history’s monstrous persistence and the desire for what she identifies, after Dionne Brand, as a modality of Black life unhinged to historical narrative (129).” — Sarah Cervenak, Women's Studies

“The materials in Monstrous Intimacies register as being profoundly relevant not only for African American literature, but also for studies of the history of slavery in relation to the U.S. South. Moreover, her second chapter, focusing on the literature and culture of South Africa, addresses histories of racism, colonialism, and imperialism and speaks to discourses on the global South.” — Riché Richardson, Southern Literary Journal

“This is a bold, challenging book which is unrelenting in its interpretation of slavery and the effects it has had on subsequent generations, black and white. In effect, the monstrous intimacies continue.”
— Danielle Mulholland, M/C Reviews

“Through compelling and intricate readings of visual and written texts, Sharpe is concerned with unpacking the intersection between violence, sex, and subjectivity in post-slavery subjects. Sharpe’s work is a poignant reflection on historical time and convincingly deals with the ways that the horrors of the past continue to structure the present. . . . Sharpe’s book is an eloquent and at times challenging analysis of the construction of post-slavery subjects as subjects who are by no means ‘post’ but continue to be structured by the past that is not quite past.” — Sam McBean, Elevate Difference

"Overall…Sharpe successfully demonstrates the presence of "monstrous intimacies" in each chapter. Most importantly, she creates a methodology for understanding the psychological development of the post-slavery subjects and the seductive story-telling that represents his or her experience." — Denia Fraser, Kritikon Litterarum

Monstrous Intimacies is a remarkable study, lucid, engaging, and thoroughly engrossing.” — Sharon Patricia Holland, author of Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity

Monstrous Intimacies is an original, enriching look at the variety of artistic forms and practices that interrogate the illness of the post-slavery subject. It is international in its scope, interdisciplinary in its approach, and consistently intelligent in its execution.” — Ashraf Rushdy, author of Remembering Generations: Race and Family in Contemporary African American Fiction


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Christina Sharpe is Associate Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Tufts University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Making Monstrous Intimacies: Surviving Slavery, Bearing Freedom 1

1. Gayl Jones's Corregidora and Reading the "Days That Were Pages of Hysteria" 27

2. Bessie Head, Saartje Baartman, and Maru Redemption, Subjectification, and the Problem of Liberation 67

3. Isaac Julien's The Attendant and the Sadomasochism of Everyday Black Life 111

4. Kara Walker's Monstrous Intimacies 153

Notes 189

Bibliography 223

Index 243
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4609-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4591-6
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