The Brink of Freedom

Improvising Life in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World

The Brink of Freedom

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 16 illustrations Published: May 2016

Author: David Kazanjian

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Latin American Studies > Mexico

In The Brink of Freedom David Kazanjian revises nineteenth-century conceptions of freedom by examining the ways black settler colonists in Liberia and Mayan rebels in Yucatán imagined how to live freely. Focusing on colonial and early national Liberia and the Caste War of Yucatán, Kazanjian interprets letters from black settlers in apposition to letters and literature from Mayan rebels and their Creole antagonists. He reads these overlooked, multilingual archives not for their descriptive content, but for how they unsettle and recast liberal forms of freedom within global systems of racial capitalism. By juxtaposing two unheralded and seemingly unrelated Atlantic histories, Kazanjian finds remarkably fresh, nuanced, and worldly conceptions of freedom thriving amidst the archived everyday. The Brink of Freedom’s speculative, quotidian globalities ultimately ask us to improvise radical ways of living in the world.


"David Kazanijan’s The Brink of Freedom is a bold and inspiring work that proposes new ways to think about Atlantic history and the problem of freedom during the height of nineteenth-century liberalism and the expansion of capitalism." — Julie Gibbings, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"Terrific. . . . Innovative." — Sean X. Goudie, American Literary History

"Kazanjian has constructed an extensively well-researched and theoretically complex study that develops a new approach to comparative scholarship, highlights new paths to archival research, and suggests new reading strategies that help us examine how non-European actors imagined a future defined by freedom, one of the principal tenets of modernity and of nineteenth-century liberalism." — Ty West, The Latin Americanist

“David Kazanjian’s ambitious project adds a new model for consideration in Atlantic World studies, as well as in slave, settler, and indigenous studies, and should be seen as valuable.” — Autumn Quezada de Tavarez, Ethnohistory

The Brink of Freedom is an innovative study that serves as a model for interdisciplinary research.” — Christina C. Davidson, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[The Brink of Freedom suggests] rich new directions for the study of aesthetics and politics across an expansive Americanist archive.”

— Alexander Mazzaferro, American Literature

"The Atlantic world exceeds itself when David Kazanjian sounds its everyday archives of futurity and fugitivity, showing us that the transformation of how we do things, of how little and how much we’re willing to take, of how we come to imagine the materiality of our own transverse earthliness, is the making of history. Kazanjian discovers and extends the poetics of that making at The Brink of Freedom. Who could ask for anything more?" — Fred Moten, author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition

"Standing out for its breadth, analytical clarity, and sophistication, The Brink of Freedom makes a monumental intervention to unfolding narratives of freedom. Embodying the new American Studies, it will be widely read in literature and cultural studies courses with a historicist or Atlantic orientation. This book's brilliance is dazzling." — Herman L. Bennett, author of Colonial Blackness: A History of Afro-Mexico

"With exhilarating virtuosity, The Brink of Freedom weaves two nineteenth-century case studies (the letters of African American settlers in Liberia, on the one hand, and the writings of Mayan rebels during the Caste War in the Yucatán, on the other) into a groundbreaking new model of contrapuntal scholarship. David Kazanjian’s deft readings demonstrate that these supposedly "minor" archives—halting, fragmented, quotidian—carry remarkable philosophical heft, as improvised (though no less profound) reflections on the very meaning of freedom." — Brent Hayes Edwards, author of The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David Kazanjian is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction. Atlantic Speculations, Quotidian Globalities  1

Part I. Liberia: Epistolary Encounters
Prelude  35

1. It All Most Cost Us Death Seeking Life: Recursive Returns and Unsettled Nativities  53

2. Suffering Gain and It Remain: The Speculative Freedom of Early Liberia  91

Part II. Yucatán: Una Guerra Escrita
Prelude  133

3. En Sus Futuros Destinos: Casta Capitalism  155

4. Por Eso Peleamos: Recasting Libertad  191

Coda: Archives for the Future  227

Acknowledgments  239

Notes  243

Bibliography  285

Index  315
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6170-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6151-0
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