Contradictions and Heterogeneities in the Epistemes of Salt Water Joint Annual Conference of GAPS and IACPL 30 May-2 June 2019, University of Bremen
Photo: Sonia Bejarano, Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT)
Deeply Affected: Reading Trans-Atlantic Journeys and the ‘Politics of Self-Preservation’ in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative
This paper will focus on the Atlantic as an affective space, considering Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative in the light of various aspects of ‘the politics of emotion’ (e.g. Ahmed 2014). Engaging with ‘epistemes of saltwater’ both in the sense of ‘oceans’ and ‘tears’, I will investigate the diverse emotional meanings of trans-Atlantic crossings for Defoe’s protagonist Moll and their representations in Equiano’s autobiography. Empire is a central focus, twice functioning as a game-changer in Moll’s lot as her trans-Atlantic journeys to early colonial America facilitate, at least temporarily, a safe haven of happiness, financial security, and family bonding (see also Goshal Wallace 2010). For Equiano, they mean the opposite: the destruction of family attachments, the experience of slavery and suffering. A particular focus will be on what I call the ‘politics of self-preservation’: Who copes, with what, how, why, and with whose help? Which external factors support or undermine Moll / Equiano in their attempts at self-preservation? Reading Equiano’s autobiography next to Moll Flanders illuminates the extent to which the narrative of Moll’s self-preservation relies on early colonial discourses and their uneven politics of grievability. With his autobiography, Equiano can be seen as writing back to such narratives of white self-preservation, not only vividly representing the atrocious crimes of slavery, but also showing how these crimes impacted on individuals even after they attained the status of free men. In this context, it is crucial that Equiano gives detailed insights into his state of mental health in the second half of his autobiography, revealing him to be suffering and suicidal (181-189). The post-traumatic stress that is readable in his text has been explored less often than questions relating to his birthplace, to the text as a conversion narrative, and to Equiano’s savvy (self-)marketing strategies (Gillard 2016 is an exception). How does the representation of Equiano’s own suffering and coping strategies tie in with his abolitionist politics? I will also be interested in the significance of race and gender for the positionality of Moll / Equiano and the reception of their emotional expressions as either ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’.