Beyond the Subject: Anglo-American Slave Narratives in the Netherlands, 1789-2013
Keywords:Slave narratives, slavery, cultural mobility
In recent years life writing scholars have increasingly linked the autobiographical genre to human rights causes, such as abolitionism. This article aims to historicize and contextualize the presupposed connection between human rights and the human subject of autobiographical discourse by focusing on the cultural mobility of Anglo-American slave narratives. Tracing their presence in the Netherlands since the late eighteenth century, it is demonstrated that slave narratives were considered of no value to Dutch abolitionism and Dutch debates on slavery and its legacy until very recently. Publishers and readers did, however make sense of slave narratives as sensational, gothic literature. Furthermore, the narratives were appropriated by Dutch fundamentalist Protestants advocating the nation’s emancipation from its state of spriritual “slavery”. Only when secularization converged with post-colonial migration patterns new interpretations stressing Black experience, agency, and subjectivity came to the fore in the Netherlands. Inspired by African-American rhetoric, Afro-Dutch migrants appropriated slave narratives in order to break the public silence on the Dutch history of slavery.
This article was submitted to the European Journal of Life Writing in June 2014 and published in April 2015.
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