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Chapter 10 - Theorizing Vision and Selfhood in Early Black Writing and Art

from Part IV - Illustration and the Narrative Form

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 March 2021

Jasmine Nichole Cobb
Affiliation:
Duke University, North Carolina
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Summary

Focusing on works by two early nineteenth-century African American artists – the Baltimore portrait painter Joshua Johnson and the author of The Blind African Slave (1810) Boyrereau Brinch – this chapter considers the conceptions of racialized selfhood before 1830. What can we learn from the aesthetic surfaces left by a non-white portraitist about whom not much is known, working within the genre of family portraiture? Additionally, this chapter offers a reading of the visual as central to African American textual production in the early nineteenth century. Early Black writers were keen visual theorists. Brinch’s tale “about” memory and blindness has rarely been considered in relation to the critical tradition of visual culture studies; that this has been so has reduced not only our understanding of a specific African American literary text, but also our understanding of the place of the visual in American cultural production full stop. This chapter considers Johnson’s and Brinch’s surfaces and visuality in relation to early nineteenth-century conceptions of selfhood, race, and interior depth.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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