Nicholas Rinehart: "Fugitive Mysticism: "Visionary Testimony, Vernacular Theology, and the Archive of Slavery"
In the introduction to a 2015 special issue of Social Text on “The Question of Recovery: Slavery, Freedom, and the Archive,” the guest editors posit that scholars of Atlantic slavery and freedom “cannot resolve the tension between recovering archival traces of black life as a means of contesting legacies of racism and exclusion, on the one hand, and reading the archive as a site of irrevocable silence that reproduces the racial hierarchies intrinsic to its construction, on the other” (2). This paper works against such a presupposition and toward a workable resolution by asking how silence might in fact be the object of—rather than an obstacle to—archival recovery in the study of Afro-Atlantic writing. It focuses on Afro-Iberian Christian visionary texts from the mid-seventeenth to mid-eighteenth century: the visionary diaries of Úrsula de Jesús, a formerly enslaved donada at a convent in Lima, taken down between 1650 and 1661; and the hagiography of Teresa de Santo Domingo, a Guinean Catholic nun in Salamanca, published in 1752. In these works, “mystic speech” gestures permanently toward that which is outside of time and thus unsayable: the Infinite or Divine. As they index the struggle to articulate what cannot be represented, mystical texts evince an erotics of language haunted by an absolute Nothing. This visionary “silence” does not indicate absence, lack, or death, but instead the poetic construction of the work itself. This paper thus contends that the “archive of slavery” is not categorically a site of erasure or deprivation; what remains secret, hidden, or otherwise unsaid instead constitutes the practice of a fugitive mysticism. Rather than moving away from the paradigm of recovery—and its close association with metaphors of haunting and absence—we might consider how particular historical and literary archives prompt distinct modes of reading in order to glimpse enslaved subjectivity.
***Please note that this seminar features pre-circulated paper***