Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Costs of Heterochronic Time in Benito Cereno


English Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Arts and Humanities


This presentation is part of a round-table that I put together. Below please find the abstract for the entire round-table session, including my contribution. Uncommon Times Recently, a number of critics have argued that the temporalities of nineteenth-century U.S. literature eluded the measurable progressions of the clock, the calendar, and the nation. The myriad timescapes hatched in literature were far too irregular or, as Lloyd Pratt puts it, disaggregatingto bear any close relation to the cultures official forms of timekeeping. This roundtable explores the concept of the commons as a temporal phenomenon in order to ask what times, if any, we Americanists have in common with one another and with those experienced in the nineteenth century? Do we impose a unified time to make a period legible as an object of study, or can the texts we examine help produce our categories of analysis? Do different genres or traditions have their own times? And if so, how can we put texts in conversation to examine intersections between the different times of the nineteenth century? To begin, Cody Marrs considers how recent insights into literatures temporalities bear directly on broader questions about the periodic boundaries of American literary studies. If this literature is marked by its non-linearity, to what degree can it be historically situated and categorized? And in what ways was nineteenth-century literature self-periodizing? Marrs will address these questions by examining how two well-known antebellum texts, Thoreaus Walden and Douglasss The Heroic Slave, provide us with a set of internal time frames for remapping the nineteenth century. Engaging the theoretical questions Marrss talk raises through case studies of antebellum texts, each of the four subsequent presentations focuses on relations between time and enslavement. Kevin Modestino examines the intervention abolitionist historians made into dominant ideas of historical time. He argues that these writers produced an aesthetics of slave revolution that struggled to recover marginal spaces and times irreducible to romantic historys narratives of progress. Nick Bromell offers an account of the political theory implied by Harriet Jacobss representation of time as a circular journey in which there is no final escape from the perversity of human nature. Resisting closure and keeping remainders in play, Jacobss Incidents preserved the future of democratic politics more effectively than much democratic theory. Jeffrey Inskos talk looks at a little known address delivered by William Lloyd Garrison in 1857 entitled The Dead Past and the Living Present in order to explore the historicity of immediatist abolitionism. Immediatisms resistance to liberal progressive historiography that is, immediatisms vision of history that advances fitfully in unforeseen directions represented one species of romantic presentism in the literature and culture of the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. Kelly Rosss presentation on Melvilles Benito Cereno builds on Inskos analysis of the conflict between immediatists and gradualists. Ross reads Babos intelligence temporally, arguing that Babo manipulated the two white captains by recognizing and strategically negotiating multiple temporalities, a temporal flexibility which Delano and Cereno lacked. Ross links Melvilles depiction of the limits of Babos heterochronic intelligence to a critique of the gradualist position. Finally, Lloyd Pratt will offer a response to the presentations.

Conference Name

C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists

Conference Location

Chapel Hill, NC

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