Throughout US history, black people have been configured as sociolegal nonpersons, a subgenre of the human. Being Property Once Myself delves into the literary imagination and ethical concerns that have emerged from this experience. Each chapter tracks a specific animal figure--the rat, the cock, the mule, the dog, and the shark--in the works of black authors such as Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Jesmyn Ward, and Robert Hayden. The plantation, the wilderness, the kitchenette overrun with pests, the simultaneous valuation and sale of animals and enslaved people--all are sites made unforgettable by literature in which we find black and animal life in fraught proximity.
Joshua Bennett argues that animal figures are deployed in these texts to assert a theory of black sociality and to combat dominant claims about the limits of personhood. Bennett also turns to the black radical tradition to challenge the pervasiveness of antiblackness in discourses surrounding the environment and animals. Being Property Once Myself is an incisive work of literary criticism and a close reading of undertheorized notions of dehumanization and the Anthropocene.
"Being Property Once Myself is destined to be an event. Exhilarating and original, it is as much a work of literary history as it is of literary theory, as much a poetic invocation as it is critical intervention, and as much about animals as it is about people, elegantly uniting the many singularities that constitute, collectively, black literary culture."--Akira Mizuta Lippit, author of Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife
"Bennett writes so beautifully that it hurts. Imagine a world of animals--rats, cocks, mules, and dogs--that prompt renewed ways of seeing, thinking, and living beyond cages or chains. These absorbing, deeply moving pages bring to life a newly reclaimed ethics, and black feeling beyond the claims of property or propriety."--Colin Dayan, author of With Dogs at the Edge of Life and The Law Is a White Dog
"A tremendously illuminating study of how black writers wrestle with black precarity. Bennett's refreshing and field-defining approach shows how both classic and contemporary African American authors undo long-held assumptions of the animal-human divide."--Salamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination