“An intense and illuminating reevaluation of black literature and Western thought.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“A gripping work…Bennett’s lyrical lilt in his sharp analyses makes for a thorough yet accessible read.”—LSE Review of Books
“Tremendously illuminating…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
“These absorbing, deeply moving pages bring to life a newly reclaimed ethics.”—Colin Dayan, author of The Law Is a White Dog
Throughout U.S. 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.