In 1997 Saidya Hartman released her seminal book Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in the Nineteenth Century. The original release of this book was ground shaking as Hartman really examines the legacy of slavery and how that legacy is still very much with us today. I read this book for the first time in the summer of 2017 going into my sophomore of college and reading it had such a profound impact on I was making sense of the world. Particularly, I was reading this book after really engaging with the work of W.E.B.DuBois, Steven Biko, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Michelle Alexander etc. for the first time in my Black Studies classes. In these classes and reading all these different intellectuals I was forced to think about what is Blackness? What does it mean to be Black in America? Or what does it mean that America is a Carceral State? However, when I read Hartman that summer any notions or answers I had for those broad questions soon went away as the words of Hartman disrupted any ideas I had. Hartman helped me to form a new question which was what does it mean that America still operates as a plantation? I believe Hartman presents this question by grappling with the terror that is caused by what many would call the mundane daily lives of Black folks. In doing this Hartman challenges the reader to think about how these mundane ideas are connected to ideas created by chattel slavery. Therefore, in reading Scenes of Subjection I began to think about what are the contemporary forms of the master-slave relationship? And more specifically I really pondered is there a future for a world that is based in such a relationship?
The good thing is I get to return back to these two questions in October as Scenes of Subjection will be re-released revised and expanded. Additionally, this new release will include a new foreword written by the prolific writer and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor as well as two after-words by Marisa J Fuentes and Sarah Haley. I am so excited to read this updated version and I hope you all check it out! I also recommend that you take a look at Hartman’s 2006 book Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. One last thing if you do want to read Hartman prepare to do the work but the work is worth it! Peace!