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A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass$
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Neil Roberts

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813175621

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813175621.001.0001

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Masters, Mistresses, Slaves, and the Antinomies of Modernity

Masters, Mistresses, Slaves, and the Antinomies of Modernity

(p.21) 1 Masters, Mistresses, Slaves, and the Antinomies of Modernity
A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass

Paul Gilroy

University Press of Kentucky

Modernity is a notion widely debated, whether it is the periodization of modernity or the attributes defining the modern period. Jürgen Habermas situates the Enlightenment as a moment of critique of the early-modern period and the reimagining of modernity after the Age of Reason. This chapter argues that Habermas’s call for completing the unfinished project of the Enlightenment fails to acknowledge the defining moment of modernity—New World slavery—and the agents of the modernizing process—the slaves. The chapter investigates the dynamics of mastery and slavery that are at the center of modernity through close examination of Frederick Douglass’s only work of fiction, The Heroic Slave (1853), supplemented with references to “The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered” (1854) and Douglass’s slave narratives. The memory of slavery, the chapter contends, is integral to theorizations of freedom.

Keywords:   Frederick Douglass, modernity, Enlightenment, Eurocentrism, Jürgen Habermas, black thinkers, race, racism, slave agency

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