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Monday, June 9, 2014


Each year to redeem the Fourth of July from its bondage in trivia, I read Frederick Douglass's masterpiece "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, on 5 July 1852." Douglass defies the thickening of time and uses gem-like rhetoric to speak to us of what Freedom actually is. I close my ears to the fire-cracked mumblings of politicians, to the sizzle of grilled meat that is the sound of white-hot iron branding the flesh of a slave, and listen to Mr. Douglass.

This year, to give new balance to gender, I will listen to Sherley Anne Williams's magnificent novel Dessa Rose (1986). To understand my Swiss friend Walter Liniger's astonishing phrase "tools to rape the language," it is essential that we absorb how imperial, capitalist language is a tool to rape the language of freedom. Sherley Anne Williams transformed the fiction into a fact.

For the sake of critical enlightenment, I shall conclude the ritual with a reading of "Framing Finance: Rebellion, Dispossession, and the Geopolitics of Enclosure in Samuel Delany's Neveryon Series." Radical History Review 118 (Winter 2014): 64-91.   This article by Jordana Rosenberg and Britt Rusert is a timely "historiographical intervention." I have listened to and need to re-listen to how Rosenberg and Rusert speak of the tension between the 1776 liberation narrative and Douglass's emancipatory narrative (autobiography) of 1845. The tension which Douglass addressed in 1852 still worries the lines in our discourses on freedom.

I invite you to participate in the ritual.

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