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Hartman, Saidiya. Venus in Two Acts
2008, Small Axe, 12 (2): 1–14
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Added by: Tomasz Zyglewicz, Shannon Brick, Michael Greer
Abstract: This essay examines the ubiquitous presence of Venus in the archive of Atlantic slavery and wrestles with the impossibility of discovering anything about her that hasn't already been stated. As an emblematic figure of the enslaved woman in the Atlantic world, Venus makes plain the convergence of terror and pleasure in the libidinal economy of slavery and, as well, the intimacy of history with the scandal and excess of literature. In writing at the limit of the unspeakable and the unknown, the essay mimes the violence of the archive and attempts to redress it by describing as fully as possible the conditions that determine the appearance of Venus and that dictate her silence.

Comment (from this Blueprint): Content warning: very explicit details of cruelties of slavery, sexual assault. In this seminal black feminist theory text, the Foucauldian scholar Saidiya Hartman considers the “archive” which is what she terms the collection of historical evidence that one writes about the past with. She reckons with the difficulty and ethics of writing about past figures and people who were subject to immense violence, degradation and oppression, since often the only records left of their existence are those written or approved by their oppressors or people who were complict in their oppression, and those records are often at best only caricatures of the person they pretend to represent.

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