While recent critical discourse surrounding the institution of slavery throughout the long eighteenth century is overwhelmingly rooted in the textual and theoretical, Spectacular Suffering relocates the site of analysis to the embodied experiences of those, as the subtitle indicates, “witnessing slavery.” “Witness” is used in its two senses: for both those who observe the suffering objects and those who are its subjects. The emphasis, fittingly, is on the latter kind of witness. Throughout the book, these two senses of “witness”—that of observer and that of victim, both of whom offer testimony that arouses sentiment and sympathy and, consequently, moral agency—are employed to examine “how the enslaved subject is constructed in accordance with a set of ideological imperatives, but also into his or her own efforts at self-constitution—in short, into the dual figuration of the slave as both victim and agent.”

From the dismembered body of Oroonoko, to the heaving breast...

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