The Primal Scene of Biopower
This chapter examines the way nineteenth-century statesman Frederick Douglass's reflected on animals as a means to explain and disrupt the relationship between racial stereotypes and “the animal sign.” Douglass's engagement with animals and animality in relation to American biopolitics was graphically illustrated in his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). He divided the story of his life into two parts, each of which was introduced by an elaborate woodcut that depicts “the generic iconography of white nationalism” rather than specific scenes from the book. Throughout his work, Douglass used animals and animality not only to reveal the logic of slavery, but to envision alternative forms of subjectivity. This chapter considers Douglass's assertion that bestiality is the primal scene of biopower and that bestiality not only founds the juridical subject homo juridicus but produces the interest-bearing subject Michel Foucault calls “homo oeconomicus”.
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