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The Fugitive’s Properties

Law and the Poetics of Possession

In this study of literature and law before and since the Civil War, Stephen M. Best shows how American conceptions of slavery, property, and the idea of the fugitive were profoundly interconnected. The Fugitive’s Properties uncovers a poetics of intangible, personified property emerging out of antebellum laws, circulating through key nineteenth-century works of literature, and informing cultural forms such as blackface minstrelsy and early race films.

Best also argues that legal principles dealing with fugitives and indebted persons provided a sophisticated precursor to intellectual property law as it dealt with rights in appearance, expression, and other abstract aspects of personhood. In this conception of property as fleeting, indeed fugitive, American law preserved for much of the rest of the century slavery’s most pressing legal imperative: the production of personhood as a market commodity. By revealing the paradoxes of this relationship between fugitive slave law and intellectual property law, Best helps us to understand how race achieved much of its force in the American cultural imagination. A work of ambitious scope and compelling cross-connections, The Fugitive’s Properties sets new agendas for scholars of American literature and legal culture.

376 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2004

Black Studies

Law and Legal Studies: Legal History

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Debts
INTRODUCTION
The Slave’s Two Bodies
Fugitive Property
The Agency of Form
Caveat Emptor
CHAPTER ONE
Fugitive Sound: Fungible Personhood, Evanescent Property
Theft and Gift
Copyright Law
The Human Phonograph
The Poetics of Property, 1857: Dred Scott v. Sandford
Impersonation
Pro Bono Publico
CHAPTER TWO
The Fugitive’s Properties: Uncle Tom’s Incalculable Dividend
Fictions of Finance: Puttin’ on Old Massa
Pro Bono Publico
Tom’s par me la
Castles in the Air
The Social Covenant of Property
Cuttin’ of Figgers
Sine Qua Non
CHAPTER THREE
Counterfactuals, Causation, and the Tenses of "Separate but Equal"
In Plain Black and White
Parallel Tracks
What Happened in the Tunnel
CONCLUSION
The Rules of the Game
Sin and Risk
Principle and History
Procedure and Pragmatism
Notes
Index

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