Motions in Captivity: Theorizing the Politics of Mobility in Slavery and the Blues

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Lee Jae Hoon

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서울대학교 인문대학 영어영문학과
영학논집, Vol.40, pp. 53-80
Houston A. Baker Jr.Vincent BrownRobert JohnsonCross Road BluesbluesslaverymobilityAfrican American
This paper attempts to (re)politicize the blues as a social action that captures and endorses the politics of mobility in African American history. It has been widely accepted that, as Paul Oliver among many others has noted, the blues voices the major catastrophes of African Americans on both individual and collective levels, thus giving the marginalized the opportunity to vent out their feelings. Yet, the blues concerns itself with the politics of African American lives in a more fundamental and complex way. To illustrate this, I first reread Vincent Browns study on slaves political struggles against social death and argue that, since
the very first moments of slavery, mobility has been crucial in the social survival of the enslaved and their descendants. Then, juxtaposing my reading of Browns political life with Houston A. Baker Jr.s theory of the blues matrix, I claim that the blues is itself a political action that secures social connection among the African American community by mobilizing the experiences of its members. This mobilization is universally visible in the blues tradition at lyrical and literal levels as best exemplified in Cross Road Blues, one of Robert Johnsons greatest hits. It is my conclusion that the blues can become more political than ever, once we recognize that it not only archives and gives voice to a myriad of often incoherent African American experiences, but also translates those experiences into coherent stories of motions. In so doing, the blues makes us understand the politics of mobility and its power to offer a fuller picture of the history of the enslaved and the possibility of their political lives.
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College of Humanities (인문대학)English Language and Literature (영어영문학과)영학논집(English Studies)영학논집(English Studies) No.40 (2020)
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