Throughout US history, black people have been configured as sociolegal nonpersons, a subgenre of the human. Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man
(Harvard University Press, 2020) delves into the literary imagination and ethical concerns that have emerged from this experience. Each chapter tracks a specific animal figure―the rat, the cock, the mule, the dog, and the shark―in the works of black authors such as Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Jesmyn Ward, and Robert Hayden. The plantation, the wilderness, the kitchenette overrun with pests, the simultaneous valuation and sale of animals and enslaved people―all are sites made unforgettable by literature in which we find black and animal life in fraught proximity.
argues that animal figures are deployed in these texts to assert a theory of black sociality and to combat dominant claims about the limits of personhood. Bennett also turns to the black radical tradition to challenge the pervasiveness of antiblackness in discourses surrounding the environment and animals. Being Property Once Myself
is an incisive work of literary criticism and a close reading of undertheorized notions of dehumanization and the Anthropocene.
Adam McNeil is a third year Ph.D. in History student at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.