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Transformable RaceSurprising Metamorphoses in the Literature of Early America$
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Katy L. Chiles

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199313501

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199313501.001.0001

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Doubting Transformable Race: Equiano, Brackenridge, and the Textuality of Natural History

Doubting Transformable Race: Equiano, Brackenridge, and the Textuality of Natural History

Chapter:
(p.148) { 4 } Doubting Transformable Race: Equiano, Brackenridge, and the Textuality of Natural History
Source:
Transformable Race
Author(s):

Katy L. Chiles

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199313501.003.0005

Chapter 4 discusses how Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative and Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry question the limits of what some saw as the beneficial aspects of transformable race and express remarkable reservations about the textuality of natural-historical texts. Equiano endorses specific natural histories but remains cynical about the fulfilment of their implicit promises of equality and demonstrates that written texts have only limited power to ensure the states of being that they supposedly call into being. Brackenridge criticizes the American Philosophical Society and, more widely, does not just parody one natural-philosophical theory but rather all theories. Drawing attention to how these theorems are discursively created, Modern Chivalry hints at the impossibility of ever articulating a definitive truth. In these ways, both texts highlight how literature and natural history existed as intertwined discourses.

Keywords:   Olaudah Equiano, Interesting Narrative, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Modern Chivalry, textuality, natural history, American Philosophical Society, race

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