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The Aping Apes of Poe and Wright: Race, Animality, and Mimicry in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"

and Native Son

Christopher Peterson
New Literary History, Volume 41, Number 1, Winter 2010, pp. 151-171 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/nlh.0.0141

For additional information about this article


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The Aping Apes of Poe and Wright: Race, Animality, and Mimicry in The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Native Son
Christopher Peterson
Vengeance on a dumb brute! cried Starbuck, that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

an an animal be held accountable for its actions? No matter how counterintuitive, this question follows inevitably from the revelation that an orangutan is the agent behind the horrific deeds perpetrated in Edgar Allan Poes The Murders in the Rue Morgue.1 As Akira Mizuta Lippit suggests, perhaps there has been no crime at the house on Rue Morgue, after allonly death.2 Accountability implies the capacity to reason, to comprehend right and wrong, to think causally in order to connect deeds to an authorial subject. It presupposes, in other words, a consciousness that humans have historically denied to animals. In his Discourse on the Method, for instance, Ren Descartes characterized animals as automatons, machines that can sometimes imitate humansas do parrots who learn to mimic human speechbut nevertheless lack the faculties of reason that elevate humans above all other organisms.3 Notwithstanding the Cartesian division between animal reaction and human response, the premodern legal practice of prosecuting and exterminating animals for their crimes presumed precisely this capacity for accountability. In The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906), E. P. Evans catalogued a number of such cases from the ninth through the nineteenth centuries, including one in the early sixteenth century that involved an unspecified number of rats who destroyed the barley crop of a French province.4 When the defendants failed to appear in court, their attorney explained their absence by citing the serious perils that accompanied their journey, owing to the unwearied vigilance of their mortal enemies, the cats (19). For Evans, this practice reads not only as a symptom of anthropomorphism, but
New Literary History, 2010, 41: 151171


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as characteristic of a legal system that ignored the origin [of crimes] altogether. . . . The overt act alone was assumed to constitute the crime (200). The law criminalized animals not so much because they were understood as culpable, but because the effects of their actions were harmful. Whereas premodern jurisprudence appeared to treat animals as humans, modern law often portrays humans as animals, acting automatically or under an insane and irresistible impulse to evil (193). Modern law thus evaluates human accountability by weighing gradations of culpability and calculating delicate differences in the psychical texture and spiritual quality of deeds (194). This construction of the human criminal as animal is often traced to Cesare Lombrosos Criminal Man, first published in 1876, which lamented the traditional legal focus on the crime rather than the criminal.5 Lombroso developed a theory of criminality based on the supposedly atavistic characteristics of human criminals, and in the third edition of Criminal Man (1884) went so far as to assert that human criminality owes its origins to the criminal transgressions of animals and even plants. Carnivorous plants, for instance, release the victim once dead and partially digested, thanks to an acid that is similar to our own pepsin (167). Eschewing the presumption of free will, Lombroso contends that crime, from its first manifestations in the lower species, is a product of any organisms physical constitution (174). Ironically, Lombrosos emphasis on the criminal rather than the crime does not posit the criminal agent as the origin of his or her actions. Rather, human criminals recapitulate the animalistic impulses of their progenitors in a deterministic fashion. Similarly to Lombroso, in The Genealogy of Morals Friedrich Nietzsche seeks to reverse a culturally imposed sundering from our animal past.6 According to Nietzsche, we modern men are the heirs of the conscience-vivisection and self-torture of millennia (95). As Walter Kaufmann notes, the original German employs the term Tierqulerei, or animal torture, which implies a violent mortification of the animality that resides within the human. Although Nietzsche does not subscribe to Lombrosos biological determinism, he does seek to problematize the construction of the human as a calculable, volitional, causal agent. Against the strict Cartesian division between human and animal, Nietzsche characterizes humans as precisely animals who have been bred to make promises (57, his italics). This ability to promise, however, presupposes the faculty of memory, so that between the original I will, I shall do this and the actual discharge of the will, its act, a world of strange new things, circumstances, even acts of will may be interposed without breaking this long chain of will (58). Insofar as animals are conventionally thought to be deprived of memorythus living only

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in the presentthey are understood to be incapable of securing this chain of will that promising requires. For Nietzsche, however, the effort to make humans calculable, to ordain the future in advance so that man might stand security for his own future, is no more guaranteed than it is with nonhuman animals (58). He is thus deeply skeptical of the sovereign individual, who boasts his superiority over all those who lack the right to make promises (59). For the faculty of memory must be forcibly imposed against the forgetfulness that makes animals (including human animals) slaves of momentary affect and desire (61). Nietzsches emphasis on effects rather than causes echoes the premodern conception of accountability that Evans details in his treatise on the criminal prosecution of animals: There is no being behind doing, Nietzsche writes. The doer is merely a fiction added to the deedthe deed is everything (45). As Judith Butler notes, however, Kaufmanns translation of das Tun ist alles as the deed is everything fails to distinguish between die Tat (the deed) and das Tun (the doing).7 This abstraction of the deed from an ongoing doing thus satisfies the moral requirements of accountability that trace all actions to a singular origin. Claiming that the doing is everything, Nietzsche suggests that what we isolate as a deed is in fact conditioned by a potentially infinite number of prior doings: all causes are belatedeffects of effects. If we take seriously Nietzsches refusal to oppose human and animal, then something more complicated is at stake in The Murders in the Rue Morgue than a simple substitution of a human for an animal agent, which would involve an unequivocal abdication of human agency. For we cannot unproblematically attribute accountability to human animals any more than we can to nonhuman animals. Considering that The Murders in the Rue Morgue is largely credited as inaugurating the modern genre of detective fiction, what does it mean that Poe ushers in this genre with a murderer whose nonhuman form challenges the very principle of accountability?8 To what extent do the human criminals of subsequent detective fiction all descend from Poes ape, thereby continuing to bear the trace of animality that no degree of evolution can efface? Not by accident does Poe center his story on an orangutan rather than a member of another animal species, given the widespread curiosity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the perceived similarities between humans and orangutans. By the time Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species (1859), theories speculating on the common origin of human and nonhuman animals were already in circulation. Indeed, evolutionary theory did not precisely begin with Darwin, but rather emerged from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century beliefs in historical progress that emphasized development and becoming over stasis,


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immutability, and self-identity.9 Consider, for instance, the Hegelian logic of sublation (Aufhebung) through which meaning is incessantly raised up to a higher level as Geist passes through the many stages of its development.10 Of course, one could trace the origins of evolutionary theory back even further, as Darwin himself did in a brief historical sketch appended to The Origin of Species in which he identified evolutionary thought shadow[ing] forth in the following passage from Aristotles Physics: Wheresoever, therefore, all things together (that is all the parts of one whole) happened like as if they were made for the sake of something, these were preserved, having been appropriately constituted by an internal spontaneity; and whatsoever things were not thus constituted, perished, and still perish.11 That Darwin was not alone in conceiving the mutability of species was confirmed in 1858 when he discovered that a young naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace had independently devised a theory strikingly similar to natural selection. Darwin and Wallace presented their findings at the Linnean Society of London in July 1858 in a joint paper called On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection.12 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, moreover, a number of naturalists espoused protoevolutionist views that presaged Darwins assertion in The Descent of Man (1871) that humans are apes.13 Carl Linnaeus classified humans in the same genus as apes, writing that, neither in the face nor the feet, nor the upright gait, nor in any other aspect of his external structure does man differ from the apes.14 Linnaeus developed a complex classification system that catalogued every animal according to class, genus, and species. Placing humans (homo sapiens) and orangutans (homo troglodytes) in the same genus, he thus narrowed the gap between apes and humans. In a similar fashion, Georges-Louis Buffon observed that the orangutan is an animal so singular that man cannot regard it without contemplating himself, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau commented that the orangutans striking conformities with man suggest that we might breed apes with humans to determine if they belong to the same species.15 In addition to the philosophical and scientific speculations of Georges Cuvier, Buffon, Linnaeus, Rousseau, Darwin, and Nietzsche, a number of public exhibits and pictorial representations of orangutans appeared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of which depicted the animals in clothing or standing upright, thus redoubling the similitude with humans.16 In fact, Poe published The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841 on the heels of several popular primate displays in Philadelphia (where he was currently living), and several critics have speculated that

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Poe was likely inspired by a particular exhibit that appeared at the Masonic Auditorium in 1839.17 As Elise Lemire observes, Poe exploited American popular interest in natural history, which members of the middle and upper classes encountered through magazine articles, engravings, newspaper items, and books, in addition to museum exhibits of exotic specimens such as orangutans.18 While various naturalists proposed the mutability of species, they tended to qualify their conjectures in order to forestall religious objection. Buffon, for instance, conceded that the ape may bear the external mask of humanity, but the creator . . . has penetrated . . . [mans] animal body with his divine spirit.19 For Buffon, all species appeared spontaneously and independently at the origin of Creation, and any mutability within them was due to the degenerative effects of climate, changes in nutrition, and domestication. Although Darwin asserted in The Descent of Man that religious belief was not inherent in humans, but follows from a considerable advance in mans reason, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder, he qualified this bold pronouncement by claiming that the question of when religious belief arises is entirely separate from whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe; and this has been answered in the affirmative by some of the highest intellects that have ever existed (682, 116). As this assertion demonstrates, Darwin publicly took great pains to suggest that natural selection posed no threat to theology or religious belief. And yet, Darwin observed in his Autobiography of his former desire to be a clergyman that it never struck me how illogical it was to say that I believed in what I could not understand and what is in fact unintelligible.20 Notwithstanding his public affirmations of a divine creator, Darwins theories thoroughly undermine the notion of an intentional cause or design behind the mechanisms of evolution. In this way, Nietzsches interrogation of God, original causes, intention, morality, and accountability betrays a Darwinian inheritance that performs a zoological recontextualization of humanity as an organic life form set in the natural (versus a metaphysical or supersensory) environment.21 With a nod to Darwin, Nietzsches Zarathustra asks: What is the ape to man? A laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. . . .You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, the human being is more ape than any ape.22 While Nietzsches language seems to maintain a vestigial anthropocentric conceit that humans are superior to animals, the assertion that the human is more ape than any ape implies that mimicry is at the core of what is to be human.23 As with Franz Kafkas Red Peter, who becomes human by imitating


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the behavior and actions (spitting, drinking, smoking, and speaking) of his sailor captors, humanity is not a natural given, but rather, a process of becoming achieved through repetition and mimicry.24 Evolutionary theory employs the term mimicry to explain various forms of camouflage and disguise that function either to protect nonhuman animals from predators or to allow the latter to stealthily hunt their prey.25 In The Origin of Species, Darwin explains the phenomenon of mimicry as follows: Assuming that an insect originally happened to resemble in some degree a dead twig or a decayed leaf, and that it varied slightly in many ways, then all the variations which rendered the insect at all more like any such object, and thus favoured its escape, would be preserved, whilst other variations would be neglected and ultimately lost (182). As this passage makes clear, an insect no more chooses to change its coloration in order to mimic a leaf than a supernatural agent selects a giraffes elongated neck for replication throughout subsequent generations. Natural selection, as Darwin himself notes, constitutes a misnomer insofar as it suggests an intentional agent, a doer behind the deed, when it should more accurately be understood as a retroactive construction that humans employ to account for the reproduction of traits that prove advantageous to the species (63). In this sense, Red Peters purposeful acquisition of human traits in order to evade the zoo and guarantee his survival on the vaudeville stage parodies the notion that either an internal or external force guides the process of natural selection. In contrast to the volition implied by the vocabulary of mimicry and selection, Darwins descent with modification more readily captures an intransitivity that closely aligns it with Nietzsches problematization of agency and also anticipates Jacques Derridas notion of iterability, understood as a citational chain of actions (linguistic or nonlinguistic) that exceeds the scope of the intentional, volitional subject. As I aim to show in my reading of Native Son in the final section of this essay, iterability complicates the juridical demand to hold humans accountable for their actions insofar as it betrays an inhuman mechanicity at the origin of all human responsibility.26 Although white Chicagoans react to Mary Daltons murder by assimilating Bigger Thomas to the stereotype of the black ape, Wrights novel performs an immanent critique of white racism by underscoring the contradictory construction of Bigger as both an animal and a human subject who ought to be held accountable for his actions. The following reflections on Poe thus explore the concerns of criminality, race, and animality that reemerge in Native Son. In addition to portraying nonhuman primates as the closest analogue to the human,

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eighteenth- and nineteenth-century discourses also frequently equated apes with blacks, whose ostensibly lower rank on The Great Chain of Being created the perfect alibi for their enslavement. As Thomas Jefferson asserted in his Notes on the State of Virginia, blacks express more . . . sensation than reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labor. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect, must be disposed to sleep of course.27 While The Murders in the Rue Morgue does not explicitly equate blacks with apes, a number of critics have read Poes story as a thinly disguised allegory for the doctrine of black animality. And yet, this racist ideology operated in tandem with larger naturalist and evolutionary discourses centered on ape/human affinities. Indeed, the hierarchical relationship that whites invented in order to situate blacks as more closely related to simians not only provided a convenient justification for slavery but also disavowed the monogenic history of human and nonhuman primates. If Poes story is to be read allegorically, then, we ought to take into account how it invokes not only the racist ideology of black animality but also those emergent scientific discourses that threatened to locate all humans squarely within the domain of the animal.

Avowing the Animal

In recent years, scholarship on Poe has sought to bring the concerns of race and slavery to bear on aspects of the authors work that are often not explicitly engaged with such matters.28 Although Poes stories are notoriously lacking in geographical and historical specificityoften employing truncated date references (18) and vaguely European landscapes far afield from the nineteenth-century American South with which Poe closely identifiedcritics such as Joan Dayan have nevertheless attempted to read Poe in relation to what has so often been cut out of his work: the institution of slavery, Poes troubled sense of himself as a southern aristocrat, and, finally the precise and methodical transactions in which he revealed the threshold separating humanity from animality.29 In a similar vein, Ed White contends that Poes murderous orangutan dramatizes white anxiety around the threat of slave insurrection. According to White, Poe sets his story in Paris precisely to distract the reader from the political context of slavery.30 Paradoxically, the story also draws attention to its own disavowals by allowing Dupin a momentary lapse in his usually exacting analytical method. When witnesses of various European nationalities identify the sounds emitted by the murderer


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as distinctly foreign, Dupin concludes that the criminal must be nonEuropean. Noting that neither Asiatics nor Africans abound in Paris, Dupin inexplicably skips over the possibility that the murderer might belong to either of these nationalities, concluding that the perpetrator must be an animal (93). As White astutely observes, Dupins rigorous method of deduction would require that he seriously entertain the possibility of an African or Asian criminal prior to concluding that no human of any nationality could kill so outrageously. Instead, Dupins dismissal of the former possibility disavows how the institution of slavery does indeed provide motives for outrageous killing on the part of Africans (104). Moreover, if Poe had set the story in Charleston or Richmond (where in the 1840s Africans did abound), Dupins inferential denial would have made no sense at all. Although White builds an intriguing argument for reading Poes story as a response to American slave rebellionsfrom the Deslondes Rebellion in 1811 to Nat Turners rebellion in 1831he can sustain this argument only by reading Poes orangutan as something other than an orangutan, as something other than animalin short, as human.31 Of course, Whites point is that Poe is implicitly drawing on the stereotype of the black ape, and that careful attention to Poes vocabulary (escaped, master, whip, fugitive) reveals slavery to be the storys proper historical context. To argue that Poes story is not finally about an orangutan would seem both to expose the racist discourse of black animality and to insist on the slaves humanity. And yet, such an interpretive move also risks what Steve Baker calls the denial of the animal.32 Focusing primarily on pictorial representations of animals, Baker observes a frequent interpretive gesture that displaces the animal content onto the human, ruling out one whole area of potential meanings by assuming that whatever else they may have to do with, the meanings prompted by these representations are not to do with animals.33 Baker is not protesting allegorical readings of animal representations. He is not claiming that animal representations have nothing to say about humans. On the contrary, he seeks to open up the field of interpretation to a wider array of meanings that resist reading the animal as a transparent signifier of the human.34 For White to claim that the slavery context of Poes story is obvious is thus to presume a mimetic relation between the text and a rather limited historical context, foreclosing the possibility of other historical, philosophical, and scientific concerns to which Poes story might be responding, including the discourse of evolution (95). To what extent does the construction of a one-to-one correspondence between Poes orangutan and the slave find itself implicated in a view of literary creation

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in which texts merely ape some narrowly defined historical problematic? As Dupin says of Vidocq (the legendary French detective), he impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points of unusual clearness, but in doing so he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole (89). Following Dupin, I would suggest that the truth of Poes orangutan does not lie behind the faade of animality, which functions as some transparent signifier (to borrow Bakers phrase) of (human) slave insurrection. While it is certainly plausible, and to a certain degree quite convincing, to read The Murders in the Rue Morgue as a reflection of white anxiety around the threat of slave rebellion, or as dramatizing the perceived hypersexuality of the black male (after all, the orangutan murders two white women after jumping through the window of their chambers and landing directly upon the headboard of the bed), it is thus equally conceivable that the story allegorizes both the fascination and repulsion that humans exhibited in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries toward nonhuman primates (106). Consider Buffons report that he witnessed an orangutan present his hand to guide the people who came to visit him. . . . I have seen him sit down at a table, unfold his towel, wipe his lips, use a spoon or a fork to carry food to his mouth, pour his drink into a glass, [and] touch it against those of his guests when so invited.35 Whereas Buffon expressed a certain fascination with human/ape similitude, other accounts found such similarities repulsive. In The Natural History of the Bible (1793), for instance, Thaddeus Mason Harris observed that the
ears, eye lids, lips, and breasts [of apes], resemble those of the human race . . . [yet] peculiar deformity, rather than superior beauty, seems to be, through all the species, the result of their near resemblance to the human form. We are struck with horror to see our form, features, and gestures, imperfectly imitated in an inferior order of quadrupeds. . . . Proud of our alliance to angels, we cannot but be ashamed of our relation to monkies.36

Such scorn for ape/human likeness reveals one precise point of intersection between naturalist discourses and racist constructions of black animality.37 For the inferior imitative capacities of apes were also what slavery apologists and white racists projected onto Africans: witness Jeffersons assertion in Notes on the State of Virginia that never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration,38 or David Humes denigration of black writing for its slender accomplishments, produced like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.39 Even more vehemently racist than either Hume or Jefferson is Cuviers assessment of blacks as having a prominent muzzle and large lips that


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strikingly approximate [those of] apes: the hordes that comprise this race have always remained barbarous.40 Cuviers remarks are particularly germane to the present discussion insofar as Dupin culls a description of an orangutan from the French naturalists Animal Kingdom in order to solve the riddle of the Rue Morgue murders. The original passage from Cuvier describes the orangutan as the animal that most resembles man by the shape of its head, the size of its forehead, and the volume of its brain (88). Whereas here Cuvier observes an affinity between apes and all humans, the former passage limits this resemblance to blacks. This ambivalence toward human/ape similarities, which aims at once to generalize such kinship and to restrict it to nonwhites, correlates with Cuviers express rejection of common evolutionary descent. Indeed, Cuvier asserts that Buffons theory of species degeneration leads to the erroneous conclusion that all quadrupeds could have been derived from a single species.41 If humans had heretofore been understood to be part divine, occupying a liminal position between angels and animals, evolutionary science threatened to dethrone humans from their privileged rank. Cuvier thus resolves the dilemma posed by monogenesis by foisting apehood onto blacks. This mapping of species divisions onto race would culminate with the invention in 1864 of the term miscegenation, from the Latin miscere (to mix) and genus (kind), which racist ideologues exploited to support their claim that blacks were essentially animals.42 As John Van Evrie asserted in his response to the anonymous pamphlet in which the term miscegenation first appeared, there are no proofs of any changes of types, either in man or in the lower animals. Four thousand years ago the negro and the white man were physically and mentally in structure just what they now are.43 The construction of the racial other as animal thus worked to disavow evolution by insisting on the polygenetic history of human (white) and animal (black) species.

Animal Pretense
According to White, antebellum slave insurrections ought to be understood as cultural phenomena that include not only empirical instances of violent uprisings, but also the exaggeration and paranoia that blurred the distinction between real and imagined threats.44 Although White does not specifically advocate reading Poes allegory either as symptomatic of this hysteria or as challenging its ideological premises, a case can be built for the latter insofar as the animals violence comes to fruition only as a consequence of his masters terror at the sight of so dangerous a weapon in the possession of an animal so ferocious (105).

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The orangutan flees from the sailor after the latter wields a whip, which is to say that the animal acts out of fear rather than aggression. When the fugitive ape enters the chambers of Madame LEspanaye, the sailor observes the animal through the window, flourishing the razor about her face, in imitation of the motions of a barber (106). Unfortunately, the womans screams transform the probably pacific purposes of the Ourang-Outang into those of wrath (107). Far from signifying a violent revolt against captivity, the apes actions are precipitated by a misreading of the animals actions as violent aggression. Insofar as the apes violence does not signal a premeditated act of rebellion, Poes story could be read as exposing white paranoia and fear of possible slave violence rather than as an instantiation of this ideology. The slaves supposedly bestial violence would thus emerge not as a natural given, but as produced precisely by those racist discourses that purport only to describe it. In this way, the actions of Poes orangutan anticipate those of Bigger Thomas in Native Son, whose violence is read as confirmation of a beastliness inherent in black men. Indeed, the Chicago newspapers describe Bigger as an ape, a jungle beast whose lower jaw protrudes obnoxiously, and a missing link in the human species (279, 280). Similar to the ape in Poes story, Bigger finds himself in the bedroom of a young white woman, Mary Dalton, for whom he has been hired as chauffer, and whose inebriated state requires that Bigger help her into bed. When Marys blind mother walks into her daughters room, Bigger tries to silence Mary with a pillow, but accidentally smothers her to death. Fully aware that any discovery of him in Marys bedroom will ineluctably lead to accusations of rape, Bigger ironically substitutes the crime of murder for the crime of rape. And yet, even after Marys charred remains are discovered in the basement furnace (which recalls the orangutans desire to conceal its bloody deeds by stuffing the body of Mademoiselle LEspanaye up the chimney), Bigger is still accused of having raped Mary, despite the absence of any physical evidence (107). As becomes abundantly clear when the prosecution demands that Bigger reenact the rape that never occurred, the crime of rape is understood as equal to the crime of murder. Or more precisely, it is the crime of miscegenation that Bigger is supposed to have committed, given that racist ideology assimilates all sexual relationships between black men and white women to rape. Noting the similarities between The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Native Son, Linda Prior contends that, whereas in Poe an animal is mistaken for a human, in Wright, a human is mistaken for an animal.45 Wright thus inverts Poes story in order to underscore white dehumanization of black men. But to read Wrights novel as an inversion of Poe


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is to presuppose an oppositional relation between human and animal; according to this reading, an ostensibly human criminal is unveiled as truly animal (Poes orangutan), whereas an animal criminal is unveiled as truly human (Wrights Bigger Thomas). If the orangutan is transparently animal, then Bigger Thomas is transparently human. Priors argument is thus the obverse of Whites, which asserts that Poes story pretends to focus on an animal criminal when its proper subject is a human slave. Or more precisely for White, Poes story constructs two levels of pretense: the story feigns to focus on a human agent that turns out to be an animal, but this animal is simply a second-order feint that reverts to its real human content. In this way, Whites reading recalls Jacques Lacans claim that an animal cannot pretend to pretend. That is, an animal cannot lead another astray (whether human or animal) by pretending to turn toward X so that the other will believe that it is going to Y when all along it intends to move toward X.46 Lacan thus reserves exclusively for humans the capacity to decode multiple layers of deception. Challenging this refusal to grant the animal this second-order deception, Derrida observes that it is not finally possible to discern between a pretense and a pretense of pretense, for the former supposes taking the other into account . . . [and] therefore supposes, simultaneously, the pretense of pretensea simple supplementary move [coup supplmentaire] of the other in the strategy of the game.47 According to White, the original pretense of Poes story supposes that the crime has been committed by a human, whereas the second-degree pretense substitutes an animal agent only to deceive the reader about the criminals actual human character. Within this structure of redoubled pretense, however, there is no apparent justification for arresting these interspecies shifts with the return to a human agent. Who is to say that this reversion to the human is not yet another feint? Indeed, the collapse of the distinction between pretense and pretense of pretense underscores that there is no means by which we might finally resolve the question of the criminal agents identity in favor of either humanity or animality.48 Common sense would seem to mandate a critical approach that insists on the humanity of blacks. And yet, I am proposing the counterintuitive move of resisting the disavowal of the animal, that is, of asking what it might mean to affirm the animality of all humans. For the effort to unveil the human behind the mask of animality also has the effect of reinscribing the binary between human and animal, and therefore of reasserting racial hierarchy. In his well-known essay, Negro Character as Seen by White Authors (1933), Sterling Brown argued that Reconstruction replaced the stereotype of the docile slave, which was invoked

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to prove that slavery had been a benefit to the Negro, with that of the Brute Negro, which sought to equate emancipation with an emergent black animality.49 Limiting his analysis to the stereotype of the black beast, however, Brown understood animality only in pejorative terms, implying that it must be vigorously resisted. But this insistence on the humanity of blacks reinstitutes the human/animal opposition that first produces their bestialization. In a paradoxical sense, the affirmation of humanity risks reinforcing black dehumanization. Notwithstanding the racist equation of blacks with beasts, animality plays a vital role within the African-American folkloric tradition, from the Brer Rabbit tales to the Signifying Monkey. As Henry Louis Gates observes, this latter trickster figure spawned an ironic reversal of a received racist image of the black as simianlike.50 According to the general formula of these stories, the monkey repeats to his friend the lion an insult supposedly uttered by an elephant and directed at the lion. The lion then demands an apology from the elephant, only to discover that he mistakenly took the monkeys words literally; consequently, the lion receives a violent beating from the elephant. For Gates, the monkeys trick relies on the lions incapacity to recognize the difference between figurative and literal language. Or more precisely, the monkey emphasizes the signifier over the signified, figuration over literal meaning. In this sense, we might read Poes orangutan as a signifying monkey of sorts, insofar as it resists its reduction either to a literal animality (the central conceit of Poes story) or a literal humanity (Whites reading), but permanently suspends the opposition between these two poles. To read Poes orangutan as an allegory for the hybridization of all humansfar from endorsing some facile effort to embrace the stereotype of black animalityis to insist, on the contrary, that animality is never reducible to its racialization, that this latter process disavows a generalizable human ferity through its brutification of the black male. As Toni Morrison writes in Beloved, the screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.51

Signifying on Poe: Wrights Native Son

Given the thematic emphasis on animality and criminality that Native Son shares with The Murders in the Rue Morgue, it should come as no surprise that Wrights novel would problematize the notion of accountability. Indeed, much of the public reaction to Mary Daltons murder, as well as the prosecutions case, centers on the paradoxical construction of Bigger as both beast and what Nietzsche describes as a sovereign


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individual, understood as a human agent who can be held accountable for his actions precisely because he is endowed with the capacity to make and keep his promises. Recall that for Nietzsche, being human requires submission to the exigencies of bad conscience, which produces the subject by retroactively tracing all deeds to a volitional agent. One becomes human precisely by being held accountable for some act of wrong-doing. With an obvious note of sarcasm, Nietzsche refers to the privilege of responsibility that is granted to the sovereign subject, though elsewhere he describes conscience as a serious illness that human animals contracted as a result of their confinement within modern society (60, 84). He compares the domestication of humans (what he calls semi-animals) to the force that compelled sea animals to become land animals or perish (84). Within the confines of modern society, humans abandoned their unconscious and infallible drives in favor of thinking, inferring, reckoning, co-ordinating cause and effect. . . . They were reduced to their consciousness, their weakest and most fallible organ! (84). The representation of Bigger as both an animal and a human subject who can and ought to be held accountable for his actions rests on a duplicitous set of beliefs that both transgress and redraw the boundary between human and animal. If Bigger is truly animal, then how can he be held accountable for his actions? Ironically, by holding him responsible for Marys murder, the prosecution inadvertently confers a certain humanity on him. Yet this apparent humanization is but the precursor to his bestialization, which is repeatedly invoked to account for a behavior that supposedly places him outside of humanity. From Biggers perspective, however, Marys murder initiates a process of subjectivation that promises to construct a new life. . . . It was something that was all his own, and it was the first time in his life he had had anything that others could not take from him. . . . He had done this. He had brought all this about (105, 239). Bigger sanctions the public demand to hold him accountable precisely because it pledges the possibility of social recognition. But the social intelligibility that he achieves is predicated on the perception of him as a threat to society. Thus, while Bigger imagines Marys murder as a creative act, he is also keenly aware that his deeds are subject to appropriation by a racist ideology according to which he had killed many times before. . . . His crime seemed natural; he felt that all of his life had been leading to something like this (239). That previously there had been no handy victim or circumstance to make visible or dramatic his will to kill means that racist ideology requires no actual murder, no actual victim as evidence in support of the black males ostensibly inherent propensity to violence: He was black and he had been alone in a room where a white girl had been killed; therefore

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he had killed her. That was what everybody would say anyhow, no matter what he said (106). The passive construction, a white girl had been killed, does not imply Biggers refusal to assume responsibility for Marys murder; on the contrary, it suggests that his actual guilt is secondary to the exigencies of a racist ideology according to which Bigger is always already the black ape that the murder only reveals him to be. At the same time, his violent nature is ascribed to a rumored mixture of white blood, which generally makes for a criminal and intractable nature (282). Biggers supposedly violent nature thus serves as a cautionary tale against miscegenationthe literal mixture of species. Ironically, when Max attempts to persuade the court that mitigating circumstances ought to forestall his clients execution, he characterizes Biggers actions as instinctive (377), a natural reaction (292), performed accidentally, without thinking, without plan, without conscious motive (396). In this way, Maxs argument appears to mime the public perception of Bigger as an animal: an unconscious, reactive machine, deficient in intelligence, lacking the capacity for reflection and memory, and thus incapable of achieving the status of Nietzsches promising humanimal. Although one could certainly judge Maxs argument as racist, it also could be read as performing an immanent critique of white racism that exposes the publics duplicitous construction of Bigger as both human and animal. Driven to its innermost, absurd conclusions, the racist construction of black animality utterly evacuates Biggers accountability, which means that the public must ascribe to Bigger a minimal humanity in order to hold him accountable for his actions. Not surprisingly, the characterization of Bigger as an unconscious animal has produced no shortage of negative criticism, among the most known of which is that voiced by James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison. Reacting to Maxs plea to spare Biggers life, Baldwin asserts that to say that he [Bigger] is a monster is to fall into a trap of making him subhuman. . . . To present Bigger as a warning is . . . to limit him to that . . . social arena in which he has no human validity.52 Echoing Baldwin, Ellison claims that Wright began with the ideological proposition that what whites think of the Negros reality is more important than what Negroes themselves know it to be. Hence, Bigger Thomas was presented as a near-subhuman indictment of white oppression.53 Wrights narrow portrayal of black life thus conflicts with Ellisons primary assumption that men with black skins . . . are unquestionably human.54 More recently, Henry Louis Gates has described Bigger as a re-active protagonist, voiceless to the last.55 However, as Gates himself observes in a discussion of Zora Neale Hurstons essay Characteristics of Negro Expression, the stereotype of African-Americans as reactive, imitative


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beings is conditioned by a false opposition between originality and imitation. Against the racist claims of Jefferson and Hume, Hurston argues that the Negro, the world over, is famous as a mimic. But this in no way damages his standing as an original. Mimicry is an art in itself.56 For Hurston, moreover, this analysis extends beyond African-American culture to encompass all artistic creation: What we really mean by originality is the modification of ideas. The most ardent admirer of the great Shakespeare cannot claim first source even for him.57 In Native Son, whites read Biggers violence as mimicking a universal, ontological truth of black men. This odd redoubling of Biggers beastliness suggests, contradictorily, that his animality constitutes both what he has been all along, and what his murder of Mary performatively enacts. From this perspective, Biggers murderous performance retroactively confirms an incipient beastliness: Bigger apes the ape. His animality, moreover, is further emphasized by the name Bigger, which connotes a magnification of a threatening (phallic) size or power thatin the absence of any point of comparison (bigger than what?)remains unspecified and thus potentially infinite. That Bigger regards Marys murder as a creative act, however, reminds us that no matter how derived or imitative of racist ideology, his deeds cannot be posed against an alternative set of purely original actions, produced by a fully volitional, sovereign agent. Certainly Biggers violence ought not to be read as a general characteristic of black male expression; I mean only to suggest that its interpretation as mechanically produced relies on an unexamined opposition between human response and animal reaction. As Derrida argues, no response can claim an originality or authority that fundamentally opposes it to a reaction. Remarking on Lacans refusal to allow animals the capacity to respond, Derrida wonders how any psychoanalytic account of the unconscious could presume an unproblematic opposition between reaction and response when the unconscious is precisely what limits the freedom that presupposes all responsibility.58 Here Derrida alludes to the fundamental relation between response and responsibility, the latter which implies a capacity to respond to the other beyond the calculating, mechanical effects of repetition that nevertheless circumscribe every response, no matter how originary, free, decisive, and a-reactional it seems.59 Every response betrays an iterabilitya citational repetition without origin that contaminates its purity, its absolute separation from the mechanistic. Whether linguistic or nonlinguistic, a response begins by repeating a set of conventions that precede and condition its manifestation. Far from dissolving the category of intention, citationality insures that no intention bears the capacity to govern the entire scene and the entire system of

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utterances.60 For Derrida, to challenge the opposition between reaction and response is not only a matter of asking whether one has the right to refuse such and such a power to the animal. . . [but] also of asking whether what calls itself human has the right to rigorously attribute to man, to attribute to himself, therefore, what he refuses the animal.61 In this sense, it is less a question of demonstrating how white racism denies black men consciousness and agency than of interrogating how this refusal is predicated on the false ascription of an unconstrained, nonreactional, transparently conscious response to the white subject. As Abdul JanMohamed contends, Wrights novel is structured like a dream and has to be read as such.62 Citing Maxs assertion before the jury that understanding Bigger Thomas requires an unveiling of the unconscious ritual of death in which we, like sleep-walkers, have participated so dreamlike and thoughtlessly, JanMohamed argues that Wright seeks to explore how Bigger is produced, bound, and motivated by structures that have been in place throughout slavery and Jim Crow society (383, 77). Far from imprisoning Native Son within the confines of the naturalist novel in which Bigger would emerge as a victim of a vast impersonal world moving inexorably in its own direction without heed to individual choices and destinies, JanMohamed cites the numerous coincidences, modes of repetition, and specular relationships between characters as evidence that the novel conforms to an unconscious structure that suspends the demands of verisimilitude (78). Despite his careful attention to the unconscious configurations that limit Biggers actions, JanMohamed subscribes, at least implicitly, to the conventional opposition between reaction and response. He asserts, for instance, that Bigger murders Mary not once but twice. The initial murder, Biggers smothering of Mary, is accidental, whereas the decapitation and burning of her body in the furnace is quite deliberate and intentional (98). But how are we to discern between these two acts in terms of their conscious intentionality? By what calculation do we measure the first murder as a reaction to external circumstances and the second as an internally motivated response? Although JanMohamed claims that Bigger gratuitously decapitates and burns Marys body under no external compulsion, certainly the need to conceal his murderous deeds fuels his actions just as much as some internal, subjective necessity (99). The second murder is a forced choice, absolutely necessary if he wants to save himself from arrest and prosecution. If, moreover, we read the decapitation and burning of Mary as a repetition of the first murder, then it becomes difficult to characterize it as a fully intentional, willed response. Within the terms of JanMohameds argument, the second murder is by definition a citational act, a re-action that draws its force


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from the first murder. And this ostensibly original, sovereign action is itself belated, for, as we have seen, racist ideology portrays Bigger as having killed many times before (239). Biggers multiple murderous acts issue a challenge to racist ideology by affirming iterability as the condition of any response, no matter how original and nonimitative we might imagine and want it to be. If, as Nietzsche insists, the moral requirements of accountability fabricate the human as the origin and cause of its actions, responsibility derives from mimicry, which is to say, from our fundamental apehood. As implied by the idiomatic phrase, to take responsibility, every response arrives from elsewhere; one appropriates it to oneself, assumes it as ones own, at the risk of disavowing its irreducible alterity. For the ability to respond does not originate with the subject, but emerges from the citationality that both conditions and limits all human agency. University of Western Sydney
NOTES I would like to thank Eric Anders, Peggy Kamuf, and Elizabeth Freeman for their salient responses to an earlier draft of this essay. 1 Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in The Tell-Tale Heart, and Other Writings (New York: Bantam Books, 1983) (hereafter cited in text). 2 Akira Mizuta Lippit, Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2000), 28. 3 Ren Descartes, Discourse on the Method, in Selected Philosophical Writings, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), 2056. 4 E. P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906; reprint, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006) (hereafter cited in text). 5 Cesare Lombroso, Criminal Man, trans. Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2006) (hereafter cited in text). 6 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1989), 85 (hereafter cited in text). 7 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997), 45. 8 On recent efforts to ascribe the status of personhood to apes, see The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, ed. Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer (New York: St. Martins Press, 1993). The collection features a Declaration on Great Apes that prohibits torture and extends to apes the right to life and the protection of individual liberty. On the legal implications of extending personhood to apes, see (in this same volume) Gary L. Francione, Personhood, Property, and Legal Competence. As Lesley J. Rogers and Gisela Kaplan observe, the effort to grant legal personhood to nonhuman animals risks reproducing the Cartesian principle, cogito, ergo sum, insofar as the reputed cognitive abilities of animals are invoked as proof of their equal status. See their All Animals Are Not Equal: The Interface Between Scientific Knowledge and Legislation for Animal Rights, in Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, ed. Cass R. Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), 175202.

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9 Milton Millhauser, Just Before Darwin: Robert Chambers and Vestiges (1959; reprint, New York: Norton, 1979), 2731. 10 G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977). 11 Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1884), xiii (hereafter cited in text). 12 See Lynn Barber, The Heyday of Natural History: 18201870 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980), 26668. 13 Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (London: Penguin, 2004). 14 Cited in Londa L. Schiebinger, Natures Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), 80. For more on Linnaeuss classification system, see Barber, The Heyday of Natural History, 4756, as well as Schiebinger 4047. 15 Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, Nomenclature des singes, in Oeuvres compltes de Buffon (Paris: Baudouin Frres et N. Delangle, 1826), 215 (my translation). Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours sur lorigine and les fondements de lingalit parmi les hommes (Amsterdam: Marc Michel Rey, 1755), 226. My translation. See also Peter Camper, Account of the Organs of Speech of the Orang Outang, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 69 (1779): 13959; Otis Fellows and Stephen F. Milliken, A Precursor of Darwin? in Buffon (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972), 11224. 16 See Brett Mizelle, Man Cannot Behold it Without Contemplating Himself: Monkeys, Apes and Human Identity in the Early American Republic, in Explorations in Early American Culture: A Supplemental Issue of Pennsylvania History 66 (1999): 14473. 17 See Jeffrey Meyers, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy (London: John Murray, 1992), 123. Although he questions whether Poe or his readers had ever seen an actual orangutan, Terence Whalen also notes the coincidental publication of Poes story and the 1839 exhibit at the Masonic Auditorium. See Edgar Allan Poe and The Horrid Laws of Political Economy, American Quarterly 44, no. 3 (1992): 401. 18 Elise Lemire, The Murders in the Rue Morgue: Amalgamation Discourses and the Race Riots of 1838 in Poes Philadelphia, in Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy and Liliane Weissberg (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2001). 19 Buffon, Nomenclature, 253, 243. 20 Charles Darwin, Autobiographies (New York: Penguin Classics, 2002), 29. 21 Ralph R. Acampora, Nietzsches Feral Philosophy: Thinking through an Animal Imaginary, in A Nietzschean Bestiary: Becoming Animal Beyond Docile and Brutal, ed. Christa Davis Acampora and Ralph Acampora (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), 2. 22 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (New York: Penguin, 1978), 12. 23 Peter Groff, Who is Zarathustras Ape? in A Nietzschean Bestiary, ed. Acampora and Acampora, 19. 24 Franz Kafka, A Report to an Academy, in Kafkas Selected Stories, ed. Stanley Corngold (New York: Norton, 2007). 25 In contrast to Aristotles claim that mimesis is natural for humans because imitations are a source of pleasure, Darwins insight is that mimicry emerges in response to necessity or threat. See Aristotle, Poetics, trans. Malcolm Heath (New York: Penguin, 1996). For more on Nietzsches conception of human mimesis, see Margot Norris, Darwin, Nietzsche, Kafka, and the Problem of Mimesis, in Beasts of the Modern Imagination: Darwin, Nietzsche, Kafka, Ernst, and Lawrence (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1985), 5372; Keith Ansell Pearson, Nietzsche Contra Darwin, in Nietzsche: Critical Assessments, ed. Daniel W. Conway and Peter S. Groff (New York: Routledge, 1998), 731. 26 Richard Wright, Native Son (New York: Harper Perennial, 2005) (hereafter cited in text). 27 Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Richmond: J.W. Randolph, 1853), 150.


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28 See John Carlos Rowe, Antebellum Slavery and Modern Criticism: Edgar Allan Poes Pym and The Purloined Letter, in At Emersons Tomb: The Politics of Classic American Literature (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1997), 4262; Dana D. Nelson, Ethnocentrism Decentered: Colonial Motives in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, in The Word in Black and White: Reading Race in American Literature, 16381867 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992), 90108; Joan Dayan, Amorous Bondage: Poe, Ladies, and Slaves, American Literature 66, no. 2 (1994): 23973; Lesley Ginsberg, Slavery and the Gothic Horror of Poes The Black Cat, in American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, ed. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy (Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 1998), 99128. 29 Dayan, Amorous Bondage, 241. 30 Ed White, The Ourang-Outang Situation, College Literature 30, no. 3 (2003): 89 108. 31 White, The Ourang-Outang Situation, 88. 32 Steve Baker, Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity, and Representation (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2001), 211. 33 Baker, Picturing the Beast, 138. 34 Baker, Picturing the Beast, 136. 35 Leclerc, Les Orangs-Outangs, ou le Pongo et le Jocko, in Oeuvres compltes de Buffon, 262 (my translation). 36 Thaddeus Mason Harris, The Natural History of the Bible (Boston: Printed by I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews, 1793), 2425. 37 For more on the participation of science in the construction of racial animality, see Steven Jay Goulds seminal work, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1981). 38 Jefferson, Notes, 151. 39 David Hume, Of National Characters, in Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1963), 213. 40 Georges Cuvier, Le rgne animal (Paris: Dterville Libraire, Crochard Libraire, 1829), 80 (my translation) (hereafter cited in text). 41 Georges Cuvier, Memoir on the Species of Elephants, both Living and Fossil, in Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations and Interpretations of the Primary Texts, trans. Martin J. S. Rudwick (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1998), 19. Despite Cuviers denunciation of Buffons theory of degeneration, historian Edward Larson suggests that Cuvier was an important precursor to Darwin insofar as the formers theory that catastrophic floods yielded a continuous cycle of extinction and new species creation (either due to migration or divine will) committed Cuvier to a view of species succession that proved foundational for evolutionary thought. See Edward J. Larson, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory (New York: Random House, 2006), 24. 42 The term miscegenation was introduced during the election year of 1864 in a pamphlet authored by David Croly (though published anonymously) that aimed to discredit Lincoln and abolitionist Republicans for supposedly advocating interracial sex. Although the writers of the pamphlet were proslavery Democrats, they portrayed themselves as abolitionists who believed that racial mixture was crucial to human progress. They solicited responses from abolitionists who favored miscegenation and received many letters from prominent actors in the movement. The hoax was exposed soon after Lincoln was reelected. See David Croly, Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and the Negro (New York: H. Dexter, Hamilton & Company, 1864); Sidney Kaplan, The Miscegenation Issue in the Election Year of 1864 (1949), reprinted in Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law, ed. Werner Sollors (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000). See also Werner Sollors, Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997); Paul R. Spickard, Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America

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(Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1989); Martha Hodes, White Women/Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1997). 43 John H. Van Evrie, Subgenation: The Theory of the Normal Relation of the Races; An Answer to Miscegenation (New York: John Bradburn, 1864), 11. 44 For more on white paranoia of the possibility of slave revolt, see Harvey Wish, The Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856, Journal of Southern History 5, no. 2 (1939): 20622. 45 Linda Prior, A Further Word on Richard Wrights Use of Poe in Native Son, Poe Studies 5, no. 2 (1972): 5253. See also Michel Fabre, Black Cat and White Cat: Wrights Gothic and the Influence of Poe, in The World of Richard Wright (Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1985), 2733. 46 Jacques Lacan, The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious, in crits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), 292325. 47 Jacques Derrida, Lanimal que donc je suis (Paris: Galile, 2006). 48 The hybridity of Poes animal, moreover, is captured by the often-noted etymology of orangutanMalayan for man of the woods or wild man. See Charles Payson Gurley Scott, The Malayan Words in English, Journal of the American Oriental Society 18 (1897): 86. 49 Sterling Brown, Negro Character as Seen by White Authors, The Journal of Negro Education 2, no. 2 (1933): 191. If we read Poes story in terms of the stereotype of the black brute, however, then Browns strict periodic division between antebellum and postbellum cannot be easily sustained. Nor is it entirely clear that Poes story is anomalous. Consider the following examples: Melvilles Benito Cereno, which belies the stereotype of the docile slave by foregrounding Delanos disavowal of the black capacity to initiate a slave revolt; contemporary responses to Nat Turners revolt in 1831 (see Kenneth Greenberg ed., The Confessions of Nat Turner and Related Documents [New York: Bedford Books, 1996]); and Harriet Beecher Stowes Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006). For an excellent discussion of Stowes invocation of the brute negro, see William Tynes Cowan, The Slave in the Swamp: Disrupting the Plantation Narrative (New York: Routledge, 2005). 50 Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 52. See also Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, eds., The Book of Negro Folklore (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1983); Roger D. Abrahams, Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1970). 51 Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Plume, 1987), 199. 52 James Baldwin, Many Thousands Gone, in Collected Essays (New York: Library of America, 1998), 31, 33. 53 Ralph Ellison, The World and the Jug, in Shadow and Act (New York: Vintage, 1995), 114. 54 Ellison, The World and the Jug, 113. 55 Gates, Signifying Monkey, 106. 56 Zora Neale Hurston, Characteristics of Negro Expression, in Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings, ed. Cheryl A. Wall (New York: Library of America, 1995), 838. 57 Hurston, Characteristics, 838. 58 Derrida, Lanimal, 172. 59 Derrida, Lanimal, 172. 60 Derrida, Signature Event Context, in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982), 326. 61 Derrida, Lanimal, 185. 62 Abdul R. JanMohamed, The Death-Bound-Subject: Richard Wrights Archaeology of Death (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2005), 3 (hereafter cited in text).