Harriet Jacobs Gets a Hearing

Crawley, Ashon

What can one hear in confinement, and how can that hearing be connective
lineament? In her grandmother’s crawlspace for seven years—compressed
as a means to escape, confined with access only to shallow air as a means
to flight—Harriet Jacobs was both discarded and discardable. What did it
mean to be discarded, for discardable materiality to bespeak an ontological
condition? What can we learn from Jacobs’s existence in the crawlspace, of
her throwing herself into claustrophobic conditions to stage her eventual
scurrying away? Her discarded body bodies forth socially and a sociality.
What is the social life—as opposed to the social death—of the discarded?
Her existence in that crawlspace, as an object that was thrown and thrown
away, is cause for celebration. Harriet Jacobs knew something about black
performance as a mode of sociality that is still reproduced today. Sound, for
Harriet Jacobs, was an important resource for allowing her thriving, even
in the most horrific of conditions.



Also Published In

Current Musicology

More About This Work

Academic Units
Columbia University
Published Here
September 29, 2014