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British Empire and the Literature of Rebellion-Author Talk

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British Empire and the Literature of Rebellion: Revolting Bodies, Laboring Subjects- Author Talk with Sheshalatha Reddy

Mutiny, riot, outbreak, rebellion.

The recent financial crisis and its widespread economic, social, and political consequences have renewed debate around resistance to, reform of, and revolution against existing economic and concomitant political structures around the world as seen in the Black Lives Matter movement, the Occupy movement, and the Arab Spring. To envision a new, more socially and economically just future, it is imperative we unearth the past, especially the ways in which the seeds of contemporary ideologies of financial capitalism around laboring bodies, their value, and their modes of resistance have been informed by discourses inherited from the height of industrial capitalism.

Join Sheshalatha Reddy, Assistant Professor at Howard University, for a discussion of her book British Empire and the Literature of Rebellion: Revolting Bodies, Laboring Subjects (2017), which examines three supposedly unsuccessful mid-nineteenth-century colonial uprisings against the British Empire, including the Sepoy Rebellion (1857) in India, the Morant Bay Rebellion (1865) in Jamaica, and the Fenian Rebellion (1867) in Ireland, and their continuing importance for discussions of resistance into the present day. Ranging across late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary and visual texts about or inspired by these rebellions, this book charts the way the three uprisings became flashpoints for the varying yet parallel attempts by imperial colonialists, nationalists, and socialists to transform the oppressed colonized worker (the subjected laborer) into one whose identity is created and limited by labor (a laboring subject) under a new regime of biopower that sought new sources of capitalist accumulation. More importantly, the book charts varying modes of resistance to this deeper and more invasive incursion of imperial capitalism in the three colonies from the mid-nineteenth and into the late-twentieth centuries. 

Yet, as Revolting Bodies, Laboring Subjects points out, such resistance was dismissed within British imperial discourses, which often used the terms “mutiny,” “riot,” and “outbreak” to characterize these uprisings, thereby attempting to contain and minimize their transformative possibilities. In tracing the ways these earlier resistance movements have been marginalized—seen as disorganized, represented as ideologically incoherent, characterized as failures—even while remaining central to both dominant and subordinate discourses, this book provides historical context for the mainstream marginalization of contemporary resistance movements. It also provides historical context for contemporary modes of producing laboring subjects from “revolting” bodies, those that resist (neo-) imperial capitalist management and control and that are seen as unseemly, even repulsive, for reasons of gender, sexuality, race, class, religion, abilities, appearance and so on (in other words, revolt as both verb and adjective).

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Earlier Event: May 21
DC Death Cafe
Later Event: May 27
Mindfulness Meditation Class