The Fugitive's Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession

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University of Chicago Press, 2. apr 2004 - 362 pages
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In this study of literature and law before and since the Civil War, Stephen M. Best shows how American conceptions of slavery, property, and the idea of the fugitive were profoundly interconnected. The Fugitive's Properties uncovers a poetics of intangible, personified property emerging out of antebellum laws, circulating through key nineteenth-century works of literature, and informing cultural forms such as blackface minstrelsy and early race films.

Best also argues that legal principles dealing with fugitives and indebted persons provided a sophisticated precursor to intellectual property law as it dealt with rights in appearance, expression, and other abstract aspects of personhood. In this conception of property as fleeting, indeed fugitive, American law preserved for much of the rest of the century slavery's most pressing legal imperative: the production of personhood as a market commodity. By revealing the paradoxes of this relationship between fugitive slave law and intellectual property law, Best helps us to understand how race achieved much of its force in the American cultural imagination. A work of ambitious scope and compelling cross-connections, The Fugitive's Properties sets new agendas for scholars of American literature and legal culture.

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Literary theory attempt to meld property law with cultural analysis; mostly flew over my head. As I understand the argument: Slavery, or fugitive slaves, served as a metaphor or playing out of the ... Read full review

Selected pages


Fugitive Sound Fungible Personhood Evanescent Property
Copyright Law
The Human Phonograph
Dred Scott v Sandford
The Fugitives Properties Uncle Toms Incalculable Dividend
Pro Bono Publico
Toms par me la
Cuttin of Figgers
Counterfactuals Causation and the Tenses of Separate but Equal
Parallel Tracks
What Happened in the Tunnel
The Rules of the Game
Principle and History
Procedure and Pragmatism

Castles in the Air
The Social Covenant of Property

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Page 10 - A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly or as incidental to its very existence.
Page 7 - Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW 1s KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.
Page 10 - It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men in succession with these qualities and capacities that corporations were invented and are in use. By these means, a perpetual succession of individuals are capable of acting for the promotion of the particular object, like one immortal being.

About the author (2004)

Stephen M. Best is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.

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