May 21, 2012

Interpreting Nat Turner's "Confessions"

Christopher L. Tomlins, University of California, Irvine School of Law, has published Demonic Ambiguities: Enchantment and Disenchantment in Nathaniel Turner’s Virginia as IC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-22. Here is the abstract.

This paper conjoins three texts – the “Confessions of Nat Turner,” Walter Benjamin’s “Capitalism as Religion,” and Max Weber’s “Science as a Vocation.” Benjamin and Weber provide interpretive prisms through which to examine Turner’s confession. Though quite unlike each other, each glances at the demonic – a matter of some significance when one considers the meaning of the “full faith and credit” held due the decision of the Southampton (Virginia) County Court to hang Turner for his attempted 1831 slave rebellion. Like guilt/debt, the dual meanings of Schuld that, for Benjamin, confirmed the existence of a religious – specifically a Christian – structure in capitalism, the conjunction of faith and credit has its own demonic ambiguity, simultaneously sacralizing (faith) and secularizing (credit) the authority of the law. In capitalism as religion and as law, these demonic ambiguities fuse together in an overwhelming simultaneity that is at once economic and juridical, moral and psychological, profane and sacral. This simultaneity – and Turner’s attempt to disrupt it – is the paper’s chief concern.
Download the paper from SSRN at the link. 

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