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Book Review

Mabogo Percy More, Sartre on Contingency: Antiblack Racism and Embodiment

Thomas Meagher

Mabogo Percy More, Sartre on Contingency: Antiblack Racism and Embodiment (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), 303 pp., $44 (paperback), ISBN: 9781538157046

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Kirsty Carpenter

Britain sheltered thousands of French refugees fleeing the Revolution. Relief organized on their behalf was unique at the time because it included both charitable and government-funded aid to temporary foreign residents. Resources were channeled through nongovernmental voluntary bodies in the French community and distributed by Jean-François de la Marche, the exiled Bishop of Saint Pol de Léon. The emigrants of the 1790s were agents of their own survival, but they also depended on diverse forms of support in host countries. That story has clear parallels in our own time. Eighteenth-century British relief also served as a precursor for subsequent humanitarian funding for victims of war and persecution.

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Graham Holderness

Shakespeare's interest in ancient Rome spans the whole of his dramatic career, from Titus Andronicus to Cymbeline, while Roman history and Latin culture permeate the whole of his work, well beyond the explicitly ‘Roman’ plays and poems. Critical interest has to some extent shifted from the historicist Roman plays based on Plutarch, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, and the pseudo-historical Coriolanus, to the outlying Roman plays that evidence greater generic diversity and stylistic innovation, the early Senecan tragedy Titus Andronicus and the late ‘British’ romance Cymbeline. In these latter plays, the complex interactions between past and present, that are the main subject of the formal histories, are presented with even more aesthetic flexibility and creative improvisation than the ‘Roman plays’ proper.

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Constance L. Mui and T Storm Heter

Readers will recall that we devoted a special issue to anti-Black racism in 2021, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which gained momentum following the 2020 murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police officers in Louisville and Minneapolis. The present issue continues to address the problem of racism from a Sartrean perspective, with an interview of the pioneering Black Existentialist thinker Lewis R. Gordon, followed by articles that take up related themes in freedom and oppression.

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Émigrés and Migrations during the French Revolution

Identities, Economics, Social Exchanges, and Humanitarianism

Lloyd Kramer

The French Revolution profoundly influenced many of the ideas and institutions that created the modern world. This far-reaching revolutionary upheaval drew widely on eighteenth-century Enlightenment culture to construct and spread modern ideas about human rights, republicanism, legal equality, nationalism, and the value of scientific knowledge. At the same time, France’s revolutionary leaders began to create new institutions that France and other modern countries would use to develop large state bureaucracies, mass conscription armies, centralized monetary and taxation systems, nationwide legal codes and police surveillance, carefully orchestrated public rituals, and new plans for public education.

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Enterprising Émigrés of the Channel Islands

French Economic Migration under “Refugeedom” during the French Revolution

Sydney Watts

During the French Revolution, thousands of French refugees migrated through the Channel borderlands. At least four thousand settled there. The Channel Island of Jersey served as the loci of migration where economic life operated under “refugeedom,” a polity both apart from and particular to state authority. Refugeedom—in its alterity—suggests a matrix of economic conditions, legal codes, and social relations that can explain the lives of people in the French Revolution’s emigration. This study of economic migration offers a way to reframe the French emigration as opportunism and resilience. Refugeedom serves as the analytic framework to understand economic migration, not only as a political crisis of displaced people in the midst of revolution—those seeking refuge from war, persecution, famine, and other hardships—but also as part of a strategy of survival, one that includes the economic migration of labor.

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Existential Philosophy and Antiracism

An Interview with Lewis R. Gordon

T Storm Heter

Lewis R. Gordon is Professor of Philosophy (and Head of the Department of Philosophy) at the University of Connecticut. His two most recent books are Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization (New York: Routledge, 2020) and Fear of Black Consciousness (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022). Since his first monograph, Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (1995), Gordon’s many writings have challenged Sartre scholars to move beyond narrowly Euro-centric ideas of reason, humanity, and existence. The existential philosophy pioneered in Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (a revision of Gordon’s 1993 Ph. D. dissertation), placed the issue of antiracism at the heart of the study of existence. A prolific and highly visible philosopher, Gordon’s writings have inspired an explosion of interest in Africana Existentialism, an open-ended, creolizing philosophy. In the interview below, Gordon outlines the existential situations that face us today. How is human liberation possible given the soul-killing forces of white supremacy, capitalism, and ongoing colonization? Gordon insists on the importance of antiracist institution building, including the transformation of white spaces, especially in academic journals, at conferences, and in university philosophy departments. Importantly, Gordon reminds us that Sartre was one of the few European writers to offer “a genuine engagement with Black intellectuals.” Like Sartre’s famous assertion that “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Gordon’s message is that Black Existentialism is a Humanism. Challenging the Euro-centric notion that human existence is an abstract, color-less category, Gordon teaches us a new way of thinking and listening. Misguided by parochial notions of human reason, many white (and/or non-Black) philosophers have closed their minds and ears to the calls of Black liberation, thinking they have nothing at stake, or that they must remain mere “allies.” Gordon’s work shows us a different path: Black liberation is a universal ethical injunction. Existential philosophy dissolves the supposed contradiction between action and theory, between universal and concrete, between ally and freedom fighter. Done properly, existential philosophy is, in Gordon’s words, “a form of epistemological decolonial practice.”

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Illness, Metaphor, and Bells

Campanology under COVID-19

Remi Chiu

Throughout 2020 and 2021, bells have rung in a variety of COVID-related rituals in the West, ranging from large-scale religious and civic rites, to ad hoc neighborhood and hospital initiatives, to anti-racist memorials that simultaneously spoke to the health crisis at hand. Taking stock of how these COVID bell-ringing rituals were formalized, their structures and actions, and the historical precedents from which they drew their meanings, this article investigates what the sounds of bells and the rituals of bell-ringing communicated about COVID, how they shaped our personal and collective experiences of the crisis, and what functions they were expected to serve during this liminal period. It reveals how, owing to the historical polysemy of bells on the one hand and the social uncertainties of living with COVID on the other, those rituals generated vivid symbolisms and mobilized powerful emotions that sometimes brought about unintended consequences.

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A Kingdom for a Mirth

Shakespeare's ‘Fatal Cleopatra’ and the Worm's Turn

Roger Stritmatter and Shelly Maycock

Abstract

This article offers a reading of the famously problematic scene 5.2 of Antony and Cleopatra, in which Cleopatra prepares to meet her death by the bite of the ‘worm’ (5.2.233–290). In this scene, and this scene alone, the Egyptian asp is called by the Anglo-Saxon term ‘worm’ nine times. Repetition, suggests Frankie Rubinstein, may in Shakespeare be a sign of a pun. Samuel Johnson characterised the homophonic resonance of punning as ‘Shakespeare's Fatal Cleopatra’, but Rubinstein insists that for Shakespeare ‘“reason, propriety, and truth” were not sacrificed by the Shakespearean “quibble” but emerge from it’. In Antony and Cleopatra, punning is one key linguistic expression of the play's entwinement with the principles of alchemical transmutation and preference for ‘becoming’ in the ancient dichotomy between being and becoming. As Richard Whalen first proposed in 1991, the ninefold iteration of ‘worm’ in the scene may be a pun on an Aristocratic French name, since the word ‘worm’ in French is Ver.

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Ian Ward

Abstract

This article revisits one of Shakespeare's later, often rather neglected, plays. Shakespeare is thought to have written Cymbeline in 1609 or 1610, at much the same moment, it is commonly surmised, as other so-called ‘problem’ plays such as Pericles and The Winter's Tale. Critics have rarely enthused over Cymbeline, lacking an obvious lead character, the action moving unsettlingly between Roman Britain and Renaissance Italy. Cymbeline has, though, something important to say about the constitutional politics of Jacobean England. King James I liked to style himself as the ‘new Augustus’. He also liked the absolutist idea of kingship which he discovered in his reading of the ‘old’ Augustus. In writing Cymbeline, Shakespeare sought a delicate balance, paying homage to the affinity, whilst also cautioning against uncritical reliance on Roman conceptions of magistracy.