BlackFacts Details

Book review of ‘Being Property Once Myself’ –

BY DR. GLENN ALTSCHULER

SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

“Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man’’ by Joshua Bennett.

In “Being Property Once Myself,’’ Bennett, a professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth, and the author of “The Sobbing School,’’ a collection of poetry, draws on literary criticism, theory and history; animality studies; and eco-criticism to analyze ways in which African American novelists and poets use animals to identify a “black ecology” that is predicated not only on exploitation (in places where Blacks are envisioned as “not quite non-human forms of life”) but on sociality, depth of feeling, flight from forces of subjugation, mulish persistence, and even “delight” in a precarious existence.

In addition to “Salvage the Bones,’’ Bennett provides close readings of “Native Son’’ by Richard Wright; “Song of Solomon’’ by Toni Morrison; Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God’’; and poems by Robert Hayden, Melvin Tolson and Xandria Phillips that deploy sharks to illuminate Black persistence and fugitive possibilities.

Bennett reminds us, for example, that as “Native Son’’ opens, Bigger Thomas kills a black rat, who shares his family’s kitchenette, in a ghetto tenement unfit for human habitation, and taunts his little sister with the body.

Most important, Bennett writes, Bigger chooses a “hell naw” insurgent life, spurning limitations forced on him, even as he is branded “a humanoid pest in flight, who creeps and crawls at the nadir of the social ladder, leeching resources from those above.”