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Race, writing, and Don Juan.

THERE ARE MANY WAYS IN WHICH LORD BYRON'S NARRATOR DEFENDS THE cause of slavery's abolition in Don Juan. We frequently read the speaker's pronouncements of political allegiance to the cause of William Wilberforce, the greatest parliamentary leader on behalf of abolition and the "moral Washington of Africa"; in the same vein, the speaker vilifies false Christian "bigots" who make their "pure creed" into the "sanction" for slavery's "ill." (1) In this essay, however, I want to show that Byron's opposition to slavery and the slave trade is a great deal more complicated than we might think if we were merely to take at face value the poet-narrator's claims to be "born for opposition" (15.22). While generally voicing support for abolition (a support that Byron openly expressed elsewhere), Don Juan nevertheless depends upon a subtle yet profound logic that insistently privileges the purity and beauty of white bodies. This is not because the poem merely expresses a racist ideology, but rather because its intertwined configurations of political and aesthetic value are inseparable from a self-consciously constructed racial hierarchy. Byron is fully aware of this hierarchy's artificiality, but this awareness cannot detract from the sway of race over the poem, and from the sway of race within a cultural history that the poem brilliantly and comically instantiates and endorses.

The work of David Theo Goldberg has shown how conceptions of rights (which include rights expounded upon in abolitionist discourse) have been historically inseparable from raced conceptions of the political subject. Such conceptions have aimed at discriminating between those subjects who are, and those who are not, capable of civilization and self-government. (2) Helen Heran Jun has continued this line of argument to show how even recent twentieth- and twenty-first-century views of citizenship depend upon exclusionary understandings of racial difference. (3) Such accounts, and others like them, collectively show how attempts at liberal inclusiveness depend upon still deeper inequalities; to some extent, they therefore might lead us to see why Byron's poem could appear to be politically progressive in some respects, even while it compromises or complicates its commitments in others. Still more than even these accounts allow, however, I wish to show how and why white bodies are so crucial for the poem's aesthetic project. It turns out that the crux of Byron's Don Juan--its celebrated ability to represent "life's infinite variety" (15.19)-depends upon the preeminence of white flesh. Whiteness is the ground for registering gorgeous articulations of features on the body's alabaster surfaces; whiteness is the condition for capturing the seductive altering hues that demarcate mood and solicit desire. Simultaneously, and most important, the white body is analogized at key moments to the poet-narrator's own work--printed on white "foolscap"--as if poetic composition and the raced subject were finally inseparable.

By exploring the dynamics of race in the poem's political aesthetics, I embark on a discussion that merges with a long-standing interest, among many of Byron's critics, in his political or ideological affiliations. For a few readers, Byron adheres to the most traditional of values. Malcolm Kelsall argues that, in the Whig tradition, he upholds "aristocratic oligarchy"; (4) Marilyn Butler, though acknowledging his sympathies with less conservative causes, also sees him as a "liberal" who is only "superficially rebellious." (5) The vast majority of critics take his rebellions more seriously, however. From the time of the poem's appearance, Byron and his publisher John Murray feared prosecution; it was denounced in reviews of the day for its "infidelity and licentiousness"; the pirated cantos of Don Juan appearing under the auspices of radical publishers fueled suspicions of the author's affiliation with radicals like Paine and Carlisle. (6) And recent critical opinion has essentially agreed with and updated those accounts, while of course siding with, rather than against, the author. Jerome J. McGann sees Byron as a critic of false and oppressive social structures, hurling his "rage" at the power and violence of the church, state, and other institutions. (7) Susan Wolfson argues that Byron's inversions of gender roles make him a canny critic of "male power"; (8) Jerome Christensen claims that Don Juan undercuts and overturns the logic of political economy with the disruptive "psychotic space" of the poem's rhetoric. Because "rhetoric acts without a norm," Christensen observes, it violates political economy's forced hierarchies of "general and particular," "population and person," and so on. (9) While this promising rhetorical reading fine-tunes more narrowly political readings, Christensen's account is particularly relevant to my argument because of the way that rhetorical figures, in his view, necessarily accumulate a subversive power. I contend in the following pages that Byron's poetry of unsystematized experience is utterly dependent upon a hierarchy of racial value that makes whiteness into the condition for appreciating the changing and dazzling hues of both human and poetic bodies. (10)

Although Byron makes Don Juan support abolition, he consistently opposes the system-building logic that prevails in much of the abolitionist discourse in the 1790s and 1800s. The culture of religious dissent, as I have argued elsewhere, energetically imagined and promoted institutions that embraced diverse cultures and beliefs; this flexible and capacious way of imagining communities was at least one reason for the close alliance between dissent and abolition. (11) Abolition, that is, was frequently a discourse of a newly imagined government that could expand to include diverse and even contentious members. William Wilberforce, whose name appears three times in Don Juan (twice in the text, once in the notes), continually reinforces a connection between abolitionism and grand social systems in a way that is entirely typical of abolitionist argument. Encouraging his audiences to imagine the plight of oppressed slaves, he proclaims "sympathy" to be a "true spring of humanity"; still more, though, it is the guarantee of "the rules of justice." (12) Abolishing the slave trade and finally slavery itself constitutes a complete integration of subjects into "that machinery of the social state" which, by offering "the protection and comfort of mankind," is "the grand means of civilization." (13) It is hardly surprising given these priorities that Anna Letitia Barbauld celebrates Wilberforce's efforts at abolishing the slave trade in 1791--unsuccessful though it was--precisely by praising his "great design" and linking his name to John Howard, the celebrated prison reformer. Both are "friends of the friendless," hoping to heal the social division of "this motley age" with a commitment to "union bright." (14)

If Wilberforce and other abolitionists like him imagine a world cured by a new system, design, or union, Byron's narrator follows a notably different agenda. While joining abolitionists in their fight against a world "shaken" by "bigots," he argues less for new accommodating systems and more for a logic of shared political and aesthetic "experience" which can sufficiently attend to the materiality and particularity of bodies. In a sense, this level of attention allows Byron to militate against what he takes to be the tendency of all systems to limit and imprison human capacities. But at the same time, this empirical bent of aesthetic intuition attends to the particularity of bodies only by investing certain types of bodies with value. It is troubled, more specifically, by racial implications, as we can begin to see in one of the poem's most decisive comments on the slave trade. This occurs in cantos 4 and 5, where the narrator spins the tale of Juan's adventures at a slave market in Constantinople, after Juan has been sold into slavery by Haidee's father Lambro. Central to the structure of the episode is that the slave market is not a traffic in black slaves but in slaves of many colors; slaves are not important because they are a distinct racialized class of persons, but rather because they are a collection of highly differentiated bodies that in turn earn highly differentiated levels of poetic attention.

Byron's accuracy in representing the slave market is well-known and acknowledged as early as John Galt's biography of the poet. But even Galt insists that the episode is primarily the work of the poet's "fancy," and there are ample political and aesthetic motivations behind the episode that soon become clear. (15) The narrator speaks first of a "Circassian," a "sweet girl" endowed with the "hues of heaven" (4.114). In the next stanza,
   Twelve negresses from Nubia brought a price
     Which the West Indian market scarce would bring;
   Though Wilberforce, at last, has made it twice
     What 'twas ere Abortion; and the thing
   Need not seem very wonderful, for vice
     Is always much more splendid than a king:
   The virtues, even the most exalted, Charity,
   Are saving--vice spares nothing for a rarity.

The main point of the joke here, of course, is that Wilberforce's opposition to the slave trade has only caused the price of slaves to increase; the great design of ending the slave trade falls prey to the persistence of the trade itself. The dream of political equality succumbs to the reality of the "vice" of commerce that "spares nothing for a rarity." The moralizing couplet at the end of the stanza surely carries a potential critical force against the "vice" of slavery, but the stanza at the same time makes the value of the slave reside entirely in the commercial exchange (the "price" which is more than "twice" that of the West Indian market) that the final couplet may at first appear to question. The observations clearly issue from a knowing white slave trader--or at least the narrator, whether an "Englishman living in Spain" or "a Spaniard who had travelled in England," as the unpublished preface describes him--knows something of the market. He is someone who knows differences in price and registers those differences with pointed disinterest.

But the importance of the white body, and of whiteness as the sole locus of value, emerges in another more startling way, adding further density to the narrator's take on the celebrated abolitionist. For if the first point about Wilberforce is political and economic--showing the ironic defeat of his system--the second shows that the defeat of the system supports, and is supported by, the narrator's aesthetic triumph. The political response to Wilberforce is not merely racist, that is; race is the guiding force behind any poetic interest that the narrator might propose to find in his subject or that he might aim to excite in his reader. This is because the skin--the visible bodily surfaces--of the slaves emerges as an occasion to inspire and figure poetic invention. (16) And even as the narrator depicts a context for the slave trade that embraces all colors of persons (it seems) equally, the figurative work of the poetry designates important differences in bodies as sources of value. The fair Circassian girl (Circassians were celebrated across Europe as archetypes of whiteness, as cultural historians point out (17)) has "Beauty's brightest colors," recounted through the lines likening them to "all the hues of heaven." The Circassian's whiteness reveals not merely color but every variety of color--the palette of all palettes, the archetype for coloring itself. But the dark Nubian women have no distinguishing features on their own and have no apparent qualities to describe; their distinction comes only from the discourse of the white trader who remarks upon their price but simultaneously makes price entirely a function of the locations and fluctuations in the white market for slaves. The erasure of all but the exchange value of the slave is accompanied by an emptying of the Nubian's inherent aesthetic value, conveyed through the narrator's refusal to find any continued source of interest, any "beauty," in them.

The curious maneuver that emerges in these stanzas, I'm suggesting, consists of the narrator's tendency to make the whiteness of skin and the narrative voice seem like doubles of each other. The narrative voice is a locus of commercial mastery, and the fair face of the Circassian, while obviously produced by the narrative voice itself, is constructed as the site of visible, attractive, and in fact paradigmatic, aesthetic distinctions or "colors": these colors can (in this poem) only emerge on a fair face. The point is not purely formal--that the preferences and exclusions worked upon bodies are driven by the concerns of poetry. The point is that the formal initiative and the bemused undercutting of abolition's grand ambitions are absolutely inseparable. The funny jab at Wilberforce's abolitionist activism is inextricable from the formal commitment to poetic beauty and beauty's coloring on a fair body.

The slave market episode, with its comment on Wilberforce, is certainly one of the most striking, while covertly articulated, ways in which the poem's aesthetic threatens--without entirely opposing--abolition's ambitions with jokey urbanity. A whole range of other related representations is connected to the argument that I am making about canto 4. In the "Turkish" cantos, following Juan's purchase at the slave market, the series of descriptions of harem women coincides with the structure I have been describing. Lolah's "dusk" and even Katinka's mottled "white and red" complexions make them impossible objects for Juan's desire and impossible objects for poetic description beyond the initial mention of the composition of their skin (6.41). The point is not that the women are black or slaves but that their coloring eliminates any possible further interest in them. Here, it is only Dudu, with her "Attic forehead," "Phidian nose," and flawless "marble" flesh, who can be the object of erotic and poetic attraction: she is both "adapted to be put to bed," and "of a beauty that would drive you crazy" (6.41-43). The added complexity in this example--that Dudu's beauty metonymically connects to actions like being put to bed or driving you crazy--is related to the register of narrative, to which I will return later. But for now I simply want to urge that the privilege of whiteness informs every one of the narrator's representations of race, and likewise informs a complex pattern of statements about the poetic craft involved in Don Juan. Central to the poem's political aesthetic, then, is its refusal to establish any human or poetic relation that would allow any racial distinction from whiteness to be desired or known, at least if we understand knowledge to require extended attention.

Before moving on with more instances, let's first ask a simple question: why does Byron do this? One dimension of the explanation is that race is the guarantee of sympathetic relations among privileged characters in the poem, and the narrator enforces this view at every turn. Sympathy, as James Chandler has so eloquently shown in his Archaeology of Sympathy, is profoundly dependent upon a charged exchange of looks and facial expressions, and we could extend and alter that argument in this case to explore its dimensions with respect to race. (18) In Byron's poem, sympathy appears to be intensely local and intimate, and therefore resistant to the abolitionist's generalization and abstraction of human affiliation within social systems. (19) Juan's skin is continually being remarked upon in terms of its whiteness for the implied white reader; Julia, while of "Moorish origin" (1.56), is both exotic and yet descended from a family whose "race" improves "through every generation" (1.59): it improves precisely because moorishness is grafted to "bred in and in" whiteness (1.57), making her seductively dark eye gorgeously visible against her brow "Bright with intelligence, and fair and smooth" (1.61). Byron at this moment intriguingly implies that overly "bred in and in" whiteness is as deformed as any colored body; marrying only your "cousins ... aunts and nieces" will "spoil[] the breed" (1.57). At the same time, however, Juan and Julia are lovers only after they first relate to each other as brother and sister, as if the hint of incest--of connected "fair and smooth" descent--were in fact a requirement for sexual attraction. Racial similarity also guarantees Haidee's sympathy for him: how could she resist a young man washed up upon the shore, a stranger dying, "with so white a skin" (2.129)? (Byron hilariously overturns the Biblical allusion to Matthew 25:35 by underlining the stranger's whiteness and, therefore, his attractiveness.) Even while we, as readers, are expected to concede the powers of white skin, the narrator, like Juan, continually lavishes attention on Haidee's "fair" face in return (2.149). Despite the difference in Juan's and Haidee's native languages, little communication is lost; their "look"--their whiteness--supplements, or even substitutes for, their imperfect communication, making "[e]ach ... the other's mirror" (4.13). (20)

The poem from the very beginning establishes Juan's line to "Hidalgo" blood--thus Juan is free of the "stain" of "Moor or Hebrew" (1.9), and he is (like the Circassian) a paragon of beauty. But what makes him Julia's "mirror" is not his blood but his beautifully white flesh. His passage throughout the poem demonstrates how race, in the way that Byron sees it, looks like a prior yet unspoken conversation, a social glue that brings strangers together because of their mutual identification with the other's "look." This becomes as relevant at the slave market as it does in all of Juan's amorous adventures. John Johnson, the Englishman at the slave market, immediately recognizes Juan as a "gentleman" (a recognition made all the more comically potent by the fact that both men have the same first name); the irony of enslavement for Juan (as for Johnson) is simply that he cannot long remain one since he doesn't look like one. He is perpetually free, perpetually desired, because perpetually white. As if to echo celebrated slave narratives like Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative, the narrator likens Juan, in his travails throughout English society, to a slave even long after he's free: "Our hero, as a hero, young and handsome, / Noble, rich, celebrated, and a stranger, / Like other slaves of course must pay his ransom" (11.74). The abrasive humor depends, of course, on the simple fact that Juan's ransom (unlike Equiano's) is in a sense always already paid, because he is always already beyond the condition of the "other slaves." (21)

Now the privilege of race that I think we can see in Don Juan should not be mistaken for racism in the more modern sense of the word: a racism that begins to appear in empiricist racial science and that leads to hierarchical distinctions between different human types, as Tim Fulford, Debbie Lee, and Peter J. Kitson have shown. (22) These early instances lead to the full-blown biological theory that Michel Foucault identifies with the biopolitics of state racism, and with the extension of power through the material functions of the body. (23) While certainly connected to this movement in history and bearing a certain resemblance to it--Linnaeus, Kitson points out, was interested in classification based upon physical characteristics like hair and skin color, (24) and so is Byron's narrator--it is impossible to make Don Juan's rigorously aesthetic domain of attention map neatly onto a biological one.

The profundity of race in Byron is to be found precisely in its deceptive superficiality; the poem's race politics are aesthetic and affective and not scientific or genetic. We cannot, for example, underestimate the sheer physical immediacy of race as skin color--as phenotype--in the passages I've just discussed. In canto I's discussion of Julia's "race," race is importantly distinguished from "blood" in a way that diverges from modern racial science (even the problem of inbred whiteness is a problem with its "look" rather than its heredity). Blood--what you can't see--may be corrupted, while race--what you can see--improves, and Byron cares much more about the second than about the first. The passages I am discussing are exemplary in their treatment of race as the visible basis for local attractions and repulsions issuing from and toward characters, narrator, and reader. And this importance of whiteness (or darkness) marks Don Juan's connections with the history of early modem race theories just as much as it marks the poem's connections with changing perceptions throughout the nineteenth century. The poem, that is, appears as a faint echo of early modern moral and religious hierarchies of whiteness and blackness, although now completely secularized within the space of Byron's poem so that the functions of color are transmuted into the sphere of politics and aesthetics. (25) Juan's "Hidalgo" heritage, in keeping with this logic, is of supreme importance in the poetic narrative not in order to separate him from other bloodlines biologically, and not in order to designate an inherent moral good, but simply (yet profoundly) in order to announce that his preeminence in Don Juan's narrative art is coextensive with a preeminent whiteness that cannot be compromised (1.9). Juan's "pedigree" resists all attempts to "stain" it by inflicting a revealing wound or by peeling away any layers of flesh (5.104). The hero, because infinitely white, will make us read on infinitely, as if Juan's body were comparable to the successive pages of the poem.

Understanding the particular form and function of race this way, moreover, helps us to determine the meaning behind Byron's race politics, and his treatment of abolition, with greater precision. Even while the narrator sympathizes openly in some places with abolition and its efforts to imagine political communities with new and expanded membership, the logic of Don Juan makes this look as if it might deny the local sympathetic grounds for relationship. Whereas the work of abolitionists emphasized the expanding powers of sympathy to create vast civilizing designs, the narrator of Byron's poem asserts that to treat white and non-white people equally is to claim that "black is fair" (12.70) and this is to see things like a "blind man," or simply to lapse into "metaphysics," which is much the same as blindness (12.71, 12.72). Outside of blindness, only metaphysics--the art of philosophical and political systematizing--can make us think that unlike bodies are really like each other. And it is hardly surprising, from this point of view, that the slave-driving Lambro, "not knowing metaphysics," can only act (not unlike his daughter Haidee in caring for Juan) on his impulses to protect his kind (3.26). The only difference here is that Lambro simply has a somewhat more restricted view of who can count as bearing a resemblance to him.

Byron's poem predicates everything on the necessary attraction of--and affiliation with--like to like, and I think this helps to explain why it is that the narrator comically compromises even his most overt praise of Wilberforce. True, we are told that Wilberforce "set free / The Negroes, and is worth a million fighters" (12.20)--Byron's narrator conflates the 1807 abolition of the slave trade with the abolition of slavery, not achieved until 1833: freedom is confused with unfreedom. But the next line after this further muddles the praise: "While Wellington has but enslaved the whites" (12.20). Although not directly attacking abolition, the line about Wellington (most likely referring--as in the beginning of canto 9--to Wellington's unpopular negotiations at the Congress of Vienna) risks trivializing the notion of slavery itself at the same time that it states the narrator's real object of concern: "the whites." In yet another passage on Wilberforce, the "moral Washington of Africa," with which I began this essay, Byron continues the trend. The narrator's inflated praise actually verges on comedy, and the inflation is quickly deflated and twisted as the following lines address the reformer directly: "You have freed the blacks--now pray shut up the whites" (14.83). The "freeing" of blacks (not really freedom at all) once again assumes a subordinate position in relation to the more urgent cause of poetic and political concern--the oppression of white people by white people. (26)

The trouble with Wilberforce, and with abolition more generally, is that grand designs contradict the poem's emphasis on the generation and perpetuation of sympathies grounded in likeness. While Byron's narrator criticizes the Christian defenders of slavery in canto 15--"bigots" who "bend" Christ's "pure creed" to make it the "sanction of all ill" (15.18)--his critique differs from a great deal of the abolitionist writing with which Byron and his audience were familiar. Against the systematic and abstracting tendencies of that writing, Byron's poem allows greater play for the materiality of the (white) body and its physical and affective relationships. Critics like McGann and Christensen, then, are certainly right for emphasizing Byron's resistance to political systems, but I want to emphasize here that the resistance to system is motivated at least in part by the potent dynamics of Byron's race politics. Indeed the very kind of "sexual transgression" that Jane Stabler applauds in Byron's writing is thoroughly consistent with this particular thrust of opposition to the systematic argumentation of Wilberforce and other politicians of the day like Malthus and Romilly, who are also comically represented in the poem. (27) None of this is to say that Byron's transgressions and resistances are determined entirely and only by his race politics, but it is absolutely to say that they are reinforced and supported by them.

Perhaps what I've said so far can explain the emphasis on racial sameness in Don Juan--but why whiteness? Is it simply because Byron and his readers are white, and so are Britain's ruling classes? This surely has something to do with it, but such an explanation wouldn't say much of anything about the larger work of the poem and why it continues to appeal to us (even granting the connections I've been making). It turns out that whiteness in Don Juan attains its preeminence not simply because Byron's readers are white and are implicated in excluding those who are not. Whiteness is also not a synonym for class, even though class occasionally yet inconsistently inflects the privilege shared by the narrator, his favored characters, and his readers. Whiteness is most important because it embodies a principle of poetic composition, even while poetic composition can only find its adequate model with reference to a canvas of white flesh. Race in Don Juan, we've seen, is at the heart of both its humor and its pathos. Still more, though, race stands at the very center of a fully imagined poetic principle, even while this poetic principle entails investing race with more than its conventional meanings. Whiteness in bodies becomes a matter not of bloodlines, not a matter of updating an early modem view of race--in fact, not simply a matter of expressing a commitment to the replication of white human bodies. Instead, the political aesthetics of the poem posit race in terms of the skin's surface in order to liken its attractions to a vividly rendered page of writing. Thus the race of bodies not only matters in terms of what bodies are represented and valued (which would be a relatively unsurprising point, and would not differentiate Don Juan from most other writing of the period); race matters for the poem's aesthetic self-constitution.

I have already started discussing the slave market in cantos 4 and 5, and the way that the writing of poetry and the coloring on the fair face seem like imitations of each other; the episode continues to reinforce and expand upon this symmetry. At the slave market, the Englishman, Johnson, with his "white and ruddy" complexion, stands with such "sang-froid" that he might be even more removed from the pain of slavery than a "spectator":
   He had an English look; that is, was square
     In make, of a complexion white and ruddy,
   Good teeth, with curling rather dark brown hair,
     And, it might be from thought, or toil, or study,
   An open brow a little mark'd with care:
     One arm had on a bandage rather bloody;
   And there he stood with such sang-froid that greater
   Could scarce be shown even by a mere spectator.

What is more or less implicit here is that the Englishman's sang-froid derives in part from the fact that, even while he is for sale, he cannot be absorbed into the economy of slavery (emphasizing how truly trivializing it is to call attention to white slavery as the poem does elsewhere). Slavery is something that he looks at as though he were not even a participant in it. Having sang-froid (literally "cold blood") may not be identical to having a white body, but it is very much descriptive of whiteness, and thus it is hardly surprising that he recognizes Juan to be among the caste of "gentlemen"; like Juan, moreover, and unlike Equiano, his whiteness immunizes him against victimization (5.13).

Also, like Juan, he is immunized against the near invisibility of black slaves and slaves of any other "hue" (5.13). For the sang-froid of the Englishman, his aestheticizing distance from his own experience, does not simply remove him from the crowd. The distance he achieves is accompanied by a highly wrought set of facial features that the narrator reads as if from a book, an analogy fortified by his "square" body looking very much like one. His "white" complexion reveals the ruddying exposure of whiteness to the elements. The cheeks begin to tell a story, just like his "open brow a little marked with care": both show us how his fair skin turns out to be nothing less than a condition for writing, a marking or writing across the face that registers the onset of "care" and thus the advent of change. The face is its own narrative, in other words; thus, if the Englishman is distanced from the condition of slavery, that distance is conspicuously rendered as a poetic distance--not because he is merely the subject of poetry, but because his body simply is poetry.

Whiteness, in other words, ultimately ensures the possibility of narrative legibility and aesthetic beauty, and thus the poem renders the preeminence of whiteness--because it is not subject to change but is a condition for change--utterly ahistorical. While seemingly transcendent, it is not, in the poem's logic, a metaphysical philosophy, since it is the condition of its unsystematized philosophy of experience: whiteness is, instead, a quasi-transcendent materiality. White faces in this poem have comprehensible marks on them; still more, the whiteness of the face gets to be equated with the whiteness of a manuscript's page so persistently that the privilege of whiteness appears at some moments to be motivated by the urge to privilege characters through their equation to such a written page. This is not a superficial point about how both books and skin are white, however, and the example of the Englishman already suggests the complications. This is rather a point about how whiteness repeatedly emerges as the necessary condition for the observation of legible variability and change: whiteness takes center stage in enacting a principle of composition that critics like Peter Manning have described as the poet's interest in "unsettledness," "indeterminacy," or an evasion of "purposefulness." (28)

There appears to be a paradoxical structure to white faces and bodies in the poem, then. For while they seem at one level to exemplify sympathetic relationships based upon sameness, they operate in this manner because they register change. But this paradox is more elucidating than vexing when we consider that sympathetic relationships in Don Juan are understood precisely as a reading of changes on the white body; being attracted to whiteness as sameness and being attracted to legible, differentiated bodily experience are inseparable. We can frame this in a more pointed way. The claim that "flesh is form'd of fiery dust"--one of the most famous phrases from Byron's oeuvre--is most certainly testimony to Byron's poetic interest in capturing material, bodily existence in all its glittering transience. But at the same time, that claim needs to be considered in relation to the submerged truth behind this fiery dust: the "flesh" of which Byron speaks is of one very particular kind. That one particular kind of flesh--white--is the condition of registering the poem's cherished record of fleeting, changeable experience (2.212).

Examples abound of instances in which the poem, as in the case of the English "gentleman" slave, makes the body's surface look like a beautifully readable text. Juan's gorgeous surfaces are continually being described as the ground for a series of colorful changes across his cheek and body whose "eloquent" figures can be "read" by adoring women like Haidee. The "lines" of his "fair face" constitute the only "book" she knows (2.162). And those women themselves attract interest (any combination of Juan's, the narrator's, and the reader's) for similar reasons. Julia's whiteness is the perfect setting for dark eyes, purpling cheek, and burning from the sun's rays, as if her body were the telling of a tale (1.60--62); Haidee gives Juan his "alpha beta"--that is, his alphabet, as if she is a kind of schoolbook--with her perfectly fair "look" (2.163). Gulbeyaz's "bright brow" also looks like a readable text: it reveals the "sudden change" of "tumult strange" (5.108); her skin, "as moonlight fair," is the background for "the deepest dyes" touching her cheeks. Her luminous surfaces make her an "embodied storm" with variations, contrasted and compared to Hotspur and Lear on Shakespeare's "immortal page," lasting for seven stanzas (5.96, 134-39). To see Gulbeyaz's brow is to see into a rich and dramatic narrative of passing moods and weather.

The comparisons between fair bodies and the pages of a book appear relentlessly in Don Juan and also turn into a way of inflecting the narrator's relation to his own text and his readers. The poem's narrator refers to the bluestockings as "seraphic" creatures whose "features" he "read[s]" even as they "read" his stanzas, which are themselves about the facial and bodily features of his characters (4.111). Further, and more elaborately, Gulbeyaz's emotions visibly registered on her "alabaster" skin inspire the narrator to exclaim, "Oh that my words were colours! But their tints / May serve perhaps as outlines or slight hints" (6.109): the colors playing across her flawlessly white skin make him wish that his words as "hints"--sitting before us on the page--could become like them, or at the very least function as "tints" approximating the vividness of the body's "colours." And an equally if not more resonant instance of the logic I'm describing occurs when the white face of the narrator himself is linked, in one of Byron's greatest passages on the pathos of aging, to the writing of the poem on white paper in canto 12. The poet-narrator's face is like "black letter on foolscap":
   Of all the barbarous Middle Ages, that
     Which is the most barbarous is the middle age
   Of man; it is--I really scarce know what;
     But when we hover between fool and sage,
   And don't know justly what we would be at,--
     A period something like a printed page,
   Black letter upon foolscap, while our hair
   Grows grizzled, and we are not what we were ...

Here, printing on the page and the narrator's legible whiteness sharpen the image from canto 3, in which "ink" on the surface of "paper--even a rag like this," produces "[t]hat which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think" (3.88). Byron's easy shifts from talking about writing a manuscript to printing in a book are richly suggestive in terms of the way that a real distance between a reader and author can also (or instead) be viewed as an intimate scene of recognition between the reader and the narrator's body as he writes the poem. Here in canto 12, the printed page and the narrator's face become paradigms for each other; the face wants to be like printing, and the printed page wants to be the vivid marking and rendering of the face. When Byron's narrator writes that "our hair / Grows grizzled and we are not what we were" (12.1), the face, with its markings of change that "hover" between youthful foolishness and sage-like maturity, looks like printing on foolscap. The foolscap is imprinted with lines of change--"we are not what we were"; meanwhile, the paper looks like an emulation of the face's self-marking of its own halting progress (a progress in which the poet, never really a sage, wears a fool's cap) into grizzled age.

Perhaps the connections to which I refer might in themselves be convincing enough to suggest that Byron's compositional strategy in the poem is informed by closely linked political and aesthetic priorities clustered around racial difference. But the implications of the connections that I'm making become even broader when we step back from these specific references and realize that the entire poem could be viewed as a version of this equation between foolscap and the white body of the properly raced subject. The world that Byron observes is a world that--in the hands of metaphysicians, reformers, and other system-builders--has no body, or is at least attempting to escape it. The world thus simultaneously changes too fast and has no visible change: to observe a world in which "Change grows too changeable, without being new" is to remark upon a world in which change exists but cannot be seen (11.82). Byron, in contrast, builds a poem in which change becomes visible because it is being given a body (a body that is then able to generate sympathies): he gives the world the textual equivalent in "black letter" of the Englishman with his unflappable "sangfroid" (12.1, 5.11). To put it another way: if the white bodies in the poem look like tablets with change written across them, the white pages of the poem on foolscap register "tumult" and "change" as if they might appear as the gradual shift on the marbled skin of a white body. The point here is that race is made poetic while poetry is endowed with the tumultuously brilliant colors playing on a fair body; race and composition reinforce each other.

What more can be said about the blackness of the "black letter," and about the place of bodies of color in the poem more generally? Perhaps we can see already that it hardly makes sense to say that the white narrator simply equates black ink on foolscap to non-white bodies in the narrative of the poem. The black letter on foolscap, just like the marks on the fair bodies, always denotes--as I already implied--"colors" and "tints," not merely blackness. This is why he advises his reader, when contemplating the "eye" of a "fair" woman, that "Tis nonsense to dispute about a hue" when it comes to determining the eye's color--"whether black or blue" (13-3)The point is that blackness, when it appears on the "fair" background of a white woman's skin, will always have a "hue" that is the essence of beauty: this much is beyond dispute. Blackness in these contexts has color, beauty, and therefore poetic significance.

To say that blackness has "meaning" when on fair skin is to emphasize a contrast between black letters--creating the meaning in the poem, that is--and black or non-white bodies. Let us now return to the particular position of such bodies, then, which--as in the account of the Nubian women in canto 4--are reduced to a position that verges on non-meaning: no color. Many critics have commented on the place of the racial or ethnic other in Byron's poetry, concentrating primarily on the issue of Oriental exoticism, and my own argument can be illuminated by addressing this line of thinking. In one particularly compelling account, Nigel Leask--extending an interpretation of Byron's nihilistic approach to religious and humanistic values suggested many years ago by Robert Gleckner--determines that Byron both relies upon oriental stereotypes and cannily critiques them, since they reveal European and Eastern values to be mirror-images of each other. Embroiled in a "vengeful pattern of action and reaction," Europeans become as "Oriental" as their enemies. (29)

I do not entirely disagree with this argument about Byron's Orientalism; at the same time, however, it is clear that this view presumes, rather than explains, the legibility of the "Orient." For we must realize that, even in Byron's "Oriental" or "Eastern" Tales, the East is racialized as white or "fair," in order to register--to take one instance--the "changing cheek" on Conrad or the dark eyes and glittering jewels of Gulnare in The Corsair (1.218, 2.402). Don Juan extends and accentuates a logic only intermittently operating in these tales, rendering writing itself as a racialized process. In that process, the "Oriental" subject, insofar as he/she becomes a subject of poetic interest, is crucially distinguished in his/her otherness in relation to black and other non-white subjects. To put that matter more starkly in relation to work on Byron's Orientalism: the difference that Leask observes between Britain and its others, ironically made similar in Byron's handling, is itself dependent upon a prior ground of (white) similarity.

Indeed, it is most consistently the case that the non-white body in Don Juan is not demonized or exoticized--that is, made into an "other"--as much as it is drastically compromised in its aesthetic or signifying power, becoming nearly illegible. This is comparable to the way that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., describes the "invisibility" of Ralph Ellison's invisible man: he is not non-existent to white vision but incapable of attaining a full range of human qualities. (30) The presence of blackness, then--like the appearance of any racial difference from whiteness generally, as we'll see--seems barely to qualify as race at all, since it cannot even be discerned as a clear identity. Once again recall the "negresses from Nubia" at the slave market in canto 4 (4.115); we now see that their inability to achieve any value aside from that achieved on the slave market--the exchange value abstracted from their features--is a requirement imposed by the poem's racialized compositional strategy; they cannot be fully read and cannot serve as a prototype for poetic composition in the same way that white bodies can. As the episode continues in canto 5, an "intended bidder" on the slaves--the eunuch Baba who eventually purchases Juan and the Englishman--is described as "a black old neutral personage / Of the third sex" (5.26). "Neutral" and "third sex" operate as words to signify "eunuch," but Baba's "neutrality" (6.117) may also hint at his lack of desire and his inability to excite any desire from the narrator or the narrator's reader in a way that is comparable to the colors and tints lovingly described elsewhere on the fair surfaces of other bodies. Blackness itself is neutralized in meaning and exiled to a status outside the possibility of attracting the (white) reader's attention. It turns out, furthermore, that racial marginalizing in the poem is not only tied to an attempt to maintain sympathetic individuals who look alike; it is not motivated solely by an attempt to secure racial integrity any more than it is motivated by an attempt to enforce a political exclusion. The poem instead highly qualifies its support for abolition by making blackness seem nearly unintelligible. Blackness is a resistance to efforts at comprehension and to the art of writing; it is drained of distinguishing features at virtually every instant it appears.

Perhaps this logic might imply that blackness appears in the poem as a resistance to the modem world or modem understanding, and thus as a version of what Saree Makdisi identifies as Byron's representation of the Orient's "radical alterity," enforcing its status as "premodern." (31) But it is worth emphasizing once again that blackness is quite clearly distinct from the Orient, and in fact becomes inseparable from the narrator's commentary on the political innovations of the modern world. This is why black slaves and white metaphysical system-builders--in one of Don Juans most impish gestures--turn into each other's complements, even as white bodies become the necessary embodiment of poetic possibility. Although most of the "shivering slaves" at the market have looks that are "sadly changed," the narrator adds, "[a]ll save the blacks," who display "more philosophy" because they are "[u]sed to it, no doubt, as eels are to be flay'd" (5.7).

Of course, in this latest instance, it's plausible for us to see the passage as a perfect instance of sarcasm, in which what is said is very much the opposite of what is meant: it is not philosophy but a submission to violence (like an eel being flayed) that prevents the black slaves from showing "vexation" at their condition (5.7). Still, to align the narrator only with a critical position would, I think, distract us from the way that the comic sarcasm of the moment is at least half-seriously connected to a range of other images in the poem that wittily consign certain bodies to oblivion. The black slave's philosophy is not the Englishman's sang-froid, which is accompanied by clarifying markings across his face. Sang-froid is not philosophy--not metaphysical transcendence--but is instead a safe detachment that is simultaneously rooted in the white body. In contrast, the black slave's "philosophy" coincides with illegibility: without affect, and without signs of distressful "chang[e]." The slave in his/her captive condition thus turns out to be the counterpart of the systematic metaphysician. The metaphysical system-builder introduces chaotic combinations of identities in a new and abstract system, while the black slave, object of the abolitionist's efforts, is the very figure of illegibility or unintelligibility itself: sheer darkness, absence. The impulse to create systems abstracted from the body is matched by the unreadable, affectless, and colorless black slave, and Wilberforce's abolitionist system finds its counterpart in the queerly configured body of the eunuch. (It should not escape our notice that, in keeping with the strange reversibility, Viscount Castlereagh, for Byron, is both a terrifying builder of systems and an "intellectual eunuch" ["Dedication," 11].) Both system-builders and black bodies, moreover, militate against the attractively changeable hues of white faces and the changeable adventures detailed in the poem's narrative.

What other explanation would account for the way in which the narrator views "Timbuctoo"--and we could understand this to mean all of Africa--as an "impracticable place"?
   Though travelled, I have never had the luck to
     Trace up those shuffling negroes, Nile or Niger,
   To that impracticable place Timbuctoo,
     Where Geography finds no one to oblige her
   With such a chart as may be safely stuck to--
     For Europe ploughs in Afric like 'bos piger
   But if I had been at Timbuctoo, there
   No doubt I should be told that black is fair.

The position staked out here must be considered alongside the fact that Byron was well aware that the celebrated explorer Mungo Park had published his illustrated Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa in 1799, and was engaged in a series of expeditions to Timbuktu in particular (he died during an expedition in 1804); Byron's publisher John Murray published The Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa in 1815. (32) Park's work was repeatedly cited by Wilberforce in his abolitionist efforts precisely in order to show an actual depth of knowledge about the relationships between coastal and interior areas of Africa. (33)

All of this only reinforces the stanza's comically perverse insistence on rendering the objects of actual knowledge into something unreadable, something that the narrator cannot "trace." Africa is a place that is fundamentally incapable of being mapped because its blackness results only in an "impracticable"--that is, impassable, intractable--resistance to geographic and poetic rendering. By "shuffling," the narrator means to describe "negroes" themselves as evasive or shifty, a shiftiness magnified further by the stanza's insouciant reference to the "Nile or Niger": Timbuktu's location on the Niger had been well established since the fifteenth century, so the "Nile" is a deliberate obfuscation. Even the brief but intriguing quotation from Horace's Epistles 1.14 furthers the stanza's point by showing the futility of attempting to know the unknowable. The master in Horace's epistle advises his country servant to labor like "bos piger," the "slow ox," in the country, rather than preferring the gaudy civilized pleasures of horses in the city. Thus Byron's witty transposition of terms implies that elegant Europe has been laboring, like an ox, or like a slave, where it shouldn't. (34) In Africa, then, Park and Wilberforce find bodies of knowledge. In Don Juan, no matter how far "Geography" is able to take Europe into "Afric," it will only find what (in the context of the poem) is counterintuitive or contrary to the narrator's own scheme of perceptions--that "black is fair." After indulging in metaphysical speculation on how the proposition that black is "fair" or "white" if we were to accept that "the whole matter rests upon eye-sight," the narrator comically punctures that train of thought. He returns to his persistent theme--the plain "physics" of assessing "the beauties of a foreign dame" compared to fair, bright objects like pearls and ice (12.71-72).

It is not only blackness that represents this void in Don Juan, but also a whole array of non-white identities, and thus we can see here how any discussion of the "Orient" addressed by Leask and Makdisi must be read through the political aesthetics of race. This is because race marks the limit at which the Orient can be made legible: the Orient can emerge as Oriental--as "other," as "pre-modern," or as ironic commentary on the West--provided it can be articulated across a space of whiteness. The fact that not all those in Byron's Orient are readable in the same sense proves the point. Consider the Turkish "dwarfs" in canto 5, for instance. There's no heady swirl of exoticism here, no breathless dueling, no "Orient." And why? Because they have color and thus no poetic color. They are only an "extraneous mixture, which no pen / Can trace, although perhaps the pencil may" (5.88). The "extraneous mixture" of non-whiteness at once locates racial coloring as an excess and at the same time claims it to be terrifyingly incoherent and untraceable, just like Africa in canto 12. Byron's narrator, self-consciously referring in his poem to writing or printing in ink throughout Don Juan, here explicitly relegates any possible tracing or shading to some other source of representation besides his own (the "pencil," or brush, is associated with the "sister art" of painting, as Byron describes it in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers). (35) An identical reasoning informs the excision of Lolah and Katinka from the narrator's attention, a removal further justified by the "rough" accent of Lolah's voice--an accent that acts as the linguistic counterpart to racial impurity (6.44). Conversely, as we've already seen, the "Orient" is visible in Julia through her "oriental eye" attributable to her "Moorish origin" (1.56): but it is her fair skin that sets off the jewel of Oriental distinction, her whiteness yielding an exoticism tinged with a hint of "sin" (1.26). The Orient--insofar as it is made poetically visible--is racialized in Don Juan, and its race is white.

Now that we can see how the racial dynamics of the poem are tightly bound up with the dynamics of poetic legibility and illegibility, attention and inattention, we can circle back to discover in more specific terms how these connected dynamics inflect the liberal sentiments expressed elsewhere in Don Juan, particularly those connected with abolition. Byron has his narrator severely qualify his support for abolition, but he does so not simply out of a prior commitment to political inequality, or a prior commitment to a belief in the inferiority of black people to white people. It would be more correct to say that the compromise of abolition arises from a more basic commitment to the compromised visibility and legibility of nonwhite bodies, just as much as it arises from a commitment to the idea that the evanescent beauty of the world depends upon whiteness. It is crucial to grasp this logic, furthermore, in order to account for what I earlier called Byron's intentional confusion about abolition as an already-accomplished fact, even though he only had witnessed the abolition of the slave trade (which did not in fact "free" the slaves). The confusion is motivated by the poem's virtual indifference to the distinction between the trade in slaves and slavery itself, as if the continued ownership of slaves after the slave trade's abolition--a continued commitment to dehumanization--could be consistent with freeing them (a contradiction embedded in the idea of "ameliorating" the condition of slaves). If the abolition of slavery takes into account the inherent value of the slave's personhood, Byron responds not by demoting that value but by placing slaves in a class of unclassifiable beings. Their meaning ends in their color, which is itself a lack of discursive possibility. Deliberately rejecting the sway of abolition's civilizing designs, he dismisses such designs as forms without bodies, and he dismisses slaves as black matter without significance. It is this reasoning that makes Johnson's words in canto 5 revelatory of the extent and limits of the poem's abolitionism: the gentlemanly exchange between Juan and John provides the extent of their "knowledge" about the world's travails; " 'now / We know what slavery is,' " he says, " 'and our disasters / May teach us better to behave when masters'" (5.23). The legibility of the "disasters" of white people is the basis for improving the condition of slaves. It can hardly surprise us that Byron writes in his journal that "I sometimes wish that I was the Owner of Africa--to do at once--what Wilberforce will do in time--viz--sweep Slavery from her desarts--and look upon the first dance of their Freedom." (36) In both instances, abolition is not a new structure but an extension of white sympathies: improving the conditions for slaves is consistent with maintaining the priority of whites--as either master or owner.

A moment like this from Byron's letters may indicate a certain degree of consistency in Byron's ways of thinking about the politics and aesthetics of race; as we have already seen, the logic can be found not only in Don Juan but also in the Oriental Tales. There are some deviations to be noted, as in "She Walks in Beauty," in which the beloved combines "the best of dark and bright," although it turns out that the darkness is less in her skin than in her eyes and her "raven tress." (37) A more compelling counterexample to the trend I describe can be found in The Island--completed shortly after Byron finished canto 12 of Don Juan--where Nehua's beauty is described in particularly generous terms. She is "dusky like the night, but night with all her stars," and her body displays the "lucid hue" and "coral reddening" that I associate with the richness of Don Juan's narrative of transient bodily experience. (38) What is fascinating about this representation is that--in the way that Edward Said describes Joseph Conrad's awareness of an exterior to the imperial relations to be found in his fiction--the example from Byron's Island demonstrates an awareness of the contingency of the very political and aesthetic values that put Don Juan into motion. (39) Whether or not The Island criticizes those values is open to debate (Said is unwilling to grant this to Conrad): to be aware that values are contingent is not necessarily to oppose or to resist them. The fact that such a generous portrayal of a beautiful woman with "nut-brown skin" (2.138) appears only in an idyllic place repeatedly described in terms of its innocence, infancy, and savagery expresses how far it is from the urbane and overtly civilized narrator of Don Juan, and yet--and this is an important yet--this distance might (but also might not) produce an incisive critical position.

If The Island allows us to glimpse at least a crack in the political aesthetics of racial representations in Don Juan, we must nevertheless once again emphasize the power of the poem as a construction: it does not simply defend political and aesthetic hierarchies but absorbs those hierarchies within the poem's self-conception. Because of this, however contingent the racialized representations may be, we should also consider that they embody and help to constitute a seductive cultural authority that survives in our own day. In fact, as critics and theorists like Goldberg and Jun allow us to see, those hierarchies inflect the politics of abolition itself. As Wilberforce and other reformers demonstrate in their overlapping campaigns for abolition, labor reform, and prison reform, freeing slaves in their arguments coincides with larger political commitments to ordering productive and reproductive activities and developing efficient modes of security and punishment. The great civilizing designs of the abolitionists, furthermore, were inseparable from a commitment to moral and religious integrity that strangely echoes (in subtle ways) a racial terminology: for Hannah More, slavery is a "blot" on the purity of British morals; (40) for Charlotte Dacre, the "dark ... complexion" of skin was said to hide a "mind" endowed with the "light of reflection," (41) as if the non-white, even for capacious secular institutions which aimed to include it, harbored a disturbing element requiring regulation or exclusion. Little wonder that Angela Y. Davis traces the understanding of the connection between criminality and blackness to the period of abolition itself. (42)

Thus, although it is partly correct to say that Byron's racialized poetics in Don Juan qualify his support for abolition, it is also equally accurate to say that this qualification points us toward a potential limit already lurking within the most fervent expressions of abolition and other liberal causes of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Davis shows how the shift from slavery to supposedly reformed penal institutions simply substituted organized punishment for enslavement; Foucault associates the same historical shift with the paradoxical form of modern biopolitics: the systematic urge to include others within the state becomes inseparable from racist technologies--from the attempt to secure an inviolable wide-ranging control over life and the "political power to kill." (43)

It might be possible to say, then, that Byron's political-aesthetic emphasis on whiteness, while seemingly archaically looking backward to a secularized form of race politics more reminiscent of the early modern age, demonstrates a point of blockage that haunts abolition, which insufficiently acknowledges the many limits of its vision. Beyond merely expressing a racist commitment, Don Juan embeds it within its most brilliant, beautiful, and engagingly comic elements. In doing so, perhaps Byron's poem thus most clearly conveys its potent--because so covert and attractive--pull against the ordered scientific forms of social organization that attempt to overcome the limits of archaic racial prejudices even while continuing to be influenced by them. We, too, can continue to be enthralled by the pathos and humor of Byron's poem--and also by its ostensibly liberal, or even radical, sentiments. But we can now proceed to interpret both aspects of the work while also appreciating the dynamics of exclusion that reinforce its own understanding of political and aesthetic possibility.

University of Illinois at Chicago


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Baum, Joan. Mind-Forg'd Manacles: Slavery and the English Romantic Poets. New Haven: Archon Books, 1994.

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(1.) George Gordon, Lord Byron, Don Juan, canto 14, stanza 82; canto 15, stanza 18. All references to the poem are from Jerome J. McGann, ed., Complete Poetical Works, 7 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980-1993), vol. 5; hereafter cited in the text by canto and stanza.

(2.) Goldberg, Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1993), 14-40.

(3.) Jun, Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliheral America (New York: New York University Press, 2011). SiR, 54 (Fall 2015)

(4.) Kelsall, Byron's Politics (Sussex: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1987), 2.

(5.) Butler, Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background, 1760-1830 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 118, 119.

(6.) Hugh J. Luke, Jr., "The Publishing of Byron's Don Juan," PMLA 80, no. 3 (June 1965): 202.

(7.) McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 138-39.

(8.) Wolfson, "'Their She Condition': Cross-Dressing and the Politics of Gender in Don Juan," ELH 54, no. 3 (Autumn 1987): 600.

(9.) Christensen, Lord Byron's Strength: Romantic Writing and Commercial Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 323, 326.

(10.) We might also add here that the poem's figurative potential is dependent upon, rather than resistant to, its "white mythology," thus reversing Jacques Derrida's logic in his celebrated account in "White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy," in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 209--71.

(11.) Mark Canuel, Religion, Toleration, and British Writing, 1790-1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

(12.) Wilberforce, The Speech of William Wilberforce ... On the Question of the Abolition of the Slave Trade (London: Logographic Press, 1789), 20.

(13.) Wilberforce, A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade (London: T. Cadell, 1807), 40-41.

(14.) Barbauld, "Epistle to William Wilberforce, Esq. on the Rejection of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade," Selected Poetry and Prose, eds. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft (Peterborough: Broadview, 2002), lines no, 121, 112.

(15.) Galt, The Life of Lord Byron, 4th ed. (London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1832), 145.

(16.) I thus offer what is essentially a formal historicist account of the significance of race in the poem, in contrast to Joan Baum's helpful anthropological account of Byron's views on slaves and abolition in Mind-Forg'd Manacles: Slavery and the English Romantic Poets (New Haven: Archon Books, 1994), 80-101.

(17.) Linda Frost, "The Circassian Beauty and the Circassian Slave: Gender, Imperialism, and American Popular Entertainment," in Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 250.

(18.) Chandler, An Archaeology of Sympathy: The Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

(19.) On Byron's relation to the tradition of sentiment and sensibility, see Jerome J. McGann, The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 82.

(20.) Andrew Stauffer takes note of how Byron, in his adaptation of the "Inkle and Yarico" story, suppresses racial difference in the Juan and Haidee episode in "Byron, 'Inkle and Yarico,' and the Chains of Love," in Liberty and Poetic Licence: New Essays on Byron, eds. Bernard Beatty, Tony Howe, and Charles E. Robinson (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008), 103-16. But rather than conclude that "issues of race are thus forced underground" (109), I am saying that the insistence on the whiteness of both characters has important racial implications.

(21.) I thus depart from Eric Strand's reading of Don Juan's representation of a world system in which Juan becomes a commodity in "world trade," in "Byron's Don Juan as a Global Allegory," SiR 43, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 516.

(22.) Fulford, Lee, and Kitson, Literature, Science and Exploration in the Romantic Era: Bodies of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 127-48; Kitson, Romantic Literature, Race, and Colonial Encounter (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 1-49.

(23.) Foucault, Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the College De France, 1975--76, eds. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, trans. David Macey (New York: St. Martin's, 2003), 239-64.

(24.) Kitson, Romantic Literature, Race, and Colonial Encounter, 16.

(25.) On early modern moral and religious readings of blackness, see Gary Taylor, Buying Whiteness: Race, Culture, and Identity from Columbus to Hip Hop (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 215-38.

(26.) Of course, the claim is consistent with the theme of mutual enslavement--by love, politics, and the market economy--throughout the poem. But I am seeking to move beyond those claims to sort out the political aesthetics on which they are based.

(27.) Stabler, Byron, Poetics, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 148.

(28.) Manning, Reading Romantics: Texts and Contexts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 129, 130, 131.

(29.) Leask, British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 30, 60; Gleckner, Byron and the Ruins of Paradise (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967).

(30.) Gates, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 115-16.

(31.) Makdisi, Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 130.

(32.) Park, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (London: Bulmer and Company, 1799); The Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1815).

(33.) Wilberforce, Letter, 17.

(34.) Horace, Epistles, trans. David Ferry (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), 67.

(35.) Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, line 860, in McGann, ed., Poetical Works, vol. 1.

(36.) Byron, "Detached Thoughts," in Letters and Journals, 11 vols., ed. Leslie Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-1981), 9:41.

(37.) Byron, "She Walks in Beauty," lines 3, 9, in McGann, ed., Poetical Works, vol. 3.

(38.) Byron, The Island, canto 2, lines 129, 138, 139, in McGann, ed., Poetical Works, vol. 7.

(39.) Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1994), 26.

(40.) More, Slavery: A Poem (London: T Cadell, 1788), line 276.

(41.) Dacre, "The Poor Negro Sadi," in Hours of Solitude (London: D. N. Shury, 1805), lines 9, 11.

(42.) Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003), 30.

(43.) Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?, 33; Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 254.
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Author:Canuel, Mark
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
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Date:Sep 22, 2015
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