Le Code Noir, the body of law advanced by the government of Louis XIV in the world of 17th-century France, is one of the first codified legal documents regarding judicial conduct toward enslaved persons in the French colonies of the New World. As slavery increasingly established an iron-clad relationship between skin color and the absence of human and civil rights, what implications did it have for other colonial powers operating in the Atlantic context? The terrors of Le Code Noir for the bonded female and her children were determined by the dictum “partus sequitur ventrem”, Latin for “that which is brought forth follows the womb”. The codification of hereditary racial slavery highlights the contradictions that throw into crisis our entire understanding today of the repertoire of intimacy and sentimentality.
Hortense Spillers is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt chair in English at Vanderbilt University; on leave this year from her home institution, she is serving this semester as the M.H. Abrams distinguished visiting professor in English at Cornell University where she taught from 1987 to 2006. Her essay collection, Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture appeared in 2003 and has been the subject of various symposiums and critiques; currently at work on two large projects, the Idea of Black Culture and the status of women in the revolutionary context of the 18th century, she has recently published work in the African-American Review, Callaloo, and The Bloomsbury Companion to Feminist Theory; in 2017, she launched the A-Line, a quarterly of progressive thought and has been a recent recipient of lifetime achievement awards from Callaloo (2016), the Caribbean Philosophical Association (2017), and the Hubbell Prize for work in American Literature from the American Literature Association of MLA (2019). She lectures widely, most recently as an international visiting fellow at the Institute for Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Social Justice and the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Study at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Photo Credit: Lou Outlaw
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