Black Bodies/Libidinal Economies in Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger

Jones-Medine, Carolyn and Loh, Lucienne ORCID: 0000-0003-2543-8861
(2019) Black Bodies/Libidinal Economies in Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger. Journal of Global Slavery, 4 (1). pp. 5-33.

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Barry Unsworth’s Booker Prize winning novel, Sacred Hunger (1992), explores the Middle Passage from the perspective of two central protagonists: Erasmus Kemp, the son of a slave ship builder and owner of the Liverpool Merchant, and Matthew Paris, his cousin and the ship’s doctor. The novel asserts that the “sacred hunger” of the slave trade is the desire for making money, at any cost. In this essay, we argue that one cost, the novel suggests, is the commodification of women’s bodies, particularly black captive women entering the trade. Exploring this libidinal economy, we examine the role of the ship’s doctor, in Paris, as the keeper of the gateway to slavery; the sexual exploitation of both black and white women, and Unsworth’s use of the trace—in this case, the elusive figure of the Paradise Nigger, or Luther Sawdust, who is Paris’ son, Kenke, conceived in a new settlement based on democracy undertaken in Florida and engaged in by both blacks and whites from the wrecked Liverpool Merchant. Capitalism, through human competition, enters that community, which, ultimately, is destroyed as Kemp discovers it and retakes his property. The Paradise Nigger represents a counter-memory and counter-force: a hope that the repetition of master-slave dichotomy in the libidinal economy can be interrupted by something “other” that suggests alternative shapes of human freedom.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth, slave trade, black bodies, libidinal economy, ship surgeon
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2019 09:30
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2023 01:06
DOI: 10.1163/2405836X-00401002
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