Specters of Democracy interrogates the representational strategies that nineteenth-century Americans used in art and literature to delineate blackness as an index to the forms of U.S. citizenship. The book reveals how the difficult task of representing African Americans-both enslaved and free-in imaginative expression was part of a larger dilemma concerning representative democracy. More specifically, the book analyzes how African Americans manipulated aurality and visuality in art that depicted images of national belonging t only as a mode of critique but as an iteration or articulation of democratic representation itself. Such a turn to culture as a particular arena where African Americans had varying levels of agency is all the more necessary in the years before they were ostensibly granted access to formal political structures with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Recovering important aspects of the African American presence in the debates about democracy and citizenship, this book focuses on the mutual engagement with the national idioms by both black and white Americans and illustrates how African Americans in particular deployed artistic practices to enact a more egalitarian society.
Ivy G. Wilson is Associate Professor of English at Northwestern University. He is the editor of At the Dusk of Dawn: Selected Poetry and Prose of Albery Allson Whitman and the coeditor, with Robert S. Levine, of The Works of James M. Whitfield: America and Other Writings by a Nineteenth-CenturyAfrican American Poet.