Universiteit Leiden

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Gravensteen Lecture | Spaces of Enslavement: Rethinking the Architecture of the Castle/Dungeon

  • Simon Gikandi (Princeton University)
Friday 3 November 2017
Gravensteen Lectures
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

If one visits the slave castles that line the coast of West Africa looking for evidence of the cargos they once held in dungeons deeply buried in the underground, or seeking testimony for the masses of African bodies that were once held there before being shipped to the Americas, one is bound to be disappointed. For far from functioning as sites of memory, or as Pierre Nora would say, “the instruments by means of which memories are perpetuated," the castles seem to negate all attempts to read them as allegories of human bondage and to assert their status as autonomous aesthetic objects. Confronted by buildings that seem to be beautiful, in spite of their dark histories, scholars of the castles have tended to explain their attractiveness in terms of contested memories and competing histories and desires. But my argument is that the castles resist a commemorative function because of their bifurcated architecture: At the top, the visible castle is a replica of European domestic spaces at the dawn of modernity; at the bottom, underground, are "medieval" dungeons where the bodies that enable the civilizing process are kept out of sight. How can we read the top and the bottom as part of the same scheme when they are spatially separated?

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