Current Society of Fellows Fellow Atesede Makonnen review of Deanna P. Koretsky's Death Rights: Romantic Suicide, Race, and the Bounds of Liberalism" was published in summer issue (18.2) of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies journal.
Death Rights: Romantic Suicide, Race, and the Bounds of Liberalism Reviewed by Atesede Makonnen, Johns Hopkins University
Deanna Koretsky opens Death Rights: Romantic Suicide, Race, and the Bounds of Liberalism by acknowledging the fact that “[s]uicide is a complicated response to a broken world. The factors that motivate someone’s decision to die are personal and, to a large extent, fundamentally unknowable” (2). However, as she goes on to write, “cultural narratives about suicide are ours to read and weigh; they show us what it is to live in this world” (2). In the following captivating pages, she investigates how suicide was mythologized, gendered, and racialized in the cultural narratives of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She “examines how canonical and lesser-known writers of African and European descent combined suicide with liberal rhetorics of individualism, sovereignty, and natural rights to interrogate notions of propertied self-possession, personhood, sympathy, and the human” (4). Focusing on the Romantic period and its obsession with suicide, she pulls apart familiar narratives about abolitionist poetry, slave narratives, and Enlightenment definitions of personhood to compellingly argue that the right to death was (and is) as an exclusive one that highlights the limitations of liberalism, and that representations of suicide send powerful (often mixed) messages about race.