Jamie Luis Parra, “The Desire for Lawlessness: Law, Freedom, and the Aesthetic in The Bondwoman’s Narrative” (pp. 1–41)
This essay begins by discussing Hannah Crafts’s engagement with the debates of the 1850s over the relationship between civic law and moral philosophy. In her novel The Bondwoman’s Narrative (2002), a work probably completed in 1858, Crafts repudiates written language for its capacity to enforce and define slavery in the form of law, which snakes morality into itself by virtue of seeming to represent the people’s will when it actually contributes to also producing that will. Crafts indicates the necessity for a belief in a higher law, something beyond the written. She positively defines that something in her stunning reworking of ekphrasis. Presenting evidence for her familiarity with English language translations of writings on aesthetics by Immanuel Kant and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and close reading the novel’s depictions of visual aesthetic experience, the essay argues that Crafts theorizes a freedom disentangled from the law’s implicit definition of freedom as always dialectically opposed to enslavement. The novel’s narrator-protagonist, Hannah, reconceives freedom as the lawlessness expressed by her own speculative thinking, by her imaginative, creative response to visual representations.