With attention to representations of the land and labor in the postslavery agricultural South of the nadir—a period when American apartheid was at its most violent—this essay uses Paul Laurence Dunbar’s plantation poems and W. E. B. Du Bois’s cotton novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911), to explore counternarratives of black subjecthood. Agriculture’s focus on productive collaborations with the nonhuman, on cycles of decay and rebirth, and on the potential for self-determination provides a generative vocabulary for conceptualizing nadir-era experiences of the human. Under this model, literature provides a venue wherein the legacies of the plantation might be imaginatively transposed from a Jim Crow necropolitics of violent constraint and dispossession into vectors of agropolitical possibility. To that end, the essay uses Dunbar and Du Bois to propose potentially radical processes of black subject formation wherein physical and imaginative instances of reclamation give rise to fresh mergers of epistemic and embodied selfhood.

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