By Kevin Pelletier
targeting a number of very important anti-slavery figures, together with David Walker, Nat Turner, Maria Stewart, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism illustrates how antislavery discourse labored to redefine violence and vengeance because the final expression (rather than denial) of affection and sympathy. on the sametime, those warnings of apocalyptic retribution enabled antislavery writers to precise, albeit not directly, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What all started as a sentimental process quick grew to become an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the entire annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.
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Like Nat Turner, who assumed the prerogative of God when he decided to exact theologically sanctioned vengeance against white Southerners, Dred is represented in this work of antislavery fiction precisely as the incarnation of God’s apocalyptic retribution. In this way, Dred not only further dramatizes the synecdochic connection between prophecies of apocalypse and slave insurrection, but he constitutes one of the principal sentimental agents of the narrative. While many readers of Dred regard this novel as a failed work of sentimental fiction for how it foregrounds insurrectionary violence as a legitimate challenge to slavery, I argue that insurrectionary violence, constructed through an apocalyptic idiom, constitutes one of the foremost sentimental characteristics of this narrative.
For the remainder of the coda, I briefly examine three modern illustrations of apocalyptic sentimentalism. As in the nineteenth century, this sentimental structure is a formative part of America’s political discourse and its artistic culture. The three examples I consider—one from a political pundit, one from the environmental movement, and one from a novel—all expand upon and revise the tradition of apocalyptic sentimentalism that first emerged in the antebellum period. What is perhaps most surprising about the uses of apocalyptic sentimentalism in post-9/11 America is how terror itself has been so thoroughly incorporated into our own political and entertainment imaginations.
Instead, each text unfolds a theory of force that requires self-abnegation and a state of dependency on a transcendental deity, and these traits conflict with the belief in a secular liberal autonomous will, a move that offers a more problematic, but potentially more powerful, expression of selfhood. It is in this section that I begin to outline some of the important distinctions between revolutionary and religious violence by showing that the descriptions of power Walker and Turner provide are fundamentally different from the prevailing norms of liberal discourse.