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IRH Lecture: “Heavy Weather: William Gilbert’s Hurricane and Atlantic Semiotics”

December 7, 2020 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

[Due to COVID-19, this event has been moved to a digital conferencing platform. For more information about participation, contact IRH at info@irh.wisc.edu.]

Monday Seminar:
Monique Allewaert, Resident Fellow (2020–21), English, UW-Madison

“Heavy Weather: William Gilbert’s Hurricane and Atlantic Semiotics”

My investigation of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century West Indian cultural production explores how the constant, often imperceptible touch of insects as well as the colonial climate that they indexed and amplified informed a latent-yet-never-achieved episteme and concomitant aesthetics that I call insect luminescence. I track insect luminescence through three nested problems: setting, figuration, and Black Atlantic semiotics. My IRH presentation traces the ways that the semiotics at stake in Black creole aesthetics influenced Anglo creole cultural forms. To do this, I turn to Anglo-Antiguan poet William Gilbert’s eclogue The Hurricane (1796), which develops a meteorological and poetic theory indebted to Black Atlantic cosmologies. Gilbert imagines that his own creole poetry participates in the colonial climate that informs its production in ways that advanced then-ongoing Caribbean revolutionary movements. My analysis of Gilbert’s poem shows the reach of vernacular Black Atlantic semiotics into “high” cultural forms. It also interrogates white artists’ appropriations of Black practices as well as the aesthetic and ethical limits that follow on this appropriation.

Monique Allewaert studies 18th-century American plantation colonies, especially at the intersections of ecology, race studies, and aesthetics.