cover image The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

Greg Grandin. Metropolitan, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9453-4

This dark yarn is simultaneously a philosophical, sociological, and literary inquiry, as the historic facts of an 1804 maritime slave rebellion interact dialectically with Benito Cereno, Melville’s novel inspired by the revolt. Through rich contextualization, the central events are understood as both singular and allegorical for the surrounding social milieu. As Melville wrote about “slavery as a proxy for the human condition,” Grandin (Fordlandia) addresses the encounter of Amasa Delano, a New England seal hunter, with the rebelling West African slaves and their Spanish hostage as a proxy for the manifold forces intersecting in the development of the New World. Delano, described by Grandin as a sort of “republican Zelig,” embodies the ethical dilemma of antebellum America, contemplating freedom while mired in a system enabled by slavery. Less biographical information is available for the Africans, but Grandin infers that the “inverted [Southern Hemisphere] moon... was yet another sign of not just their world but heaven turned upside down” for these slaves forced across the equator, and the occurrence of the Night of Power, an Islamic holy day, as fomenting the rebellion by evoking prophetic proclivities. Grandin’s insightful, poetic explorations offer profound insight into a critical moment in the modern development of the struggle between freedom and enslavement. (Jan.)