Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Realist EcstasyReligion, Race, and Performance in American Literature$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Lindsay V. Reckson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781479803323

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479803323.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM NYU Press SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.nyu.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of NYU Press Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NYSO for personal use.date: 25 July 2021

Touching a Button

Touching a Button

Chapter:
(p.157) 4 Touching a Button
Source:
Realist Ecstasy
Author(s):

Lindsay V. Reckson

Publisher:
NYU Press
DOI:10.18574/nyu/9781479803323.003.0005

This chapter examines turn-of-the-century electrification as a site of ecstatic possibility and violent materialization, analyzing little-known photographs by William Van der Weyde of the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison to describe how the electric chair mobilized electricity’s spiritual potential for the mass reproduction of death. Exploring how William Dean Howells and other opponents of the chair linked its technological effects to the mass popularity of the push-button photograph, the chapter examines photography’s collusion with the electric chair’s production of stillness as a form of racial terror, while analyzing Van der Weyde’s photographs as realist reenactments of an electrified touch. The chapter reads these photographs alongside James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), a text that mobilizes “electric affects” to theorize the circulations of religious feeling and racial terror at the nadir of American race relations, even as the novel itself becomes an electrifying performance circulating in and through the shock of spectacular violence. Yoking the “electrifying climax” of the camp meeting to the “electric current” of the lynch mob, Johnson channels the language of circuitry to suggest the centrality of both practices in defining and disfiguring the “real” of secular modernity.

Keywords:   James Weldon Johnson, William Van der Weyde, photography, electricity, electric affects, electric chair, reenactments, racial terror

NYU Press Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.