„Polluted Luxuries: Consumer Resistance, the Senses of Horror, and Abolitionist Boycott Literature“
Jessica Conrad – PhD Candidate
University of Delaware
Away! ‘tis loathsome! bear me hence!
I cannot feed on human sighs
Or feast with sweets my palate’s sense,
While blood is ‘neath the fair disguise.
No, never let me taste again
Of aught beside the coarsest fare,
Far rather, than my conscience stain,
With the polluted luxuries there.
_”Oh Press Me Not to Taste Again,”
Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, Poetical Works (1836)
Polluted luxuries, stained consciences, shuddering senses – these were compelling reasons to abstain from the products of slave labor which, in 1836, at the time of Elizabeth Margaret Chandler’s writing, already proliferated in an expanding American market. Writers such as Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and John Greenleaf Whittier imagined a world of goods haunted by the touch of enslaved laborers – goods which in turn haunted consumers. By parsing out the language of abolitionist boycott literature alongside its historical and material cultural moment, this talk will examine the ways in which abolitionist literature posits a very literal and as yet unaccounted for version of material relations. Those material relations, it seems, collapse the boundaries between consumer and producer, self and other, in ways that have horrific, haunting implications for market society, then and now.