“The Slave Ship: An Operative Architecture Responsible for the Abysmal Atlantic Crossing”

Marie-Seraphine_The-Funambulist

“What the example of slave ship allows, because of the world in itself it constitutes, is a representation of the holistic dimension of the weaponization of its architecture. In other words, every component of the slave ship is designed to contribute to the organization of bodies in a spatial configuration optimizing its function, as the illustrations (above and below) of the French slave ship La Marie-Séraphine (1769-1776), show well. This includes the bodies themselves: the sailors’ bodies, in their choreographed accomplishment of navigating this “vast machine” (see Rediker, 2007), the daily ‘care’ of the hundreds of bodies living under the deck, as well as the individualized or collective deadly suppression of potential forms of revolt. In The Slave Ship: A Human History (Penguin, 2007), Marcus Rediker describes the frequent deaths of these bodies during the triangular crossings, which we can interpret through a logic that shares some similarities with slavery itself: not considering bodies individually but rather, through their muscular operativity as a whole by the ship’s captain and owners. Nevertheless, the sailors’ bodies are not the only one engaged in the holistic optimization of the slave ship through its design. The imprisoned African bodies themselves, through the deliberate overpopulation of their space (see past article), were involuntarily acting as as much walls for each other — the illustrations presented here was drawn by the ship’s officer, not an abolitionist and, as such, is very likely to have minimized the amount of bodies present — in particular when these bodies were handcuffed by two, as Rediker describes in his book.”

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