Today I came across the diagnostic category, drapetomania. Drapetomania was defined by Samuel Cartwright as a “mental illness” in 1851. According to Cartwright it was ‘a disease peculiar to Negroes, manifested in a behavior evident in blacks but absent in whites: the tendency to run away from slave plantations.’ (Rose, 2007: 156)
According to Wikipedia, Cartwright suggested the preventive practice of “whipping the devil out of them” if the slave showed the early symptoms of drapetomania, an unhappy disposition.
The whole thing sounds like a Monty Python skit, unfortunately it isn’t.
The final wishes of a dying person are generally seen as sacred. For instance this week on 2Ser I was listening to a story about a Japanese man who spent the last 25 years of his life in Papua New Guinea recovering the bones of his comrades who died during World War II because he had made a pact with them and felt bound to honour it.
But in the literary and artistic world things are very different. Albert Camus and Patrick White both made specific requests that their unfinished works would be burnt. Both requests have been denied. Vladimir Nabokov made a similar request, but it appears that this too will be denied.
I am not so misty-eyed about all this, I will buy the Nabokov novel, but it does make me wonder whether the requests I have made in my will are worth anything. I mean, if I don’t get shot out of a cannon á la Hunter S. Thompson I will be mightily disappointed.