Where can we locate race/whiteness in theories and practices of appropriation—that defining practice of the “postmodern” moment of the 1980s? This article approaches the question through a close reading of Glenn Ligon's installation Notes on the Margin of the Black Book (1991–93). In this work, Ligon restages Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs of (mostly nude) Black men alongside textual quotations that discuss Mapplethorpe's work and the politics of interracial homo-erotic desire in the United States. Here, citation and annotation function as alternatives to appropriation's possessive strategy. The essay asks, if appropriation is a white avant-garde device for negating liberal notions of authorship, are citation and annotation its counterpoint for Blackness and Black authorship? The answer is sought through the interrogation of the different ways in which French and US copyright laws addressed authorship and Black subjectivity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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