“‘Pleading Human’ in Paul Beatty’s The Sellout”
AuthorNaughton, Gerald David
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This paper analyses Paul Beatty’s Booker Prize winning comic novel, The Sellout (2015), as it relates to theories of black posthumanism, as outlined in the work of Alexander Weheliye and Hortense Spillers. In the novel, the protagonist–identified by his second name, “Me”–goes on trial at the Supreme Court for violating the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments by respectively owning slaves and reintroducing segregation. My article explores a series of deeply troubling questions implied in the text, around how black identity is constructed in Obama’s America, or in the country’s so-called “postracial moment.” What if, in Beatty’s anarchic fictive universe, black characters opted to become slaves, or masters, or segregated subjects? What happens to our conception of post-civil rights progress and postracial utopias when such choices are made, however satirically? I wish to consider Beatty’s provocations around definitions of the human, as they intersect with constructions of race (and postrace)–particularly in the light of recent scholarship in black posthumanism. The article will draw on Weheliye’s twin reframings of Giorgio Agamben’s delineation of bare life and Hortense Spillers’s distinction between body and flesh. The aim here is twofold–both to consider the novel’s uses and abuses of humor (frequently characterized in criticism as Beatty’s “black satire”) and to position the novel within the wider frame of black posthumanism.
- English Literature & Linguistics [99 items ]