“Consent to Not Be a Single Being”: Resisting Identity, Confronting the Law in Kafka’s Amerika, Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Coates’s Between the World and Me
2017. "“Consent to Not Be a Single Being”: Resisting Identity, Confronting the Law in Kafka’s Amerika, Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Coates’s Between the World and Me", The Misinterpellated Subject, James R. Martel
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In this chapter, I look at three narratives involving individuals and their encounters with the police in the United States. Each case is meant to revisit Louis Althusser’s classic depiction of interpellation wherein a police officer, seeing a pedestrian walking by yells out “hey, you there!” In the first case, I look at Kafka’s Amerika, in which the novel’s hero, Karl Rossmann, is such a failed subject, so incoherent, that the police officer’s attempts to interpellate him fail miserably. Rossmann exposes the way that interpellation is a two-way street and, given that he doesn’t project any authority back onto the police officer (not because he doesn’t want to but because he is unable to do so), the policeman has no power over him but physical violence (and in any event Karl escapes from him by running away). In the other two texts, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, I argue that these depictions of African American subjects and their own encounter with the police take a very different direction. Being black, these subjects do not have the luxury to fail. What they offer instead is a form of refusal (similar to what Frantz Fanon advocates and practices) that suggests a very different set of responses to interpellation and its false—but violent—forms of authority. At the end of the chapter, I connect these stories to Black Lives Matter and the struggle against police violence against black and brown bodies in the contemporary United States.