This article explores the way The White Boy Shuffle delinks American citizenship’s hold on Black political subjectivity. Through a narrative analysis of Shuffle’s protagonist and minor characters, the author argues that the novel forwards what cultural historian Nikhil Pal Singh calls the “negative dialectic of race.” At the level of the protagonist, Shuffle’s deliberate adherence to the conventions of the classical bildungsroman but failed achievement of its aesthetic-spiritual ideal of bildung leads to a breakdown of the dialectic that would reconcile Black history and social experience with American identity and citizenship. Yet, at the level of minor characters, Shuffle is less negating racial ideologies and more forwarding a global conceptualization of race. Specifically articulated through a series of non- Black or white minor characters, Shuffle offers alternative racial subjectivities to post–civil rights US racial common sense by highlighting racialized social and historical experiences beyond and below the horizon of the US nation-state as a reminder of the alternative global geographies of race. Ultimately, the novel both negates American citizenship as sufficient to the aspirations and desires of Black political life and reorients Black political subjectivity back to what Singh calls “Black worldliness.”
“Abandoning This Sinking Ship America”: The Classical Bildungsroman, Minor Characters, and the Negative Dialectic of Race in Paul Beatty’s White Boy Shuffle
Christian Ravela is assistant professor of humanities and cultural studies in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Central Florida. He specializes in twentieth-century US multiethnic literature, comparative ethnic studies, and critical theory. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Modern Fiction Studies, MELUS, Queer Studies in Media and Popular Culture, Cultural Critique, Lateral, Syllabus, and American Studies.
Christian Ravela; “Abandoning This Sinking Ship America”: The Classical Bildungsroman, Minor Characters, and the Negative Dialectic of Race in Paul Beatty’s White Boy Shuffle. Genre 1 April 2020; 53 (1): 27–52. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-8210750
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