This article examines Nuruddin Farah's 1979 novel Sweet and Sour Milk, asking how we read representations of postcolonial mourning and living death in the context of global authoritarianism. The first novel in Farah's influential dictatorship trilogy, Sweet and Sour Milk introduces us to “the General,” a fictionalized version of Siyad Barre, who ruled Somalia from 1969 to 1991. Like Barre's, the General's power exemplifies what Achille Mbembe calls “necropolitics,” or “the contemporary subjugation of life to the power of death.” The General's necropower manifests, peculiarly, as a politics of substitution—that is, when he takes a life, he leaves something in its place. Rebels do not simply disappear; they are killed and then given sycophantic zombie afterlives in the General's propaganda. In response to this politics of substitution, Farah explores a politics of mourning, which insists upon the irreplaceability of lost love objects and thereby broadly reveals what truly can and cannot be substituted. The General insists on the uniqueness of his power, for example, but Farah reveals it to be a cliché, easily substituted by that of other dictators throughout history. Cliché becomes revolutionary in this way, suggesting that dictators share a common fate: they will be deposed or, eventually, die of old age. However, like a horde of the living dead, others like them will return. The article concludes with analysis of the apparent pessimism of this point and the global implications of Farah's ideas about both necropolitics and the limits of the novel form in the face of authoritarian power.

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