This essay argues that the difficulties Émile Zola faced in closing the Rougon-Macquart novel cycle reveal a political imaginary whose notion of a clean line of progress depends on a technical supplement it disavows. At critical points Zola’s method exposes the disavowal of this technical supplement that functions as the prosthetic by which man overcomes a hereditary deficiency, his original psychosis in Zola’s account, and is also the means by which he allegorizes history as progress. But this supplement must also disappear from view, or operate as a vanishing mediator. Because, for Zola, the immediate political problem of engendering the right kind of political subjects for the Third Empire must be integrated into a larger evolutionary history, the rational overcoming of the original psychosis takes the form of a necessary and indeed automatic process. What is at stake here is not the inhumanism of generalizing the “Anthropos,” which has come under recent scrutiny, but the inhumanism integral to any humanism that imagines itself as teleologically or historically oriented—the inhumanism in humanism that subtends any imaginary of evolution or progress, because such a humanism must have recourse to technical prosthesis.

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