The Misinterpellated Subject

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: Published: February 2017

Author: James R. Martel

Cultural Studies, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

Although Haitian revolutionaries were not the intended audience for the Declaration of the Rights of Man, they heeded its call, demanding rights that were not meant for them. This failure of the French state to address only its desired subjects is an example of the phenomenon James R. Martel labels "misinterpellation." Complicating Althusser's famous theory, Martel explores the ways that such failures hold the potential for radical and anarchist action. In addition to the Haitian Revolution, Martel shows how the revolutionary responses by activists and anticolonial leaders to Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points speech and the Arab Spring sprang from misinterpellation. He also takes up misinterpellated subjects in philosophy, film, literature, and nonfiction, analyzing works by Nietzsche, Kafka, Woolf, Fanon, Ellison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others to demonstrate how characters who exist on the margins offer a generally unrecognized anarchist form of power and resistance. Timely and broad in scope, The Misinterpellated Subject reveals how calls by authority are inherently vulnerable to radical possibilities, thereby suggesting that all people at all times are filled with revolutionary potential.


"In this brilliant new theory of political agency, James R. Martel pushes a politics for the failed, flawed, and damaged people we actually are. Rejecting the heroism that binds us to authority, he looks to the ones who show up, unexpected and unwanted. Through original readings of Althusser, Fanon, and others, Martel strips politics of all guarantees. Freedom is possible, if we want it." — Jodi Dean author of Crowds and Party

"With its rich and provocative readings of diverse events and texts, Martel’s book would deserve wide-ranging praise simply for being a master-class in literary interpretation, but it goes much further in introducing and carefully developing a convincing theory of misinterpellation." — Smita A. Rahman, Theory & Event

“James Martel has given us a fine, well-written, and inspiring book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in subjectivity, ideology, recognition, representation, and resistance.” — Lasse Thomassen, Political Theory

"A work of great interest. . . . Althusser taught us to judge books by their theoretical and practical effects. The effect of James Martel’s The Misinterpellated Subject is to show that confronting the problem of subjection, and Althusser’s reflections on it, remains an unavoidable, even urgent, task." — Warren Montag, Postmodern Culture

"James R. Martel has a flair for finding the minor character, the neglected detail, and the unexpected avenue in texts that have been read and subjected to a great deal of political and literary criticism for decades. His political commitment allows him to wrest brilliant new meanings and readings from works by Melville, Woolf, Kafka, and others we thought we knew. There is no one better than Martel today who politicizes literature and reanimates it for political thinking. The Misinterpellated Subject is a major contribution." — Bonnie Honig, author of Public Things and Antigone, Interrupted


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

James R. Martel is Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University and the author of several books, most recently, The One and Only Law: Walter Benjamin and the Second Commandment.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Unsummoned! When the Call Is Not Meant for You  1
Part I. Subjects of the Call
1. From "Hey, You There!" to "Wait Up!": The Workings (and Unworkings) of Interpellation  35
2. "Men Are Born Free and Equal in Rights": Historical Examples of Interpellation aend Misinterpellation  58
3. "Tiens, un Nègre": Fanon and the Refusal of Colonial Subjectivity  96
Part II. The One(s) Who Showed Up
4. "[A Person] Is Something That Shall Be Overcome": The Misinterpellated Messiah, or How Nietzsche Saves Us from Salvation  133
5. "Come, Come!": Bartleby and Lily Briscoe as Nietzschean Subjects  163
6. "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   198
7. "I Can Believe": Breaking the Circuits of Interpellation in von Trier's Breaking the Waves  243
Conclusion. The Misinterpellated Subject: Anarchist All the Way Down  266
Notes  275
Bibliography  309
Index  317
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6296-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6284-5
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