Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Lynn Itagaki

Committee Co-chair

Kathleen Kane

Commitee Members

Jeffrey Wiltse


biopower, Cornel West, Empire, Hardt, Negri, society of control


University of Montana


Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle ostensibly proffers a new model for black leadership, a role filled by the protagonist, Gunnar Kaufman. Yet the cheeky tone with which Gunnar as frame narrator characterizes such a leader, likening his position as leader of black America to that of a Negro Demagogue and Ebon Pied Piper, immediately casts into doubt the ability of and desirability for a single person to represent such a wide spectrum of particular entities. Instead, what becomes clear is that such a reductive form of representation serves only to stifle the multivalent reality of postmodern life. As Gunnar matures throughout the novel, he begins to recognize that he as an individual becomes co-opted, molded and exploited by an extensive array of mechanisms and institutions. The forces that Gunnar begins to recognize correspond with the dispotifs and apparatuses that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri diagnose in their book, Empire. To Hardt and Negri, the disciplinary society, that society in which the state exercises control over the population through direct juridical intervention, has evolved into a society of control. The society control relies not on outside imposition but rather the self-policing of the body politic to craft normative behavior. In this model, the people being repressed have internalized and propagate the expectations of the dominant caste, a phenomenon Hardt and Negri call biopower. As Gunnar becomes aware of the insidious methodologies that seek to circumscribe or direct his thoughts and actions, he visualizes these controls as strings with himself as the puppet. This awareness leads to a form of fatalism that reveals itself in Gunnar’s impromptu call for suicide. After Gunnar’s epiphany, he returns to his Hillside community and focuses on granting a forum to the dispossessed, one in which no one is marginalized and the gritty reality of urban life is celebrated. Gunnar calls these sessions of communal catharsis the MiseryFests, and they embody the essence of what Hardt and Negri claim is necessary to combat the society of control. The MiseryFests make use of the imperial terrain, the flows of information that biopower relies on to police one another, and construct a counter-Empire that truly celebrates diversity.



© Copyright 2006 Brian Grosenbaugh