Abstract

This article examines the politics of transgressive pleasure and desire in Claude McKay’s novel Romance in Marseille, as a response to what Achille Mbembe, departing from Foucault’s notion of biopower, has termed necropolitics. In the novel, the interlocking hegemonic systems of racism and capitalism function as mechanisms of necropower—the power of determining whose lives are deemed worthy and whose bodies are deemed disposable—which is executed through the procedures of mutilation, surveillance, poverty, and sexual exploitation. Foregrounding the titular “romance,” McKay’s novel features characters who engage in romantic and sexual relationships that subvert the expectations of heteronormativity, sexual economy, and the color line. Anticipating the twenty-first-century theories that locate sovereign power in the body, McKay politicizes and radicalizes desire as a response to the racialization, criminalization, and dehumanization of his novel’s lumpen characters.

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