This essay explores the juridico-political framework of Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird and the ways in which the novel’s narrative structure supports and undermines this framework. With reference to Giorgio Agamben’s work, it traces the concepts of the biopolitical body (bare life), state of exception, and sovereignty in how the novel dramatizes the relation between victim and perpetrator in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Within this context, it singles out the notion of the homo alalus (speechless human) as a specific kind of bare life and discusses its functions in the novel. The picaresque voice reflects both the muted voice of the victim and the self-assertive voice of memory. Kosinski uses the picaresque template to articulate this dual voice as an art of giving testimony to bare life. This testimonial appropriation of the picaresque template can be read as a challenge to Agamben’s overdetermination of the concepts of bare life and sovereignty.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 80-99
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.