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  • The Misinterpellated Subject by James R. Martel
  • Keisha A. Brown
The Misinterpellated Subject
James R. Martel
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017; 344 pages. $28.95 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-8223-6296-8.

The Misinterpellated Subject by James R. Martel explores Althusser’s theory of interpellation to reveal the revolutionary potential of what he calls misinterpellation. For Althusser, interpellation is a process of political subjectivity where much of the time the intended subject of the interpellator’s hail is the one that heeds the call. However, Martel is more interested in the minority of cases when the call is misinterpellated by an unintended subject. Thus, Martel analyzes how misinterpellation allows unintended audiences to resist power and systems of oppression, even to the point of revolution.

The text is divided into two parts with each of the seven chapters focused around a call or hailing. Part I, “Subjects of the Call,” explores the theoretical and historical practice of misinterpellation in order to address the larger questions of “How does interpellation work? How has it been resisted in the past and with what results?” (7). Chapter 1, “From ‘Hey, You There! to ‘Wait Up!,’” is devoted to Althusser’s view of interpellation. Chapter 2, “Men are Born Free and Equal in Rights,” uses three historical examples to build upon the theory explored in Chapter 1. Martel analyzes the interpellated “hailings” as having a universal application only to have the façade revealed when the calls are answered by unintended subjects, as evidenced in the chapter’s historical case studies: the Haitian Revolution, the Wilsonian moment at the end of World War I, and the origins of the Arab Spring in Tunisia. In each of these examples, how the process of agency and identity moving from state to subject to state is analyzed from two perspectives: elite (subjects who traverse state and resistance) and subaltern (grassroots level) to understand how ordinary people understood daily forms of resistance. Chapter 3, “Tiens, [End Page 189] un Nègre,” is used to read Frantz Fanon as a misinterpellated subject. Fanon was a black Martinican who was raised thinking he was both a French and universal subject with all associated rights and privileges. Fanon’s perception changed when he went to France and realized he was not seen or identified by others the way he saw himself; his identity was misinterpellated by others. Fanon redefined this misinterpellation by both redefining and asserting his blackness, turning it into a mode of resistance.

Part II, “The One(s) Who Showed Up,” focuses on what happens both beneath and beyond the umbrella of interpellation. In this section of the text, Martel shifts from historical events and figures to more philosophical and literary analysis. The guiding questions for the remaining four chapters are: “What kind of subject emerges from the breakdown of interpellation? What strategies does this subject employ to maximize her disruption of interpellated identities? What kind of politics does this subject express and with what implications for thinking about questions of contemporary forms of resistance?” (7–8). Chapter 4, “[A Person] is Something That Shall Be Overcome,” addresses the process of the breakdown of interpellation in the Nietzsche’s texts Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Genealogy of Morals. Martel argues that Nietzsche’s rhetorical device of raising and dashing hopes in the form of a messiah that abandons and betrays creates a countertheology prerequisite for the subversive potential of misinterpellation to be realized. This “cruel messianism” ideally leads to a collapse of subjecthood, a dismantling of the apparatus of interpellation, and the emergence, however brief, of the anarchist misinterpellated subject. The exploration of the decentralized subject in selected works of Nietzsche, combined with the lessons on subjectivity discussed in the previous chapter on Fanon, lays the foundation for the remaining chapters. Martel asserts that chapters 5, 6, and 7 are models for how to turn misinterpellation into resistance as well as providing a framework for exploring the various forms of politics that result from anarchist and misinterpellated forms of subjectivity. Chapter 5, “Come, Come,” analyzes two literary works, Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and Virginia Woolf ’s To the Lighthouse, in particular Melville’s Bartleby...


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pp. 189-191
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