Kafka, race, colonialism, assemblage, necropolitics


Franz Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony” has been widely, even exhaustively studied. However, there is a dearth of analysis which stresses the centrality of the colony as a site, and race as a structure, in this text in a sustained and appropriately nuanced manner. While Kafka’s work is often read as representing universal conditions of domination and alienation, this paper argues that “In the Penal Colony” illustrates specific political processes and relations which belong to colonial and racialized orders of power. Reading “In the Penal Colony” alongside theorists such as Frantz Fanon, Achille Mbembe, and Saidiya Hartman, this paper offers an inroad towards the jarring energy of the penal colony, which remains ill-defined when the structures of colonialism and the category of race are not foregrounded. Such a reading occasions timely consideration of the mechanisms of racialized violence which operate(d) within the colony as a world-historical formation, suggesting a critique of the way power constructs subjects, apportions violence, and deploys mechanisms of domination.



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