chapter  10
14 Pages

Paul Beatty’s Slumberland and the Myth of Blackness

WithGEORGE HOAGLAND

Paul Beatty opens his 2008 novel Slumberland by declaring that “if you’re still upset with history, get a lawyer on the phone and try to collect workmen’s comp for slavery” (4). This opening gambit sets the tone of the novel, which imagines an anti-hero’s journey from urban Los Angeles to newly reunified Germany. The novel’s main character sets out in search of what he calls “the perfect beat,” what we might interpret as the essence of soul, a validation of all things capital B Black. The opening quote reveals the novel’s attempt to embrace the imbalance created by a history that leaves out-indeed, absents-the trauma of enslaved and colonized populations. We read in the quote an interpretation of the adage “to the victor go the spoils”; if you want to “collect” your rightful due from this lopsided institution, you will have to prove the improvable. And even if you can accomplish such an impossible feat, your paperwork will inevitably languish in a system designed to diminish your reality. The admonition to the reader that Beatty offers in this quote functions like a proverb of the sort found in colonized societies: if you notice something wrong, understand that everything is wrong. This quote signals a historical past disremembered; that is, it references a past that was never available for forgetting, and was systematically disavowed.