Homo Amens: Epistemological Thanatopolitics and the Postcolonial Zombie


  • Derek Paul Lee Georgia Tech


Giorgio Agamben, Erna Brodber, John Okada, Jonny Steinberg, Biopower


This study identifies a recurring yet overlooked figure in global ethnic and diasporic literature that I term homo amens. Drawing from Agamben’s concept of homo sacer and the postcolonial zombie, I argue that homo amens (“the man without a mind”) is a powerful symbol of biopolitical violence that bypasses transgressions against the material body in lieu of immaterial bodies of knowledge, including indigenous cultural, familial, and scientific structures. Through close readings of Erna Brodber’s Myal, John Okada’s No-No Boy, and Jonny Steinberg’s Sizwe’s Test, I show that the “epistemological zombie” is a vital figure within postcolonial and power discourse, not only for foregrounding traditional knowledge within political rights, but also for making the case for ethnic literature as an instrument for epistemological equality.

Author Biography

Derek Paul Lee, Georgia Tech

Derek Lee is an Assistant Professor of English at Wake Forest University. His research interests span twentieth and twenty-first century literature with a focus on Asian American diasporic and multi-ethnic fiction, global science and technology studies, and decolonial epistemology. His work has previously appeared in Configurations, Journal of Literature & Science, Journal of Modern Literature, and MELUS among other venues.