Sigmund Freud infamously referred to women's sexuality as a “dark continent” for psychoanalysis, drawing on colonial explorer Henry Morton Stanley’s use of the same phrase to refer to Africa. While the problematic universalism of psychoanalysis led theorists to reject its relevance for postcolonial critique, Ranjana Khanna boldly shows how
bringing psychoanalysis, colonialism, and women together can become the starting point of a postcolonial feminist theory. Psychoanalysis brings to light, Khanna argues, how nation-statehood for the former colonies of Europe institutes the violence of European imperialist history. Far from rejecting psychoanalysis, Dark Continents reveals its importance as a reading practice that makes visible the psychical strife of colonial and
postcolonial modernity. Assessing the merits of various models of nationalism, psychoanalysis, and colonialism, it refashions colonial melancholy as a transnational feminist ethics.
Khanna traces the colonial backgrounds of psychoanalysis from its beginnings in the late nineteenth century up to the present. Illuminating Freud’s debt to the languages of archaeology and anthropology throughout his career, Khanna describes how Freud altered his theories of the ego as his own political status shifted from Habsburg loyalist to Nazi victim. Dark Continents explores how psychoanalytic theory was taken up in Europe and its colonies in the period of decolonization following World War II, focusing on its use by a range of writers including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Octave Mannoni, Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, René Ménil, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Wulf Sachs, and Ellen Hellman. Given the multiple gendered and colonial contexts of many of these writings, Khanna argues for the necessity of a postcolonial, feminist critique of
decolonization and postcoloniality.
About the Author
Ranjana Khanna is Assistant Professor of English and Literature and Affiliate in Women’s Studies at Duke University.
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Dark continentsPsychoanalysis and colonialism
By Ranjana Khanna
Duke University Press
Chapter OnePsychoanalysis and Archaeology
Is death not that upon the basis of which knowledge in general is possible-so much so that we think of it as being, in the area of psychoanalysis, the figure of that empirico-transcendental duplication that characterizes man's mode of thinking within finitude? Is desire not that which remains always unthought at the heart of thought? And the law-language (at once word and word-system) that psychoanalysis takes such pains to speak, is it not that in which all signification assumes an origin more distant than itself, but also that whose return is promised in the very act of analysis? Is it indeed true that this Death, and this Desire, and this Law can never meet within the knowledge that traverses in its positivity the empirical domain of man; but the reason for this is that they designate the conditions of possibility of all knowledge about man ...?-Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
Foucault ends The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences with a section on "Psychoanalysis and Ethnology," in which he clarifies how the two disciplines, or perhaps more accurately counter-sciences or technologies "[make] possible knowledge about man in general." The fundamental difference between the two is spatialinterrelation, suggested in the first instance by the transference between analyst and patient and therefore in interpersonal relations. In the second, "the particular relation that the Western ratio establishes with all other cultures" is characterized by the relationship between ethnologist and informant; the ideological parameters of that relationship are determined by the colonial origins of anthropology and nineteenth-century political geography. We will explore the connection between ethnology and psychoanalysis in more depth in the next chapter, in which the association between anthropology and psychoanalysis will be the main topic. Here, the connection between the archaeological and the psychoanalytic will be the focus, along with, following Foucault, the meaning of an archaeology of the human sciences. While Freud's language for developing psychoanalytic theories is very obviously highly indebted to the discipline of archaeology, it also reveals archaeology to be a symptomatic analysis of the past. Symptomaticity suggests something slightly different from a base structure that inevitably forms disciplinary superstructures as the archaeological metaphor may suggest. The idea of symptomaticity implies an interactive and mutually constitutive structure rather than a relationship between separate orders. Understanding the makeup of Freudian theory through archaeology sheds light on the very specific discursive formation of both.
If archaeology and psychoanalysis are mutually constitutive, then it is through the lens of what Foucault calls the third counter-science-linguistics -that this becomes apparent.
Above ethnology and psychoanalysis, or, more exactly, interwoven with them, a third "counter-science" would appear to traverse, animate and disturb the whole constituted field of the human sciences; like them it would situate its experience in those enlightened and dangerous regions where the knowledge of man acts out [le savoir de l'homme joue], in the form of the unconscious and of historicity, its relation with what renders them possible. In "exposing" it, these three counter-sciences threaten the very thing that made it possible for man to be known. Thus we see the destiny of man being spun before our very eyes, but being spun backwards; it is being led back, by those strange bobbins, to the form of its birth, to the homeland that made it possible. And is that not one way of bringing about its end? For linguistics no more speak of man than do psychoanalysis and ethnology.
This third term, which can be read as the counter-science that is linguistics, seems earlier in this study of the human sciences to be articulated somewhat differently as an archaeology. For this also is described in terms similar to a counter-science, or a methodology that makes knowledge about Man possible rather than increasing knowledge about Man. It is that sense of place, home, destiny, and time stretching back the threads of those bobbins that find articulation in the archaeological, for the death of those past homes is given relevance in the present because the present is revealed as an evolutionary product of the past. The archaeological, then, seems to be a mode of human science that demonstrates how "the knowledge of man acts out" through discourse, because it locates death and origins in the present through a shared imagined past. That past is mythical in its structure: the bobbins remind us of the Fates, and thus it is feminized. And concrete material evidence is presented as leading back, rather like Ariadne's thread that was supposed to save her from the monster. For Foucault, the counter-science reveals desire that exceeds law-language in its moment of articulation. It reveals how Man creates the knowledge of the group in a similar way to that in which the "I" is constituted.
In his "Foreword to the English Edition," Foucault claims that he calls his methodology archaeological "somewhat arbitrarily perhaps." He distinguishes his text from other histories of science by claiming that they attempt
to restore what eluded that consciousness: the influences that affected it, the implicit philosophies that were subjacent to it, the unformulated thematics, the unseen obstacles; it describes the unconscious of science. This unconscious is always the negative side of science-that which resists it, deflects it or disturbs it. What I would like to do, however, is to reveal a positive unconscious of knowledge: a level that eludes the consciousness of the scientist and yet is part of scientific discourse, instead of disputing its validity and seeking to diminish its scientific nature.... I have tried to determine the basis or archaeological system common to a whole series of scientific "representations" or "products."
His archaeological system is one that reveals how Man acts out, and this acting out causes Foucault to understand archaeology as the quintessential if arbitrarily named locus of a "positive unconscious."
It is this model of archaeology as a positive unconscious and psychoanalysis as entailing a reconstructive archaeology that I want to address here, and with that in mind, the quotation that heads this chapter. For if psychoanalysis is an archaeology of the mind in terms of its investment in uncovering the dead and buried desire (remembering) and formulating those memories in current symptoms (repeating and acting out), it is also about a working through of that repressed and symptomatic material. One could identify this working through as the distinctive feature of Freudian psychoanalysis as it split off from Breuer's more cathartic model of cure as release of emotion. Psychoanalysis does not merely, then, become a performative speech act that allows something buried to emerge, and to be displayed and repeated in the transferential relationship in a way similar to an archaeological artifact displayed in the museum. It also leads us to engage with, indeed to work through, those very depths of desire and mourning that allow us to subsume some of the past, consolidating it into our present-day lives. But as Freud tells us late in life, in 1937 just before he fled Nazi Austria, "the main difference lies in the fact that for the archaeologist the reconstruction is the aim and end of his endeavours while for analysis the construction is only a preliminary labour." The psychoanalytic enterprise, says Freud, is more complex than the archaeological because of the nature of the material: the concrete material of archaeology is far easier to investigate than the psychological material with which the analyst works. Surprisingly, Foucault's emphasis on gauging a positive unconscious bears more relation to his contemporary Jacques Lacan than to Freud, who of course is far more explicitly involved in the language of archaeology.
If linguistics, psychoanalysis, and ethnology are disciplines in which Man acts out, according to Foucault, then archaeology certainly is as well. The translator's term is indeed suggestive of the tripartite psychoanalytic process never adequately elaborated though sketched out early on in Freud's career: that of remembering, repeating-or acting out-and working through. Both the preliminary terms-erinnern, "remembering," and agieren, "acting out"-refer to particular relations of the present to the past that are preliminary stages in psychoanalytic work. Digging up the past and acknowledging its function in the past's influence on the present is sometimes thought of as the central function of analysis, thanks to pop psychology's celebration of the acknowledgment of sometimes rather dubious childhood memories and the popularization of the cathartic method. And the actions and reactions of a patient to the analyst within an analytic session characterize what Foucault (and at times Freud) see as the distinctive psychoanalytic technology-transference. The display for the analysts in the form of an actualization of a symptom or of infantile prototypes is coupled in Freud with a repetition or what could be called performativity, following Judith Butler's Foucauldian/Lacanian-influenced study of gender categories.
For Lacan, psychoanalysis "is ... [the] assumption of his history by the subject, in so far as it is constituted by the speech addressed to the other." This form of repetitive display functions as personal (and perhaps cultural and ideological) trait. Although Lacan spends little effort elaborating Freud's concept of Nachtraglichkeit, or deferred action, it is a key term for his translation of Freud's work into the arena of post-Saussurean linguistics. Lacan explains that Freud demands "a total objectification of proof so long as it is a question of dating the primal scene, but he no more than presupposes all the resubjectifications of the event that seem to him to be necessary to explain its effects at each turning point where the subject restructures himself-that is as many restructurings of the event that take place, as he puts it nachtraglich, at a later date." Lacan characterizes Freud as placing emphasis on acting out through the form of interlocution known as transference: "It is on the basis of this interlocution, in so far as it includes the response of the interlocutor, that the meaning of what Freud insists on as the restoration of continuity in the subject's motivations become clear. An operational examination of this objective shows us in effect that it can be satisfied only in the intersubjective continuity of the discourse in which the subject's history is constituted.... The unconscious is that part of concrete discourse, in so far as it is transindividual, that is not at the disposal of the subject in re-establishing the continuity of his conscious discourse." Lacan identifies two stages: the form of performative acting out in discourse as it is manifested nachtraglich (later), which allows a repetition of an event to take on a new form in a different historical context. Speech acts with an interlocutor also allow the patient to constitute his history in discourse in spite of the fact that the language of continuity has an unconscious itself. The work that is executed on the earlier speech reveals its unconscious but does so in another utterance that is also a Nachtraglichkeit or deferred action.
This form of acting out can perhaps be worked through by understanding a positive unconscious of archaeology and the discipline for which it becomes so influential: psychoanalysis. So as to elaborate this positive unconscious, and therefore in order to understand the vexed relationship of psychoanalysis to materiality, it is crucial to examine the ways in which psychoanalysis developed in its own historical context, that is, through the language of colonial disciplines such as archaeology and anthropology. The emergence of psychoanalysis in the late nineteenth century occurred simultaneously with the theorization of nationalism and at the height of colonial expansion. How it relates to these historical phenomena can be examined through the archaeological approach, which is always collecting concrete materials. But the archaeological, as a model of a positive unconscious, also cannot fully account for the psychoanalytic. And further, archaeological theorists Rowlands and Robertson posit that "archaeology, especially in its modernist form, has been formed on the premise of a sense of loss, its subject matter conceived to be the recovery of tradition and a sense of community in contrast to the feeling of disenchantment for the world in which they live." But it is the very departure of psychoanalysis from an archaeology that is symptomatic of that which cannot be accounted for in the nineteenth-century German archaeological approach: one which remembers and acts out, and one which was indeed so instrumental for Freud.
Freud initially identified with the nationalist, colonialist self-constructions of such explorers and archaeologists as Henry Morton Stanley and Heinrich Schliemann. Indeed, his early ideas of a self conceived archaeologically were based on this model of self-retrieval, which shared the paradigmatic structure of an archaeology retrieving its positive unconscious. Later in life, however, Freud was not able to sustain such a theory, or such an identification. This was partly because of the ontological shift brought about by his sense of despair at the violence of World War I, and partly because of his own persecution in anti-Semitic turn-of-the-century Vienna. My claim is not foundationalist. As Freud loses faith in the possibilities of representational politics and the "advance" of civilization, he changes his concept of self and indeed shows symptoms that problematize any notion of an archaeologically conceived ego. Eventually, Freud's concepts of melancholia and disavowal constitute symptoms of this loss of faith and become clearer when read through the lens of postcoloniality.
The Archaeological Metaphor
Freud's interest in archaeology is most vividly encountered in his admiration of Heinrich Schliemann's writings and archaeological work. In an 1899 letter to Wilhelm Fliess, Freud writes of reading Schliemann's Ilios: The City and Country of the Trojans: "I gave myself a present, Schliemann's Ilios, and greatly enjoyed the account of his childhood. The man was happy when he found Priam's treasure because happiness comes only with the fulfillment of a childhood wish. This reminds me that I shall not go to Italy this year. Until next time!" Freud refers to Schliemann's rather hesitant autobiographical first chapter in which he justifies the place of autobiography in the archaeological text. The chapter, which was initially excluded from the English and French editions, was then revised for them. In it, Schliemann assures his readers that he inserts it not "from any feeling of vanity, but from a desire to show how the work of my later life has been a natural consequence of the impressions I received in my earliest childhood.... The pickaxe and spade for the excavation of Troy and the royal tombs of Mycenae were both forged and sharpened in the little German village in which I passed eight years of my earliest childhood." The boyhood dream, or the earliest wish, then comes into fruition and creates Schliemann as a modern-day Odysseus. Like Troy, his early wish has been uncovered and has led to a discovery. As it comes to the surface, it connects the text of archaeology and the text of the self. The moment in which the self can be synthesized through the archaeological narrative is also the moment in which Troy comes to life but is also created as a museum piece. Its place within a stratified layer consigns it to prehistory rather than allowing it to intrude apocalyptically upon the present in the guise of myth.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Worlding Psychoanalysis 1
1. Psychoanalysis and Archaeology 33
2. Freud in the Sacred Grove 66
3. War, Decolonization, Psychoanalysis 99
4. Colonial Melancholy 145
Haunting and the Future
5. The Ethical Ambiguities of Transnational Feminism 207
6. Hamlet in the Colonial Archive 231
Coda: The Lament 269
What People are Saying About This
Ranjana Khanna articulates and outlines a transnational feminist ethics. Such an ethics is badly needed and awaited with eagerness by many. Dark Continents is, indeed, a terrific integration of psychoanalytic throught with postcolonial and feminist politics by way of a critical intimacy with the combined ethics of ambiguity and difference.
University of Amsterdam