Taboo Subjects: Race, Sex, and Psychoanalysis by Gwen Bergner

By Gwen Bergner

In American literature, a anxious scene of racial and sexual awakening - usually concerning images, mirrors, or acts of witnessing - frequently precipitates a character's "discovery" of racial identification. equally, within the annals of psychoanalysis, notions of self and sexual id usually come up from visible trauma similar to the reflect level and primal scene. Noting this parallel among specular births of racial and sexual subjectivity, Gwen Bergner makes use of a comparative research of psychoanalytic concept and American literature to strengthen a concept of racialization - the method during which contributors suppose an id as black or white. interpreting the primal scenes of double recognition in works via Frederick Douglass, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, between others, along the formative visible traumas of psychoanalytic idea of Lacan and Freud, Taboo topics finds how literature disrupts psychoanalysis's traditional types of race and gender identity, forcing a reconfiguration of many foundational psychoanalytic texts. And from psychoanalysis Bergner derives a severe vocabulary for theorizing racialization because it intersects with intercourse and gender, for either black and white americans.

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Woman thus becomes an abstraction, a symbol; she “has value only in that she can be exchanged” (176). And such symbolic abstraction reintroduces desire: “Man endows the commodities he produces with a narcissism that blurs the seriousness of utility, of use. Desire, as soon as there is exchange, ‘perverts’ need” (177). On a symbolic level men’s desire for women is a product of and, in a sense, subordinate to a homosocial matrix. Women are “fetish-objects,” Irigaray contends, “inasmuch as, in exchanges, they are the manifestation and the circulation of a power of the Phallus, establishing relationships of men with each other” (183).

Fanon’s formulation of a colonial relation between black men and white men inadvertently reveals a homosocial economy that commodiWes women according to race. Bhabha’s confession of Fanon’s omission is also perplexing, because despite Fanon’s claim to know nothing about the woman of color, it is not true that he has very little to say about “her” since Fanon devotes the chapter “The Woman of Color and the White Man” to black women’s psychosexuality. Although a critique of sexual difference may be too complex and too critical of Fanon for Bhabha’s largely elaborative and somewhat celebratory piece, avowing interest in the effects of sexual difference while dismissing the issue as irrelevant to his discussion allows Bhabha to defer the problem and, like Fanon, to develop the discourse of race and psychoanalysis without considering sexual difference and women’s subjectivity.

Helga Crane fails to accommodate any of the various, but equally restrictive, subject positions available to her as a mixed-race woman in the 1920s. In chapter 3, I argue that Larsen deploys the Wgure of the tragic mulatto, who belongs in neither the white world nor the black, to explore the symbolic constraints on race/sex performativity. Further, as the daughter of an African American father and a white mother, Helga embodies the violation of the miscegenation taboo. I explore how Helga, as an embodiment of that broken taboo, undermines the ideological Wction of racial difference and the fantasy of racial purity.

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