Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignties

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Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignties Edited by Warwick Anderson, Deborah Jenson, and Richard C. Keller (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011) (328 pages, $89.95 cloth; $24.96 paper)

The edited collection Unconscious Dominions provides a fascinating and sophisticated history of psychoanalysis, exploring the intersections between culture, history, colonialism, and psychoanalysis based on research in West Africa, Australia, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Haiti, Algeria, and France. It analyzes the ways in which psychoanalysis, as it arose as one of the most influential and dominant psychiatric and psychological theories in the 1920s and 1930s, served to legitimize the imperialist colonial project, depicting the human subject and culture of the colonized world as more primitive and shaping western ideas about the colonial world and native cultures. Moreover, the authors examine the powerful global impact of the central psychoanalytic construct of the human subject as existing of an ego, super-ego, and unconscious id. They demonstrate how these psychoanalytic constructs shaped and globalized the (self) understanding of (all) human subjects in the colonizing and colonized world alike, while eventually serving to articulate the nature of postcolonial trauma.

The first portion of the book examines how psychoanalysis was popularized and adapted as a legitimate field of research and practice in the various colonized domains and countries. The authors demonstrate how Freud's psychoanalytic conceptualization of human subjectivity was globalized and in the process enriched through integration of new concepts drawn from reflection on the newly explored cultures and human experience. For example, in Chapter 4, Christiane Hartnack analyzes the work of the affluent Indian citizen and psychoanalyst Girindrasekhar Bose (1887-1953) whose work and leadership was instrumental in establishing the Indian Psychoanalytical Society in Calcutta in 1922. Bose was not only a prolific author of psychoanalytic scholarship, but also enriched and in a sense critiqued Freud's psychoanalytic theory by exploring the value of, for example, the concept of wishes as a potential expansion of the psychoanalytic notion of drives.

Furthermore, in the first part of the book, John Cash analyzes Freud's case study of the Rat Man, exploring the inherent conflict and relationship between civilizing processes and postcolonialism. Alice Bullard examines the work of psychoanalyst Henri Aubin, who not only theorized ideas of primitivity, but also integrated insights on magic, mana, and denial drawn from African cultural practices and working with African patients into psychoanalytic theory. Joy Damousi explores the psychoanalytic anthropology of Géza Róheim on Australian Aboriginal people, whereas Mariano Ben Plotkin examines the reception of psychoanalysis in Brazil and the way it shaped racial relations and national identity.

In the second half of the book, the authors examine the central role of psychoanalysis in the articulation of a postcolonial critique and deconstruction of dominant Western understandings of human subjectivity, particularly after 1945. They examine several colonial histories to demonstrate the usefulness of psychoanalysis for postcolonial critique. For example, Hans Pols analyzes the psychoanalytic interpretation of the Indonesian struggle for independence by psychiatrist Pieter Mattheus van Wulfften Palthe, a medical faculty associate in Batavia (now Jakarta) before the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945. …