Freud Upside Down: African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture

By Jefferson, Lynne T. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Freud Upside Down: African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture


Jefferson, Lynne T., The Western Journal of Black Studies


Freud Upside Down: African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture

AUTHOR: BADIA SAHAR AHAD

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS, 2010

PRICE: $40.00.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03566-1

The dense Introduction to Freud Upside Down opens with a powerful quote from Carl Jung:

Just as the coloured man lives in your cities and even within your houses, so also he lives under your skin, subconsciously. Naturally, it works both ways ... every Negro has a white complex and every American [white] a Negro complex. As a rule, the coloured man would give anything to change his skin, and the white man hates to admit that he has been touched by the black (as cited in Jung, 1953, p. 508).

Jung's observation serves as the impetus to Badia Sahar Ahad's argument: that while Jung's perception of the Negro depended upon an interconnected relationship between American Negroes and whites, Negro intellectuals rejected his contention outright and created instead a "psychoanalytic counter discourse to Jung's paradigm" that underscored black nationalism and challenged white supremacy (Badir, 2010, p.1). In order to uncover such a counter discourse, Ahad focuses her research on a psychoanalytic approach to African-American culture in the early twentieth century through a New Historic lens. She examines a myriad of artifacts- from the arts to politics, from the Harlem Renaissance to the black nationalist movement. She also incorporates an in-depth review of other critical views of psychoanalytic analysis of African-American culture, including such scholars as Claudia Tate, Hortense Spillers, Anne Anlin Cheng and Jean Walton. Eventually Ahad reveals the relevance of a study of the intersection of psychoanalysis and African-American culture: "to bridge the divide" between the two and explore "how psychoanalysis has clarified psychical impulses with African-American literature and.... in the lives of its authors." (Badir, 2010, p.8)

The density of the Introduction continues throughout the book. For example, Chapter One, which is divided in to four sections, begins with a discussion of Floyd J. Calvin's stint as Assistant Editor of Messenger (1922) magazine and his collection of psychoanalytic articles which subvert a tenant of psychoanalysis proper by dismissing the notion of repression and thereby creating a psychological space for intimacy between the races. She contrasts the Messenger, Crisis and Opportunity in order to expose the vast differences between African-American intellectuals, including A. Philip Randolf and W.E.B. DuBois. In the next subsection --"Signifyin' Psychoanalysis and the Rhetoric of Interracialism"--Ahad argues that Messenger editorials, taken as one narrative, support race mixing in order to create a "mulatto nation," invert Freud's argument that blackness "signified a space of willful ignorance or unknowability" and instead present the idea of blackness as the space that shapes "white psyche" and the resultant b(1)acklash of that space.

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