Aboriginal Populations in the Mind: Race and Primitivity in Psychoanalysis

Aboriginal Populations in the Mind: Race and Primitivity in Psychoanalysis

Aboriginal Populations in the Mind: Race and Primitivity in Psychoanalysis

Aboriginal Populations in the Mind: Race and Primitivity in Psychoanalysis

Synopsis

What part does racial difference play in psychoanalysis? What can be learned when considering this question from a postcolonial perspective? In this subtle and commanding analysis, Celia Brickman explores how the colonialist racial discourse of late-nineteenth-century anthropology found its way into Freud's work, where it came to play a covert but crucial role in his notions of subjectivity. Brickman argues that the common psychoanalytic concept of "primitivity" as an early stage of psychological development unavoidably carries with it implications of an anthropologically understood "primitivity," which was conceived by Freud -and perhaps still is today -in colonialist and racial terms. She relates the racial subtext embedded in Freud's thought to his representations of gender and religion and shows how this subtext forms part of the larger historicizing trend of the psychoanalytic project. Finally, she shows how colonialist traces have made their way into the blueprint for the clinical psychoanalytic relationship and points to contemporary trends in psychoanalysis that may make possible a disengagement from this legacy.

Excerpt

Know what [the anthropologist] thinks a savage is and you have the
key to his work. You know what he thinks he himself is
.

—Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures

Our ways of making the Other are ways of making ourselves.

—Johannes Fabian, “Presence and Representation”

. . . savages . . . a well-preserved picture of an early stage of
our own development
.

—Freud, Totem and Taboo

How does psychoanalysis configure racial difference, and what do we learn when we consider this question from a postcolonial perspective? This issue began to press itself upon me as I pursued interdisciplinary academic work in the humanities and the social sciences while I was engaged in psychoanalytically based psychotherapeutic work. It first made itself apparent to me as I repeatedly encountered, within these two different frameworks, markedly differing uses and evaluations of the category of primitivity. in the academy I was confronted with the trenchant critiques of postcolonial theorists who considered the idea of “the primitive” to be a long-abandoned relic of anthropology’s colonial ancestry, where its invocation of the presumed inferiority of non-white and non-western peoples as well as of the romance of lost origins had served to contribute to the legitimation of Europe’s colonial and slaving enterprises around the globe. in my clinical training and work I was guided toward the care of psychological suffering within a discursive . . .

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