Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols of Race

Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols of Race

Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols of Race

Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols of Race


Although psychoanalytic theory is one of the most important and influential tools in contemporary literary criticism, to date it has had very little impact on the study of African-American literature and culture. Now, Claudia Tate argues that psycholanalytic paradigms can produce rich readings of African-American desire, alienation, and subjectivity. Tate summarizes the work of such figures as Freud and Lacan, with references to their contemporary literary proponents, and examines a series of texts by Emma Kelly, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nella Larsen. This provocative new book will serve as an introduction to psychoanalytic theory and its application for African-American literature and culture. Tate strikes unchartered territory, and her work will be of great interest to scholars and students in African-American studies.


Perhaps the ideal approach to the work of literature would be one allowing for insight into the deepest psychological motives of the writer at the same time that it examined all external sociological factors operating within a given milieu. For while objectively a social reality, the work of art is, in its genesis, a projection of a deeply personal process, and any approach that ignores the personal at the expense of the social is necessarily incomplete.

--Ralph Ellison, Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity (1953)

What happens to the writerly imagination of a black author who is at some level always conscious of representing one's own race to, or in spite of, a race of readers that understands itself to be "universal" or race free? In other words, how is "literary whiteness" and "literary blackness" made, and what is the consequence of that construction?

--Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark (1992)

Protocols of Black Textuality

What constitutes a black literary text in the United States? Must it be written by, about, and/or for African Americans? The conventional answer to this question is that a black text is one written by an African American. However, the racial protocol among African Americans has also demanded that a black text explicitly represent their lived experiences with racial oppression. Given the origins of the African American novel in the slave narrative, such a viewpoint is understandable, for the very purpose of the slave narrative was to justify the abolition of slavery by characterizing the humanity of the slave and the inhumanity of the peculiar institution.

African American literature and literary criticism have continued to respond to Western concepts of race. So much so, in fact, that we readers and scholars--black and nonblack--generally expect literary works and critical studies by African Americans to contest racist perspectives and the resulting oppression. Conse-

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