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Freud Upside Down

Freud Upside Down: African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture

BADIA SAHAR AHAD
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcpn6
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  • Book Info
    Freud Upside Down
    Book Description:

    This thought-provoking cultural history explores how psychoanalytic theories shaped the works of important African American literary figures. Badia Sahar Ahad details how Nella Larsen, Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, Ralph Ellison, Adrienne Kennedy, and Danzy Senna employed psychoanalytic terms and conceptual models to challenge notions of race and racism in twentieth-century America._x000B__x000B_Freud Upside Down explores the relationship between these authors and intellectuals and the psychoanalytic movement emerging in the United States over the course of the twentieth century. Examining how psychoanalysis has functioned as a cultural phenomenon within African American literary intellectual communities since the 1920s, Ahad lays out the historiography of the intersections between literature and psychoanalysis and considers the creative approaches of African American writers to psychological thought in their work and their personal lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09000-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In a letter to his mentor, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung surmised that every subject maintains an intersubjective dependence on his perceived Other: “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. Just as every Jew has a Christ complex, so 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”(Collected...

  5. 1 The Politics and Production of Interiority in the Messenger Magazine (1922–23)
    (pp. 13-38)

    The November 1922 issue of theMessengermagazine promoted its editorial series, “The Mirrors of Harlem: Psychoanalyzing New York’s Colored First Citizens” (after the first column, the subtitle was changed to “Studies in ‘Colored’ Psychoanalysis”), which was to make its first run in the periodical in the following month. The series, written by theMessenger’s assistant editor Floyd J. Calvin, promised in-depth exposés of figures such as James Weldon Johnson, Chandler Owen, and W. E. B Du Bois. The series was advertised as “a most interesting and clever piece of writing” and validated Calvin’s lay psychoanalysis by informing theMessenger’s...

  6. 2 The Anxiety of Birth In Nella Larsen’s Quicksand
    (pp. 39-59)

    In November 1934, writer and diarist Anaïs Nin took her therapist and lover, Otto Rank, to Harlem for the first time since his arrival to the United States in 1924. The free-spirited Nin frequently traveled to Harlem, where she witnessed “half white people, half black, beautiful women, well-dressed men, and jazz” (32). The “intoxicating and magnificent” scene was Nin’s prescription for Rank, who she thought was in need of time away from “people trapped in tragedies”—his patients (8). She recalls the experience in her diary: “Rank could not forget Harlem. He was eager to return to it. He could...

  7. 3 Art’s Imperfect End: Race and Gurdjieff in Jean Toomer’s “Transatlantic”
    (pp. 60-81)

    Interracialism emerged as a pervasive theme in the 1920s and 1930s, as evidenced by the wealth of literary and popular texts that vividly detailed the politics of mixed-race subjectivity. But underlying these narratives of racial intermixture was a broader concern with the subject’s desire to belong to a community while maintaining some semblance of particularity. Perhaps this is why Otto Rank’s recognition that all persons maintain a simultaneous desire to exist as individuals yet belong to a communal structure struck a particular chord with writers of the period. Jean Toomer probed the ambivalence of individualism and belonging, and concluded that...

  8. 4 “A genuine cooperation”: Richard Wright’s and Ralph Ellison’s Psychoanalytic Conversations
    (pp. 82-109)

    On January 6, 1953, three months after the publication ofBlack Skin, White Masks, psychiatrist Frantz Fanon wrote what could best be considered a fan letter to Richard Wright.¹ In it, Fanon informs Wright that he has readNative Son, Black Boy, andTwelve Million Black Voicesbut would like to read more of Wright’s texts to complete a study of “la portèe humaine,” or the psychological impact, of Wright’s oeuvre. By 1953, Wright was well established as a literary giant and critic and Fanon was but an emerging analyst. Yet Fanon tells Wright that their interest in black and...

  9. 5 Maternal Anxieties and Political Desires in Adrienne Kennedy’s Dramatic Circle
    (pp. 110-131)

    In the section titled “Marriage and Motherhood” in Adrienne Kennedy’s postmodern autobiographyPeople Who Led to My Plays, she writes that “by now many of our friends were ‘seeing analysts.’ We enjoyed talking about our depressions, the movieBreathless, Eve Delphy, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis. The magazines were filled with photographs of the new Kennedy babies and the perfect life they all led. And one of America’s most famous writers married Marilyn Monroe. We talked about that a lot. We talked about James Baldwin and Norman Mailer” (People93). One does not have to look to the journal entry...

  10. 6 Racial Sincerity and the Biracial Body in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia
    (pp. 132-154)

    When published in 1998, Danzy Senna’s novelCaucasiaemerged as a curiosity in its attempt to recoup and redefine the racial passing narrative. Novels in which racial passing is the primary theme had not been published in the past seventy years. But since 1990 we have witnessed a boom in the publication of fictional and nonfictional texts situated around the politics of multiracial identity.¹ From the onslaught of literary criticism delineating the interstices of race, class, sexuality, and gender in passing narratives to the mass production of sociological studies examining the lived experiences of biracial and multiethnic subjects, the move...

  11. Postscript
    (pp. 155-160)

    In the 1949 film,Home of the Brave, a young black soldier, Pvt. Peter Moss (James Edwards) suffers from shell shock that leaves him paralyzed and plagued with short-term memory loss. The film, directed by Mark Robson and based on the play by Arthur Laurents, centers around Moss’s interactions with an army analyst who attempts to discover the root cause of the soldier’s psychological break. The analyst finds that during a special mission, Moss fights with his white best friend, Finch, and in a fit of anger calls Moss a “yellow-belly nigger.” Shortly after the incident, Finch is shot and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 161-176)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-188)
  14. Index
    (pp. 189-196)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-202)