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Number 9: Winter 2013

Trauma and the Ghost Dance of Psychoanalytic Practice

Brid Greally

More recently, Oliver (2004) and Khanna (2003) have elaborated on the work of Fanon and examined how psychoanalysis as a colonising discourse conflates the feminine and the primitive and they seek to understand the  unconscious dynamics of oppression generally. Khanna explores how psychoanalysis emerged in Europe in the twentieth century when it did and elaborates the shifting ground which allowed it to appear.

In its profoundly European constitution, it expresses the unsayable: the impossible achievement of selfhood for the colonized, who remain primitive and concealed, and the simultaneous tenuousness of the metropolitan coloniser’s self once decolonisation is in place and the strife that sustains the colonised as primitive is over. She claims that as Freud was unable to articulate the full impact of anti-Semitism he resorted to a colonial discourse of the unconscious which he described in terms of the primitive, the childlike and the uncivilized (Khanna 2003).

Whilst living in France, Fanon wrote his first book, Black Skin, White Masks (1965). In this and other writings he critically engages with Heidegger and Sartre and their philosophy of existential anxieties pertaining to ‘thrownness’ in the world and the confrontation with nothingness. They sought to explore anxieties which they claimed to be universal as man was condemned to be free and struggled with the burden to find meaning in his life. Fanon claimed that the anxiety and wish to flee from freedom is the privilege of the European subject, whilst for the colonised subject it is as if one arrives too late and meanings have been settled into racist stereotypes. He also engages with Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage where Lacan elaborates on how alienation results from the installation of the orthopaedic self image. Lacan describes the loss of being as the cost that is extracted in order to gain the capacity for meaning and the sense of ownership of one’s body as he tracks the move from the specular to the social. He draws on Hegel’s philosophy of the master-slave dialectic to describe a structural imaginary dimension of misrecognition and of antagonism in the relation to the other. Again, Fanon describes this as the luxury of the white Europeans who may struggle to free themselves from the lure of perfectionism of the imaginary but who live in a culture where there is, at least, the possibility of claiming one’s freedom. By contrast, under colonisation the dominant group is the creator of values and meaning for the oppressed group. Fanon goes on to claim that the black person struggles with a reversed mirror image and suffers from double alienation and double misrecognition and he wonders whether the angst addressed in the work Heidegger, Sartre and Lacan are a cover-up for the guilt and anxieties of the coloniser.