Colonial fantasies – violent transmission

Call for papers – spring symposium in the Swedish Psychoanalytical Association, Västerlånggatan 60, 111 29 Stockholm, May 10th-12th 2019


“I am under no illusion”, wrote Freud (1912-1913) “that in putting forward these attempted explanations I am laying myself open to the charge of endowing modern savages with a subtlety in their mental activities which exceeds all probability. It seems to me quite possible, however, that the same may be true of our attitude towards the psychology of those races that have remained at the animistic level as it is true of our attitude towards the mental life of children, which we adults no longer understand and whose fullness and delicacy of feeling we have in consequence so greatly underestimated” (98-99). There appears to be a double movement in this passage, a movement of distancing in the contrast between the more and the less developed, alongside a movement of approximation. As Frosh (2013) puts it, “psychoanalysts often draw on the language of the ‘primitive’ to refer to ‘unreasoning’ elements of people’s psychic lives. Thus, a notion that someone might be evincing a ‘primitive fantasy of destruction’ is a very familiar one, but what is not acknowledged is that this terminology not only has its roots in a colonial opposition between ‘primitive’ and ‘civilised’, but it also reproduces this division ‘unconsciously’ when it is employed.” Edward Said (2003) has famously emphasized the opposite movement, Freud’s refusal to erect an insurmountable barrier between ‘the primitive’ and ‘the civilized’, Freud as “an overturner and a re-mapper of accepted or settled geographies and genealogies” (27). Late in Freud’s theories, in Khanna’s words, “the “scene of memory” always necessitates a consideration of the splits that come to be acknowledged in the ego, which are like the interferences caused by the memory’s insistent confrontation with a false unified and unifying sense of history and the subject” – “The age of colonial travel and exploration was that of Freud’s youth. That of his old age was the moment of Nazi suppression. The future, to which he referred when writing of his threatened children, would be that of the split and defensive ego, when a nation-state would be unable to exist without rupture and beyond betrayal” (64).

‘Colonial fantasies’ referred to in the title may be understood as fantasies to the effect that the other, and the other’s territory, is yours to take and yours to denounce because inferior – less efficient, less rational and/or less complete in some sense. These inferior others and their domains may be eroticised. To Sander Gilman, “Central to the model and to the understanding of the Other is the definition of the Other in sexual terms, for no factor in nineteenth-century self-definition was more powerful than the sense of sexual pathology” (216). “The Other’s pathology is revealed in her anatomy, and the black and the prostitute are both bearers of the stigmata of sexual difference and thus pathology. […] The “white man’s burden,” his sexuality and its control, is displaced onto the need to control the sexuality of the Other, the Other as sexualized female” (1985, 107). In Freud’s writing, to Gilman, the rhetoric of race was excised only to reappear in his construction of gender “through the assumption of the neutrality of the definition of the (male) scientist” (1993, 40). “Freud [1926e] explains that “we need not feel ashamed” about our lack of knowledge of female sexuality, he metaphorizes woman as the “dark continent,” and in this blurring of her specificity he transfers the shame that “we need not feel” about our lack of knowledge onto her” (Khanna, 2003, 49). H. M. Stanley introduced the metaphor of the “dark continent” in his explorer’s narrative of Africa, and here it comes to stand for the other of man and of Europe.

The tendency to de-situate the psychoanalytic subject, to think of the direction of communication and meaning-formation as proceeding from the internal world to the external, and forgetting about the subject as being in a position of receptivity (Auestad 2012, 2015, Dalal 2002, Laplanche 1999) has a bearing on these questions. “The reality of an other who addresses one, separate from an other “in-itself” or an other “for-me” is easily lost from view and the habitual thought of the “I-as-subject” and the “other-as-object” reasserted. Oliver emphasises the cost of such abstractions: “Existentialist and psychoanalytic notions of alienation as inherent in all subjectivity are constructed against a dark and invisible underside, the alienation of domination, slavery, and colonization. […] The free-floating guilt and anxiety inherent in the human condition described by philosophers of alienation can in itself be diagnosed as a symptom of a concrete guilt over the oppression and domination that guaranteed white privilege. The thesis that alienation, guilt, and anxiety are inherent in the human condition works to cover over this guilt in the face of specific others against whom the white subject has constituted itself as privileged” (2004: 1-2). The complex affective dynamics of such oppression and domination have been addressed through psychoanalytical interpretations which have taken account of social and economic realities: “I said in my introduction that man is a yes. I will never stop reiterating that. Yes to life. Yes to love. Yes to generosity. But man is also a no. No to scorn of man. No to degradation of man. No to exploitation of man. No to the butchery of what is most human in man: freedom” (Fanon 1986, 222).

Discussions of decolonialization have been revived in the recent years with the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at the University of Cape Town, starting in March 2015, where the initial demand to take down the statue of Cecil Rhodes quickly became a student-led mass movement for decolonising education which grew to include black academics and campus workers. Oxford Students started their own campaign in response. A YouGov poll from 2014 found that 59% of the British public declared that they were proud of the British Empire; 19% said they were ashamed of it. A study at Oxford showed that 59% of BME students felt uncomfortable/ unwelcome because of their race or ethnicity, compared to 5% of white students (RMFO, 2018). “Oxford has less than a handful of Black professors, much like the UK as a whole, wherein only 0.4% of professors are Black. This oppressive racial atmosphere took shape in rather curious situations, for example as experienced by Black students who entered Oxford as late as 2013, to find the African studies library was located in the Cecil Rhodes House. One can only imagine how Jewish students might feel if the Jewish studies library was located in an ‘Adolf Hitler House'” (RMFO, 2018, xix). In the US, in August 2017, in the aftermath of a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Donald Trump tweeted, in an attack on the efforts to remove Confederate statues from public spaces: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments” (Cain, 2017). The Confederate monuments represented an attempt to influence the view of a movement which sought to break up the US and establish a new nation based on slavery. Thus, today’s calls for decolonization are contrasted by the far right’s and conservative appeals to an idealised tradition which is to be protected from closer scrutiny.

In commemorating historical events and public figures, we are telling future generations what should matter to them and who they should hold in esteem. Some events are commemorated and others left out, some texts and authors are included in various curricula, others are marginalized and judged as irrelevant to our understanding of ourselves and our surroundings. As opposed to ‘diversity’, ‘decolonization’ implies critical examination of past injustices, thinking of contemporary practices in terms of rectificatory justice, reparations for past and ongoing injuries. Thus ‘decolonisation’ involves reflecting on social, implicit and unconscious practices that shape who various spaces are for, such as the university, the therapy room, and other public, semi-public, or closed spaces. This would involve imaginary efforts that run counter to our habitual tendency to avoid thinking about half-hidden violence: “We turn away from a body, or bodies, that cannot claim to be inhabiting conditions that facilitate the body to pass as civilised” (Treacher Kabesh, 2017, 191). “Think of the expression “stick out like a sore thumb”,” writes Ahmed, describing the structures of institutional life. “To stick out can mean to become a sore point, or even to experience oneself as being a sore point. […] Perhaps lightness and buoyancy are the affects of privilege – the affective worlds inhabited by those whose bodies don’t weigh them down or hold them up” (2012, 41, 181). We may think of how to understand these dynamics from a range of positions, and reflect on how change is achieved. Conversely, we might examine the fantasies and affects involved in contemporary colonial fantasies and strategies of domination and question what dreams are involved in these scenarios.

This is an interdisciplinary conference – we invite theoretical contributions and historical, literary or clinical case studies on these and related themes from philosophers, sociologists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, group analysts, literary theorists, historians, anthropologists, and others. Perspectives from different psychoanalytic schools will be most welcome. We promote discussion among the presenters and participants, for the symposium series creates a space where representatives of different perspectives come together, engage with one another’s contributions and participate in a community of thought. Therefore, attendance to the whole symposium is obligatory. Due to the nature of the forum audio recording is not permitted.

Presentations are expected to take half an hour. Another 20 minutes is set aside for discussion. There is a 10 min break in between each paper. Please send an abstract of 200 to 300 words, attached in a word-document, to
psychoanalysis.politics[at] by December 10th 2018. We will respond by, and present a preliminary programme on December 20th 2018. If you would like to sign up to participate without presenting a paper, please contact us after this date.

This is a relatively small symposium where active participation is encouraged and an enjoyable social atmosphere is sought. A participation fee, which includes a shared dinner with wine, of € 349 before February 20th 2019 – € 449 between February 20th 2019 and April 1st 2019 – € 529 after April 1st, is to be paid before the symposium. Fees must be paid via EventBrite (EventBrite fees are not included in the price).

Your place is only confirmed once we have received your registration including payment is completed. Additional information will be given after your abstract has been accepted or after the programme has been finalized.

We would like to thank the Swedish Psychoanalytical Association.

Unfortunately, we are unable to offer travel grants or other forms of financial assistance for this event, though we will be able to assist you in finding affordable accommodation after January 20th 2018. Please contact us if you wish to make a donation towards the conference. We thank all donors in advance!

NB: Please make sure you read the Guide for abstracts thoroughly.

Non-exclusive list of some relevant literature

Ahmed, S. (2012) On Being Included. Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham/ London: Duke University Press.

Auestad, L. (2012) “Subjectivity and Absence: Prejudice as a Psycho-Social Theme” in L. Auestad ed. Psychoanalysis and Politics. Exclusion and the Politics of Representation. London: Karnac/ Routledge.

Auestad, L. ed. (2012) Psychoanalysis and Politics. Exclusion and the Politics of Representation. London: Karnac/ Routledge.

Auestad, L. ed. (2014) Nationalism and the Body Politic. Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Ethnocentricm and Xenophobia. London: Karnac/ Routledge.

Auestad, L. (2015) Respect, Plurality, and Prejudice. A Psychoanalytical and Philosophical Enquiry into the Dynamics of Social Exclusion and Discrimination. London: Karnac/ Routledge.

Auestad, L. ed. (2017) Shared Traumas, Silent Loss, Public and Private Mourning. London: Karnac/ Routledge.

Auestad, L., Treacher Kabesh, A. eds. (2017) Traces of Violence and Freedom of Thought. London/ New York: Palgrave.

Borossa, J. (2012) “The Extensions of Psychoanalysis: Colonialism, Post-Colonialism, and Hospitality” in L. Auestad ed. (2012) Psychoanalysis and Politics. Exclusion and the Politics of Representation. London: Karnac/ Routledge.

Cain, A. (2017) “‘Is it George Washington next week?’ Trump asked as Confederate statues begin to fall around the US – here’s their disturbing history”, Business Insider, Aug. 17th.

Dalal, F. (2002) Race, Colour and the Processes of Racialization. London/ New York: Routledge.

de Jong, S. R. Icaza, O. U. Rutazibwa eds. (2019) Decolonization and Feminisms in Global Teaching and Learning. London/ New York: Routledge.

Fanon, F. (1986) Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Fanon, F. (1967) The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin Books.

Fanon, F./ J. Khalfa, R.C. Young eds. (2018) Alienation and Freedom. London/ New York/ Oxford/ New Delhi/ Sydney: Bloomsbury.

Freud, S. (1912-1913) Totem and Taboo. SE, vol. 13.

Freud, S. (1921c). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. SE, vol. 18.

Freud, S. (1926e) The Question of Lay Analysis. SE, vol. 20.

Freud, S. (1939a [1937-39]) Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays, SE, vol. 23.

Frosh, S. (2013) “Psychoanalysis, colonialism, racism” in Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 33(3), 141-154.

Gilman, S. (1985) Difference and Pathology. Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness. London/ Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Gilman, S. (1993) Freud, Race, and Gender. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Khanna, R. (2003) Dark Continents. Psychoanalysis and Colonialism. London/ Durham: Duke University Press.

Laplanche, J. (1989) “The Unfinished Copernican Revolution” in Essays on Otherness. London: Routledge, 52-83.

Maher, M. J. (2012) Racism and Cultural Diversity: Cultivating Racial Harmony through Counselling,Group Analysis and Psychotherapy. London: Karnac/ Routledge.

Morris, R. C. ed. (2010) Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea. New York: Columbia University Press.

Oliver, K. (2004) The Colonization of Psychic Space. A Psychoanalytic Social Theory of Oppression. London/ Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Palacios. M. (2017) “Politicising Trauma – A Post-Colonial and Psychoanalytic Conceptual Intervention” in L. Auestad ed. Shared Traumas, Silent Loss, Public and Private Mourning. London: Karnac/ Routledge.

Rhodes Must Fall Oxford/ R. Chantiluke, B. Kwoba, A. Nkopo eds. (2018) Rhodes Must Fall. The Struggle to Decolonise the Racist Heart of the Empire. London: Zed Books.

Said, E. W. (1978) Orientalism. London: Penguin Books.

Said, E. W. (1994) Culture & Imperialism. London: Vintage.

Said, E. W. (2003) Freud and the Non-European. London/ New York: Verso.

Treacher Kabesh, A. (2017) “Troubling States of Mind. Sacrificing the Other” in L. Auestad, A. Treacher Kabesh, eds. Traces of Violence and Freedom of Thought. London/ New York: Palgrave.