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Title: The cannibal trope : a psychosocial critique of psychoanalysis' colonial fantasies
Author: Vyrgioti, Maria
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 4645
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2019
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In this thesis I examine the ambivalent engagement of psychoanalysis with questions of 'race' and racial difference and I argue that there are yet unacknowledged colonial legacies entrenched in psychoanalytic theories of subjectivity. Against post-colonial critiques dismissing psychoanalysis altogether becaused of its racial assumptions, this project adopts a psychosocial position and raises an epistemological question about the nature and forms of knowledge produced once we acknowledge the intricate, historical relationship between psychoanalysis and coloniality. In particular, I propose that a constructive way into the question of 'race' and psychoanalysis is to systematically trace and contextualise the anachronistic references to internalisation as 'cannibalistic.' As theorised in this work, the cannibal trope belongs to a long historical genealogy tied to the European medieval persecutions against witches eating their new-borns, to anti-Semitic stereotypes against Jews feasting on Christian boys before Easter ('blood libel'), in order to become amalgamated in the European discourse of 'race' and racial difference during the colonisation of the Americas-the word cannibal etymologically derives from the word 'Carib', the native of the Caribbean islands. As a distinct representation of Europe's others, the cannibal trope made its way into literature, anthropology and psychoanalysis and constitutes a symbolic reminder of colonial afterlife. To formulate psychological development as a process based on 'taking in' social norms, structures and objects, pioneer psychoanalytic figures like Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein relied on the colonial aesthetics of devourment, unwittingly ascribing racial and gendered assumptions to the psychoanalytic subject. Using their works as case studies the thesis then moves on to explore psychoanalysis in British and French colonies. Looking at the case of Géza Róheim, the first anthropologically trained psychoanalyst, as well as the psychiatrist and pioneer post-colonial thinker Frantz Fanon, I show that although the question of cultural difference has been examined by psychoanalysts, without reflecting on the political dynamics of racialised violence and colonial domination, psychoanalysis until the early 1960s, leaves the question of 'race' unresolved. As repressed components of European culture, colonial tropes are encountered in the margins of major psychoanalytic texts (many of which still used in psychoanalytic and psychodynamic training curriculums). As such they can be methodologically accessed only by paying attention to affects, footnotes, references, metaphors and tropes that drag psychoanalysis out of its apparent timelessness. By focusing on the forms of knowledge contained in the margins, this project uncovers unspoken colonial affects and shows that whilst 'race' has been forced into silence, the references to the cannibal trope help us rewrite psychoanalytic theory by working through the traces of its colonial reminiscences.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available