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Taboo Subjects

Race, Sex, and Psychoanalysis

2005
Author:

Gwen Bergner

Taboo Subjects

Interrogates the intersection of gender and racial subjectivity in American culture

Gwen Bergner uses a comparative analysis of psychoanalytic theory and American literature to develop a theory of racialization. Examining the scenes of double consciousness in works by Frederick Douglass, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, among others, alongside the formative visual traumas of psychoanalytic theory of Lacan and Freud, Taboo Subjects reveals how literature disrupts psychoanalysis's conventional models of race and gender identification.

Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Taboo Subjects makes a crucial contribution to how psychoanalysis can be useful for understanding the intersection of gender, sexuality, and race.

Jean Walton, author of Fair Sex, Savage Dreams: Race, Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference

In American literature, a traumatic scene of racial and sexual awakening—frequently involving photographs, mirrors, or acts of witnessing—often precipitates a character’s “discovery” of racial identity. Similarly, in the annals of psychoanalysis, notions of self and sexual identity often arise from visual trauma such as the mirror stage and primal scene. Noting this parallel between specular births of racial and sexual subjectivity, Gwen Bergner uses a comparative analysis of psychoanalytic theory and American literature to develop a theory of racialization—the process through which individuals assume an identity as black or white.

Examining the primal scenes of double consciousness in works by Frederick Douglass, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, among others, alongside the formative visual traumas of psychoanalytic theory of Lacan and Freud, Taboo Subjects reveals how literature disrupts psychoanalysis’s conventional models of race and gender identification, forcing a reconfiguration of many foundational psychoanalytic texts. And from psychoanalysis Bergner derives a critical vocabulary for theorizing racialization as it intersects with sex and gender, for both black and white Americans.

Taboo Subjects

Gwen Bergner is associate professor of English at West Virginia University.

Taboo Subjects

Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Taboo Subjects makes a crucial contribution to how psychoanalysis can be useful for understanding the intersection of gender, sexuality, and race.

Jean Walton, author of Fair Sex, Savage Dreams: Race, Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference

An important contribution to the ongoing conversation about the intersection of race, gender, and psychoanalysis. It exposes the Freudian primal scene as a male fantasy of female castration that supports the illusion of male power. In addition, it extends the scope of psychoanalysis to race by showing how a ‘castrating’ gaze produces both a feminized and a racialized subject.

Modern Fiction Studies

Taboo Subjects is certainly a provocative book.

Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society

Taboo Subjects is certainly a provocative, and at times impressive, book.

Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

Taboo Subjects

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Primal Scenes of Double Consciousness

1. Who Is That Masked Woman? Gender and Frantz Fanon
2. Myths of Masculinity: Frederick Douglass and the Oedipus Complex
3. The Mulatto and the Miscegenation Taboo: Nella Larsen’s Ambivalent Subject
4. Blackness and Class Difference in William Faulkner
5. Rites and Responsibilities: Toni Morrison and Object Relations

Afterword: Biracial/Multiracial—New Subject?
Notes
Works Cited

Index