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  • Pessimistic Activism: On Latino Studies and Psychoanalysis
  • Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández (bio)
Antonio Viego, Dead Subjects: Towards a Politics of Loss in Latino Studies Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2007. 293 pages. $84.95 (Cloth) $23.95 (paper) 9780822341208 ISBN

Akin to the projects in Asian American Studies on race and psychoanalysis such as Ann Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race (2001) and David Eng’s Racial Castration (2001), Antonio Viego’s Dead Subjects: Towards a Politics of Loss in Latino Studies argues for the serious consideration of Lacanian psychoanalysis as an anti-racist practice, in part to rethink Latino and larger Ethnic Studies critical projects. While Eng and Cheng rely on a Freudian model to, as Eng challenges us, “expand this valuable axiom into the field of Asian American and ethnic studies to insist that psychoanalysis also and at once describes, marks, and produces social differences other than sexuality,” (2001, 15) Viego traces through the history of psychoanalysis in the U.S.: first through the split from the Freudian model to the Lacanian model, and then to its further stratification as an ego and social psychology-based model, moving beyond the “psychoanalysis is only good for studying sexuality” trend articulated by Eng. Via this theoretical chain, Viego shows how ego and social psychology locate racialized-ethnic subjects outside of language, through a consistent, liberal discourse of racist exception. This exception, argues Viego, is the very thing that keeps the ethnic-racialized subject as a fixed, static entity whose transparency is whole and knowable to all who encounter it. He further suggests that this assumed transparency and wholeness posited by ego psychology and racist ideologies and practices forecloses the ability to fully evaluate trauma, loss, visibility and the forms of social and legal redress sought by ethnic-racialized subjects. Arguing that Ethnic Studies and Latino Studies paradigms rely on the same discourse of a unified, whole transparent ethnic-racialized subject, Viego uses the psychoanalytic adage that the subject in language is preceded by an inaugural loss to show the need for a new model of critical inquiry, one where we do not obviate the force of language and its distorting effects on subjectivity.

Dead Subjects is a careful plotting of the emergence of psychoanalysis in the U.S.. Viego correlates psychoanalytic developments, applying their significance to contemporaneous historical events. The first two chapters extensively map the split between psychoanalysis and ego-social psychology in the U.S. The next five are well-chosen case studies. Chapter One opens with an important question, based on the newly freed Black population in the 1860’s: what was the definition of insanity at this particular moment and could African American subjects claim insanity? Probing the answers to this question, in turn, Viego looks at the scientific conflicts that give rise to this question and secondly, considers the dissimulating function of ethnic racialized difference in the assumptions of field formation in psychoanalysis. Chapter Two spends more time tracing out the universal conditions of loss produced by language that read for both historical specificity and the texture of that loss which constructs subjectivity, centering a critique of ego psychology and social psychology for their inherent investment in a whole, transparent, ethnic-racialized subject. Viego then shifts to a sustained discussion of how psychoanalysis can help the anti-racist agenda of Ethnic and Chicano and Latino Studies through the remainder of his book.

The third chapter, “Browned, Skinned, Educated and Protected,” provides a wonderful psychoanalytic reading of the ego-psychology-driven experiments of social psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Brown who provided the ground-breaking evidence for Brown vs. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision ending the segregation of schools on the basis of race. Viego asks “Would the Clarks’ 1947 experiment of the development of “racial identification” as a function of ego development have sounded a new kind of direction for Lacan on how one might theorize the construction of the ego as formed by identification with the specular image in the mirror stage?” (77). Viego attempts to answer this question by turning to Hortense Spillers’s now classic essay “All the Things You Could Be By Now, If Sigmund Freud’s...

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