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Freud Upside Down

African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture

Badia Sahar Ahad

Publication Year: 2010

This thought-provoking cultural history explores how psychoanalytic theories shaped the works of important African American literary figures. Badia Sahar Ahad details how Nella Larsen, Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, Ralph Ellison, Adrienne Kennedy, and Danzy Senna employed psychoanalytic terms and conceptual models to challenge notions of race and racism in twentieth-century America._x000B__x000B_Freud Upside Down explores the relationship between these authors and intellectuals and the psychoanalytic movement emerging in the United States over the course of the twentieth century. Examining how psychoanalysis has functioned as a cultural phenomenon within African American literary intellectual communities since the 1920s, Ahad lays out the historiography of the intersections between literature and psychoanalysis and considers the creative approaches of African American writers to psychological thought in their work and their personal lives.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The New Black Studies Series


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xi

I recognize that any published text has many authors and without the love of support of a very generous and dedicated community, this book could not have been written. This project bears the mark of many scholars whose work, whether in the form of a manuscript, a conference...

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pp. 1-12

In a letter to his mentor, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung surmised that every subject maintains an intersubjective dependence on his perceived Other: “Just as the coloured man lives in your cities and even within your houses, so also he lives under your skin, subconsciously. Naturally it works both...

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1. The Politics and Production of Interiority in the Messenger Magazine (1922-23)

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pp. 13-38

The November 1922 issue of the Messenger magazine promoted its editorial series, “The Mirrors of Harlem: Psychoanalyzing New York’s Colored First Citizens” (after the first column, the subtitle was changed to “Studies in ‘Colored’ Psychoanalysis”), which was to make its first run in the...

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2. The Anxiety of Birth in Nella Larsen's Quicksand

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pp. 39-59

In November 1934, writer and diarist Anaïs Nin took her therapist and lover, Otto Rank, to Harlem for the first time since his arrival to the United States in 1924. The free-spirited Nin frequently traveled to Harlem, where she witnessed “half white people, half black, beautiful women...

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3. Art's Imperfect End: Race and Gurdjieff in Jean Toomer's "Transatlantic"

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pp. 60-81

Interracialism emerged as a pervasive theme in the 1920s and 1930s, as evidenced by the wealth of literary and popular texts that vividly detailed the politics of mixed-race subjectivity. But underlying these narratives of racial intermixture was a broader concern with the subject’s desire to...

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4. "A genuine cooperation": Richard Wright's and Ralph Ellison's Psychoanalytic Conversations

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pp. 82-109

On January 6, 1953, three months after the publication of Black Skin, White Masks, psychiatrist Frantz Fanon wrote what could best be considered a fan letter to Richard Wright. In it, Fanon informs Wright that he has read Native Son, Black Boy, and Twelve Million Black Voices but would like...

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5. Maternal Anxieties and Political Desires in Adrienne Kennedy's Dramatic Circle

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pp. 110-131

In the section titled “Marriage and Motherhood” in Adrienne Kennedy’s postmodern autobiography People Who Led to My Plays, she writes that “by now many of our friends were ‘seeing analysts.’ We enjoyed talking about our depressions, the movie Breathless, Eve Delphy...

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6. Racial Sincerity and the Biracial Body in Danzy Senna's Caucasia

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pp. 132-154

When published in 1998, Danzy Senna’s novel Caucasia emerged as a curiosity in its attempt to recoup and redefine the racial passing narrative. Novels in which racial passing is the primary theme had not been published in the past seventy years. But since 1990 we have witnessed a boom...

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pp. 155-159

In the 1949 film, Home of the Brave, a young black soldier, Pvt. Peter Moss (James Edwards) suffers from shell shock that leaves him paralyzed and plagued with short-term memory loss. The film, directed by Mark Robson and based on the play by Arthur Laurents, centers around...


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pp. 161-176


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pp. 177-188


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pp. 189-195

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090004
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035661

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: The New Black Studies Series
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OCLC Number: 710888822
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Freud Upside Down

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Psychology in literature.
  • Psychoanalysis in literature.
  • Race in literature -- Congresses.
  • Race -- Psychological aspects.
  • African Americans -- Psychology.
  • Psychoanalysis and literature -- United States.
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