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Reviewed by:
  • Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignties
  • Matthew M. Heaton
Warwick Anderson, Deborah Jenson, and Richard C. Keller, eds. Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignties. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011. vi + 314 pp. $24.95 (paperbound, 978-0-8223-4979-2), $89.95 (cloth, 978-0-8223-4964-8).

"Psychoanalysis has been one of the two systems of thought to define the 'long twentieth century,' the other one being Marxism," declares Mario Ben Plotkin in the opening salvo of his chapter in this refreshing and provocative volume of essays (p. 113). Like Marxism, psychoanalysis carries with it a universalist ideology, an underlying belief that somehow, some way, we are all the same. However, in both systems of thought, that underlying similarity is cut by gradations of difference— hierarchies of development, evolution, progress—that are inextricable from the context of European colonial domination of much of the globe in the first half of the century and the legacies of that domination in the second half. As the editors convey in their introduction, the purpose of this volume is to "extract the often tortuous logic that operated in colonial dominions and nascent postcolonies to situate the other in a universalist framework, whether through models of [End Page 287] assimilation and association, civilization and culture, or state and subject" (p. 2). In doing so, the authors of the various chapters share two intertwined goals: the first is to illustrate that in historical terms "the categorization of human societies under colonialism and the formation of the modern psychoanalytic subject are inseparable" (p. 4). Secondly, the volume aims to uncover the extent to which the colonialist discourses on psychoanalytic subjectivity "have influenced transcultural interactions well into the era of globalization" (p. 5). Several essays in this volume therefore seek to "recover a specific political potential in psychoanalytic interpretation of trauma and sovereignty," in the postcolonial era (p. 3).

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1, "Ethnohistory, Colonialism, and the Cosmopolitan Psychoanalytic Subject," contains essays that illustrate the construction of the psychoanalytic subject as intimately bound with twentieth century colonialist discourses on the relationship among race, culture and individual psychology in ways that made conceptualization of psychological universality fraught with tensions. Through an analysis of Freud's "Rat Man," John D. Cash's chapter examines the tensions between psychoanalytic concepts of splitting and reconciliation that are central tensions of both psychoanalytic and postcolonial theory. Alice Bullard's reflection on Henri Aubin's work in Senegal emphasizes that Aubin's construction of a universal theory of human psychology relied heavily on a "dual denial," that of the power of indigenous beliefs in supernatural etiologies of mental illness on the one hand and on the power of colonialism itself to impact African psyches differentially from Europeans on the other. Similarly, Joy Damousi's examination of Géza Róheim's characterization of aboriginal Australian subjectivity as simultaneously "primitive" and "complex" suggests an early example of the construction of the "universality of the self" across racial lines and perceived lines of sociocultural evolution. Indian psychoanalyst Girindrasekhar Bose's efforts to conduct research and clinical practice in colonial Calcutta is the subject of Christine Hartnack's chapter, while Ben Plotkin recounts the myriad ways that psychoanalysis became insinuated into Brazilian arts and social sciences in the first half of the twentieth century. The overall picture is of a universal theory of self that adapted to a variety of different environments while maintaining an uncomfortably sociocultural evolutionist tone promulgated by colonial power dynamics.

Part 2, "Trauma, Subjectivity, Sovereignty: Psychoanalysis and Postcolonial Critique," contains several chapters that utilize psychoanalytic concepts to elaborate postcolonial sociopolitical realities. Hans Pols recounts psychoanalyst Pieter Mattheus van Wulfften Palthe's interpretation of the Indonesian revolt against the Dutch efforts to "re-colonize" Indonesia after the Second World War. Rather than seeing this revolt as a material expression of nationalism or dissatisfaction with the Dutch colonial social order in any way, van Wulfften Palthe instead constructed the revolt as a group psychopathology rooted in a desire to tear down an absent totem, namely the Japanese colonialism for whom the Dutch became a postwar stand in. In another revolutionary context...


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