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  • Literature and the Meta-Psychoanalysis of Race:After and With Fanon
  • Jean-Paul Rocchi (bio)

Fanon offers his own approach to psychoanalysis through the introduction of a discourse on failures. Here he is being phenomenological, psychoanalytical, and dialectical. The phenomenological point pertains to the study of human beings, which he says in the second chapter of Black Skin, White Masks is not identical to botany and mathematics—namely, natural science and analytical or deductive systems. It is psychoanalytical because it raises questions of what is repressed by the declaration of failure. . . . Nothing intrinsically fails. It simply is. That failure is a function of the human world means that it must be connected to notions of meaning and purpose. Fanon's point is that we should not simply dismiss failures but try to understand them; we should try and learn both about what failure signifies and what it means to us who interpret it as such. And finally, it is dialectical because it involves examining contradictions, wherein learning constitutes the forward movement or consequence of such an engagement.

—Lewis R. Gordon1

Of the Failure in the Method: Toward a Meta-Psychoanalysis of Race

From Freud to subsequent critiques of him by gay, lesbian, and queer studies, race has been manifested primarily through its absence or its effacement. This racial void is freighted with consequences: it in part invalidates the [End Page 52] recourse to the method of applied psychoanalysis, which would produce a psychoanalytical reading of black literature, whether in its African American, diaspora, or postcolonial forms. Consequently, it requires the use of an inverse method, which Pierre Bayard calls "applied literature" in Peut-on appliquer la littérature à la psychanalyse?2 and which consists of inventing new conceptual and methodological psychoanalytical tools from literary texts that would make manifest how much race has been absorbed in the discourses and the systems addressing sexuality.

Because of the organic link between psychoanalysis and literature, Bayard establishes his method on the latter. Constructed on such a loose foundation, the edification of the method ends up collapsing. In effect, an analytical method based on literature is in itself a paradox; as it can only exist through a singular reading, it eludes the very idea of transmission. Bayard's impossible method thus reveals what psychoanalysis refuses to admit about its own method: it is impossible to theorize successfully an object that resists constituting itself as such. For Bayard the object is literature, for Freud it is sex. The theory and the method that fail are, for the former, literature applied to psychoanalysis; and for the latter, a psychoanalysis that works. I will retain Bayard's method of "applied literature" complete with its failures since, as Lewis R. Gordon in keeping with Frantz Fanon reminds us, failure is productive when correctly interpreted.3 We will show that it is precisely through failure that applied black literature can succeed, though this may not be the successful idealization that psychoanalysis proposes.

The queer criticism of the past few years attributed success in psychoanalysis to Freud's sheer strength of will exhibited in the face of evidence relative to the failure of sex. Beyond this and because such failure is consubstantial with psychoanalysis, literature, and identity, it must be integrated into the method itself, as must the relationship of the failure to the method be considered. According to this perspective, we will consider race as an identif ication destined by its very nature to fail, but one that has been forced to prevail as a form of identity. The successful circumvention of this failure has its roots and its expression in sexuality. It remains, however, perceptible in Freudian texts, and in the queer texts that criticize them, through the disappearance of race as a fully constituted object and therefore "theorizable" on the same level as sex.

No matter how productive they may be methodologically, the theories of sexuality, whether they are superseded, as in psychoanalysis, or reintegrated, as in queer criticism, fail to deliver their anticipated returns. Within the very method itself, what these failings reproduce time and again is race—not as an object, but as a primary condition so that sexuality has an object—that Freud...


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