“Fighting as we Build?”: Race, Resistance, Psychoanalysis

deadline for submissions: 
January 26, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
American Studies Association Annual Meeting, 2019
contact email: 

This 2019 annual meeting theme, “build as we fight,” reminds us that revolutions necessarily entail a double investment, both in negating domination and exploitation and affirming alternative forms of life. The theme also leaves open the possibility that the relationship between what must be built and what must be fought might be one of conviviality or convergence, rather than clear-cut opposition. The convergence of what must be built and what must be fought recalls the brilliant observations of anticolonial revolutionary and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, who drew on psychoanalysis to theorize the dilemmas that attend both overthrowing European colonial rule, and the psychic and material persistence of colonialism, even in the face of formal decolonization. This paper session builds on the rich history of efforts to synthesize psychoanalysis with critical race theory, and anticolonial, decolonial, and postcolonial thought in order to grapple with the vexing, persistent attachments that can haunt liberal resistance movements and revolutionary politics alike. Taking inspiration from Fanon, Willy Apollon, Hortense Spillers, David L. Eng, Anne Anlin Cheng, Dina Georgis, Homi Bhabha, Kalpana Shashadri-Crooks, Scott Richard Lyons, and many others, it considers the contributions of psychoanalytic understandings of resistance, transference, identification, melancholy, introjection, and desire to broader interdisciplinary conversations about what it might mean to “build as we fight” on an intersectional and decolonial Left.


To be sure, and as these and other scholars have laid plain, the stakes of turning to psychoanalysis to think about race and colonialism are nothing if not fraught. Theories of race and racialization have a relationship with psychoanalysis that is tenuous at best. This distance traces its roots to psychoanalysis’s foundational reliance on racist anthropology and orientalist fantasy. And today, many of critical race theory’s most original thinkers have simply found more creative purchase in other methodologies. Theories of racial assemblage and hybridity find intellectual resources in Deleuzian notions of deterritorialization and molecularization; others identify a model for disorganizing the extractive racist gaze in the contemporary turn to sociological or descriptive—and therefore anti-interpretive—protocols of reading. Abjected from both of these methodologies is the psychoanalytic investment in a hermeneutics of depth and suspicion. 


This panel seeks to concurrently historicize race theory’s distance from psychoanalysis and ask whether any aspects or techniques of that latter framework might aid the project of critical race theory, even at this late hour. Of particular, though not exclusive, interest is the psychoanalytic notion of melancholy. What can critical race theory extract and mobilize from the notion of a refusal to release or move on? To what extent do theories of racial assemblage themselves presuppose race as a condensation of object relations lost but not forgotten? Likewise, Freud’s concept of resistance to treatment, and to insight – what Jacqueline Rose has called “the pleasure the mind takes in thwarting itself” – seems of particular relevance as mainstream electoral liberalisms continue to refuse to substantively engage, much less incorporate the lessons of people of color- and indigenous-led social and labor movements, even as they eagerly devour neoliberal “diverse” imagery.


This panel invites participants addressing this topic from a number of methodological or archival perspectives including the visual and textual arts, as well as clinical and sociological bases. For consideration, please send abstracts of up to 300 words and a short bio to trasvista@live.unc.eduand dseitz@g.hmc.eduby January 26.


Key terms: race; resistance; psychoanalysis; anticoloniality; decoloniality; Fanon; Freud; whiteness; melancholy; mourning; incorporation; introjection; transference; counter-transference; identification; identification; encryption; assemblage