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Enigma variation

In The Racial Contract, Charles Mills argues that contemporary structures of white domination in the West operate by means of an epistemology of ignorance for white people. [1] White people suffer from cognitive dysfunctions such that they cannot understand the racially (and racistly) structured world in which they live and, indeed, helped create. For Mills, while no person of any race is self-transparent, becoming a white person entails a particularly extreme form of self-opacity regarding issues of race that corresponds with an egregious misunderstanding of the world. Because of the racialized moral psychology created by the racial contract, white people are, ironically, often unable to see race and racism.

I begin with Mills because, although it does not make use of psychoanalysis, his work suggests both how and why psychoanalytic theory can be of help to critical race theoryʼs project of examining race for the purpose of challenging racism and white privilege. While the white cognitive dysfunction described by Mills sometimes operates preconsciously, his concept of the epistemology of ignorance also points to the vast pools of human thought inaccessible to consciousness, and thus unconscious. This refers not to a mere gap or empty space; rather, it is something that is actively, dynamically produced, and which stubbornly maintains its existence. This means that as unconscious, racismʼs effectiveness is found in its ability to perpetuate itself as something invisible and unknowable. As Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks writes, ʻIt is precisely this unconscious resiliency of race that invites psychoanalytic exploration.ʼ [2] A critical race theory that omits the unconscious operations of race and racism touches on only the tip of the iceberg that is white privilege. This is not to say that white privilege is only psychical. But the importance of the economic, political, geographical, and other aspects of white privilege should not lead us to overlook the psychological impact that race and racism have on people of all races.

My task in this article is to demonstrate how the work of French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche can be used to provide a fruitful understanding of how the unconscious becomes raced and, correspondingly, how race and racism operate unconsciously. [3] But why Laplanche when other work on the possible intersections between psychoanalysis and critical race theory has already been begun? [4] I argue here that Laplancheʼs theory of seduction provides an account of the formation of the unconscious most useful for critical race theoryʼs purposes. Freudʼs model of the unconscious is never entirely free of an asocial biologism, and Lacan can say little about the Other whose desire produces my own. In contrast, Laplancheʼs theory presents the unconscious as initially and continually formed in relationship with concrete others in a sociopolitical world. Although it focuses on sexuality, Laplancheʼs work can be extended to include race and racism as well, and can shed light on the particular ways in which a racialized white psyche that is ignorant of its own racialized knowledge is formed and thus might be reformed differently.

It is Frantz Fanon, as much as Freud or Lacan, whose psychoanalytic work resonates with that of Laplanche. Fanonʼs concept of sociogeny adapts psychoanalysis and phenomenology to argue for the ongoing importance of sociopolitical environments in the development of unconscious racism. [5] Both Fanon and Laplanche allow us to understand race ontologically. This does not mean that racial categories are biologically determined or scientifically necessary. Just the opposite: they are historical, cultural, temporal aspects of human existence, but that does not mean that they are not of ontological significance, for the ontology of the human being – what (human) being is – is not composed of eternal and unchanging characterEnigma variation Laplanchean psychoanalysis and the formation of the raced unconscious

Shannon W. Sullivan

istics. As Linda Martín Alcoff has argued, ʻThe fact that race has lost its scientific credibility does not entail, then, that it has lost its ontological status, since … ontology [need] not imply a reference in a transcendental reality.ʼ [6] The world could have developed such that categories of race and practices of racism never existed.

Part of the power of both Fanonʼs and Laplancheʼs work is that it explains how oppressive structures such as white domination take root existentially in peopleʼs personal lives. Racism has a long history of perpetuating itself through political, economic, national, educational and other institutions that are much larger, so to speak, than any individual. Yet part of the way that these institutions are able so effectively to privilege white people and exploit non-white people is through the development of individual attachments and commitments to them. This is where a socially attuned psychoanalysis can be of particular help to critical race theory: it can help us understand both how people become personally invested in racist institutions and structures and how they might try to combat this ʻinteriorʼ investment through a transformation of their relationship to the ʻexternalʼ world. Much more than the transformation of the individual is needed to eliminate racism, but changes to larger, impersonal institutions will ultimately be effective only if the roots they have planted in peopleʼs psychosomatic habits have been dug up.

Laplancheʼs seduction theory is not unique in its ability to help identify those roots. As well as Fanon, John Deweyʼs pragmatist philosophy also emphasizes the co-constitutive relationship of ʻexternalʼ environment and ʻinternalʼ psyche. [7] Laplancheʼs distinctive contribution, however, is his detailed examination of the specific ways that body, psyche and world transact to create the unconscious. Even though Laplancheʼs work never discusses race, it implicitly extends Fanonʼs sociogenic account of the ʻepidermalizationʼ of racism, [8] and goes much further in explaining exactly how other people magnetize the psychophysiological skin of a child, generating its unconscious out of this process.

The enigmatic message

Laplancheʼs theory of seduction explains the formation of the infantʼs unconscious by means of seduction by adults. Laplancheʼs use of the term ʻseductionʼ, however, does not refer to a physically sexual (and abusive) act that takes place between an adult and an infant. This, of course, was the central component of the seduction theory that Freud entertained early in his career to explain his patientsʼ hysterical symptoms, but that he subsequently abandoned to develop his theory of infant sexuality. For Laplanche, adult seduction of the infant is a real event, and in that sense he thinks that the early Freud was on to something that was unfortunately lost in his move away from seduction theory. What Freud did not see, however, is that the event of seduction involves the transference of enigmatic messages about sexuality from adult to child, not a sexual act in the usual sense of the term.

The enigmatic message, when Laplanche sometimes also called the enigmatic signifier, is a communication from the unconscious of an adult to an infant or child, the meaning of which is unknown to or hidden from both. By means of bodily expressions such as gestures or grimaces – perhaps also, though rarely for babies, by means of spoken words – the adult implants a message about sexuality in the child, at least a portion of which the child cannot comprehend. [9] The child tries to understand the message, and indeed sometimes succeeds in part. The parts that she does not understand are repressed. They are the remainders of the attempted translation of the message that form the childʼs unconscious. [10] The etymology of the verb ʻto seduceʼ (seduire) helps indicate why Laplanche describes this process as seductive: in seduction, the adult attracts, leads, or draws the infant in an irresistible fashion down a path that is aside or astray from ones to which the child understands how to respond.

Toni Morrisonʼs novel The Bluest Eye can be read as providing an illustration of the process of seduction. Morrison demonstrates how the storyʼs narrator, a nine-year old black girl named Claudia, and her older sister, Frieda, are tuned into the adult world around them, receiving its messages even though they do not fully understand them:

Frieda and I are washing Mason jars. We do not hear their [the adults nearby] words, but with grown-ups we listen to and watch out for their voices.… The edge, the curl, the thrust of their emotions is always clear to Frieda and me. We do not, cannot, know the meanings of all their words, for we are nine and ten years old. So we watch their faces, their hands, their feet, and listen for truth in timbre. [11]

Morrison reveals an adult world full of unintended bodily gestures and tones that communicates a great deal of enigmatic meaning to the children in it. From the sound of parentsʼ and neighboursʼ voices, Claudia and Frieda know that something is up, but they do not fully understand the edgy mood that filters from the living room into the kitchen. The incomprehensible portions of the adultsʼ messages – which, in this case, involve the yearning and later angry revulsion generated by a newly arrived boarder in Claudiaʼs home – will become part of the girlsʼ unconsciouses.

Morrisonʼs example also brings out the important role that the body plays in the transmission of enigmatic messages. Along with the timbre of voice – itself a bodily effect – it is the comportment of adultsʼ faces, hands and feet that communicates to the children. A tensely pursed mouth, an anxiously tapping foot, a worriedly wrung hand convey the gravity of their familyʼs world to Claudia and Frieda even though they do not fully know why the situation is grave and cannot understand the words used by the adults to discuss it.

It is not just adult bodies, moreover, that are involved in communicating enigmatic messages. Laplanche also describes the messages as implanted in the bodies of the children who receive them. He explains that ʻthe signifiers brought by the adult [to the child] are fixed, as onto a surface, in the psychophysiological “skin” of a subject in which the unconscious agency is not yet differentiated.ʼ [12] A child is not born with an unconscious; such psychical complexity is not created until a later point in the process of seduction. Early in that process, in the moments of the initial creation of the unconscious, the enigmatic messages operate in and through the childʼs body. For Laplanche, the body that receives these messages is not a mere lump of matter. Even prior to the formation of an unconscious, the body is already being invested with meaning. Some areas of the body – notably the mouth, genitals and anus – are receiving more intense attention from caregivers than others, due to the infantʼs feeding and excreting and its caregiversʼ cleaning up after both. This attention enables ʻthe binding of component instincts to determinate zones in the bodyʼ, a binding that is not reductively biologistic since ʻthere is no initial or natural opposition between the instinctual and the intersubjective, or between the instinctual and the cultural.ʼ [13] The ʻexteriorʼ surface of the body is already becoming magnetized with cultural meanings prior to the development of an ʻinteriorʼ unconscious. It is this differentially charged, psychophysiological skin that receives the first enigmatic messages transmitted by adults.

Initially, then, the unconscious is not yet differentiated from the body. Or, rather, since the unconscious proper does not yet exist, we should say that the body serves as what will later become the unconscious, once the process of attempted translation has begun and has produced untranslated remainders. While Laplanche does not elaborate the point, an implication of his claim about the bodyʼs role in seduction is that the differentially magnetized body continues to play an important role in the function of the unconscious once it is formed. This might be understood as a reworking of Freudʼs intriguing claim that ʻthe ego is first and foremost a bodily ego; it is not merely a surface entity, but it itself the projection of a surface.ʼ [14] By this, Freud meant that the ego is formed out of sensations that spring from the bodyʼs surface. In a similar fashion, we might say that Laplanche is interested in how the unconscious is first and foremost a bodily unconscious. For Laplanche, the body is the first site of the influence and power of the unconscious; it becomes the primary site for psychophysiological investments and intensities that originate from the adult world. [15]

To this point, I have focused on the childʼs inability to understand the message coming from the adult, but equally important to Laplancheʼs theory is that the adult also does not understand the full meaning of the message communicated to the child. The message is enigmatic precisely because of its double opacity:

These signifiers are not rendered enigmatic by the simple fact that the infant does not possess the code that he will need to acquire.… The issue is rather that the adult world is entirely infiltrated with unconscious and sexual significations, of which the adult too does not possess the code. [16]

Enigmatic messages are not intentionally sent to a child by an adult. Certainly intentional messages also exist. But it is the messages that the adult does not mean to send, does not realize that she is sending, and the meaning of which she does not herself fully understand, that are the material that is transformed into the infantʼs unconscious. These messages, Laplanche explains, ʻare frequently ones of violence, savagery, castration, and analityʼ, and they are conveyed by phenomena such as ʻa smile (in Leonardo), an angry gesture, a grimace of disgust, etc.ʼ [17] They can also be found in the tone of voice, the angle of a hand, and the positioning of the feet mentioned by Morrisonʼs Claudia. The adult world is sending unconscious enigmatic messages to children all the time, and it is these messages – not the more transparent, consciously intended ones – that have the greatest psychosomatic effect on children because they metabolize into unconscious remnants that have a potentially lifelong impact on how children will interact with the world.

The seduction of white privilege

Already we can see how, for Laplanche, a personʼs environment is crucial to the formation of his or her unconscious. The other, in other words, is at the core of who I am. This other, moreover, encompasses more than the mother and the father – the adult components of the Oedipal triangle that are so crucial to Freudʼs account of the development of the infantʼs psyche. Laplanche is highly critical of Freudʼs ʻfamilialismʼ:

The fact that a child is brought up by parents, or even by its parents, is, ultimately a contingency.Ultimately, and whatever distortions may result from the fact, it is possible to become a human being without having a family; it is not possible to do so without encountering an adult world. [18]

Laplanche is also critical of Lacanʼs rendering of the other as abstract, impersonal, and purely linguistic. [19] The other of Laplancheʼs theory of seduction is a variety of concrete adult others: the entire array of the social, political, economic, aesthetic, material and psychological adult world that helps compose the adult unconscious. While it might be a contingent fact that much of this adult world comes to the infant through the messages of its parents or other primary caregivers, what is being transmitted is not just a familial meaning, but also a complex tangle of local and global significations. This means that, for Laplanche, no absolute line can be drawn between ʻexternalʼ, impersonal institutions and the ʻinternalʼ, personal psyche. To speak of the unconscious is necessarily to address the social institutions and practices – in the case of racism, one thinks especially of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and forced segregation, economic exploitation and immigration – that help structure it.

In the complex tangle of transmitted meanings,

Laplanche focuses on enigmatic messages concerning sexuality. His central example is the breastfeeding mother, whose own unconscious sexual pleasure and desire expressed through breastfeeding comprise a message that is passed on to the nursing child. [20] In his emphasis upon the non-familial adult world, however, Laplanche leaves open the possibility of focusing on different enigmatic messages, such as those concerning race and racism. Objecting to psychoanalysisʼs pejorative uses of the term ʻculturalismʼ, Laplanche claims that ʻcertain psychoanalytic parameters – all psychoanalytic parameters – may vary as a result of cultural differences.ʼ [21] If the infantʼs unconscious is formed through its inevitably failed attempt to translate the enigmatic messages sent to it by the adult world, and given that the adult world historically has been and continues to be both structured by categories of race and riddled with racism, the infantʼs unconscious will inevitably be partially formed by race and racism. An adult world that privileges whiteness helps produce a childʼs unconscious, which also privileges whiteness by sending the child messages about race that often are opaque to both child and adult alike.

Morrisonʼs novel helps develop this point, demonstrating how the beauty ideals that support white privilege in the USA can be seductively communicated to black girls in particular. When Claudia receives a blue-eyed baby doll for Christmas, she reports that From the clucking sounds of adults I knew that the doll represented what they thought was my fondest wish.… Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs – all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured.

When Claudia dismembers the doll to try to find inside the beauty which she does not see outside, the adults are saddened and outraged: ʻTears threatened to erase the aloofness of their authority. The emotion of years of unfulfilled longing preened in their voices.ʼ [22] The adultsʼ tears and tone of voice arguably transmit an enigmatic message to Claudia about the importance and power of whiteness in the adult world of the USA. The message is unknown to the adults, who, certainly conscious of the existence of white racism against black people, are unaware of how their intense desire to share in whiteness proudly swells in their voices as they speak of the blue-eyed doll. And the message is equally opaque to Claudia. She is able to translate the part of it that says that the doll is very precious, but not able to translate its larger, more significant part, which is that whiteness is something desirable and that white standards of beauty are something that black females in particular should strive to achieve. Claudiaʼs dismembering of the doll can thus be understood as a physical manifestation of the psychological process of failed translation and repression. Trying to understand why the doll is so valuable by tearing open its hidden inside, Claudia finds nothing and leaves herself only destroyed remnants of something that she has failed to comprehend.

The physical remnants of the doll are refuse that can be quickly thrown away. The psychological remnants of the message, however, are not so easily discarded. They too are waste products, but they are retained rather than eliminated, forming part of Claudiaʼs unconscious. These untranslated remnants of the enigmatic message of white privilege lead Claudia to hate and want to dismember blonde white girls like Shirley Temple and light-skinned black girls like her schoolmate Maureen Peal: ʻall the time we knew that Maureen Peal was not the Enemy and not worthy of such intense hatred. The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us.ʼ [23] Here is a knowledge that is unknown, remainders that are unabsorbed: Claudia cannot understand at this point in her life what that Thing is. The Thing that is white privilege, and specifically white beauty ideals for black women, becomes a powerful, unconscious aspect of her life. Claudia learns to cope with it self-destructively by loving the whiteness that she once hated: ʻIt was a small step to Shirley Temple. I learned much later to worship her, just as I learned to delight in cleanliness, knowing, even as I learned, that the change was adjustment without improvement.ʼ [24]

The fact that the breast is an erogenous zone for most women helps make plausible Laplancheʼs claim that unconscious messages about sexuality and sexual pleasure are communicated from mother to child, including infants and babies who are much younger than Claudia. Less obvious is how enigmatic messages about white privilege could be transmitted to a child in its first few months. If messages about sexuality are somatically transmitted during the act of breastfeeding, what is the particular mechanism through which messages about race operate? Morrisonʼs reference to cleanliness suggests an answer to this question. Caring for a baby involves a great deal of cleaning its body, such as wiping off saliva, food, tears, urine, faeces. I hypothesize that these activities are a crucial site for the transmission of enigmatic signifiers about white privilege. In the USA and elsewhere, at the same time that cleanliness attempts to ensure bodily hygiene it conveys opaque messages about the meaning of hygiene in terms of white purity and black contamination.

Non-white people have long been associated with dirt, filth and pollution by white people. On one level, this association speaks of the (allegedly) lack of bodily cleanliness of those such as Jews, black people, Latinos, and others. In the USA and elsewhere, their skin is seen as dark and oily because unwashed, and they are perceived as having a particular racial smell that is born of filth. [25] On another, related level, their (alleged) dirtiness is a sign of a more intangible – though perceived as no less real – uncleanliness. Their inferiority to white people is found in their moral, spiritual and mental impurity. These associations between non-white people and defilement took an extreme form in the genocidal murders of Jews, Roma and others by Nazi Germany, which were produced by ʻthe necessity to sweep clean the worldʼ. [26] They also exist, however, in the less spectacular form of unconscious habits of connecting whiteness with cleanliness and blackness with impurity and, furthermore, policing the boundaries between the two so as to maintain a strict separation. In the USA and elsewhere, blackness functions as the abject, which means not only that it is (allegedly) filthy but also that it threatens the boundaries between the clean and the dirty. [27] It must be kept at bay through acts of cleansing if the contamination of whiteness is to be prevented.

These racist associations are part of the adult world into which infants have been socialized for hundreds of years, especially in the USA and Europe. Just as messages about sexuality are transmitted to a baby through the process of breastfeeding, messages about race are transmitted to a baby through the process of cleaning it. (And the situation is even more complex than this simple comparison indicates, since messages concerning sexuality, especially the alleged uncleanliness of female genitals, are also likely transmitted through acts of cleaning.) This is not to claim that an adult caregiver is consciously thinking about the racial significance of cleanliness as she wipes up her dirty baby. In all likelihood, that idea is the furthest thing from her (conscious) mind. Yet messages about racial hygiene that she does not intend to transmit to the baby are nonetheless implanted in its psychophysiological skin. A baby of any race growing up in a white privileged world begins at an early age to introject messages about the purity of whiteness and the abjection of blackness. A baby of only a few months may already have begun to develop unconscious habits of white privilege, even before she understands what that is.

Against crusoeism

Following Laplanche, I have deliberately referred to the leftover components of Claudiaʼs attempt to understand the gift of the blue-eyed doll as remnants, rather than as enigmatic messages or signifiers. This is because, for Laplanche, there is no direct implantation of adult messages into the childʼs unconscious. A process of translation, which Laplanche often describes in terms of digestion and metabolism, always takes place and means that a disjunctive relationship between the adultʼs and the childʼs unconscious exists. This is significant because without such a disjunction the adultʼs unconscious would be replicated identically in the child, and then in the childʼs child, over and over without end. There would not be, in other words, any possible change or difference across generations in peopleʼs unconscious lives. Thus Laplanche cautions us not to ʻdisregard the break, the profound reshaping, which occurs between the [adult and the child], and which may be likened to a metabolism that breaks down food into its constituent parts and reassembles them into a completely different entity.ʼ [28] Just as the waste products that result from digestion are both formed out of and greatly different from the food with which the process began, so too the remnants of Claudiaʼs attempt to understand her familyʼs gift of the doll are made up of and profoundly reshape their unconscious investments in white beauty ideals (evidenced in Claudiaʼs later delight in cleanliness). The unconscious operations of white privilege are neither static nor simply repetitious. They transform themselves across time and generations even as their function of race-based oppression persists.

It is significant that Laplanche uses the term ʻrepressionʼ for these processes of translation and metabolism. [29] For Laplanche, in contrast with Freud, the unconscious is wholly created by repression. That is to say, the infant is not born with an initial unconscious that is then later built up by means of subsequent acts of repression. Laplanche acknowledges that ʻthis is the first point in my thought that would not be accepted by all psychoanalysts, many of whom would think that there is something biological and primary that is unconscious, which I donʼt believe because it would have to come from phylogenesis.ʼ [30] The effect of implicitly accepting an account of the unconscious as primary can be seen in some psychoanalytic accounts of prejudice that claim that at least some unconscious racism is onto-psychologically hard-wired and thus that attempts to eradicate it are pointless and naive. [31] In contrast, Laplancheʼs conception of the unconscious as wholly formed by the repression of unmetabolized remnants of adult messages enables critical race theory to be psychoanalytically informed without endorsing an ahistorical and acontextual view of racism as natural and inevitable.

One of the reasons for Laplancheʼs rejection of phylogenesis is his rejection of what he calls ʻRobinson Crusoeismʼ. This account of the relationship between individuals and their world, common to much of philosophy as well as psychoanalysis, starts with the lone, isolated individual and then tries to build out from it to its surrounding physical, cultural, social and other environments. Inherent to Robinson Crusoeism, then, is both an atomistic conception of the individual and the positing of a dualistic relationship between ʻinsideʼ and ʻoutsideʼ. As Laplancheʼs bodily digestion metaphors already indicate, however, inside and outside cannot be sharply separated or contained. The food that is outside the organism enters inside it, both becoming part of the inside and being reconstituted by the inside into another form that will exit outside. And just as, physiologically, inside and outside are always mixing such that each helps constitute the other, psychologically insides and outsides also engage in what I will call a transactional relationship (a term to which I shall return shortly). From the beginning, the babyʼs outside that is its caregiversʼ unconscious is helping constitute the babyʼs psychical inside, and in turn the babyʼs unconscious will have effects on the outside world as it guides the growing childʼs actions in it. Thus, both psychologically and physiologically, there is no ʻsolitary baby-Robinsonʼ. [32] As Laplanche explains, when trying to understand the development of the child ʻthe problem of becoming aware of or open to [the outside world] is a false problemʼ. [33]

Freudʼs theory of phylogenesis is one of the misguided results of this false problem. As John Fletcher has remarked, Laplanche understands Freudʼs appeal to phylogenesis ʻas something like a theoretical symptom, a false synthesis, produced by the attempt to escape a conceptual impasse, the imprisoning either/or of the external event and the innate constitutionʼ. [34] If solitary baby-Robinson really exists, totally isolated from the world around her, then one is forced to posit innate structures and/or contents to explain the presence and development of the unconscious. Rejecting the dualism between inside and outside, however, one need not claim with Freud that the individual inherits memory traces of past events in the life of the species: ʻThe idea of an organism initially closed upon itself, and only then opening itself to the object (or constructing it, even?) is one of the modalities of biological idealism or solipsismʼ that should be refused. [35]

My use of the term ʻtransactionʼ to describe the dynamic, co-constitutive relationship between the bio-psychical organism and its environments is deliberate, even though Laplanche adamantly rejects the seemingly similar concept of interaction. As he explains, the communication between adult and infant ʻis not interaction. It is a one-way action. It is one-way only on the sexual [that is, the unconscious] level.ʼ Laplanche does not deny that interaction (transaction) occurs on physiological levels, but he insists that the infant does not reciprocally contribute to the adultʼs unconscious as the adult does the childʼs. This, again, is because the infant has no unconscious prior to its receipt and attempted translation of the adultʼs enigmatic messages. And even once the infant begins to metabolize an unconscious, it is still relatively passive in comparison to the adult because ʻthe active one has more “knowledge”, more unconscious fantasies than the passive infant.ʼ Thus, for Laplanche, the initial ʻcommunication situationʼ between them could never be described as an interaction because it ʻis neither bilateral, nor symmetricalʼ. [36] Prioritizing the centripetal movement from the adult to the child does not mean that centrifugal and then reciprocal movements are impossible, but those later movements are always guided by the initial, inward-directed vector. [37]

One of the reasons that Laplanche rejects interaction as a model for understanding the formation of the unconscious is that he suspects that it is just another way of denying that the other is the primary mechanism of the self. Ipsocentrism, as Laplanche calls it, ʻcentres on the personʼ. In contrast to ipsocentrist operations such as projection and foreclosure, Laplanche prioritizes ʻmechanisms where it is the other who is the subject of the mechanismsʼ, namely implantation. [38] Laplanche thus attempts to shift psychoanalytic theory away from the first (and even the third) person to the other: the other, not the person herself, should be the focus of those who want to understand her. [39] As Laplanche presents it, interaction smuggles back in the centrality of the person, making it co-primary with the other in the formation of the unconscious.

I do not disagree with Laplancheʼs description of the psychological asymmetry between adult and child, although I think it is important to note that even at a young age, the relationship quickly becomes transactional – a claim that Laplanche sometimes seems to deny. While the childʼs psyche contains relatively few undigested remnants, the child is always already actively engaged in the world, and thus her budding unconscious very quickly begins to produce effects on her life and the life of those around her. Patricia Williams offers a striking example of this point in her lectures for the BBC, Seeing a Color-Blind Future. When he was three, her sonʼs nursery-school teacher was concerned that the boy was colour-blind. Yet a visit to the ophthalmologist quickly reassured Williams that her sonʼs vision was perfect. Williams eventually figured out that when the children in the nursery argued over race-related issues – such as whether a black kid could play the good guy in their games – the teachers at the predominantly white school repeatedly told the children that colour makes no difference at all. As a result of Williamsʼs sonʼs mistranslation of this remark, when he was asked what the colour of the grass was, for example, he replied either that he didnʼt know or, more cynically, that it made no difference. [40]

Here is an example of an enigmatic message about race forming the childʼs unconscious that in turn has an effect on the adult world around it. Of course, this message is not wholly enigmatic. There is a consciously intended message being sent verbally to the child from the adult: race and colour should not matter when assigning roles in childrenʼs games. With that conscious message, however, is also an unconscious message about the white teacherʼs anxieties surrounding race. The message sent to the child is not just about childrenʼs games, but about the (alleged) inappropriateness of race: of noticing race, of talking about race, of having a race, ʻas though it were an especially delicate category of social infirmity – so-called – like extreme obesity or disfigurementʼ, Williams explains. [41] There is a message about silence contained in the adultʼs spoken words (and, it is likely, in the teacherʼs facial expressions and bodily comportment as well, chiding the squabbling children, but Williams omits these details). Although spoken language is used, a ʻsilencing is passed from parent to child [that] is not only about the teaching of restraint; it is calculated to circumnavigate the question [of race] as though it had never been askedʼ. [42]

I would argue that this is the part of the message that was opaque to both Williamsʼs son and his teacher. The children knew that race mattered; it was already deeply affecting the way that they divided up the world between good and evil. The enigmatic message sent to the children was that race matters so much that ʻweʼ (read: adult white people in the USA, which are posited as the standard of normality to which everyone else should aspire) dare not even discuss it. For her son, one can speculate that this means that discomfort with racialized colour has become part of his unconscious and shapes his everyday actions in the world even when they do not seem to involve race at all. And if his unconscious includes remnants of anxiety about racialized colour, then it is conceivable that in his gestures and bodily movements he too will send enigmatic messages about race and colour to others. As Laplanche claims, ʻthe adult–child relation is eminently suited to reawaken the conflicts and desires coming from the unconsciousʼ because it is a situation in which the early remnants that helped form the adultʼs unconscious tend to be reactivated. [43] He gives the example of a man having his son circumcised, which can reactivate all sorts of untranslated unconscious remnants that remained after his own circumcision. [44] Likewise, a childʼs unconscious message about the shameful secret of race can reactivate and reinforce the early unconscious lessons that most adults in the USA – whether white, black, or another race – received as children about the inappropriateness of race (from a white-privileged perspective). This does not mean that the relationship between adult and child is initially interactive – the chicken precedes any particular egg, after all – but it very quickly becomes so, and thus we should not place as heavy an emphasis on the childʼs psychical passivity as does Laplanche.

The transactional unconscious

Another point in Laplancheʼs theory that merits caution is its emphasis upon the otherʼs contribution to the self as utterly foreign or alien to the self. For Laplanche, ʻthe unconscious [is] an alien inside me, and even one put inside me by an alienʼ. The alien unconscious is absolutely indigestible, ʻa foreign body hard as ironʼ, as Laplanche puts it, or ʻan irreducible strangenessʼ, [45] in Fletcherʼs words. Laplanche insists on this alienness to prevent a return to ipsocentrism and the corresponding Robinson Crusoeism. He is concerned about the tendency, in Freudʼs work and elsewhere, to ʻre-assimilate and reintegrate the alienʼ, which closes down ʻthe path leading from the other thing in us to the other person who is its originʼ. [46] For Laplanche, softening the hard kernel of the unconscious into something that can be incorporated into the self narcissistically recentres the self as its own primary psychical mechanism and solipsistically isolates the self from anything or anyone other to it. [47]

Laplanche presents a false dilemma on this point:

either the self-centredness of ipsocentrism or irreducible alienness of the other. Both horns of this dilemma are complicit with – or perhaps, one might say, the result of – an atomistic conception of the self. In both cases, the self is presented as originally and fundamentally separate from the other. Even the alien unconscious of the self, which originates from the other, is like a hermetically sealed bubble with an impermeable skin whose otherness never mixes with the self even though it is inside it. No wonder, then, that Fletcher can describe Laplancheʼs account of the otherʼs intervention in the self as ʻthe effraction or breach of the organism or psychic entity from the outside … the breaching of a limit or a boundary, both in its initial impact and in its deposit, “the internal foreign body”.ʼ [48] That the other can – or, rather, must, if it is to have an influence – breach the limit of the self only demonstrates how the self has been conceived of as fundamentally separate, as something initially self-contained that later can be broken into.

Laplancheʼs position on the irreducible foreignness of the other is in tension with his insistence that the problem of how to open the infant to the world is a false problem. [49] The open infant is permeable, always absorbing, such that boundaries between inside and outside cannot be conceived of as rigid (which is not to say that they completely disappear). Laplanche would agree in so far as this claim is restricted to a physiological level, but he tends to limit the infantʼs porous, fuzzy-edged relationship with the world when it comes to the psychical. On the one hand, Laplanche is very critical of body–mind dualisms that would separate the mental from the physical. As he claims, the human being is ʻa bio-psychical being, and the idea that an infant is a pure organism, a pure machine on to which a soul, a psyche or whatever else, has been grafted is an aberrationʼ. [50] And yet he also claims that the initial relationship between adult and infant is ʻestablished on a twofold register: we have both a vital, open and reciprocal relationship, which can truly be said to be interactive, and a relationship which is implicitly sexual, where there is no interaction because the two partners are not equalʼ. [51] The first register is the physiological level of self-preservation; the second is the psychical level of seduction – and Laplanche is very deliberate in his use of the language of ʻlevelʼ to suggest a hierarchy whose components are ʻsharply distinctʼ even as they are ʻclearly connectedʼ. [52] Laplancheʼs prioritization of the other, which in and of itself is not troubling, leads him to posit an absolute difference on the level of the psychical between other and self that seals each off from the other. And yet, as his bodily metaphors for the process of seduction suggest, such hard lines between the physiological and psychical cannot be drawn. The ʻwaste productʼ that is the unconscious is not a hard kernel that passes through the bodyʼs digestive tract only to emerge from the process identical to how it began. As Laplanche himself has insisted, the psychical digestive process transforms the initial content, leaking away some aspects of it and soaking into others, with an end result that is neither wholly foreign nor completely familiar, that is new in such a way that it is constituted by elements of the old. The unconscious is, in other words, transactional. This is not to deny the initial priority of the adult over the infant, but to claim that the other should not be thought of as atomistically separated from the self, and cannot be so thought by relapsing into solipsism and ipsocentrism.

For these reasons, Laplancheʼs characterization of the formation of the unconscious as a perversion of a child by a deviant adult – as seduction, in other words – is itself problematic. Laplanche explains thatIn the primal situation we have, then, a child whose ability to adapt is real but limited, weak and waiting to be perverted, and a deviant adult.… Here, we have seducer and seduced, perverter and perverted.

Someone is moving away from the straight and narrow; we have here … someone who has been led astray and ʻseducedʼ. [53]

My primary concern here is not with the sexually loaded language of seduction and perversion, which Laplanche retains from Freud in order to demonstrate his debt to Freudʼs early seduction theory. Rather, my concern is that even – or, I should say, precisely – in their more mundane senses of turning someone away from the path she is supposed to be on, ʻseductionʼ, ʻperversionʼ and ʻdevianceʼ imply that the unconscious engagement of adult and child is something odd, abnormal or extraordinary – something, in other words, that is not supposed to happen in the typical course of a childʼs life, as if there were a ʻstraight and narrowʼ atomistic path devoid of adult influence that an infant could follow as she matures. At times, Laplanche glosses ʻperverseʼ as ʻunknownʼ and ʻdeviantʼ as ʻsplitʼ, which combats his accountʼs suggestion that seduction is atypical. The adult is perverse in that she herself does not know what unconscious messages she sends to others; she is deviant in that she is split into the conscious or preconscious parts she knows and the unconscious part that she does not. [54] Helpful though these (infrequent) suggestions are, they do not entirely erase the atomistic implications of terms such as perverse and deviant. While any particular transaction between a child and its world can be sexually inappropriate, transactional engagement as such is not. It is the typical, ʻappropriateʼ activity of any live organism, and for human organisms in particular, transaction is just as psychically as it is physically necessary for life to exist. [55]

And on…

This is true, moreover, throughout a human beingʼs life. At times, Laplanche suggests that seduction happens in roughly the first year or two of infancy, after which the unconscious is fully formed and seduction ends. Translations and retranslations can and should take place after this point, according to Laplanche, but they are processes that rework the initial enigmatic messages absorbed in a personʼs first couple of years, not ones that contribute new messages to the unconscious. On this view, an unconscious core is created in the first twelve to twenty-four months of life, whose formation does not continue into childhood and beyond.

Peter Osborne argues that Laplanche draws the line at approximately the end of year one because an infant is more biologically dependent on caregivers during the first year than afterwards. In Osborneʼs words, the adult ʻcathects the infant in the course of the interactions which sustain it as a biological entity during the first year of its lifeʼ. The message implanted in the infant ʻboth demands translation and is untranslatable, since the child has no sense of desire beyond self-preservation, at this point.ʼ [56] Once the intense period of biological sustenance is (allegedly) complete, enigmatic messages are no longer being sent from adult to child. With their termination, the child then enters a lifelong process of attempting to translate and retranslate the untranslatable bits of the messages that were metabolized into his or her unconscious.

For his part, Laplanche suggests that the infantʼs acquisition of language plays an important role in marking the end of seduction. As he remarks, ʻThe primal situation is one in which a newborn child, an infant in the etymological sense of the word (infans: speechless), is confronted with the adult world.ʼ [57] Criticizing Lacan, he adds, ʻif we identify the deepest stratum of man, namely the unconscious, with verbal language (or what we call language in the strict sense), we adopt an explicitly anti-Freudian stance.ʼ [58] Laplanche thus argues that seduction takes place in the period of an infantʼs life prior to its ability to speak. The unconscious is not structured as a language or formed out of language, as Lacan claims. Just the opposite: the advent of language marks the end of the formation of the unconscious via seduction. Although Laplanche objects to Lacanʼs particular emphasis upon language, he implicitly agrees that the ability to use it marks an extremely significant event in a childʼs life.

While twelve months is early for infants to begin speaking, Osborneʼs explanation of the primal situation of seduction in terms of self-preservation nonetheless complements Laplancheʼs language-based account. The story presented by their collective remarks is thus: somewhere around one or two years old, an infantʼs biological dependency upon caregivers for self-preservation decreases and its ability to use language begins. Leaving the maternal realm of bodily care and speechless existence, the infant breaks free of the adultʼs enigmatic messages and ends the seductive process of the formation of its unconscious.

On this account, the examples of Morrisonʼs Claudia and Williamsʼs son cannot count as situations of seduction because nine and three years of age, respectively, are beyond the cutoff point of twelve to twenty-four months. The children in these situations are no longer biologically dependent on caregivers in the way that a young infant is, and they understand and use language even if they do not always comprehend everything adults say. In their cases, the unconscious must be presumed already to exist, and the puzzling (from their perspective) adult behaviour that they try to translate has to be seen as a factor in the secondary process of retranslating the contents of the unconscious, not part of the primal process of seduction. The children must be understood as reworking the white privilege that is already present in their unconscious, not as continuing the process of forming raced unconscious habits.

There are at least two reasons to question this account. First, Laplanche himself occasionally suggests that children beyond infancy are involved in processes of seduction. In yet another objection to Lacan about the role of language in the formation of the unconscious, Laplanche asks,

What maintains the alienness of the other? Can one affirm here, with Lacan, the priority of language?

If, for my part, I speak rather of a ʻmessageʼ, this is for at least two well-defined reasons: first, the message can just as easily be non-verbal as verbal; for the baby it is principally non-verbal.ʼ [59]

By singling out the seduction of babies, Laplancheʼs emphasis on the non-verbal nature of enigmatic messages sent to them implies that human beings other than babies also receive enigmatic messages.

My suggestion that the process of seduction extends beyond young infancy is supported by Laplancheʼs remarks on Freudʼs analysis of fantasies of a child being beaten. Using ʻa conceptual arsenal … derived from the generalized seduction theory: message, translation and partial failure of translationʼ, Laplanche appeals to the case of the beaten child to demonstrate (against Freud) that repression is not a process of memorization, but rather a function of the inevitable failure of the childʼs digestion of the otherʼs enigmatic messages. Laplanche uses the case to make a number of points about his theory of seduction, but what is relevant for my purposes here is that he considers it to be ʻexemplary in showing a process of repression [understood via the seduction theory] at workʼ. [60] For Laplanche, the people analysed by Freud in this case developed unconscious (and then conscious) fantasies involving a beaten child because of the transmission of enigmatic messages from an adult when they were children.

Turning to the text of this ʻexemplaryʼ case itself, one finds that Freud plainly states that the age of the children who developed sexual fantasies about another childʼs being beaten is between two and five years. In some broad remarks about the purpose of psychoanalysis, Freud explains that analytic work deserves to be recognized as genuine psycho-analysis only when it has succeeded in removing the amnesia which conceals from the adult his knowledge of his childhood from its beginning (that is, from about the second to the fifth year).

He adds that ʻIt is in the years of childhood between the ages of two and four or five that the congenital libidinal factors are first awakened by actual experiences and become attached to certain complexesʼ, only after which do the fantasies manifest themselves. [61] While Laplanche never explicitly endorses this aspect of Freudʼs case, he also never objects to it – and this even though Laplancheʼs goal is to refute its problematic aspects (for example, its explanation of the beating fantasy in terms of amnesia surrounding an actual childhood experience). Laplancheʼs silence is significant.

The most compelling reason to think that seduction extends into childhood and beyond, however, is found in Laplancheʼs emphasis upon the openness of the human organism to its environments. Human beings are never atomistically closed off from the world. Their existence – psychical, as well as physical, for the two cannot be sharply divorced – is necessarily transactional. This means that human dependence upon others does not end once babyhood is over. As feminists have long argued, the developmental story of a humanʼs initial dependence upon caregivers that gives way to independence as an adult is deeply problematic. [62] Especially in some of its psychoanalytic versions, it associates dependence with the murky realm of the mother in which distinct beings do not exist and from which the infant violently separates itself and is able to become an independent language-user thanks to the intrusion of the father into the mother–infant dyad. In addition to its troubling support of patriarchy, such a story problematically assumes that the ʻnormalʼ development of human beings involves eliminating (or, at least, greatly reducing) oneʼs transactional interdependence upon others.

Laplanche emphasizes the role of dependency in seduction when he claims: ʻThe dependency of young human on adults, which is much more marked than in other species, fosters the delay that is at the origins of humanization, i.e., the early sexualization of human beings.ʼ [63] I do not disagree that human babies are more dependent on adults for longer periods of time than the young of many other species, or that the ʻdelayʼ created by this marked dependency enables seduction. I also would agree that much of the formation of the unconscious probably occurs during early childhood. But, given the ongoing transactional openness of the human organism to the world, I cannot agree that the formation of the unconscious completely stops once a child gains some independence from its caregivers. Human (inter)dependency on others never disappears, even though it takes different forms throughout a personʼs life and even though it is true that human babies are particularly dependent on adults for their survival. Given that human dependency on others for their psychical and physical wellbeing is what enables the process of seduction to take place and given the fact this dependency continues, with variation, throughout human life, seduction cannot be said to end after infancy.

In my view, Laplancheʼs criticisms of Robinson Crusoeism and ipsocentrism mean that his classically psychoanalytic focus on early childhood should not be understood as an implicit dismissal of later childhood and even adulthood as irrelevant to the ʻcoreʼ of the unconscious. We can continue to use Laplancheʼs term ʻprimal seductionʼ to refer to the earliest, and probably most intense, period of transmission of enigmatic messages from the adult world to a child, but this term should not be taken to imply a sharp break between it and the seductions that take place later in life. This is not to say that attempts to (re)translate early enigmatic messages do not occur in later childhood and adulthood, but to argue that those attempts are accompanied by, and are most likely closely related to, additional moments of seduction that continue the initial formation of the unconscious.

I realize that these claims might seem to ʻwater downʼ the distinctively psychoanalytic elements of Laplancheʼs seduction theory. Refusing to treat the seductive line between infancy and later childhood (and even adulthood) as absolute might appear to make Laplancheʼs account too sociological, robbing it of its psychoanalytic foundations. I think, however, that this refusal is in the spirit of much of Laplancheʼs own work. In his embrace of culturalism and his rejection of a biological or otherwise inherited unconscious, for example, Laplanche has indicated his willingness to diverge from many ʻstandardʼ psychoanalytic doctrines. Even more to the point is Laplancheʼs emphasis on the ontological role that the environment plays in the psychosomatic constitution of human existence. This emphasis lends great support to, if not necessitates, the claim that seduction is an ongoing event in human life. With this emphasis, Laplanche has created a major tension within his theory: the claim that seduction (which is predicated on ontological permeability) ends after early childhood works against the claim that human beings are ontologically open to their environments. As I see it, the tension between these positions is best resolved by the view that seduction extends beyond infancy.

Why does it matter for critical race theory whether we think of the selfʼs relationship with the other as transactional? In my view, doing so is crucial to understanding both how categories of race and practices of racism help constitute the individual unconscious and how the raced and racist unconscious impacts the world around it. This impact can be for better or worse, and viewing the unconscious as transactional does not guarantee that it will be for the better. It does, however, increase the chances that the impact will be positive because it allows us to understand the unconscious as productive, rather than representational. [64] The unconscious remnants of messages that children misunderstand do not mirror or copy the adult world from which they originate. Laplanche clearly agrees, [65] but his account so emphasizes the psychical passivity of the infant that the active side of its unconscious tends to be neglected in his account, which blocks the asking of important questions about what is being produced by the unconscious and whether something different can be produced instead. The unconscious has powerful ʻexternalʼ effects, helping create the material, economic, social, political and cultural world in which we live. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of racism and white privilege.

That racism and white privilege often operate unconsciously does not, however, mean that they cannot be eliminated or mitigated. While no one can directly access his or her unconscious in a conscious intent to alter it, each of us can make at least some deliberate decisions about what sorts of environments we will inhabit and, through activism and other political work, attempt to transform. The particular environments we inhabit and work to change can indirectly impact what sorts of psychic ʻfoodʼ will be taken in for attempted digestion and repression. [66] The aim here, as Laplanche explains in a different context, is not to re-create an initial, ʻpureʼ stage of infancy prior to enigmatically racist messages. Rather, it is to detranslate (by both conscious and unconscious means) some of the initially misunderstood messages about race so that new translations and seductions might take place. [67]

This is not to suggest that we have unlimited access to and influence on the digestive remnants that compose the unconscious. Laplanche would argue that even though the unconscious is wholly created through an individualʼs engagements with her social and other environments, parts of it can and often do become so isolated that they are then functionally outside of societal reach. [68] I agree with Laplanche that one should not blithely assume that the process of transforming the unconscious will be easy or completely successful. And I think that in any particular situation, one will always run up against limits beyond which transformation cannot occur. But I cannot agree with the acontextual claim that there exists a segment of the unconscious that necessarily lies beyond the influence of the ʻexternalʼ world. Such an a priori declaration both assumes that we already know how much change the unconscious is capable of and discourages the concrete attempts at change that are the very means by which we might discover the limits of those attempts. In my view, rather than block those efforts, a psychoanalytically informed critical race theory should encourage them by heuristically asking, what are the current possibilities for and limits of the transformation of the unconscious built of remnants of white privilege? And it must insist that the answer to that question will only be given through the work of transformation itself.


Thanks to the editors and anonymous reviewers of this essay for helpful feedback on earlier drafts.

1. ^ Charles Mills, The Racial Contract, Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY, 1997, pp. 18, 93.

2. ^ Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks, Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Analysis of Race, Routledge, New York, 2000, p. 14.

3. ^ The few essays in English on Laplanche that target philosophers include the final chapter of Peter Osborne, Philosophy in Cultural Theory, Routledge, New York, 2000, and Philippe Van Haute, ʻFatal Attraction: Jean Laplanche on Sexuality, Subjectivity, and Singularity in the Work of Sigmund Freudʼ, Radical Philosophy 73, September/October 1995, pp. 5–12. See also the articles collected in a special issue on Laplanche in New Formations 48, 2003. Perhaps it is worth noting that before training with Lacan, Laplanche studied at the École Normale Supérieure with Merleau-Ponty and Hippolyte and received highest commendations on his Aggrégation de Philosophie (John Fletcher and Martin Stanton, ʻBiographical Sketchʼ, in John Fletcher and Martin Stanton, eds, Jean Laplanche: Seduction, Translation and the Drives, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1992, p. 225). See also ʻThe Other Within: An Interview with Jean Laplancheʼ, Radical Philosophy 102, July/August 2000, pp. 31–41.

4. ^ See, for example, Elizabeth Abel, ʻRace, Class, and Psychoanalysis? Opening Questionsʼ, in Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller, eds, Conflicts in Feminism, Routledge, New York, 1990, pp. 184–204; Michael Vannoy Adams, The Multicultural Imagination: ʻRaceʼ, Color, and the Unconscious, Routledge, New York, 1996; Gwen Berger, ʻPolitics and Pathologies:

On the Subject of Race in Psychoanalysisʼ, in Anthony C. Alessandrini, ed., Frantz Fanon: Critical Perspectives, Routledge, New York, 1999, pp. 219–34; Tina Chanter, ʻAbjection and Ambiguity: Simone de Beauvoirʼs Legacyʼ, Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 2, 2000, pp. 139–56; Sander L. Gilman, Freud, Race, and Gender, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1993; Christopher Lane, ed., The Psychoanalysis of Race, Columbia University Press, New York, 1998; Seshadri-Crooks, Desiring Whiteness; Shannon Sullivan, ʻThe Unconscious Life of Race: Freudian Resources for Critical Race Theoryʼ, forthcoming in Jon Mills, ed., Rereading Freud: Psychoanalysis through Philosophy, SUNY Press, Albany NY, 2004; and Elisabeth YoungBruehl, The Anatomies of Prejudice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1996.

5. ^ Shannon Sullivan, ʻEthical Slippages, Shattered Horizons, and the Zebra Striping of the Unconscious: Fanon on Social, Bodily, and Psychical Spaceʼ, forthcoming in Ronald Sundstrom, ed., Philosophy and Geography, Special Issue on Race, Space, and Place.

6. ^ Linda Martín Alcoff, ʻPhilosophy and Racial Identityʼ, Radical Philosophy 75, January/February 1996, p.

7. ^

7. ^ See, for example, Shannon Sullivan, Living Across and Through Skins: Transactional Bodies, Pragmatism and Feminism, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 2001; and, with a particular focus on race, Shannon Sullivan, ʻ(Re)construction Zone: Beware of Falling Statuesʼ, in William Gavin, ed., In Deweyʼs Wake: Unfinished Business of Pragmatist Reconstruction, SUNY Press,

Albany NY, 2003, pp. 109–27.

8. ^ Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann, Grove Press, New York, 1967, p. 11.

9. ^ Jean Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, Routledge, New York, 1999, pp. 73, 183, 108.

10. ^ Jean Laplanche, ʻThe Kent Seminar: 1 May 1990ʼ, in Fletcher and Stanton, eds, Jean Laplanche, p. 25.

11. ^ Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, Pocket Books, New York, 1972, pp. 15, 16.

12. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 136.

13. ^ Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, trans. David Macey, Basil Blackwell, Cambridge MA, 1989, pp. 142, 137, emphasis in original.

14. ^ Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, ed. and trans. James Strachey, W.W. Norton, New York, 1960, p. 20.

15. ^ Given this point of origination, the bodily surface that becomes internalized in the formation of the unconscious is not merely that of the infant. In some significant way, it also includes the body of the adult other. On this issue, see Laplanche, New Foundations, p. 49.

16. ^ Jean Laplanche, ʻThe Drive and its Object-Source: Its Fate in the Transferenceʼ, in Fletcher and Stanton, eds, Jean Laplanche, p. 188, emphasis in original.

17. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, pp. 171, 108.

18. ^ Laplanche, New Foundations, p. 124, emphasis in original.

19. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 226 n15.

20. ^ Ibid., pp. 127–8. It is important to note that even though it is Laplancheʼs favourite example of seduction, the breast is not necessarily a privileged site for that process.

Laplancheʼs example of the breast is not, in other words, a covert return to familialism: ʻThe example of the breast is perhaps only a fable, particularly for the modern child who increasingly has infrequent contact with it. It [merely] has the advantage of making clear on what basis the constitution of the first source-objects, these interiorized or rather introjected objects, occursʼ (p. 128).

21. ^ Laplanche, New Foundations, p. 91.

22. ^ Morrison, The Bluest Eye, pp. 19, 20, 21.

23. ^ Ibid., p. 62.

24. ^ Ibid., p. 22.

25. ^ For an early and prominent example of this claim in Western intellectual history, see Immanuel Kantʼs explanation of ʻwhy all Negroes stinkʼ (Kant, ʻOf the Different Human Racesʼ, in Robert Bernasconi and Tommy Lott, eds, The Idea of Race, Hackett, Indianapolis IN, 2000, p. 16). While I do not wish to neglect the particular histories of different races, the idea that nonwhite people have a racial smell specific to their race is a common feature of white racist domination. On the Jewsʼ alleged racial smell, see Robert Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1988, p. 78.

26. ^ Polish psychiatrist Antoni Kepínski, quoted in Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, Basic Books, New York, 1986, p. 147. For a description of the Roma (Gypsies) that links their alleged uncleanliness with their perceived blackness, see Helsinki Rights Watch, Struggling for Ethnic Identity: Czechoslovakiaʼs Endangered Gypsies, Human Rights Watch, New York, 1992, pp. 69, 84, 122.

27. ^ Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press,

New York, 1982, p. 69; Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1994, p. 192.

28. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 160.

29. ^ Ibid., p. 71.

30. ^ Laplanche, ʻThe Kent Seminarʼ, p. 21.

31. ^ See, for example, Jon Mills and Janusz A. Polanowski, The Ontology of Prejudice, Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1997, pp. 1,

11. ^ See also Lawrence A. Hirschfeld, Race in the Making: Cognition, Culture, and the Childʼs Construction of Human Kinds, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1996, which claims that us–them distinctions are biologically given, which do not have to result in racism but are the ineradicable foundation for it. For criticism of a similar problem in Young-Bruehlʼs The Anatomy of Prejudice, see Shannon Sullivan, ʻPragmatism, Psychoanalysis, and Prejudice: Elisabeth Young-Bruehlʼs The Anatomy of Prejudiceʼ, Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 15, no. 2, 2001, pp. 162–69.

32. ^ Laplanche, ʻThe Drive and Its Object-Sourceʼ, p. 190.

33. ^ Laplanche, New Foundations, p. 93.

34. ^ John Fletcher, ʻThe Letter in the Unconscious: The Engimatic Signifer in the Work of Jean Laplancheʼ, in Fletcher and Stanton, eds, Jean Laplanche, p. 104.

35. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 126. See also Laplanche, New Foundations, p. 75.

36. ^ Jean Laplanche, ʻInterview: Jean Laplanche Talks to Martin Stantonʼ, in Fletcher and Stanton, eds, Jean Laplanche, p. 10.

37. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 195.

38. ^ Laplanche, ʻThe Kent Seminarʼ, p. 36. See also p. 37.

Laplanche uses ʻimplantationʼ rather than ʻintrojectionʼ because he claims that introjection also is ipsocentric.

This is one reason why Laplanche would disagree with Kleinian theory, despite their shared emphases on the early months of infant psychical life and the infantʼs psychical taking in of (part of) the (m)other, especially the breast.

39. ^ Jean Laplanche, ʻThe Freud Museum Seminar: 3 May 1990ʼ, in Fletcher and Stanton, eds, Jean Laplanche, p. 57. This explains Laplancheʼs objection to phenomenology, which he views as attempting ʻto restore to the human being his quality of “first person” subjectʼ and ʻto find the intentionality of a subject at the heart of all psychical actsʼ (Essays on Otherness, p. 113).

40. ^ Patricia Williams, Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1997, p. 3.

41. ^ Ibid., p. 8.

42. ^ Ibid., pp. 8–9.

43. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 93. See also Laplanche, New Foundations, p. 103.

44. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 93 n24.

45. ^ Ibid., pp. 65, 114, 62 n21.

46. ^ Ibid., pp. 65, 114.

47. ^ In Strangers to Ourselves, Julia Kristeva does not soften the kernel, but she nonetheless risks collapsing the other into the self (Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans.

Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press, New York, 1991, especially pp. 1 and 192). Laplanche is critical of accounts of otherness, among which I think he would include Kristevaʼs, the ʻessential pointʼ of which is ʻto rediscover and recognize oneself in themʼ (Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 173).

48. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 44.

49. ^ Laplanche, New Foundations, p. 93.

50. ^ Ibid., p. 93, emphasis in original.

51. ^ Ibid., p. 103.

52. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, pp. 237–8, 237 n9. Laplancheʼs discussion here refers to four different levels of time – the time of the world, the time of the living being, the time of memory and the individual project, and the time of human history and society – not of self-preservation and seduction, per se. However, selfpreservation clearly is an instance of level II (the living being) while seduction is an instance of levels III and IV (the individual project and humanity as a whole). Levels III and IV are ʻclearly connectedʼ with level II in that the former are built upon the latter (just as level II is built upon level I), but that connection does not minimize their ʻshar[p] distinct[ion]ʼ. As Laplanche claims, ʻonly the relation between levels III and IV is more complex than the simple ideal of superimposition would suggestʼ (p. 237 n9).

53. ^ Laplanche, New Foundations, pp. 103–4; see also p. 108.

54. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, pp. 97, 212; New Foundations, p. 103.

55. ^ This issue points to a similar problem in Charles Millsʼs work: his depiction of white peopleʼs ignorance of racism as a psychical dysfunction. This characterization tends to suggest that there could exist a properly functioning psyche that would not have an unconscious and thus that the solution to unconscious racism is to (try to) eliminate the unconscious. For Laplancheʼs objection to the idea that the unconscious is pathological, see Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, pp. 70, 212.

56. ^ Osborne, Philosophy in Cultural Theory, p. 104. See also Jacqueline Lanouzière, ʻBreast-Feeding as Original Seduction and Primal Scene of Seductionʼ, New Formations, 2003, vol. 48, p. 54.

57. ^ Laplanche, New Foundations, pp. 89–90, emphasis in original.

58. ^ Ibid., p. 41.

59. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 73; emphasis in original. I omit the second reason because it is not relevant here. For the record, it is that ʻemphasizing “language” effaces the alterity of the other in favour of trans-individual structuresʼ (p. 73), a point discussed above.

60. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 154.

61. ^ Sigmund Freud, ʻ A Child Is Being Beatenʼ: A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversionsʼ, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey,

The Hogarth Press, London, 1955, vol. 17, pp. 183, 184.

62. ^ Carol Gilliganʼs In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Womenʼs Development, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1993, offers one of the bestknown criticisms of this developmental story. For criticisms that do not support gender stereotyping as Gilliganʼs account tends to do, see Lorraine Code, ʻNaming,

Naturalizing, Normalizing: “The Child” as Fact and Artifactʼ, in Patricia Miller and Ellin Scholnick, eds, Toward a Feminist Developmental Psychology, Routledge, New York, 2000, and Cynthia Willett, The Soul of Justice: Social Bonds and Racial Hubris, Cornell University Press,

Ithaca NY, 2001.

63. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 126.

64. ^ On this point, there are close and important connections between Laplancheʼs seduction theory and Deleuze and Guattariʼs account of the unconscious in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1983), and A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1987).

65. ^ Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 90.

66. ^ Laplanche emphasizes that the ʻbinding schemataʼ for the new translations are ʻnot invented out of the blue:

they are supplied … by an entire social and cultural environmentʼ (Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, p. 165).

67. ^ Ibid., pp. 164–65.

68. ^ Laplanche, ʻThe Drive and its Object-Sourceʼ, pp. 182, 191. These parts are what Freud calls the id. For Laplanche, Freud was right about the idʼs inaccessibility even though he wrongly argued the point based on the idʼs supposed origin in inherited memory traces.

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