The shadow of difference: Sex, race, and the unconscious
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This dissertation draws on the psychoanalytic concept of sexual difference to offer a new model for reading the interrelationship between gender, sexuality, and race. I attempt to show that racial symbols (e.g., blackness and whiteness) can function to represent the opposition between the sexes in the unconscious, and that this sheds light on: (1) why sexuality is invariably racialized and race sexualized; (2) the underlying sexual nature of racial conflict; (3) the way in which various representations of race substitute for or try to evade problems arising from sexual identity, generally, and female sexuality, specifically, and; (4) the reasons why individuals are affectively invested in sexual and racial discourses. In Chapter 1 I address the limitations of the current historicist approach to theorizing the relationship between gender, sexuality, and race. I attempt to show how a Lacanian concept of sexual difference responds to these limitations, and I explain how subjects' relation to their own internal alterity influences their investment in gender and racial norms. I explore how race can serve to disguise the non-meaning and alterity sex introduces into the subject, and how racial signifiers can assume the burden of representing the difference between the sexes in the unconscious. In Chapter 2 I look to the structure and dynamics of paranoia to illuminate how and why race comes to assume this burden. Drawing on Freud's and Lacan's theories of paranoia as well as Eric Santner's work, I examine the crucial function symbolic identifications assume in stabilizing an individual's body image and gender and sexual identity. In periods characterized by an erosion of cultural narratives and symbolic bonds these identifications weaken, as does their protective and stabilizing function. I argue that in such instances race assumes the same function for a culture as the paranoid delusion does for the psychotic subject: it repairs the rent in the symbolic and restabilizes the subject's bodily ego and gender and sexual identity by reinscribing the boundary between subject and Other. In Chapter 3 I draw on the argument in the previous chapter to account for the emergence of a concept of race during the eighteenth century. I argue that race emerges as a philosophical and scientific concept at this time to stabilize bodily and sexual boundaries destabilized by contract theory's rejection of patriarchalism. Drawing on the work of Thomas Laqueur, I show how the shift from a one- to two-sex model during this time requires the third category of race, and how the condensation of the woman and racial other is intrinsic to the development of both sexual dimorphism and the category of race. In Chapter 4 I examine American miscegenation discourse both before and following the Civil War to show how the instability of racial difference destabilizes gender hierarchies and disrupts man's fantasy of woman. I argue that the emergence of the myth of the black male rapist at this moment can be interpreted as a symptom of unconscious fantasies and anxieties about female sexuality. Through readings of Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman as well as the film The Birth of a Nation , I explore how the criminalization of black male sexuality functions to repress feminine sexuality by displacing the threat presented by female desire onto the figure of the black male.