Dark Continents

Psychoanalysis and Colonialism

Dark Continents

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: Published: April 2003

Author: Ranjana Khanna

Postcolonial and Colonial Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory, Psychoanalytic Theory

Sigmund Freud infamously referred to women's sexuality as a “dark continent” for psychoanalysis, drawing on colonial explorer Henry Morton Stanley’s use of the same phrase to refer to Africa. While the problematic universalism of psychoanalysis led theorists to reject its relevance for postcolonial critique, Ranjana Khanna boldly shows how
bringing psychoanalysis, colonialism, and women together can become the starting point of a postcolonial feminist theory. Psychoanalysis brings to light, Khanna argues, how nation-statehood for the former colonies of Europe institutes the violence of European imperialist history. Far from rejecting psychoanalysis, Dark Continents reveals its importance as a reading practice that makes visible the psychical strife of colonial and
postcolonial modernity. Assessing the merits of various models of nationalism, psychoanalysis, and colonialism, it refashions colonial melancholy as a transnational feminist ethics.

Khanna traces the colonial backgrounds of psychoanalysis from its beginnings in the late nineteenth century up to the present. Illuminating Freud’s debt to the languages of archaeology and anthropology throughout his career, Khanna describes how Freud altered his theories of the ego as his own political status shifted from Habsburg loyalist to Nazi victim. Dark Continents explores how psychoanalytic theory was taken up in Europe and its colonies in the period of decolonization following World War II, focusing on its use by a range of writers including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Octave Mannoni, Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, René Ménil, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Wulf Sachs, and Ellen Hellman. Given the multiple gendered and colonial contexts of many of these writings, Khanna argues for the necessity of a postcolonial, feminist critique of
decolonization and postcoloniality.


"Dark Continents attempts to recuperate a psychoanalysis that speaks to history. It is written within and for the discipline of postcolonial theory . . . . But it speaks as well to psychoanalysis. It offers a perhaps welcome opportunity for the profession's self-reflection as we begin our second century. As psychoanalysis has been helpful to the academic thought, so here from the academy a hand has perhaps been extended, which we might take on the way to renewing a psychoanalysis that is socially and culturally engagé." — Muriel Dimen, International Journal of Psychoanalysis

"[T]his book deserves to be widely read and will hopefully stimulate further work in the field." — Ben Grant, Wasafiri

"This forward-looking work should be read by all those interested in the history of intellectual ideas, cultural studies, and the cultural application of psychoanalytic ides past, present, and future. Essential." — R. H. Balsam , Choice

"This well-written, intelligent and thoughtful book is a symptomatic study of psychoanalysis and its relationship to colonialism and post-colonialism. . . . [P]ersuasive, impressive, and engaging and is a must for anyone interested in psychoanalysis or post-colonialism." — Coral Houtman , Leonardo Reviews

“Ranjana Khanna articulates and outlines a transnational feminist ethics. Such an ethics is badly needed and awaited with eagerness by many. Dark Continents is, indeed, a terrific integration of psychoanalytic thought with postcolonial and feminist politics by way of a critical intimacy with the combined ethics of ambiguity and difference.“ — Mieke Bal, University of Amsterdam


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ranjana Khanna is Assistant Professor of English and Literature and Affiliate in Women’s Studies at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Worlding Psychoanalysis 1


1. Psychoanalysis and Archaeology 33

2. Freud in the Sacred Grove 66

Colonial Rescriptings

3. War, Decolonization, Psychoanalysis 99

4. Colonial Melancholy 145

Haunting and the Future

5. The Ethical Ambiguities of Transnational Feminism 207

6. Hamlet in the Colonial Archive 231

Coda: The Lament 269

Notes 275

Index 303
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3067-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3055-4
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