Last updated: August 22, 2019
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In The Question of Lay Analysts (1926). Freud suggested that wc need not feel ashamed of our ignorance of female sexuality, for “after all. the sexual life of adult women is a ‘dark continent”’ (43). This statement has become a rallying point for feminists who, chagrined by the implication of their irrationality, mysteriousness, and amorality. have challenged and revised the basic tenets of psychoanalysis.’ However, what feminists have largely ignored in their discussion of Freudian theory are the cultural and racial particularities of the metaphor of the “dark continent.” In not raising the question of racial difference with regard to irrational and mysteri- ous “others” (Africans and Orientals) in theories of subject formation, feminism both reproduces and reifies Freud’s insouciance regarding (gender) difference.

How then docs a Third World academic feminist address the twinned disciplines of feminism and psychoanalysis? In the following, I consider the possibility of a political use of psychoanalysis in a Third World feminist context—specifically that of India—and the necessary revisions that this appropriation would expect of these two disciplines. In attempting to grapple with these issues, I found it necessary to address the structural factors within Freud’s theory that make it difficult for a nonmale. non-European person to speak as an analyst; however, woman as such, who is the occasion for this piece, does not emerge clearly as a subject.

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In her essay “The Political Economy of Women as Seen by a literary Critic,” Gayatri Spivak suggests that it is the task of the (feminist) literary critic to “read work in other disciplines, however quantified or ‘empiricist’ their approach might be,’’ in order to “flesh out” their researches “with considerations of the Third World female sub-proletariat [whom Spivak names as the paradigmatic subject of post-modern neocolonialism] as subject” (226). Remarking the fact that the only available theories of the constitution of subjectivity happen to be either psychoanalytic or counterpsychoanalytic, she poses the problem of access to the subproletar- iat woman in the Third World. Spivak then recommends some preliminary moves to overcome the impasse:

I think we might begin by looking at the insertion of institutional psychoanalysis into these countries. For institutional psychoanalysis can be a latter-day support of what I have earlier called cpistcmic violence. . .. This study will not single women out, because men in Third World contexts are also the victims of strategic exclusions from psychoanalytic normativity. In the Indian context, for example, the works of V. S. Naipaul (India: A Wounded Civilization) and Sudhir Kakar are examples of this sorry state of affairs. This investigation will also not lake you very close to the kind of women I am invoking but… it will tell you where the use of psychoanalytic cate- gories might themselves become the mark of a foreclosure.(226-27)

In what follows, this essay largely works through Spivak’s disciplinary suggestions. In doing so, it also discloses the impossibility of using psychoanalysis (or ethnopsvchology) to describe the subpro-Ictariat woman as an already constituted, thus wholly accessible subject. As theory, a discussion of psychoanalysis in India* can only speak of the inscription of the investigator herself as the subject of knowledge who represents the subject positions of a chosen constituency as a text.

Broadly speaking, for an Indian, the very possibility of utilizing Freudian models of subjectivity is obstructed in at least two important ways. Firstly, in terms of institutional history, psychoanalysis in India has been supplanted by a quantifying psychology of neurological or sociological phenomena that largely forecloses any discussion of the constitution of subjectivity. This situation, I will argue, is not only part of a more general fate of psychoanalysis but more particularly also a symptom of the untenability of the theory for Indian analysts. Secondly, Freuds Totem and Taboo (1913) and his other writings on culture exemplify the tendency within psychoanalysis, as I will show, to pathologize cultural difference. Psychoanalysis, in pertaining to non-Western countries, is always imbricated with anthropology (as ethnopsychology), which largely precludes the specificity (and thus normativity) of the object of study. ‘I’he above two factors raise for the non-Western analyst the cardinal question of access to theory: Hfto can legitimately lay claim to psychoanalytical knowledge?” How is the discourse of the analyst authorized? I will show not only the manner in which psychoanalysis has historically assumed a certain identity of the analyst but also the way in which this assumption has served to exclude the non-Western analyst from theory or has demanded a réinscription of his/her subjectivity in consonance with Freudian (cultural) ideology. I will argue that this exclusion need not mean that we should jettison psychoanalysis since it is perhaps our most elaborate language of subject constitution. One way of negotiating this predicament is through history. We can use the history of psychoanalysis as a prong, not against theory, but “to open it up,” as Nicholas Rand and Maria Torok suggest, in order to discover omissions, contradictions, and repressions.

In their essay “The Secret of Psychoanalysis: History Reads Theory,” Rand and Torok argue that:

the contradiction between the theoretical aims and the historical development of psychoanalysis may point toward a moment of contact. An encounter, not a confrontation, between history and theory would oflfcr the possibility of generating internal criticism within psychoanalysis itself. The critique of Freudian psychoanalysis emerges from a consideration of psychoanalysis and its most fundamental theoretical concerns. The theory’ itself cannot be considered comprehensive unless it includes the history of its creation and of its dissemination. Consequently, the history of psychoanalysis finds itself in the role of reader and analyst: history reads theory and in so doing forces the latter to modify its framework, llte originality of this analysis resides precisely in the methodological proposition that the theoretical future of our field of inquiry cannot be divorced from the study and conceptual integration of its history. (72-73)

Rand and Torok’s project provides a model for women within decolonization to access psychoanalytic theory critically by using its history, in this case the specific history of its emergence in India, to pry open its hermetic theory of civilization and rationality, founded on a Manichcan opposition” between self and other. This approach will also disclose gaps between dominant and minority feminists in their respective critiques and uses of psychoanalysis. In w hat follows, I briefly survey the history of psychoanalysis in India and look at the specific relationship between Freud and Girindrashekar Bose, the president of the Indian Psychoanalytic Society, as disclosed in the published fragments of their correspondence. As a critique, I offer the thesis that the exclusion of the non-VVestern analyst is largely founded on Freud’s (tenuous) theories of culture and his delineation of the civilized man as a monotheistic subject progressing toward secularism. Finally, I attempt to theorize the mental processes of the subject as polytheist’3 into “civilization.” Such a model of the polytheistic imagination offers a wray of understanding historical change in (patriarchal) ideology and gender relations that is specific to Indian culture and women.

History as Theory

The Place of Psychoanalysis in India

The history of psychoanalysis in India is an instructive one for postcolonials in general. Durganand Sinha in his Psychology m a Third World Coutitry: The Indian Experience (1986) quite rightly regards the emergence of (Western) psychology in India as a consequence of colonialism: “of the general process of the westernization of education—a process that was unleashed by the famous  Minute [on Indian education] of Lord Macaulay” (10). Like other psychologists working in India, Sinha briefly alludes to an indigenous psychological tradition that dates back at least to the Upant- shads. The existence of this ancient knowledge of human drives, he suggests, provided a congenial climate for the introduction of psychoanalysis in its scientistic incarnation. However, Sinha quotes extensively from Macaulay’s Minute to show’ that this new knowledge worked mostly to supplant and discredit the indigenous forms. He states:

It is against this general background of domination of western knowledge and neglect and denial of Indian wisdom and tradition of indigenous learning that the introduction of scientific psychology in India is to be viewed and its process of growth understood. (11-13)

This statement, which comes fairly early in the book, is in a way representative of the ambivalence (or suppressed resentment) that marks the Indian psychologist’s attitude toward his field. An uneasy truce prevails between so-called modern “scientific” psychology and older “intuitive” ways of knowing. The two systems arc perceived to be in opposition, and the particular direction of psy- chological research in India has done very little to dismantle this deadening and colonialist paradigm. For instance, H. S. Asthana in his ICSSR survey of research on personality10 refers to the vast stores of theories of self in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, but suggests that these remain untapped due to the mutual ignorance of Sanskrit scholars and modern psychologists. He goes on to assert:

The situation remains thus, partly because a study of these texts is not considered “modern”, it is not the “in-thing” ap- proved in western psychology… . Lack of adequate knowl- edge of the classical language, and a fear of stigmatization by fellow psychologists as a reversion to philosophy or romantic revivalism not only discourages but also prevents any effort from yielding fruitful results. Coupled with it, is the need for approval from the western psychologist, although perhaps the latter would welcome any such initiative. (I, 156)

Asthana (quite rightly) describes the Indian psychologist as a creature driven by the fear of not being “scientific” enough, and de- pendent on the approval of his Western counterparts. While the discourse of modern science has long since established itself as nomological, in India at least other discourses of reasoning continue to survive as discredited, though unconsciously influential forces. For Indian psychologists, this means a compulsion to disavow their traditions and prove their assimilation of scientific concepts. Thus, as even a glance at the contents of the Indian Journal of Psychology over a period of 20 years or as the accounts of Sinha and the ICSSR surveys of psychological research prove, psychology in In- dia is largely hard empirical analysis set in opposition to indigenous metaphysics.

However, while Indian psychologists have been aware of this confining opposition, their response has been mostly reactionary or nativist. Their discomfort has not been directed toward a radical examination of epistemological paradigms, but mainly toward translating (or updating) the philosophical texts into modern psychology. For example, Janak Pandey notes:

More than two decades ago, D. Sinha acknowledged the importance of western influence on the birth of “scientific” psy- chology in India, and argued for a vigorous scientific psychol- ogy rooted in the Indian context. (3, 341)


Paranjpc . .. has also attempted to demonstrate the potentialities and strength of the Vedantic system of thought as a general theory of human nature or personality. It may not be surprising that in the near future such work will lead to the adoption and development of a formal theory of personality using con- temporary idioms, phrases, terms, and operational definitions to provide the possibility of empirical hypotheses testing. (3, 346)

One can only agree with Ashis Nandy who, in a valuable essay in the Indian Journal of Psychology, says: “Indian psychology’ has become not merely imitative and subservient but also dull and replicative. . . . The real culprit is the anachronistic concept of science  among Indian psychologists” (5). Significantly, psychoanalysis as such, as a mediator between empiricism and speculation, is quite marginal and practiced by a meager few. Though Freudian analy- sis made an impact when it was first introduced in India, its influence, even in this narrow circle, soon waned, and was replaced by the theories of Melanie Klein and now Erik Erikson, who is perceived as a revisionist.

Psychology in India was from the beginning wholly experimental and behavioristic.1* In fact, as Pandey, citing at least three- sources, states, “(p)rcoccupation with psychological tests is quite traditional in India” (3, 342). The first psychological laboratory was established at Calcutta University in 1915. The early influences were William Wundt and his successors, Munsterberg and Tichtner. The latter’s laboratory at Cornell supplied the model for the Indian ones at Calcutta, Mysore, and Dacca (D. Sinha 14). The claim of psychology to science has a special significance in the colo- nial context. Insofar as it claimed to be a supposedly “objective or neutral” field, it could provide a place for the non-Western analyst/ scientist. However, my argument is that Indian psychology’ took the direction it did toward scientificity, not only because of colonial domination or because it afforded easy admission into the discipline, but also because Freudian psychoanalysis could not be credibly practiced by Indians. Despite Freud’s claims, his theories were not perceived as being objective and universal that is, as a science—that supposedly anyone could master or practice.

This scientistic trend, in fact, has not changed very much. In his survey, Sinha identifies four phases of psychological research in India. He names them chronologically as the phases of imitation, expansion, problem-oriented research, and indigenization. Regarding the first “phase of imitation,” which held up to 1947 or independence, Sinha is largely dismissive despite the contributions of Bose and the establishment of the Indian Psychoanalytic Society. The following phase of expansion (up to the early sixties), according to Sinha, was the period of seeking approval from the West: “(mjany psychometric techniques, both for measuring intel- ligence and personality, such as the Progressive Matrices, Bell and Bernreuter inventories, were either directly translated into various regional languages or were used with only minor modifications” (38). During the next phase of problem-oriented research, there  was an emphasis on issues of regional concern such as national development, population, and student unrest.

This was also ap- parently the period when new psychometric models were developed to measure specifically Indian problems in the workplace and society at large. In other words, as with previous phases, industrial and social psychology held sway, but the field was augmented by more socially relevant research in educational, developmental, and clinical psychology. Finally, Sinha names the phase of indigenization as beginning in the early seventies. Interestingly, however, indigenization is described by him as follows:

One striking feature of this phase so far as the study of developmental processes is concerned, is the gradual setting aside of the Freudian model and the acceptance of the social learning model. Also, in many of the studies, instead of psychometric tools, “near-ethnographic” studies were conducted, observ- ing and interviewing parents and children in informal and natural settings. (69-70)

Commenting on this trend toward indigenization or social rele- vance, Ashis Nandy says: “Our search for relevance has been as imitative as are the present demands for relevance in the country. All that has happened is that we have studied caste like race, communalism like antisemitism and untouchables like American blacks” (8). Nandy in the same essay, after a scaring attack on the trend toward quantification and pseudoscientism, invokes Freud- ian psychoanalysis (and the work of “intellectual dissidents” such as Marcuse. Laing. and Fanon) to say:

(R)eflective work in our discipline is assumed to be something which one earns the right to do only after a life’s toil in the field or laboratory. It is for many of us, a sure indicator of old age if not senility. In a society which is at the receiving end in the world of science, this lacuna in the discipline has spelt devastation. One result is an uncritical disciplinary culture which equates theoretical work with wool-gatheting. (10)