The Melancholy of Race Revisited
Lecture and Book Discussion
Recent escalation in anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes in this country have given rise to vitriolic speech and unprovoked acts of violence targeting Asians in public places. How do we understand this phenomenon against the stereotype of Asian-Americans as the “model minority” in the U.S.? Anne Anlin Cheng will contextualize these alarming events within the long history of Asians in the U.S., as well as the larger history of American racial landscape. She will explore what psychoanalytic theory can teach us about the intersection of material history with the psychical and affective life of racism, what she calls America’s racial melancholia. She will thus revisit concepts from her groundbreaking interdisciplinary study, The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (2001), which has become a contemporary classic on the topic. In this text, she argues for the importance of distinguishing racial grief from racial grievance, and she asserts that racial grief is not only the result of racism, but also the foundation for racial identity. Drawing from psychoanalytic theories of mourning and melancholia, she suggests that the racial minority and dominant American culture both suffer from racial melancholia. According to Dr. Cheng, this insight is crucial to a productive reimagining of progressive politics. Together we will consider steps forward.
• Describe the context of the current escalation of anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes in the U.S.
• Define racial melancholia, including ways that psychoanalytic theory contributes to the concept.
• Identify steps that might be taken to help reduce racial prejudice and violence.
Presenter: Anne Anlin Cheng, PhD
Anne Anlin Cheng, PhD is Professor of English, and affiliated faculty in the Program in American Studies, the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, and the Committee on Film Studies at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. She is an interdisciplinary race scholar who focuses on the intersection between politics and aesthetics, drawing from literary theory, race and gender studies, film and architectural theory, legal studies, psychoanalysis, and critical food studies.
In addition to The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (2001), Dr. Cheng is author of Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface (2013) and, most recently, Ornamentalism (2021). Her work has appeared in journals such as Critical Inquiry, Representations, PMLA, Camera Obscura, Differences, among others. Dr. Cheng is also a contributor to New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Huffington Post.
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Butler, J. (1995). Melancholy gender—Refused identification. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 5(2):165-180.
Cheng, A. A. (2001). The melancholy of race: Psychoanalysis, assimilation, and hidden grief. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fanon. F. (1952/2008). Black skin, white masks. New York: Grove Press.
Freud, S. (1917/1977). Mourning and melancholia. In J. Strachey, Ed., Standard Edition, 14: 243-258.
Lasche, C. (1979). The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. New York: Norton.
Morrison, T. (1994). Playing in the dark. New York: Plume.
Ngai, M. (2014). Impossible subjects: Illegal Aliens and the making of modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Rogin, M. (1996). Blackface, white noise: Jewish immigrants in the Hollywood melting pot. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Steele, Claude M. (1999). Thin ice: ‘Stereotype threat’ and Black college students. Atlantic Monthly, 284. 2(August): 44-45.
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