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Freud and the Chinese Diaspora

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Organizer: Nan Da

Co-Organizer: Amy Wong

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Diasporic trauma has a fraught relationship to Freud’s basic insight that historical pain expresses itself psychosomatically. Displacement-- the transference of pain and its psychic freefalls from one site to another triggered by conscious and unconscious censorship-- remains an enduringly important heuristic for the Chinese diaspora in particular. Objects withdrawn from consciousness creates a nameless loss, a loss transferred to the ego that then drains “like an open wound… to the point of complete impoverishment.” This back-engineering of distorted causality is important for any paranoid or reparative approach to the Chinese diaspora, anyone whose experience of it begins in historical amnesia. Whether that historical amnesia is designed by the state or caused by the inevitable cultural losses of migration, the diasporic subject often learns about her personal and collective history in the form of the claustrophobic cavities described by psychoanalytic theory: repetition compulsion, the mislaying of blame, unaccountable forms of abuse, as well as more advanced adaptive responses such as confabulation and false memories.



Psychoanalysis is one of the surest paths back to repressed history, if not the sturdiest. First you notice something is wrong about the hysteric's symbolic or direct communication of past events-- some distortion that painfully isolates the hysteric as a singular case when the hysteric is convinced it's not just her but a collective event. In the case of the Chinese diaspora the hysterical case has a collective history, but the membership, size, and nature of that collective are often under strong contention among the members of that community. While chasing after suffering through psychoanalytic cues often proves the right thing to do for case under study, psychoanalysis in liberal democratic societies often appears to the diasporic subject as an Orestian sacrifice: in exchange for therapeutic/juridical resolution you have to stop asking after responsible parties, and give up an exact account of cause and effect (who did this to you/ what precise historical, political, and personal events caused you to become insane?).



This seminar invites papers proposing fresh ways to sift Freudian psychoanalysis and its 20th and 21st century practices and interpretations for Chinese immigrants and Chinese diasporic subjects. Contributors are welcome to submit readings (of literary examples of the dilemmas/conundrums named above); deepen or reject the conflict named above through readings of Freud or Chinese diasporic/ transpacific practitioners of psychoanalysis; revisit the reception and dissemination of Freud in Chinese transnational philosophy or diasporic thought; engage contemporary theorists of China and Freud.


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