Cheng, Anne Anlin. “The Melancholy of Race.” The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 3-29. Print.
In her essay Cheng emphasizes the need to explore the implications of racial grief. She asserts that historically there has been too much reliance on “material or quantifiable terms to articulate that injury,” problematically overlooking its more immaterial, psychic ramifications (6). Cheng suggests that in light of the dominant white ideal that pervades US society, those individuals who cannot fight within that paradigm must undergo a “painful negotiation…at some point if not continually, with the demands of that social ideality” (7). Cheng further articulates the need to explore how people are themselves deeply implicit and invested in maintaining certain racial categories.
Cheng also offers a helpful discussion of Freud’s essay, “Mourning and Melancholia.” She asserts that Freud defines “mourning” as “a healthy response to loss; it is finite in character and accepts substitution” whereas “melancholia” is “pathological; it is interminable in nature and refuses substitution (7, 8). But Cheng emphasizes that even as the melancholic subject is obsessed with what it has lost, it also consumes and obtains nourishment from that loss, which becomes subsumed as a part of its identity. She asserts that “melancholia does not simply denote a condition of grief but is rather, a legislation of grief” (8). Cheng, notes, however, that feeding on this loss is painful, inspiring within the melancholic subject, feelings of “resentment and degradation for the lost object with which he or she is identifying” (9). Cheng goes on to describe the complex psychic dynamics of the melancholic subject: “First, the melancholic must deny loss as loss in order to sustain the fiction of possession. Second, the melancholic would have to make sure that the ‘object’ never returns, for such a return would surely jeopardize the cannibalistic project” (9).
She accentuates that this configuration of melancholia is helpful in understanding “American racial dynamics.” Cheng suggests, for example, that the dominant white ideal of America excludes but simultaneously retains racialized “others” as “lost” to true “American” identity. These racialized others are also “uneasily digested by…American nationality” because they reveal perverse contradiction in the ideas of freedom and democracy the United States was founded on in the first place (10). Cheng ultimately asserts the productivity of melancholia as a theoretical tool because it “accounts for the guilt and denial of guilt, the blending of shame and omnipotence in the racist imaginary” (12). She also critiques reductive declarations of internalized racial, ethnic self-hatred, accentuating that the psychic dynamics of minority figures are much more complex and often fraught with conflicting, contradictory emotions. Cheng particularly turns to literature to conduct her study because as “cultural texts” they are especially helpful in “teas[ing] out the complex social etiology behind the phenomenon of racial grief” (15).
Cheng emphasizes that analysis of melancholia with respect to raced subjects must extend beyond the term’s vernacular association with sadness. She defines “racial melancholia” as “a sign of rejection and as a psychic strategy in response to that rejection” (20). For the purposes of her study, Cheng focuses on the racialization of African Americans in the United States as well as Asian Americans because they occupy an uncanny place in the history of American racial dynamics, falling outside the Manichean black-white politics of race. Cheng further notes that the socio-economic success that Asian Americans have achieved in the US has problematically precluded the study of them as raced subjects, fueling a potentially more insidious form of racism. She asserts that “the racialization of Asian Americans is some ways more apparently melancholic than that of African Americans in American history in the sense that the history of virulent racism directed against Asians and Asian Americans has been at once consistently upheld and denied” through configurations such as the “yellow peril” and “model minority” stereotype (23).
Cheng ultimately claims that viewing race through the framework of melancholia productively reveals its instability “indebtedness to the dis-identity it is also claiming” (24). She emphasizes that an examination of the psychical implications of racial injury will allow for a new politics of loss that moves beyond simple identity politics to also embrace dis-identity politics and eventually open up new pathways to assert individual agency. In this way, Cheng suggests that we can resolve the troubling acceptance of African American or Asian American as identity labels, which simultaneously recalls a history of racialization.
Finally Cheng concludes her essay by asserting the value of psychoanalysis as a theoretical framework of her study, insisting that “the politics of race has always spoken in the language of psychology” (28). She further emphasizes that “the psychoanalytic perspective teaches us to be attentive to the disjunctive and retroactive hauntedness of history,” which can be wielded for political action today” (28).
Eng, David L. “Introduction.” Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Durham: Duke UP, 2001. 1-34. Print.
In his “Introduction,” Eng asserts that his book will explore how gender and sexuality influences the racialization of Asian American men, who are often conceived and represented as emasculated figures in the American popular imagination and culture. Eng explains that his title is drawn from Freud’s concept of “fetishism,” or “a psychic process whereby the man attempts to obviate the trauma of sexual difference by seeing at the site of a female body a penis that is not there to see” (2). Substituting the female “other” with the Asian American male, Eng calls attention to the refusal to recognize the Asian American penis that is actually there, leading to what he terms as an act of “racial castration” (2). Eng offers the relationship between Gallimard and Song in David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly as an example to substantiate his theoretical framework. Eng further notes that rather than being fetishistic and singular, this feminized conception of Asian American men has been problematically “normalized” (3).
Eng ultimately attempts to address through his book the oversight in psychoanalytic criticism, where scholars have traditionally ignored the intersection between race and sexuality. While psychoanalysis has been helpfully deployed in feminist and queer studies, Eng challenges its theoretical limitations by proposing new discursive parameters for psychoanalysis as a critical tool in race and more specifically Asian American studies. He stresses the pertinence of this connection by calling attention to how race has always been an important feature of Freud’s work. Eng cites, for example, the representation of the “primitive” in Totem and Taboo, who was distinguished and an “other” to the civilized European society because of his inferior sexual development as well as his “dark origins” which also connotes a “visual darkness” (8). Eng also discusses “On Narcissism: An Introduction” where Freud suggests that individuals are driven to repress their homosexual urges and assimilate to the dominant heteronormative society in order to claim legitimate membership in the family, class, or nation. Freud asserts that “modern, ‘civilized’ European political formations like family class and nation can be understood, in part on the basis of study of colonized subjects figured as pre-modern ‘primitives’” (12). Eng emphasizes that in this framework, colonized societies are posited as homosexual while heterosexuality is implicitly tied with whiteness.
In his book, Eng attempts to essentially address the gap in Asian American studies, where focus on “female subjectivity and gender” has led to an overlooking of “Asian American male subjectivity, and in particular, homosexuality” (15). He cites Immigrant Acts in which Lisa Lowe argues that specific juridical measures have worked to gender Asian American males. Eng notes, for example, how Asian American immigrant males have traditionally worked in professions stereotypically conceived as “feminine” such as “laundries, restaurants, [and] tailor’s shops,” demonstrating how economic class systems further contribute to the gendering of this group (17). Eng also mentions the “antimiscegnation and exclusion laws” that prohibited the immigration of Asian American women, leading to the creation of “Chinatowns as exclusive ‘bachelor communities’” (17). He suggests that these are ultimately “‘queer’ spaces institutionally barred from normative (hetero)sexual reproduction, nuclear family formations, and entitlements to community” (18). Eng therefore asserts that discussion of “‘deviant’ sexuality” is not just important to those individuals who openly identify as “queer, gay, or lesbian” because historical processes and political juridical measures have rendered a much greater part of the Asian American population “queer,” marginalized and excluded from full American citizenship status (18).
In his “Introduction” Eng also offers a helpful history of gender critique in Asian American studies. He challenges the way the editors of Aiiieeeee! attempted to reclaim Asian American male masculinity by reinforcing the same problematic heterosexual sexist paradigms that stimulated the movement in the first place (21). Eng also argues that the localization of major debates about gender and sexuality in Asian American studies behind the figures of Frank Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston has served to further problematically marginalize the homosexual Asian American male from critical consideration.
Finally, Eng concludes that another prominent focus of his book is the psychological ramifications for those Asian American males who attempt to assimilate to the dominant heternormative, masculinist, white racist society. He suggests that this requires the development of complex physic formations where the Asian American male must “simultaneously recognize and not recognize the material contradictions of institutionalized racism that claim his inclusion even as he is systematically excluded” (22). Eng is therefore interested in not only how the dominant white hegemonic society but also how Asian American men themselves are invested and implicated in furthering the stereotype of emasculation.