This essay examines three texts that were published in 1950: Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Adorno et al.’s The Authoritarian Personality, and Octave Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. I use these texts to examine critical theory’s colonial unconscious through its silence on the colonial problem and the marshaling of psychoanalysis to justify colonialism. In its first part I look into how Césaire’s Discourse challenges Adorno’s historiographical narratives, civilizational units of analysis, conceptual building blocks, and modality of critique in The Authoritarian Personality. I then engage Césaire’s critique of Mannoni’s deployment of psychoanalysis to account for the dependency of the colonized on the colonizer. I conclude by highlighting how both Adorno’s notions of the liquidation of the individual by an increasingly standardized society and colonial notions of weak individuality (Mannoni) rely on a psychoanalytic notion of ego weakness. These critical diagnoses lamenting the deficit of individuals, which no longer exist in a late capitalist era characterized by standardization in the metropoles or have not yet come into being as they are still entangled in culture in the peripheries, foreclose the possibility of emancipatory political practice and internationalist solidarity by excising revolutionary subjects and their practices from the domain of the political.
Césaire with Adorno: Critical Theory and the Colonial Problem
Fadi A. Bardawil is an assistant professor of contemporary Arab cultures and global studies in the Department of Asian Studies and adjunct assistant professor of French and Francophone studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research examines the international circulation of social theory and the traditions of critical inquiry of contemporary Arab intellectuals, both at home and in the diaspora. His writings have appeared in boundary 2, Journal of Palestine Studies (Arabic edition), Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Kulturaustausch, Jadaliyya, al-Akhbar (2006–11), Ma3azef.com, and the Syrian ezine Al-Jumhuriya. He is completing a book currently titled “Emancipation Binds: Arab Revolutionary Marxism, Disenchantment, Critique.”
Fadi A. Bardawil; Césaire with Adorno: Critical Theory and the Colonial Problem. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 October 2018; 117 (4): 773–789. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-7165857
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