They Refused to Tell Me Their Dreams: Psychoanalysis, Colonialism, Trans

‘I have some Garos as my tenants. Though otherwise very obedient and docile, they refused to tell me their dreams.’ Tarun Chandra Sinha, ‘Dreams of the Garos’

‘When you have cut down all the trees and mined all the mountains, when you have analysed all your dreams, there will be nothing left for you to break. The Earth then will be a rubbish dump, a vast trans body dismembered and devoured. The bodies of the colonists and your bodies, esteemed psychoanalysts, will be buried with the trans organs you have taken from us.’ Paul Preciado, ‘Can the Monster Speak’

In 2019, Paul B. Preciado gave a speech to 3,500 psychoanalysts gathered in Paris. Published this year in English as Can the Monster Speak, Preciado’s essay draws an analogy between the trans body and a colony. He concludes by asking for an ‘epistemic transition’ in psychoanalysis, a reckoning with the ‘patriarchal-colonial’ regime that underpins it. Episodes from the history of psychoanalysis as it was practiced in colonial India in the early twentieth century can be read for the ways in which they stage the very concerns that animate Preciado’s recent critique of psychoanalysis.

Drawing upon a history of colonial experiments with psychoanalysis—in Quetta, Calcutta, and at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, this paper considers whether some of this history may now be repeating itself in psychoanalytic responses to questions of trans. Then, as now, fantasies of progress and evolution are at stake, as is Freud’s account of sexuality.

Dr. Akshi Singh is postdoctoral research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, in the faculties of History and English & Drama, and a clinical trainee at the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research, London. Her doctoral work drew upon literary and anthropological writing to explore the history of psychoanalysis in colonial India, and the conceptual place of the primitive in psychoanalytic theory. She is currently writing a book about the psychoanalyst Marion Milner, titled Weather in the Soul.

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