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Leary, K. (1998). Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, and Feminism. Edited by Elizabeth Abel, Barbara Christian, and Helene Moglen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, 390 pp., $48.00 hardcover, $17.95 paperback. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(4):1291-1294.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(4):1291-1294

Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, and Feminism. Edited by Elizabeth Abel, Barbara Christian, and Helene Moglen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, 390 pp., $48.00 hardcover, $17.95 paperback

Review by:
Kimberlyn Leary

Female Subjects in Black and White, an edited volume of sixteen essays, is in many ways a formidable piece of interdisciplinary scholarship. The book is an outgrowth of a 1992 conference, “Psychoanalysis in African American Contexts,” held at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The authors—all professors in the humanities—bring together psychoanalysis, feminist criticism, and African American studies to interrogate female subjectivity in the context of race and racial politics.

A collection such as this affords the reader an extraordinary opportunity, as few forums exist in which psychoanalysis, gender, and race may engage in serious conversation. In clinical psychoanalysis, for example, the racialized subjectivity of African American women is an understudied topic, often neglected altogether. The editors are to be commended for their effort to generate a set of papers that they intend as an invitation to collaborative dialogue.

The problem is that few analysts are likely to use this book to join the colloquy. The reason is that Female Subjects is primarily a literary text. Most of the essays in the book employ an academic style of argumentation that is at best elliptical, at worst needlessly cryptic. The unfortunate result is that the book on first reading will probably be impenetrable to most clinical analysts. The authors also assume a reader who is conversant with Lacanian psychoanalysis, as well as with French and American feminism.

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