The Subaltern Clinic

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Khan, Azeen


Khanna, Ranjana

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The Subaltern Clinic explores a certain legacy of unreason that Sigmund Freud identified throughout the course of his writings as the "death drive," or the compulsion to repeat. In Freud's work, the death drive is often thought as the opposite of the pleasure principle, which situates the pleasure-unpleasure binary at the center of psychoanalytical thinking and Freud's conceptualization of the psyche as well as morality, ethics, and civilization. The Subaltern Clinic traces a legacy of the death drive and a series of thematic concerns that emerge from it, specifically the instability of the pleasure-unpleasure binary that ostensibly upholds the "principle of reason," through a colonial-postcolonial archive. In doing so, the dissertation attends to those subaltern figures who are constituted as the "unreason" of society, particularly the mentally ill, women, and homosexuals.

In particular, the dissertation looks to the intersection of psychoanalysis and deconstruction, specifically to Jacques Derrida's engagements with Freud's "Beyond the Pleasure Principle," to argue that deconstruction needs to be thought of as a marginal and politicized form of psychoanalytic thinking, the stakes of which emerge through Derrida's readings of Freud's death drive. The dissertation follows the thread of these readings to consider the problems of difference, violence, sadism and masochism, and anxiety in the work of colonial and postcolonial practitioners of psychoanalysis as well as postcolonial artists and novelists. The Subaltern Clinic makes the argument that an attention to the legacy of the death drive in the postcolonial archive allows for a more robust critique of postcolonial reason, which would attend to questions of ethics and aesthetics.




Embargo extended 2020-05-18 at request of author and with approval from Graduate School. Updated with superseding copy at author's request and with approval by advisor and Graduate School administration 2022-05-20. Personal, sensitive information was removed from text of dissertation by the author.



Khan, Azeen (2015). The Subaltern Clinic. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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