Alkan, Burcu

Underground Topography of the Political Unconscious in Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison

Coming from different socio-economic backgrounds but sharing the experience of being black intellectuals in the US before the Civil Rights movement, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison met in New York in 1937. Although they eventually grew distant, their friendship generated some of the most important political writings of African-American literature. They were interested in the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx for possible solutions to the “Negro question.” They argued for a Freudo-Marxist synthesis as a remedy for the broken black psyche under white supremacist pressure. With its dimension on American racism, the synthesis they proposed offers a distinct and important contribution to the dominantly European canon of the theory. This article investigates the political psychoanalysis of Wright and Ellison as represented in their ideationally interlinked novels, Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) and Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground (2021). It analyses how their novelistic writing emerges as a dynamic space to elaborate upon a political psychoanalysis through their own race-based version of a theoretical synthesis. Moreover, the study also offers a new approach to new material, as Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground remained unpublished until it was recently rediscovered and printed for the first time in 2021.

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