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Professor publishes article on race and psychoanalysis

July 22, 2013

Professor of History Catherine Stewart’s article, “‘Crazy for this Democracy': Postwar Psychoanalysis, African American Blues Narratives, and the Lafargue Clinic,” was published in the June issue of American Quarterly, the official journal of the American Studies Association.

Catherine Stewart, professor of history at Cornell College.

Catherine Stewart, professor of history at Cornell College.

The article examines how the popularization of psychoanalysis after World War II provided African American writers such as Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison with a new paradigm for exploring the effects of racial discrimination on the formation of black identity.

Both Wright and Ellison were instrumental in helping the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham establish the Lafargue Clinic in 1946, the first community out-patient “mental hygiene” clinic in Harlem. Stewart argues that the Lafargue Clinic’s improvisations on psychoanalysis can best be understood as a type of blues epistemology, strategically revising and inverting traditional tropes. This approach uncovers the clinic’s innovative use of patient narratives as an essential therapeutic strategy to help African American clients reframe their encounters with racial discrimination as symptomatic of a diseased democracy.

American Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal, receives more than 700 submissions a year and only publishes 16 annually. Archival research for the article was conducted by Stewart at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture thanks to funding provided by a research grant from Cornell’s Dimensions: The Center for the Science and Culture of Healthcare and a Campbell McConnell travel grant.

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