Hysteria and trauma in Pauline Hopkins' 'Of One Blood, Or, the Hidden Self.'.
As an "hysteric," Dianthe represents - or, more precisely, her body represents - the site of the convergence of violence, racism, and misogyny. Most obviously, she is sexually coerced by Aubrey, but also her "light" skin color testifies to miscegenation resulting from two additional rapes - those of her mother and grandmother by their white "master," Aubrey Livingston's father. Hopkins imbues the intriguing ideas of the "new psychology" at the turn of the century with significance for black women by making use of these nascent theories in her exploration of racially motivated sexual sadism, by which I mean slavery's eroticization of cruelty. Incorporating Freud's controversial psychoanalytic views on hysteria which, simply put, consider repressed sexual trauma its source, Hopkins calls attention to the confluence of intrapsychic and political forces that results in sexual and political domination, specifically Aubrey's oppression of Dianthe. And, from what I can determine, Of One Blood is the first, possibly the only, text by a black woman at the beginning of the twentieth century to do so.
In her chapter in The Bonds of Love entitled "Master and Slave," contemporary psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin argues that within the "master's" fantasy of erotic domination lies his wish for independence and his wish for recognition. For complex reasons based on early disturbances in the infant-mother relationship, the child cannot satisfy his ordinary and expected desire for differentiation - an identity separate from that of the mother - inter-subjectively through "mutual recognition." Hence, his wish to be independent is perverted into his need to be dominant. Influenced by Hegel, Benjamin defines a dialectic of control like this: "If I completely control the other, then the other ceases to exist, and if the other completely controls me, then I cease to exist" (53). In this paradigm, in which dependence becomes synonymous with submission and annihilation, and existence itself is at stake, domination is eroticized when the "master" forcibly takes control of the slave's body. Benjamin asserts that the master's "sadistic pleasure consists not in direct enjoyment of [the slave's] pain, but in the knowledge of [his] power over her - the fact that [his] power is visible, that it is manifested by outward signs, that it leaves marks" (57).(2) If, from a psychoanalytic perspective, we view Aubrey - representative of white, Western patriarchy - as an "oppressor" who quite literally appropriates the identity/body of Dianthe in order to assert his own "self," then we must simultaneously understand that, without culturally sanctioned, institutionalized racism, this psychodynamic, compelling as it is, could not have been so blatantly and publicly promulgated.
Benjamin's ideas regarding the literal or figurative "master/slave" relationship and Dianthe's hysterical symptoms - particularly her somatic disorders, dissociative trances, and passivity - an be linked with the literary concept of the "hysterical" text as described by Claire Kahane. Kahane reminds us that Freud initially attributed the traumatic "scene of passive submission to another's desire" as the origin of female hysteria. Although Freud viewed "passive submission"/rape as traumatic, he insisted that female sexual pleasure always derives from eroticized submission, "being done to rather than doing" (Kahane 34). Thus, Kahane asserts that the "hysterical" text
exhibits features of a discourse in crisis: excessive splittings and displacements of the subject of the story, frequent paralyses of plot, phonemic rather than semantic continuities, and seemingly gratuitous and often bizarre disruptions of narrative sequence. . . . The narrative voice struggles . . . against these textual instabilities . . . to find a form that will contain the confusions of its utterance. (xiv)
While Of One Blood combines disparate, even incongruous or paradoxical, narrative forms and styles, and moves simultaneously in different directions, both geographically - Ethiopia and the U.S. - and literarily - intermingling traditions such as historical romance, realism, allegory, fantasy, science fiction, and mystery - it does so not because the novel is struggling "to find a form that will contain the confusions of its utterance" or because it is a "discourse . . . [in] crisis." Rather, Hopkins' text parallels or imitates the unique, mutable, often incomprehensible while, at the same time, logical and synchronous activity of the psyche's unconscious - a subject to which I will return at the end of my essay.
Crucial to my reading of Of One Blood as an "hysterical" text is recognizing that the "cure" for its "hysteria" is encrypted within the novel's narrative structure. The trope/"form that . . . contain[s] the confusions of [the text's] utterance" is the mysterious, coded communication from Luke 12 that Mira's spirit sends to Reuel and Dianthe: "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed" (Blood 506). Adumbrating the catastrophes liminally represented through repressed memories, unconscious desires, displaced symbolic, frequently surreal imagery, and somatic conversion symptoms, Mira warns her son and daughter to recover their African identifies through their "forgotten" memories, which underlie almost every, if not every, aspect of their stories. Contextualized by Mira's message, Hopkins refers to Du Bois when she portrays Reuel, lonely and isolated by the secret of his "passing," "wanting for strength to rend the veil" (Blood 442; emphasis added). Formally accentuating Mira's admonition, Of One Blood emphasizes that survival depends upon acknowledging/revealing/exposing what is unconscious, repressed, and buried.
Situating Hopkins - journalist, senior editor of the Colored American Magazine, and writer of fiction - within the early psychological/philosophical/political discourse on hysteria begins with the fact that she was writing in Boston, an intellectual mecca for anyone interested in the study of the human mind at the turn of the twentieth century. In her study of the evolution of psychiatric thought and practice in that era, Elizabeth Lunbeck notes that "Boston Psychopathic Hospital became the leading mental hospital in the United States" (329), and she describes Boston as "the nation's psychiatric capital throughout the first twenty years of the [twentieth] century. . . . In any account of American psychiatry's progress, Boston and Massachusetts figured prominently" (12).(3) Furthermore, as Cynthia Schrager's recent essay on Hopkins explains, information about the "new psychology" was readily accessible outside of academic/medical circles(4):
The distance between academic and popular psychologies in American culture has always been relatively small, and the new psychology was reported widely in the popular press at the turn of the century. One survey of popular magazines of the period reveals widespread interest in such subjects as mental healing, hypnosis, and multiple personality, beginning in 1890. (189)
But Hopkins' specific knowledge of Freud's theory that repressed sexual trauma underlies hysteria can be established through her relationship with psychologist and philosopher William James, her contemporary, who also was teaching and writing in Boston. That she followed his work closely is evidenced in Of One Blood and suggests strongly, if not affirms, that she knew about the exciting and disturbing developments in the research on hysteria.
Aspects of James contribute to the prototype for Reuel Briggs, the protagonist of Of One Blood. An African American medical student "passing" for white, Reuel demonstrates his alliance with James in that both are physicians at Harvard with special interests in mesmerism, metaphysical phenomena, and unusual states of consciousness. While most commonly referred to as Of One Blood, this text's subtitle, The Hidden Self, immediately introduces James, who wrote an essay by that name, first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1890; indeed, the title of the book that Reuel is reading when the narrative opens, The Unclassified Residuum, is a phrase borrowed from that essay. Although Reuel feels depressed, even suicidal, his mind engages passionately with the book "just published and eagerly sought by students of mysticism, and dealing with the great field of new discoveries in psychology" (Blood 442; emphasis added). James's piece opens: "The great field for new discoveries . . . is always the Unclassified Residuum"; i.e., scientific data that belong to no clearly delineated category or "the mass of phenomena generally called mystical" (James 247, 248; emphasis added). Specifically, James's article discusses the new work of Pierre Janet, a colleague of Freud's, whose research revealed the success of hypnosis with people, predominantly women, suffering from hysteria and multiple personalities - results which confirmed James's own clinical experience.
James's pre-Freudian theory of the "hidden self" hypothesizes that every conscious mind contains layers of "buried" or "secondary" selves, each one replete with its own memories and emotions. That hypnosis could successfully bring repressed/"hidden" personalities to the surface in hysterics allowed James to take his ideas further and to speculate that perhaps hypnosis could actually induce telepathic communication between the selves.(5) Though unconscious, the well of memories within the "other" selves greatly influences the thought processes and behavior of the "primary" self, and these memories are sometimes expressed in instances of automatic writing. Additionally, Alfred Binet, a psychologist contemporary with James and author of On Double Consciousness, a work Reuel also reads, expresses his belief in an unconscious stratum of the mind: a "secondary" personality or set of personalities of which the primary self remains unaware. As in James's and, later, Freud's conceptualization of the unconscious, Binet's "hidden" self actively contributes to and informs conscious psychological experience.(6) Significantly, we see these ideas enacted in Dianthe during her illness. Speaking of herself in the third person, she tells Reuel that
"in seven months the sick will be restored - she will awake to worldly cares once more." Her voice ceased; she sank upon the cot in a recumbent position. . . . she appeared to sleep. Fifteen minutes passed in deathlike stillness[;] then she extended her arms, stretched, yawned, rubbed her eyes - awoke. (Blood 475; emphasis added)
with no memory of the conversation with Reuel. Hopkins' rendering of Dianthe's dissociated states imitates accounts of hysteria given in scientific/medical journals, as well as in James's own work.
Judith Herman, a contemporary psychoanalyst known for her theoretical and clinical work with trauma and its survivors, notes that by the 1880s "hysteria captured the public imagination as a great venture into the unknown." French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot's Salpetriere lectures were considered "theatrical events" (Herman 10), attended by artists, novelists, journalists, actors, and scholars. Both Freud and James studied with Charcot, though not at the same time, and James refers to the Salpetriere lectures in "The Hidden Self" (253) as well as in his Lowell lectures, which I will discuss later. Hysteria excited the interest of neurologists and psychologists who began listening to and recording the stories of women with an unprecedented respect.
But before Charcot elevated hysteria to the status of a disorder meriting serious inquiry, it "had been considered a strange disease . . . originating in the uterus . . . with incoherent and incomprehensible symptoms" (Ellenberger 142). These symptoms, almost exclusively afflicting women, could include partial or hemi-paralysis, convulsions, anxiety or fear, helplessness, and total or partial sensory loss, including the loss of sight. Because hysteria was a diagnostic receptacle for all of women's complaints not immediately or easily identified by physicians, one doctor describes it as "a dramatic medical metaphor for everything that men found mysterious or unmanageable in the opposite sex" (Micale, qtd. in Herman 10). The term hysteria became a magnet for the misogyny of the almost entirely white male medical academy. Because hysteria was often considered tantamount to malingering, some "respectable" physicians actually refused to treat women complaining of its symptoms.
Herman discusses how Freud and Janet, both of whom James respected, expanded upon James's work with hypnosis to try to determine hysteria's etiology. Working independently (and competitively), each concluded that "hysteria was a condition caused by psychological trauma. . . . Somatic symptoms of hysteria represented disguised representations of intensely distressing events which had been banished from memory" (Herman 12). In an attempt to deal with these experiences, the victim was able to produce an altered or dissociated state of consciousness, successfully repressing the frightening events from conscious memory, but causing hysterical symptoms. Like his predecessors, Freud called this state "double consciousness," and it is in this context - traumatic memories persistently residing in the unconscious - that he made his famous remark that "hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences" (Studies 7).(7)
Two years before the appearance of The Aetiology of Hysteria (1896), Freud published "The Neuro-Psychoses of Defense," an essay that placed sexual issues at the root of hysteria. In Aetiology, which was met with a "notably unfriendly reception" (Gay xxxvi), Freud revealed his shocking and perhaps most disputed finding: ". . . at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experience" (Aetiology 103). Freud's later renouncement or lost interest in his claim of "unwanted seduction" was particularly unfortunate, because his radical suggestion of an etiological connection between sexual abuse/incest and hysteria offered potential help for sexually abused girls and women.(8) Yet his controversial idea that sexual trauma in childhood produces symptoms of emotional disturbances in adulthood remains a landmark theory; no longer contradicted, the causal link between childhood sexual abuse and adult psychopathology first analyzed by Freud continues to spark debate regarding the sexual and economic politics of trauma, particularly rape and incest.(9)
In view of her connection to James and his to Freud, Hopkins was almost certainly familiar with the fierce debate surrounding Freud's theory yoking childhood sexual abuse with hysteria. William James was an avid admirer of Freud's work. In fact, when the two met at Clark University in 1909, James, who was particularly interested in Freud's work on dream analysis, told him that the future of psychological thought resided with him. Earlier, in 1895, James, fluent in German, wrote a laudatory review (Richards 205) of the important new work Studies on Hysteria, by Freud and Josef Breuer, in which the authors presented their theory of the etiological connection between trauma/shock and the symptoms of hysteria. A proponent of their view, James actively disseminated their ideas in the United States. Jacques Barzun notes that, "in discussing hysteria, James [supportively] quoted Janet, Breuer, and Freud, who were just then creating a stir throughout the learned world"; in a review for the Psychological Review in 1894, James "lent his authority to the Breuer-Freud position[:] . . . the hypothesis that the memory of a shock can become . . . [, in the words of Breuer and Freud,] trauma(ta) wound(s)" (230-31).
In his 1896 Lowell Lectures on Exceptional Mental States, which were open to the public and reported comprehensively in the Boston newspapers (Schrager 189), and to which Hopkins of course had ready access as well as personal/journalistic interest, James cited case analyses from Freud's Studies in Hysteria (1895). Although Freud did not identify the nature of the violent trauma underlying hysteria's symptomatology as always sexual until 1896, the year following that text's publication (the same year as the Lowell lectures), Studies reported cases of sexual abuse/rape that precipitated psychological and physiological problems consistent with hysteria, and James discussed these case histories in his lectures. Undoubtedly, James had read Freud's 1894 article "The Neuro-Psychoses of Defense," in which the sexualized nature of hysteria was previewed. Similarly, James introduced the work of Charcot, who described the majority of his patients as "young women who had found refuge in the Salpetriere from lives of unremitting violence, exploitation, and rape" (Herman 10; see also Auerbach in Abel, Lunbeck, and Showalter). Sympathizing with myriad problems of women suffering from hysteria, James lamented that they were "victims of sexual trouble" (Taylor 55).
While the pre-Freudian link between rape/incest and hysterical symptomatology was implicit (rape/incest was an unspoken precipitant of hysteria), the connection between female sexuality and the disease of hysteria was explicit. But no doubt Hopkins perceived the ubiquitous, subliminal sexualized violence to which her work shows her so acutely attuned, even if the fact of sexual coercion was not overtly articulated. If contemporary critics are able to read these subtextual nuances in earlier fictionalized depictions of "hysterical" women, so, too, was Hopkins. The same is probably true for her understanding of the psychiatric case studies which were reported in the press and discussed in lectures. For example, she may very well have read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," which appeared in New England Magazine in 1892. Though Gilman's narrator is white, married, and upper-middle-class, her story shares with Of One Blood the theme of sexual sadism. As Elizabeth Ammons argues, Gilman's text "offers a horrible picture of what the bourgeois white nineteenth-century ideal of femininity often really meant: bondage, masochism, madness" (Conflicting 39).
In her first published short story, "The Mystery Within Us," which appeared in the debut issue of the Colored American (May 1900), as well as in Of One Blood, Hopkins expresses her own special interest in maverick physicians pursuing experimental ideas about what James called "the fringe" of the human mind. It is plausible that Hopkins read the prolific material published at the turn of the century in medical and psychology journals on "mental healing," mesmerism, neurasthenia, hysteria, and trauma, including the new ideas of Freud and Breuer. Lunbeck points out that "one-third of the women [at Boston Psychopathic Hospital] who manifested the symptoms of hysteria told of being subjected to unwanted male sexual aggression" (219). Widely circulated theories of psychology in the 1890s and into the first decade of the current century which attributed the cause of hysteria to earlier sexual abuse support my presumption that Hopkins was not only acquainted with the originating ideas of psychoanalysis but, more importantly, that they contributed directly to the narrative argument of Of One Blood in the character of Dianthe.
It is well known by now that numerous physicians horrendously abused the diagnostic label of hysteria, resulting in the neglect, maltreatment, wrongful institutionalization, and even the torture and deaths of women. Although many who were unjustly imprisoned in asylums wrote profound first-person narrative accounts of their experiences which examined this problem from feminist/cultural perspectives, Victorian society's repressive and regressive structure regarding women was not overtly identified until much later as an underlying cause of their somatic and psychological problems.(10) Therefore, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, critical questions regarding the relationship between the diagnosis of hysteria and narrow-minded, cruelly restrictive definitions of gender remained largely unasked and have, understandably, attracted modern scholars' critical attention. Still, the fact that doctors used this diagnosis to malign women eradicates neither the existence of hysteria nor the legitimate experience of its victims. Contemporary scholars who consider hysteria an illusion or invention of the male-dominated medical establishment fabricated for the sexist purpose of keeping women as domestic slaves study only one aspect of the dilemma. In my view, critiquing and contextualizing the very serious sufferings of those with hysteria is the only way to recognize and offer respect to the women for whom this label, and of course the syndrome itself, was a tragedy. Jessica Benjamin, writing on another subject, asserts that it is always a mistake to "substitute moral outrage for analysis. Such a simplification . . . reproduces the structure of gender polarity under the guise of attacking it" (10). The political analysis of psychiatric theory and practice is indispensable, but unless we augment it with discussions that consider internal and unconscious life, we replicate the ignorance and crudity that left women without help and hope at the turn of the century.
Dianthe's representation as an hysteric suggests that repressed sexual trauma lies in her past. In Hopkins' first novel, Contending Forces, Sappho Clark was a victim of rape/incest when she was fourteen, and her story, like Dianthe's, merges with mesmerism and mind study through Madame Frances, Sappho's Aunt Sally, the psychic who is raising her young son. In Of One Blood, when Reuel thinks about "the heartless usage to which [Dianthe] must have been exposed" (Blood 489), he is probably imagining sexual violation, for interwoven into Hopkins' political, if not personal, history as an African American woman is the fact that she already knew what the psychologists were then learning: Sexual trauma is an epidemic. If the unconscious meanings of hysterical symptoms are revealed only by understanding their traumatic precipitant, then we must locate Dianthe's hysteria in slavery and rape. Additionally, memories of her racial identity, as well those of her sexual abuse, are contained within her repressed "secondary" personality or personalities. Conceived during the rape of Mira by her master, Dianthe lives a childhood steeped in mystery. Her mother was the only child of ten that her grandmother Hannah was allowed to keep;" 'all de res' were sold away' "(Blood 605), and Mira's sale was arranged when, perhaps, she escaped. Though it is not clear what happened to Mira, or who raised Dianthe, we do know that the child never knew her father or her siblings. As we see in later novels by African American women - for example, Gayl Jones's Corregidora (1975) - the white "masters' "rape is inter-generational and incestuous; like Ursa in Jones's text, Dianthe exemplifies the disastrous aftermath of slavery in the succeeding generation. Writing nearly a century before Jones, Hopkins - unlike Jones, who can be explicit - codes and encrypts her sexual language. For example, in Contending Forces, Luke Sawyer signifies his mother's rape as a "whipp[ing]" (Contending 257), and Mrs. Montfort's rape is indicated by her "tender flesh [which] feel[s] the lash" (68). Hazel Carby points to the "snaky leather thong" (the instrument used for the whipping) as Hopkins' "metaphoric replacement for the phallus" (132).
If sexual violence resides in Dianthe's "hidden self," as it does in Sappho's secret past, so does her racial identity. She fades into a deathlike trance induced by severe shock following a railway accident, but Reuel, acting as her physician, actually restores life to her.(11) (We see later in the text that, in resuscitating her, he himself is reborn.) Although the other doctors consider her beyond hope, Reuel's studies in the supernatural have taught him that sometimes acutely traumatized people can appear dead but are actually in catatonic or trance states. Though revived to consciousness, Dianthe awakens with amnesia, which, according to Freud, is common in hysteria following shock (Studies 235). She remembers neither her name nor her magnificent singing talent, and her very light skin prevents her from identifying herself as black.
While devastating tragedies envelop this text - for example, the gruesome murders of Molly Vance and Dianthe herself - none has more horrific ramifications than does the agreement made between Aubrey and Reuel to deceive Dianthe by keeping her racial identity a secret from her, confounding her "hidden self" even further.(12) In thinking about the role Reuel's deceptive silence plays in Dianthe's murder, Ammons notes that, while Aubrey is her actual killer, "there is a level at which Reuel . . . tragically abets the white man's evil by his silence" (Conflicting 82). Ammons contends that "perhaps the most pernicious way in which [racist] oppression works . . . is not through its blatant structure of lies, sexual assault, and murder, but through its insidious genocidal power of encouraging black people to deny and disown their racial identity, and therefore each other - the community, the group" (82).
In fact, there are at least three aspects to Dianthe's hidden self. One is the possibility that she was sexually attacked sometime in her past, but the experience is blocked from her memory. By assimilating the discoveries of prominent contributors on the subjects of trauma, hysteria, repression, and mesmerism - William James and Alfred Binet directly, Janet and Freud indirectly - Hopkins invites this speculation. The second element of Dianthe's personality of which she is unaware is her consanguinity, included in which is her link with Africa; as Thomas Otten argues, the "hidden self [is] . . . that part of the personality that preserves the memory of ancient African civilization" (244). And if this second facet links her to her African history, then the third connects her to her African American history. Although she is born after emancipation, the sexual molestation, rape, and miscegenation endemic to slavery are the signatures of her genealogy. When Hannah tells Dianthe that she, Reuel, and Aubrey are siblings - " 'all of one blood!'" (Blood 607) - she calls attention to the incest that biologically connects these three and, thus, assigns a most concrete, specific meaning to that biblical phrase. Simultaneously, Hopkins highlights the extent to which families were shattered as a result of slavery. When we first meet Dianthe, she is described as "fair as the fairest woman in the hall" (Blood 453), representing immediately the embodiment, the "proof," of miscegenation through rape.(13)
Performing as a lead singer with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Dianthe is an artist whose musical genius signifies her familial and political connections to her African American ancestry. Reminding us that she carries within herself the trauma of black U.S. history and heritage, her brilliant voice expresses the "outpoured anguish of a suffering soul":
All the horror, the degr[a]dation from which a race had been delivered were in the pleading strains of the singer's voice. It strained the senses [of the listener] almost beyond endurance. . . .[She sang] the awfulness of the hell from which a people had been happily plucked. (Blood 454)
Acting as animating connective tissue between America and Africa, Dianthe's art holds the potential to unite her with her "African Personality," which would enable her, as it did Reuel, to discover her "true" racialized self, but Aubrey silences her before she can do so. In her rousing artistic performance, in which her voice resonates the "anguish of a suffering soul," Dianthe sings from her "self" - her racialized identity as a black woman. That her race, her "voice," and her art inextricably entwine explains why she stops singing after being severed from her African American heritage when she awakens from a coma with amnesia. More accurately, Reuel and Aubrey rob her of her birthright by keeping it secret.
Indeed, Aubrey expresses a white man's unbridled power to alienate irreparably a black woman from her husband, her brother, her art, and her community. As an agent of America's racist patriarchy, he sadistically imprisons, rapes, and ultimately murders Dianthe. Most dramatic is the way his vicious, sexual violence reenacts and repeats her original trauma (in which her hysteria is rooted), and does so quite specifically by exploiting her helplessness. When Aubrey witnesses Dianthe, tortured and cataleptic, begging and pleading with Reuel for relief, "for the benefit of [his] powerful will," the voyeur, Livingston, responds with strong sexual desire. Her powerlessness, especially her pain, excites him, sending him into "a trance of delight, his keen artistic sense fully aroused and appreciative . . . losing himself in it" (475). Describing Dianthe's inability to assert or defend herself, Hopkins tells us that "she . . . ha[s] lost her own will in another's" (603). That Aubrey's lust for Dianthe is undoubtedly prompted by her debilitated condition is crucial, because it establishes the lethal link between erotic pleasure and sadism. In other words, her helplessness - her "invalid"ism - operates upon Aubrey as an aphrodisiac. Facilitated by Jessica Benjamin's explication on the dialectic of control, we understand that, for Aubrey, Dianthe exists as a one-dimensional "other" who will restore his omnipotence. Sexually aroused by her submissiveness, he identifies/targets her as prey. Motivated by his intra-psychic need to be recognized as an individual "self," a separate, differentiated "I," and able to achieve that only through his complete domination over another, Aubrey "takes possession" of Dianthe in an attempt to recapture the omnipotence he experienced as an infant.
The omnipotent view acknowledges no claim from or responsibility to the outside world, and experiences neither external nor internal restraint of its absolutist authority. According to Freud, omnipotence operates as a defense mechanism intended to protect one's self from the pull of the death instinct: the regressive drive toward the elimination of all tension, a primary impulse toward "nothingness." Omnipotence is projected outward and manifested as rage, as aggressiveness, as "the blindest fury of destructiveness" (Freud, Civilization 68), and, in erotic life, as sadism. Benjamin considers omnipotence "the manifestation of Freud's death instinct. . . . Whether in the form of merging or aggression, it means the complete assimilation of the other and the self" (67; emphasis added). Moreover, Freud calls attention to the "extraordinarily high degree of narcissistic enjoyment" that accompanies destructiveness, because it satisfies "old wishes for omnipotence" (Civilization 68).(14)
Now let us complicate our thinking on Aubrey's intra-psychic processes - the "narcissistic enjoyment" he derives from his sadistic omnipotence - by analyzing them in terms of gender and racial politics. Aubrey's political, social, and familial culture, which sanctions, even encourages violent racism, as well as the eroticization of sadism, merges seamlessly with his psyche's need/wish to dominate and destroy. Inflicted by Aubrey, the fusion of this political and personal trauma is experienced by its victim, Dianthe.
Submissive behavior is an hysterical symptom often thought to be a form of sexual manipulation. But, for victims of rape like Dianthe, compliance can prove life-saving. Although it now leaves her at the mercy of powerful men, her torpidity is a post-traumatic, residual manifestation of the violent episode(s) precipitating her hysteria. For Aubrey, a predatory "master's" son, Dianthe's passivity offers him the opportunity to enact the cold-blooded drama that will "officially" initiate him into his father's powerful, white fraternity of sadistic "property"/slave owners. Exploiting the fact that Dianthe has no memory of her past, and therefore can exert no agency on her own behalf in the present, Aubrey defines her as "slave," thus designating himself as omnipotent dominator; that is, "master." Carby implies that sexual politics reminiscent of the master-slave relationship bolster Aubrey's obsession with Dianthe; she notes that he "experience[s] an uncontrollable lust and sexual desire that [i]s given the historical reverberations of the power dynamic between a white plantation owner and his black mistress" (156).
If Benjamin is right that within the dominator's sadistic behavior lies his need/wish to be acknowledged as an autonomous "self," then Aubrey's rape of Dianthe - the daughter of his father and his father's slave - is more than his incestuous rape of his sister, although, of course, it is that. Aubrey immerses himself in a competitive Oedipal drama in which he "takes"/rapes his father's sexual "property," signified by Dianthe, while at the same time he looks to that father for recognition and approval. Furthermore, by claiming his patriarchal "place" in the next generation of "masters"/dominators who subjugate Hannah's daughters, Aubrey metaphorically takes "possession" of his father's (coerced) lover, who is, indeed, his mother, Mira. That he literally inscribes the "master" plot on/in Dianthe's body when he rapes her is his perverted attempt to reify his cultural/historical and paternal/Oedipal link with his father, who signifies racism and patriarchy.(15) To Of One Blood's reconfiguration of Freud's not yet developed Oedipal conundrum, Aubrey adds a uniquely sadistic twist by sacrificing the mother/lover figure when he murders Dianthe, so that the surviving "couple" remains that of son and father.(16)
According to early research on hysteria and trauma, the female body "converts" emotional pain into physical or somatic symptoms so that the body always "narrates" the story. Of course, the body is the site of sexual trauma; but, in addition, it operates as the site of the trauma's displacement, because it is the conduit through which the symbolic or "imagined" hysterical symptoms are expressed. In this sense, Hopkins' text, rendered by way of Dianthe's body, is an "hysterical" text. For example, in Toni Morrison's Beloved, we can "read" Sethe's story through the indelible mark of the chokecherry tree lashed into her back; also, in Morrison's Song of Solomon, Pilate, who has no navel, places in doubt the very fact of her matrilineal ancestry. Likewise, the bodily representation of Ursa's story in Jones's Corregidora is her hysterectomy scar. Similarly, Hopkins' novel fuses Dianthe's permanent emotional scar of neither having nor becoming a mother with trauma's inerasable bodily scars.
In Of One Blood, Hopkins views the politically and historically distinct trauma of white slave-"master" rape upon black women and girls from the perspective of the turn-of-the-century Freudian discourse on hysteria to underscore the fact that many, perhaps all, of slavery's female victims who were raped suffered from an actual, clinical illness during, and in the aftermath of, that trauma. Today, that syndrome would be diagnosed as posttraumatic stress disorder. Hopkins contributes to a literary tradition of black women writers who, looking at trauma through the lens of sexual abuse, document white rape and incest at a particular moment in U.S. history through a variety of genres, including fiction, autobiography, poetry, and essays. Indeed, African American women have consistently authored a tradition of historical "trauma literature" long before such narratives emerged in white, "mainstream" fiction and theory during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Examples of literature and essays published prior to Of One Blood aimed at exposing the trauma of white rape of black girls and women include Harriet Jacobs' autobiographical Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself (1861), Frances E. W. Harper's Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted (1892), Anna Julia Cooper's A Voice From the South (1892), Ida B. Wells's Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892), and Hopkins' own Contending Forces (1900).
Representing the fact that the reverberations and sequelae of white men's rape of black women during slavery and into the post-bellum era remains traumatic for African American women, even writers who are separated from slavery by many generations - such as Nella Larsen in Quicksand (1928), Gayl Jones in Corregidora (1975), Toni Morrison in Beloved (1987), and Octavia Butler in Kindred (1979) - emphasizes that the violent racialized and sexualized power dynamic of the white "master" who "owns" his black "mistress" continues as a literary trope because, as a trauma, the dynamic persists as an historical/cultural reality. The discursive axis around which all of these texts spin is that of sexual trauma rooted in the violent racism of American slavery. Although Dianthe expresses her victimization through the psychosomatic symptoms of hysteria, other manifestations of trauma (in other works) include mania or manic-depressive illness; "identification with the aggressor," in which the victim herself becomes the sadist; psychosis or psychotic episodes; and, perhaps most frequently, suicidal depression.(17) In other words, the texts of Hopkins, Jacobs, Wells, Larsen, Morrison, and Jones, among others, cluster to form a literary tradition because they share a rhetorical strategy and a conversation - an inter-textual dialogue - explicitly focused on trauma precipitated by racialized, sexual violence during, and as a consequence of, slavery.(18) While I maintain that Freud's seduction theory, the emergence of which coincided with Hopkins' thinking and writing on the subject of sexual trauma, formally structures Of One Blood, Dianthe's "hidden" trauma - rape and incest, not her individualized, overt expression of it through the conduit of hysteria's symptomatology - is the site at which Hopkins' novel intersects the tradition of texts, slave narratives as well as later fiction, in which the aftermath of white "master" rape executed upon black slave women is examined.
Addressing the question that Jessie Redmon Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, Ann Petry, Alice Walker, and many other black women writers would ask decades later, Hopkins wonders how, or more accurately "if," sexual and artistic passion can develop and thrive when the past is saturated by sexual violence and oppression. And she answers her own question with pessimism. Readers' expectations are mistakenly hopeful when we first meet Dianthe because, unlike Sappho of Contending Forces, Dianthe does, indeed, actualize her artistic potential with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. But by the time of Of One Blood, her last novel, Hopkins has lost faith that a brilliant and beautiful African American woman artist and performer like Dianthe can survive, never mind thrive, in the racially bigoted and misogynistic United States.(19) Since Dianthe did not accompany Reuel to Ethiopia where, like him, she would have been welcomed, there is no option for her except death. But Hopkins' skepticism declares itself even in the matriarchal Telassar, the "double" to the patriarchal U.S., where the kind and beautiful black Queen Candace rules. Though she is the monarch, she can claim no distinction or individuality; the city is ruled by a "Candace" for fifteen years, after which her successor, the next "Candace," takes the throne. Of course she fares far better than Dianthe, but even in the idealized Meroe, the questionably powerful queen has no "self." That Hopkins' despair for the creative woman seeps into her utopian representation of Africa implies that, in her view, there is no emancipation anywhere for the black woman artist. Of One Blood, which "dramatized the violent silencing and death of the black American woman artist," was Hopkins' last major piece of fiction; shortly after its publication she "disappeared as a productive artist" (Ammons, Conflicting 85).
Perhaps the commitment to internal transformation - a reconfiguration of the personality - inherent in psychology attracted Hopkins, because within it she saw a useful framework for reconstructing damaging racist political perceptions. But, for Hopkins, even though the psychological paradigm invites one to wish for political as well as personal metamorphoses, the construct fails to heal or cure. Blending a sophisticated view of the internal machinations of the mind with Hopkins' knowledge of traditional African history and beliefs, Of One Blood suggests radical approaches to understanding human behavior. Dianthe's demise exemplifies Freud's and Breuer's point in Studies - one resonating deeply within Hopkins' work - that highly intelligent and artistically gifted women, as hysterics frequently were, must be given the opportunity to work creatively at their art if they are to avoid falling prey to severe depression. If this appears obvious to us, then we must look again at Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892) to remember that most women were not allowed control over their own emotional healing. Like Gilman, but in a more complicated manner, Hopkins invokes hysteria to indict both the racism and the misogyny that kill black women artists in America.
Significantly, Pauline Hopkins develops a unique racialized view of the unconscious in which she rewrites a crucial aspect of psychoanalytic theory, adding precisely what Freud and his proteges omitted - specific cultural/racial analyses. Historicizing as well as racializing the meaning of hysteria, and therefore recontextualizing it, Hopkins interprets that syndrome to include the sexual, violent traumas of racist rape and incest that are the heritage of African American women. Written with acute psychological insight, Of One Blood works as a political indictment of the United States's racism which is responsible for Dianthe's illness. Moreover, Hopkins establishes that the view of hysteria as a disease affecting only white, middle-class women is itself racist and myopic.
Deliberately blurring distinctions among the dominant culture's so-called facts, myths, theories, and superstitions, while simultaneously defying easy categorization in established literary traditions, Hopkins manipulates narrative form to invent a hybrid framework for Of One Blood, which leads Ammons to consider her "a radical experimenter whose work will be read in the next century as a model of early modernist innovation and revolution in the United States" ("Winona" 211). Merging traditions and styles - realism, historical romance, allegory, fantasy, and mystery - into an experimental pattern that synthesizes salient intellectual, political, and spiritual ideas, Of One Blood stimulates and deepens insight into the unconscious.
Additionally, Of One Blood functions as what Elie Wiesel calls "literature of testimony" and Shoshana Felman refers to as "an art of urgency" (Felman 114). Wiesel's and Felman's context is the Jewish Holocaust; still, relevant to Hopkins' novel is their focus upon artists who, like Hopkins, assume public and political responsibility for "witnessing" and "giving testimony" to a massive, cultural trauma that is, at the same time, a personal and psychological one. Felman explains that "the 'literature of testimony' is . . . not an art of leisure but an art of urgency. . . . [It is] a struggling act of readjustment between the integrative scope of words and the unintegrated impact of events. This ceaseless engagement between consciousness and history obliges artists . . . to transform words into events and to make an act of every publication" (114).
Hopkins "act" was to rivet her readers' attention to a sadism so profound that it can only be represented through story. She brilliantly negotiates the "integrative scope of words [with] the unintegrated impact" of traumatic experience by rendering a family so ruptured by sexual coercion, rape, incest, and miscegenation that Dianthe unwittingly commits incest twice by marrying both of her brothers. Crucial, too, is the fact that Of One Blood takes place approximately two generations following emancipation, demonstrating that the sexual violence inherent in the power structure of the "master"-slave relationship remains an ineradicable facet of black peoples' lives. Avowedly interested in psychic matters, Hopkins' unusual conflation and containment of diverse, even seemingly non-complementary genres mimics the way the human mind can simultaneously "hold onto" a multitude of contradictory ideas. If our conscious thoughts and behaviors sometimes appear random, fragmented, chaotic, even insane, they become coherent when contextualized within the logic of their unconscious wishes/fantasies. I believe that Of One Blood mirrors this mental process: Initially, it strikes us as "unrealistic" or "imaginary" that Reuel restores life to the apparently "dead" Dianthe; or, we find "unbelievable" the fact that he, Dianthe, and Aubrey are all "of one blood"; yet, within the novel's context, these are stories that belong in the tradition of realism. The mystical narratives of Reuel and Dianthe look unrealistic only until we recognize that they are motivated by powerful unconscious wishes to discover their "hidden selves."
In my view, Hopkins' novel is not an "hysterical" text in the sense that Kahane describes a "discourse in crisis." Yet, just as the hysterical patient's story may appear "illogical," rendered through disjointed, displaced, and somaticized conversion ailments, Of One Blood, like the hysteric's symptoms, is organized by the logic of the unconscious. Thus, it can only be understood when its repressed trauma is revealed. Likewise, what appears to be Of One Blood's incohate blending of disparate literary conventions/genres is actually a sophisticated entwining of conflicting and corresponding liminal threads which, like the human mind, are firmly rooted in historical/cultural/psychological/spiritual realism. If no existing genre accommodates this text, perhaps it belongs to the undefinable category of "unclassified residuum," which is, according to William James, "the great field of new discoveries."
1. In addition to her long novel Contending Forces, and three serialized novels, Hopkins published Notes short stories as well as numerous political/social editorials and commentaries in the Colored American Magazine, including a series on "Famous Women of the Negro Race" which featured tributory essays to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frances Harper, among others. Hopkins also worked on that publication as an editor, and although her exact position remains vague - it is not stated in the magazine - it is clear that she had substantial editorial influence until the publication was bought by Booker T. Washington, with whom she had strong ideological differences.
2. I agree with Benjamin's convincing argument that the "master's" sadistic/sexual pleasure derives from the "knowledge of his power" over his slave/victim; however, her assertion that this occurs in place of, rather than in conjunction with, the "master's" direct sadistic enjoyment of inflicting or observing her actual physical pain is problematic. Because sadism is such a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon, "either-or" analyses are unnecessary (see Scarry).
3. Boston Psychopathic Hospital is now the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston.
4. Although my essay was completed before the publication of Cynthia D. Schrager's excellent article "Pauline Hopkins and William James: The New Psychology and the Politics of Race," we both discuss Of One Blood in the context of discourses on psychology and mysticism, predominantly as espoused by William James. My focus differs considerably from hers, however, in its emphasis on hysteria, sexual trauma, psychoanalytic theory, and James's relationship with Freud.
5. It is interesting to note that both Dianthe and Reuel do communicate telepathically with the "other world." For example, Reuel's introduction to Dianthe occurs in a prophetic vision. Also, each communicates with Mira, and Reuel "heard" Molly Vance cry for help as she was drowning.
6. Alfred Binet is now best known for his contribution to the development of the I.Q. test for children, known as the Stanford-Binet.
7. In another essay, I deal in depth with the impact of W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of "double-consciousness" on Of One Blood. That piece thinks about Du Bois's relationship with William James and discusses their intermingling concepts of "double-consciousness" and the "hidden self," respectively. Serving as the primary prototype for Reuel as well as for Will Smith, the protagonist of Contending Forces, Du Bois is important in Hopkins' work. His theory on the "black soul" as well as Edward Blyden's on the "African Personality" underpin Reuel's recovery of his racialized "hidden self" for which he returns to Africa as King Ergamenes. Additionally, the frequently contentious discourse on Pan-Africanism is a primary focus of my other essay on Of One Blood.
8. See Herman, Trauma and Recovery ch. 1; and Masson.
9. Several feminist scholars have written about the politics of rape. Especially useful are the works of Susan Estrich and Susan Brownmiller.
10. Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," published in 1892, clearly places the blame for the mental "health" system within the patriarchal culture. Written from a white, feminist perspective, it condemns the medical profession's infantilizing and sadistic treatment of women diagnosed with hysteria. Instances of these destructive methods are described in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and also in the biographies of Edith Wharton by R. W. B. Lewis, Cynthia Griffin Wolff, and Judith Fryer. Wharton and Gilman were under the care of the same physician - neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. See also Showalter ch. 6; Ammons, Conflicting ch. 3; and Ehrenreich and English. For a collection of writings by women committed to asylums against their wills, which includes an entry by Gilman in which she describes her experience with Mitchell, see Geller and Harris.
11. In Studies on Hysteria, Freud notes that railway accidents were considered a primary cause of trauma precipitating hysteria in men (321), for whom, as Showalter informs us, Charcot had a special wing at the Salpetriere clinic (148). Later, the trauma associated with male hysteria was "shell-shock." Sexuality and hysteria in men were not necessarily associated, as they were in women.
12. I agree with James's view that the "hidden self" is not by definition a pathological condition. In fact, it is a defense mechanism, which is tantamount to a survival technique. However, I think about it as a problematic and confounding state because, as I argue throughout this essay, the issues at stake in recognizing one's personal/psychological and political past can be ones of life and death.
13. Hopkins has been criticized for making her female protagonists light-skinned. In my view, she does so to accentuate her very important point regarding the sexual violence of slavery - white rape and the resulting miscegenation. The light-skin is also interesting in the context of Professor Stone, the British "authority" in archaeology who leads Reuel's Ethiopian expedition. Perhaps Professor Stone for Reuel echoes Professor James for Du Bois, a white academic with views that could enhance rather than undermine black self-definition.
14. For Freud's most complete discussions on the "death instinct," see Civilization and its Discontents (1930), The Ego and the Id (1923), and Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920).
15. In her section on "The Sexual Politics of Black Womanhood" in Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins writes: "Contemporary portrayals of Black women in pornography represent the continuation of the historical treatment of their actual bodies. African-American women are usually depicted in a situation of bondage and slavery, typically in a submissive posture, and often with two white men. As [Laurie] Bell observes, 'this setting reminds us of all the trappings of slavery: chains, whips, neck braces, wrist clasps' "(169). While Collins and Bell are commenting upon contemporary pornographic images of enslaved women, Aubrey imposed an identification on Dianthe almost one hundred years ago that is undoubtedly consistent with current depictions. Sadly, racialized renderings of victimized women - racist sadomasochism - continue to imbue the specific cruelty and violent domination of slavery with sexual excitement.
16. Since Aubrey's re-enactment of Sophocles' story is taking place unconsciously, and the unconscious is unaffected by Western notions of "time" and "place," the strength of the psychodynamic is not diminished by the fact that the consanguineous relationships are unknown to everyone except Hannah, or by the fact that Aubrey's father is already dead.
17. Many twentieth-century novels by black women, such as Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place, and Alice Walker's The Third Life of Grange Copeland and The Color Purple, reflect a different version of gendered, racialized sexual sadism. In these texts, black men, not white "masters," perpetrate and perpetuate violent emotional and physical sadism, including rape and incest, upon women and young girls. At work here is the psychodynamic in which black men have "identified with the aggressor" as a defense against their own literal, threatened, or metaphoric castration; they become sadists as their only perceived means of obtaining power or authority and, unwittingly, enact the sexualized "master"/slave dynamic.
18. Of course, slavery need not be the literal, historical site of the sexual violence in these texts, which have been written over the course of more than a century. But the rape and incest in these novels, stories, and essays historically and psychologically reverberate with the "master"/slave power dynamic.
19. For an excellent discussion of Dianthe and Sappho as black women artists, see Ammons (Conflicting ch.5).
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Deborah Horvitz received her Ph.D. from Tufts University in 1997. She is Assistant Professor of English at Columbus State University in Georgia, where she teaches American literature, with a special focus on twentieth-century women writers.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1999|
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