The Other Side of Abyssal Psychoanalysis


This essay offers a critique of Freudo-Lacanian psychoanalysis, which is read not only as a modern field but also as a colonial project. The attempt is not to reject psychoanalysis altogether, for it contains within itself the potential for its own liberation. Rather, the aim of the critique is expanding psychoanalysis beyond its comfort zone within modern epistemology by way of the decolonial theorizing of Boaventura de Sousa Santos.


Figure 1. The Master’s Discourse and its Bloody Shadow

This essay is written from the perspective of, and in solidarity with, analysands as an attempt to think critically about psychoanalysis beyond the gatekeepers of power and knowledge—be that in the form of analysts qua masters or psychoanalytic institutions qua universities. This is an intervention at the level of praxis, which undermines psychoanalytic approaches that privilege theoretical knowledge over practical ethics. Why do we continue to hear about ethical breaches involving abusive analysts as well as institutions that come to their defense to protect their image by silencing the victims? Is it hard to imagine the clinic replicating the oppressive dynamics existing within a given society, particularly in the Global North? Is it impossible to consider the history of colonization vis-à-vis the invention of psychoanalysis in the late 19th century in the context of New Imperialism, especially the Scramble for Africa? These practical questions concern politics and ethics because the clinic is neither an ahistorical entity nor a neutral space that exists in a vacuum. The clinic is a psychosocial space, wherein what is psychically repressed is linked to what is socially oppressed, or as Jacques Lacan (2002) put it succinctly in Seminar XIV, “the unconscious is politics!” (p. 122, [emphasis in original]). While the subject of psychoanalysis may be normative in theory, for he is often presumed to be ‘civilized’ (i.e., male, of European descent, and bourgeois), the subject is far from normative in practice. Therefore, only through a critical understanding of the field from the perspective of female, non-European, and proletarian analysands can psychoanalytic scholars and practitioners reconnect with the field’s radical potential, but to do so is the work of decolonial critique, which is my task here.

The radical potential of psychoanalysis is grounded in two basic principles: ethical listening and free association. Ethical listening means listening to the unconscious of the speaker, which requires a certain level of compassion or empathy and is not a question of over-interpretation (i.e., wild analysis); in other words, ethical listening entails practical ethics much more than theoretical knowledge. The analyst’s lack of ethical listening correlates to reports from analysands of abuse in the clinic. This abuse is a result of the link between theoretical knowledge and mastery, which is what Michel Foucault (1980) referred to as power/knowledge and what Lacan (1991/2007) identified in terms of the university and master’s discourses—the former being always subservient to the latter. Subsequently, the analyst is not supposed to embody an ontological, or even epistemological, position of mastery, but simply an ethical function within a specific clinical context vis-à-vis the analysand, who does most of the work of analysis.

For example, Lacan founded and dissolved several analytic schools because of the members’ transference in relation to him as the analyst qua absolute master. Further, institutions in general tend to function aggressively like an ego while forgetting about their unconscious, that is, what they institutionally repress. Therefore, psychoanalytic institutions that encourage silencing or censorship are paradoxically non-psychoanalytic, for they essentially embody the complete opposite of the principle of free association, which should only be limited by the confidentiality binding the analyst to the analysand. My attempt here is to theorize the historical conditions, which give rise to the ethical breaches we continue to witness today within the clinic and within analytic institutions. Psychoanalysis is not outside these historical conditions (e.g., colonialism); therefore, anyone who is interested in psychoanalysis, both as a theory and as a practice, has a responsibility to sustain fidelity to the field’s radical potential, particularly from the perspective of oppressed analysands. My dialogue with these analysands is the ethical and political background driving my concerns in this essay, which is dedicated to them.

I draw on the work of Boaventura de Sousa Santos, particularly his notions of “abyssal thinking” and “postabyssal thinking” (Santos, 2007), in an effort to distinguish between abyssal psychoanalysis and postabyssal psychoanalysis. Santos’s (2014) overall project is to critique dominant (i.e., Euromodern) epistemologies from the perspective of the Global South, which is not an argument for the superiority of “epistemologies of the South”, but rather an argument for “ecologies of knowledges”. While his focus is on epistemologies in general, I am interested in psychoanalytic epistemology in particular because I find it—with its emphasis on the unconscious—to offer both a powerful critique of psychology as well as a complex theorization of subjectivity.

In my own work (Beshara, 2019, 2021), I qualify psychoanalysis—regardless of type—as (post)colonial because, in its different iterations from Freud and beyond, it is primarily a critique of modernity from within, whether it indexes critical modern or postmodern discourses in order to perform this critique. In other words, (post)colonial, or abyssal, psychoanalysis exemplifies a Euromodern rhetoric, which is sustained by a colonial logic—the unconscious of psychoanalysis. However, many of the important insights of psychoanalysis (e.g., the unconscious, desire, enjoyment, fantasy, etc.) warrant delinking the field’s epistemology from its unconscious colonial logic, for example, regarding the primitivity of the non-European Other (see Brickman, 2018). This is the task of decolonial, or postabyssal, psychoanalysis, which entails a transmodern critique, that is, a critique of modernity from its alterity in an effort to ground the praxis of psychoanalysis in a decolonial, or worldly, logic.

Delinking also leads to a pluriversal verification of psychoanalytic epistemology, which is different from the colonial tendency to universalize what is provincial, for example, in relation to theorizing the subject. To put it differently, the Euromodern subject of abyssal psychoanalysis is not a universal subject. On the other hand, the transmodern subject of postabyssal psychoanalysis is a pluriversal subject.

By abyssal thinking, Santos (2014, p. x) is referring to how dominant (Euromodern) epistemology makes non-European human and nonhuman realities invisible or even actively produces them as nonexistent. For this reason, he qualifies dominant epistemology, of which psychoanalysis is one example, as an “epistemology of blindness” (emphasis in original, p. x).

Ranjana Khanna (2003) makes this dimension of epistemological blindness vis-à-vis psychoanalysis explicit in her important book, Dark Continents, wherein she writes, “the concepts of self and being that came into existence in psychoanalysis were dependent on strife or violence, that is, on the politics of colonial relations” (p. 2). Postabyssal thinking (and consequently, postabyssal psychoanalysis) then involves shedding light on these unconscious colonial logics, which inform modern fields of knowledge, in an attempt to delink modernity from coloniality and, therefore, ground our theorizations of the subject in a cosmopolitan sensibility, which I have referred to recently as contrapuntal psychoanalysis (Beshara, 2021). In the words of Santos (2014), postabyssal thinking

is a nonderivative thinking; it involves a radical break with modern Western ways of thinking and acting. In our time, to think in nonderivative terms means to think from the perspective of the other side of the line, precisely because the other side of the line has been the realm of the unthinkable in Western modernity. (p. 134)

In this essay, I extend Santos’s analysis by conceiving of this unthinkable line in terms of a further bar in addition to the one familiar in Freudo-Lacanian psychoanalysis (i.e., the bar that splits subjectivity into ego and unconscious). I attempt to point to an Other bar, which is the repressed unconscious of psychoanalysis itself. I also refer to this Other bar as the bloody shadow of psychoanalytic epistemology, and I demonstrate my thesis through a critical analysis of Lacanian discourse theory, particularly the master’s discourse (see Figure 1).

Signifying this Other bar can help us account for the doubly split subjectivities of those who were socially excluded since the beginning of psychoanalytic epistemology, that is, non-Europeans—be they Indigenous, Black, or Global Southern. These non-European subjects were historically, and continue to be, split not only by Euromodern discourses, but also by the materiality of colonization, enslavement, over-exploitation, racism, etc. Repressing that colonial materiality manifests itself as a fantasy that sanitizes modernity from this traumatic Real of violence and oppression, and of course, frames modernity as civilizational. Traversing this fantasy is the central task of postabyssal psychoanalysis.

What then is on the Other side of abyssal psychoanalysis? On the Other side, one encounters “only nonexistence, invisibility, nondialectical absence” (Santos, 2007, p. 46). I am referring here not to modernity as the master’s discourse, but to its double (or bloody shadow), which ideologically—and fantasmatically—sutures the Real of coloniality. Following Santos (2007), a postabyssal psychoanalysis, then, “consists of the symbolic amplification of signs, clues, and latent tendencies that, however inchoate and fragmented, do point to new constellations of meaning as regards both the understanding and the transformation of the world” (p. 64). The two characteristics of postabyssal psychoanalysis are: “subaltern cosmopolitanism” (p. 63) and “ecological thinking” (p. 65). Before I unpack these concepts, I shall now turn to a critique of abyssal psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis, as a type of modern Western (read: abyssal) thinking, is caught up in a “dual modern cartography: a legal [S1] cartography and an epistemological [S2] cartography” (Santos, 2007, p. 52). This dual modern cartography, with its two main forms of radical negation (i.e., negating what is beyond ‘universal’, or European, conceptions of true/false and legal/illegal), results “in a radical absence, the absence of humanity, modern subhumanity” (p. 52). Subhumans are those who are positioned as spectral subjects below the abyssal line separating Euromodernity from “the colonial zone” (p. 48)—its repressed Other. Subhumans are doubly barred (sbarred) because they represent both “the foundation” of abyssal thinking and the “negation of the foundation” (p. 52). In other words, the colonial zone is repressed in both senses of the word: the political and the psychoanalytic, respectively.

For this reason, we are currently witnessing, particularly since the rise of neoliberalism (or global racial capitalism) in the 1970s, the return of the repressed qua “the return of the colonial and the return of the colonizer” (Santos, 2007, p. 55). The return of the colonial takes one of three forms: “the terrorist…the undocumented migrant worker…and the refugee” (p. 55). In this sense, we can speak both metaphorically and literally of the abyssal bar qua cartographic lines, borders, fences, walls, etc., which sustain the appropriation/violence paradigm in the colonial zone. However, since the colonial zone today is often an “endo-colonial” zone (Virilio, 1983/2008), as is clear from apartheid policing in the Global North, the appropriation/violence paradigm, which used to be restricted to exo-colonial territories, has been seeping for decades into the regulation/emancipation paradigm governing modern social reality, particularly because the abyssal lines today are not as clearly defined as they were in the 15th century. Regardless of their definition, they are still operational, albeit invisible, and as such they inform modern theories and practices grounded in abyssal thinking, such as (post)colonial psychoanalysis.

Furthermore, Santos (2007) characterizes the return of the colonizer in terms of both “new indirect rule”, or the privatization of the commons, and “the rise of social fascism” (p. 58). Because the colonial zone is radically negated, the colonial subject is a homo sacer living in a “state of exception” (Agamben, 1995/1998), wherein anything goes since he or she is positioned in an extra-legal zone (e.g., Guantánamo). This state of exception is especially evident in terms of the appropriation of, and violence against, Indigenous and/or Black subjects in settler-colonial societies (e.g., USA), which Virilio (1983/2008) qualifies using the term “endo-colonization” (p. 103). Consequently, the Black Lives Matter movement is a swerving from endo-colonial appropriation and violence.

Lacan’s (1991/2007) formalization, or mathematization, of psychoanalysis, as exemplified by his use of algebraic symbols and diagrams (see Figure 1), can be read as a form of “abyssal cartography” (p. 51) since the juridico-epistemological bar, which pushes the modern subject ($) below the master signifier (S1), occludes an Other bar: the abyssal bar. The abyssal bar is a function of the cartographic lines that were established as part of the historical imperial process to justify property rights over occupied lands and enslaved peoples. Santos (2007) writes, “The first modern global line was probably the Treaty of Tordesillas between Portugal and Spain (1494), but the truly abyssal lines emerged in the mid-sixteenth century with the amity lines” (pp. 48-49). In other words, the metaphoric barring (i.e., Symbolic-Imaginary castration) of the modern subject is premised on the literal barring (i.e., Real castration) of the colonial subject, or as Santos (2007) puts it, “the metaphorical cartography of the global lines has outlived the literal cartography of the amity lines that separated the Old from the New World” (p. 53).

As a result, the Symbolic-Imaginary order (e.g., the Euromodern reality of psychoanalysis) is rooted in the “global spiritual order” (p. 49) of Christendom, which rests on repressing the non-European Real. The colonial subjects of the non-European Real, who are exterior to modern knowledge and law, include Jews, Muslims, Indigenous peoples, Africans, Asians, etc. Having said that, psychoanalysis includes within itself a postabyssal potential because its founder (Freud) was Jewish and Frosh (2020) even reads psychoanalysis as decolonial Judaism.

Nonetheless, because Sigmund Freud struggled throughout his life to assimilate into anti-Semitic Viennese society, he internalized some of that society’s abyssal thinking (e.g., racism), which he clearly struggled with as is obvious in his last book, Moses and Monotheism (Freud, 1939/1967)—written in the context of Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria. Edward Said’s (2003) final text, Freud and the Non-European, highlights how identity, as theorized by Freud, is paradoxical since it is based on non-identity given that the founder of Judaism (i.e., Moses) was an Egyptian. Said’s reading of Freud’s last book allows for a liberatory figuration of non-identity politics, or “an identity based on politics (and not a politics based on identity)” (Mignolo, 2007, p. 492, emphasis in original). Whereas the former identity is articulated through both Symbolic alignment of desire and Real jouissance, the latter identity is nothing but méconnaissance since it is premised on Imaginary identifications, which are shot through with narcissism and aggressivity. The first identity manifests itself in terms of solidarity and comradeship around common demands; the second identity is caught up in the seductive games of representative democracy.

While psychoanalysis may exhibit abyssal thinking, Lacan’s (1966/2006) concept of the Real affords a reading of the colonial zone, or the “zone of nonbeing” (Fanon, 1952/1967), as the colonial Real. The colonial Real is “the realm of incomprehensible beliefs and behaviors which in no way can be considered knowledge, whether true or false” (Santos, 2007, p. 51). The modern Symbolic-Imaginary order radically excludes the colonial Real and produces it as nonexistent. Consequently, Santos (2007) regards the negation of non-European humanity to be the founding negation of modernity, whose function is “sacrificial, in that it is the condition of the affirmation of that other part of [European] humanity which considers itself universal” (p. 52).

Therefore, psychoanalysis, as a (post)modern rhetoric, is logically built upon an abyssal fantasy, which sutures the colonial Real—its bloody shadow. While the hysteric’s and analyst’s discourses hold within them the potential for generating counterhegemonic discourses vis-à-vis the university and master’s discourses, respectively; psychoanalysis’s repression (and repetition?) of the colonial Real—“incomprehensible…subhuman territory” (Santos, 2007, p. 57)—renders the distinctions between the four discourses superfluous and may even lead to the analyst’s discourse functioning unconsciously as a master’s discourse. That being the case, psychoanalytic theorists and practitioners must delink the field’s modern rhetoric regarding knowledge (S2) and law (S1) from its colonial logic—a delinking, which entails traversing the abyssal fantasy. The colonial Real refers to what is beyond modern Western thinking, in particular beyond modern knowledge and law. The colonial Real is the invisible foundation of the Symbolic-Imaginary order, or the modern world-system, which is the common global order since the colonization of the Americas.

I chose to critically analyze the master’s discourse, as opposed to the capitalist discourse, because the former is foundational juridico-epistemologically from both a historical and cyclical perspective. As Lacan (1991/2007) shows, the university is always in service to the master, but even the analyst’s and hysteric’s discourses, as critical discourses that challenge both mastery and the commodification of knowledge respectively, will eventually circle back to the master’s discourse through the generation of new master signifiers (S1). Not mentioning how the hysteric’s production of critical knowledge (S2) can eventually become co-opted and commodified by the university in the context of racial capitalism. This is the paradox at the heart of Lacanian discourse theory, which is a challenge for any utopian socio-political process of liberation.

Furthermore, my theoretical treatment of the master’s discourse involves an innovation with my conception of the discourse’s bloody shadow, which is the specter of a silenced discourse returning like the ghost of Hamlet’s father. In other words, my argument, in short, is that while psychoanalysis has a liberatory potential, which can be designated as postabyssal, the praxis can also slip into a discourse of mastery, or its knowledge of the unconscious can become commodified, as a function of its colonial unconscious, which is the bloody shadow of psychoanalytic epistemology.

The subject of psychoanalysis is the modern subject (i.e., the metropolitan man who entered the social contract in order to abandon the state of nature to form civil society). The modern subject ($) is always constructed in relation to its negated other: colonial objects (i.e., ‘savage’ peoples or the state of nature where civil society’s institutions have no place). Consequently, can psychoanalysis account for colonial subjects () beyond their objectification as fantasmatic objets a? And is the analyst, as a structural embodiment of the objet a, taking the place of a non-European other in order to functionally cause the desire of the European analysand? As a result, accounting for (de)colonial subjectivity entails moving beyond the abyssal thinking of modernity/coloniality and towards the ecological thinking of liberation psychoanalysis. In other words, the question of cultural, and colonial, difference is at the heart of psychoanalytic epistemology given its “sociology of absences” (Santos, 2014). It is not scientific to universalize what is provincial while repressing what is Other, hence, the necessity for thinking pluriversally about subjectivity and the unconscious.

Liberation psychoanalysis is postabyssal because it is grounded in “subaltern cosmopolitanism”, which is a “cultural and political form of counter-hegemonic globalization” and “the name of the emancipatory projects whose claims and criteria of social inclusion reach beyond the horizons of global capitalism” (Santos, 2007, p. 63). One of the features of liberation psychoanalysis is postabyssal thinking, which is “a nonderivative thinking” that “involves a radical break with modern Western ways of thinking and acting” (p. 66).

Postabyssal thinking is thinking from the perspective of the Other of the Other, that is, the colonial Real or “the realm of the unthinkable in Western modernity” (p. 66). While Lacan (1966/2006) is correct to argue that “there is no metalanguage that can be spoken” (p. 688), I add that “there are Other languages” (Beshara, 2021, p. 175). To put it differently, there is something to be said about the cultural specificity of psychoanalytic epistemology given how its knowledge was historically transmitted through particular languages (e.g., German, English, French, etc.). Postabyssal thinking is “learning from the South through an [Indigenous, African, Latin@, Asian] epistemology of the South…It is an ecology, because it is based on the recognition of the plurality of heterogeneous knowledges” (p. 66). Santos (2007) adds, “The ecology of knowledges is founded on the idea that knowledge is interknowledge” (p. 66). A good example of postabyssal psychoanalysis in the context of cultural, and linguistic, specificity is Omnia El Shakry’s (2017) excellent book, The Arabic Freud: Psychoanalysis and Islam in Modern Egypt.

Santos (2007) writes about “the hegemonic eye”, which “ceases to see and indeed declares as nonexistent the state of nature” (p. 50). This hegemonic eye, which is located in civil society, is also the hegemonic I of psychoanalysis—its ego or consciousness (e.g., Descartes’s ego cogito, wherein thinking = being). Therefore, the state of nature (or the colonial Real) is the abyssal unconscious of psychoanalysis, which exposes the repressed “ego conquiro” and “ego extermino” (Grosfoguel, 2013) at the root of the hegemonic I’s false being. Not mentioning that Lacan’s (1973/2004, p. 211) account of alienation—non-meaning as a compromise between the subject’s being and the Other’s meaning—leaves out the historico-imperial facticity of nonbeing. Colonial objets a (who are most often non-European) are those on the Other side of the abyssal line, that is, those living in the colonial zone of nonbeing.

Frantz Fanon (1952/1967) was the first theorist to author a postabyssal psychoanalytic account of the damned from the perspective of, and by someone located in, the zone of nonbeing (i.e., the French colonies of Martinique and Algeria). Fanon’s dialectical account grounded—and, hence, critiqued—psychoanalytic ideology in the Real of colonization in an effort to emphasize the primacy of decolonization as a permanent revolutionary praxis for collective liberation beyond racial capitalism. In other words, those of us who are attracted to psychoanalysis must seriously think about the relationship between psychoanalysis, the modern state, and racial capitalism, as functions of the historical imperial process. Since that relationship can never be neutral and will always be political, why must psychoanalytic theorists and practitioners shy away from the implications of an anarchist non-relationship (e.g., free association)?

Liberation, or postabyssal, psychoanalysis actualizes multiple spatiotemporal configurations of psychoanalysis and, as such, decenters Euromodernity (i.e., the here and now) along with its conceptions of ‘barbarians’ (i.e., those living in the periphery or exterior to modernity) and ‘primitives’ (i.e., those living in the past or in premodernity). Jacques Derrida (1991) characterized the spatiotemporal hegemony of abyssal psychoanalysis with the signifier “geopsychoanalysis”. Said’s (1978/2003) discussion of “imaginative geography” and “historical knowledge” as aspects of Orientation is relevant in this context, too.

Additionally, Santos (2007) writes about the “noncontemporaneity” of what is on the Other side of the abyssal line, which gives the hegemonic I the ability to “make up pasts to make room for a single homogenous future” (p. 50). The postabyssal alternative is what Santos (2007) calls “radical copresence”, that is, equating “simultaneity with contemporaneity, which can only be accomplished if the linear conception of time is abandoned” (p. 66). Luckily, psychoanalysis presupposes a nonlinear conception of time as evidenced by the concept of Nachträglichkeit. However, are the analyst and the analysand “contemporary in equal terms” (p. 66)? In other words, can we characterize their relationship in terms of radical copresence, particularly given “the impossibility of the copresence of the two sides of the line” (p. 45)? This impossibility of copresence is what I term “colonial difference” (see Beshara, 2021), hence, we can assert: il n’y a pas de rapport colonial.

Is psychoanalysis open to “the epistemological diversity of the world” (p. 67)? In other words, are we able to delink psychoanalysis from modern (abyssal) thinking? Situating psychoanalysis within an ecology of knowledges entails a commitment to “counterhegemonic globalization” (p. 68), which is a postabyssal praxis of anticapitalism, antiracism, antifascism, antisexism, decoloniality, transmodernity, liberation, etc. To put it differently, counterhegemonic globalization involves “transcalar” resistance (p. 72) against racial capitalism. Santos (2001) writes:

Transcaling presupposes a certain unlearning of current criteria of relevance determination. It invites us to consult social reality through different cognitive maps operating at different scales. The learning process consists in raising the consciousness of the limits—contrasting representation with orientation, position with movement—without getting paralyzed. A higher consciousness of limits is at the core of the kind of prudent knowledge I am proposing here, a form of knowledge that teaches us how to keep consequences under the control and within the sight of the actions that cause them. (emphasis added, p. 274)

In psychoanalytic terms, transcalar resistance is none other than the ethico-political link between the singularity of being (inside the clinic) and the ecology of knowledges (outside the clinic). Transcalar resistance, or critical unconsciousness, is the basis for cosmopolitan solidarity among the subaltern. This subaltern cosmopolitanism will necessitate “intercultural translation” (p. 74), which is not without contention, as Santos (2007) shows.

Furthermore, psychoanalytic interventions must be pragmatically and ethically assessed using “an epistemology of consequences”, which follows “the principle of precaution” (Santos, 2007, p. 72). According to the principle of precaution, “preference must be given to the form of knowledge that guarantees the greatest level of participation to the social groups involved in its design, execution, and control, and in the benefits of the intervention” (p. 72). In other words, there is no such a thing as a neutral psychoanalyst; neutrality is an ideological position, for it means being uncritical of modernity/coloniality.

Given psychoanalysis’s beginnings (with Freud) and developments (since Freud) on the Euromodern side of the abyssal line, these are some of the questions that we must wrestle with if we are to move beyond abyssal thinking and towards ecological thinking, particularly since the universality of knowledge and law is never applicable to the damned, who are rendered disposable and fungible (Curry, 2017, p. 34) given their exterior status vis-à-vis ‘civil’ society. The abyssal line structurally blinds the ‘civilized’ masters to their bloody savagery (see Figure 1). If the modern subject of metropolitan societies is barred, as Santos (2007, p. 46) asserts, by the ‘universal’ socio-political paradigm of regulation (the community, the state, the market) versus emancipation (the aesthetic-expressive rationality of the arts and literature, the cognitive-instrumental rationality of science and technology, and the moral-practical rationality of ethics and the rule of law), then the colonial subject of the colonial territories is doubly barred () by that visible social reality (i.e., the Symbolic-Imaginary order as a common global order) along with an invisible dichotomy: appropriation (incorporation, cooptation, assimilation) versus violence (physical, material, cultural, and human destruction).

The subject of psychoanalysis is the modern ‘civilized’ subject; hence, the colonial subject does not exist, except as either a spectral $ or a commodified objet a. For this reason, we must superimpose the four discourses with four more discourses, their uncanny doubles, to account for both modernity and its colonial Other, that is, the Other of the Other. This Other of the Other is exterior to the modern Other of knowledge (i.e., scientific, philosophical, and religious truths) and law (i.e., legal v. illegal); it represents Other forms of knowledge (popular, lay, plebeian, peasant, Indigenous) as well as the Other as nonlaw (lawless, alegal, nonlegal, nonofficialy recognized law)—see Santos (2007, pp. 47-48). The Other of the Other, in this sense, signifies pluriversality (i.e., an ecology of languages) and does not signal the existence of a universal “metalanguage” (Lacan, 1966/2006)—incidentally, mathematics is the metalanguage of modern science, which is interesting to think about in view of Lacan’s attempts at formalizing psychoanalysis. Moreover, both Others are barred (for no Other can say it all), but while the modern Other is visible, the colonial Other is invisible, so it is doubly barred like the colonial subject.

The colonial Other, as the ghost in the machine, is the logical foundation for the rhetoric of the modern Other; however, this logic, as a product of the historical imperial process, is invisible because of how modern discursive-fantasies, particularly regarding the universality of knowledge and law, unconsciously suture the specter of the colonial Real. Unlike the visible rhetoric of regulation/emancipation, which acknowledges the law of persons, the invisible “logic of appropriation/violence only recognizes the law of things [e.g., non-European human = thing]” (Santos, 2007, p. 52). For this reason, we must pay attention to the jouissance of jouissance, that is, the surplus jouissance of racial capitalism (i.e., the extraction of value, knowledge, enjoyment vis-à-vis racialized bodies).

In sum, postabyssal psychoanalysis, as situated within an ecology of knowledges, is driven by what Santos (2007) calls “action-with-clinamen” (p. 76, emphasis). Clinamen signifies neither revolutionary action nor a dramatic break; rather, it refers to “a slight swerve or deviation whose cumulative effects render possible the complex and creative combinations among…living beings and social groups” (p. 77). Postabyssal psychoanalysis does not refuse abyssal psychoanalysis; “on the contrary, it assumes and redeems the past by the way it swerves from it. Its possibility for postabyssal thinking lies in its capacity to cross [i.e., traverse the fantasy of] the abyssal lines” (p. 77). The cosmopolitan subject of postabyssal psychoanalysis is “endowed with a special capacity, energy, and will to act with clinamen” (p. 77, emphasis in original). He or she is driven to swerve from Euromodernity toward transmodernity as an ecology of knowledge and legal practices.

To end on a concrete note rather than an abstract one, I shall reference three recent interventions that exemplify what I have been calling postabyssal psychoanalysis throughout this essay: Sheldon George’s (2016) Trauma and Race: A Lacanian Study of African American Racial Identity; Patricia Gherovici and Christopher Christian’s (2018) Psychoanalysis in the Barrios: Race, Class, and the Unconscious; and Daniel José Gaztambide’s (2019) A People’s History of Psychoanalysis: From Freud to Liberation Psychology. These interventions, and other ones I have not mentioned, typify postabyssal thinking as a praxis, for they critically engage psychoanalysis through what Santos (2014) calls an “epistemology of seeing”, which “inquires into the validity of a form of knowledge [e.g., psychoanalysis] whose point of ignorance is colonialism and whose point of knowing is solidarity” (p. 156). In other words, my transmodern/decolonial argument in this essay has basically been: don’t throw the baby (psychoanalysis) out with the bathwater (colonialism).


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Robert K. Beshara is the author of Decolonial Psychoanalysis: Towards Critical Islamophobia Studies (Routledge, 2019) as well as Freud and Said: Contrapuntal Psychoanalysis as Liberation Praxis (Palgrave, 2021). He is also the editor of A Critical Introduction to Psychology (Nova, 2019) as well as Critical Psychology Praxis: Psychosocial Non-Alignment to Modernity/Coloniality (Routledge, 2021). Further, he is the translator of Mourad Wahba’s (1995) Fundamentalism and Secularization (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). He is the founder of the Critical Psychology website:, and the director of the Critical Psychology certificate programme at the Center for Global Advanced Studies. Finally, he works as an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Humanities at Northern New Mexico College. For more information, please visit

Publication Date:

November 30, 2021

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis