Kevin T Duong
Kevin Duong teaches political theory at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Virtues of Violence: Democracy Against Disintegration in Modern France, and various articles on democratic theory, modern intellectual history, gender and sexuality, visual culture, and the history of the left. He received his PhD from Cornell in 2017, where he also organized for Cornell Graduate Students United (CGSU).
Marx and Freud in Harlem: The Lafargue Clinic and the Economics of Psychiatric Care
From 1946 to 1958, an experimental psychiatric clinic operated out of the basement of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harlem. Named the Lafargue Clinic, after the author of Le Droit à la paresse, the clinic treated patients free of charge. Its mission was as radical as it was simple: psychoanalysis and psychiatric care should be available to anyone and everyone. Those damaged by the color line and those who were poor deserved, as much as anyone else, treatment for their neuroses. Psychic repair belonged to the commons. My project for Cornell SHUM 2022-23, “Marx and Freud in Harlem,” reconstructs and appraises the Lafargue clinic’s experiments in antiracist psychoanalysis. The clinic’s extraordinary history poses important questions for the humanities. What does psychic repair look like when the wound is as wide and deep as racism itself? What happens to the psychoanalytic encounter when neither clinic nor patient has any money? Can improving individual psyches do anything to mitigate collective structures of domination? The clinic’s history provides clues to these questions and can help explain why psychoanalysis helped so many midcentury critics diagnose racial alienation. “Marx and Freud in Harlem” contributes to a larger book project, Freud Against Empire: An Experimental History, which maps how an international cohort of midcentury radicals—surrealist poets, painters, ethnographers, psychiatrists, and communists in France, Martinique, Cuba, and the United States—deployed psychoanalysis to undermine racial hierarchy and civilizational difference.