Impossible Mourning and the Prevalence of Ritual and Race in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson
This chapter takes a closer look at the underpinnings of the cultural melancholy that claims post-Emancipation African American subject-formations and cultures. It does so by putting psychoanalytic theorizations of Sigmund Freud's concept of melancholia and Jacques Derrida's poststructuralist reading of Karl Marx's work on specters in conversation with August Wilson's Piano Lesson. Wilson's play traces racial melancholy sustained and reconstituted as a result of, and in resistance to, an enduring struggle with racial oppression as American nationhood nestled firmly into the industrial era and normative homogenization and consensus steadily rose against the backdrop of staggering European immigration statistics. The chapter shows how the play stages parallel trajectories of psychological restriction sustained by post-Emancipation black men and women through ritual practice as they struggle for inclusion in a segregationist society that has historically subjugated them. It extends theories of race and ethnicity by positing a reading of the racialized subject that shows how she/he is at once constituted through and distinct from the racial collective and its history of racialization.
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