Time and Crisis: Questions for Psychoanalysis and Race


  • Hortense Spillers Vanderbilt University




Kristeva, race, psychoanalysis


In the triumvirate of personalities and motives—from Wright and Baldwin to Coates—we encounter the essential elements of the “crisis” that configures black passage in the New World. These lines of kinship, both consanguineous and ineffable, travelling from father to son, from uncle to nephew, from one generation to the next, lend us a figurative rhythm that grasps the notion of the processional—the traversal of time and space that remains fundamentally mysterious, just as we can put our finger directly on the problem—black life is still as endangered and precarious as it ever was. If one regards such passage as a “crisis,” then it is precisely because it is riddled with turning points, sudden ruts and rifts in the road when the way seemed smooth and clear—those moments when decisions must be made—and from that perspective, African-American cultural apprenticeship offers, by definition, crisis not as a state of exception, but rather, as a steady state, given historical pressures that bear in on it and that become, as a result, intramural pressures. What I wish to do in these remarks is to clarify one of the questions engendered by this predicament, and that is to say, the riddle of identity and how it matters, but even more than an inquiry into the identitarian, I am searching for a protocol through intramural space.