On a similar note, Abraham’s example of a patient plagued by a personal phantom was that of a man whose father was illegitimate, a secret kept to the father’s grave by a complicated piece of fiction the family had maintained. The story he told was that his bastard father was a descendent of European nobility. However, in taking on the fictional account of his father’s genealogy, the son unconsciously internalized the neurosis of being illegitimate, though the aetiology of this internalized neurosis was not a repressed primal scene of bastardization. Rather, this internalized neurosis was indicative of a gap standing between the father’s own reaction-formation (with regards to being illegitimate) and the son’s unconscious perpetuation of the father’s neurotic behavior, acted out in verbal fits and irrational claims. In describing the operation of the phantom, Abraham speaks of how the father’s unconscious is focused on one thought:
If my mother had not hidden the name of the illustrious lover whose son I am, I would not have to hide the degrading fact that I am an illegitimate child. How could this thought, alive in the father’s unconscious, become transferred into the unconscious of his eldest son, everybody’s favorite, and remain so active there as to provoke fits? In all respects and by all accounts, the patient appears possessed not by his own unconscious but by someone else’s.2
The difficulty of analyzing the patient, then, “lies in [his] horror at violating a parent of a family’s guarded secret, even though the secret’s text and content are inscribed in [the patient’s] unconscious. The horror of transgressing...is compounded by the risk of undermining the fictitious yet necessary integrity of the parental figure in question."3 The phantom’s return thus points to a gap, to that very secret which is unspeakable. The unspeakable “secret” may be arbitrary, as is the figure who inherits it (be it the couple in Hitchcock’s film struggling to bury Harry, or Abraham’s patient, the son of a bastard father). However, the psycho-dynamic of the phantom is consistent, and it was this very dynamic that played itself out the day Fanon “appeared” in class. But of course it wasn’t actually Fanon that appeared in class, rather it was the gap, or the secret signified by “Fanon” which reared its phantasmatic head.
Just what was the secret that threatened to speak, instigating the young white girl’s4 performative acting out of Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks ? The “fact” of blackness, of course, shuffled away in exchange for the law of Civil Rights. When John F. Kennedy announced in his 1963 television address that he would “...ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law,” the die was cast.5 For a supplement was planted in the utterance: race has no place in American life or law. The Negro citizen’s rights were to be obtained—that is to say, the Negro’s acceptance would be initiated—through his or her de-racing. As Fanon argued, the Negro has no place, perpetually suspended between barbarism and civilization in the eyes of the white man. Fanon knew this gap all too well, evidenced by his description of assimilation: “When people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my color. When they dislike me, they point out it is not because of my color. Either way, I am locked into the infernal circle.”6 Raised a colonial subject, Fanon spoke of race relations in the twilight of the French-Algerian war. Nevertheless his experience is still relevant here. Civil Rights also taught its children to be polite, not to point and stare, not to interpellate the black subject: Look mama, a Negro! The supplement of Civil Rights, in essence, thus taught its descendants to embrace equality by turning away from the “fact” of blackness. Its imperative was to insure that we wouldn’t speak race, that race would have no place in American life.