This last week in Houston, the mayor ordered the removal of three statues from public parks in time for Juneteenth: two Confederate memorials and one of Christopher Columbus. Juneteenth is a state holiday in Texas, marking the day in 1865 when Union troops read slaves their rights in the cotton seaport of Galveston, two and a half years after Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The comparatively sudden action on behalf of the city is significant, especially since many are pushing Congress to make Juneteenth a paid federal holiday.

The statue of Columbus happened to be in my neighborhood. It was intended to remember early Italian migrants, like my great-grandfather, who suffered discrimination and labor exploitation. But using Columbus to do so unwittingly commemorates Italian white assimilation and in fact indicates a historical forgetting. Recently, the small 7-foot statue was painted red with a cardboard sign taped to it, reading “rip the head from your oppressor.” The statue’s presence in public space, its gaze and its identifications, provoked an acephalic slogan with a new redress to the Other.

Officials “ripping the head” off Columbus instead of a crowd––who may choose to also burn or sink a statue––has a very different tone. Indeed, removing a statue in the wake of current protests may be politically safer than addressing more structural demands for defunding the police budget or #8CantWait, here where George Floyd was born. While one of the Confederate memorials is destined for the Houston Museum of African American Culture, Columbus remains in storage for an interminable “quarantine” like many other “toxic” statues.[1]

In his 1957 L’Express interview, Lacan rejects the comparison of Freud with Columbus, the unconscious with a new continent, the analyst with a master. The knowledge [savoir] that a part of “psychic functions” was unconscious did not suddenly emerge with Freud. If one must make a comparison, he prefers the philologist Jean-François Champollion, who deciphered the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script with help from the trilingual Rosetta Stone. Clinically, Lacan specifies, psychoanalysis aims not at discovering buried instincts, but at tracing the singularity of each subject’s history, always already articulable, there.

 

 


[1] Cf. Sheffield Hale’s comments in https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/18/us/confederate-statues-monuments-removal.html