Articles of interest
26th September 2023
Book in Focus
A Psychoanalytic Biography of Ye
By Robert K. Beshara
In this week’s Book in Focus, we’re joined by Robert Beshara to discuss his recent publication, A Psychoanalytic Biography of Ye: The Legacy of Unconditional Love. This theoretical biography of Ye includes a foreword from Tommy Curry from the University of Edinburgh, and focuses particularly on 2016 through 2021.
The book takes what Ye says seriously, as opposed to dismissing him through the use of stigmatizing terms. The author specifically aligned his desire with Donda’s in an attempt to see him from her point of view – that is, through the legacy of unconditional love.
Dr Beshara, what was the motivation behind this title?
In the book, I draw in particular on concepts from Freudo-Lacanian psychoanalysis to interpret the complex subjectivity of Ye, particularly his struggle with manic depression. I begin my analysis in 2016 because that is when he had a nervous breakdown in public during the St. Pablo Tour and I end in 2021 because that was the year Ye’s tenth album Donda was released, which in many ways marks the culmination of an era (the Shaky-Ass Years) and embodies, in a holographic way, the many musical styles—e.g., hip hop, gospel, progressive, experimental, pop, etc.—that Ye has explored throughout his career since the release of College Dropout in 2004.
Kanye West legally changed his name to Ye in 2021, but he began referring to himself as Ye before that. In fact, it is the title of his eighth studio album, which was released in 2018. In other words, in the book I distinguish between Ye (a manic-depressive subject) and Kanye West (a project/object). Kanye West is the brand name for the many things that Ye does creatively, which range from music to fashion, but my biography, as I mentioned earlier, hones in on a specific five-year period, wherein we see a deterioration in Ye’s psychotic symptoms, especially his paranoid delusions. Furthermore, the book is not a traditional biography but a theoretical one, specifically from the perspective of psychoanalysis, which makes a distinction between the ego and the unconscious as far as subjectivity is concerned. Most people focus on Ye’s ego or his narcissism, but I am more interested in analyzing his unconscious, which is what I do in the book.
The legacy of unconditional love is Donda’s legacy, a transgenerational legacy that is passed on from Ye’s African ancestors and which is not reducible to the experience of slavery and Jim Crow – although that historical trauma is part of the legacy. As such, as I was writing the book, I aligned my desire with Donda’s in order to see Ye from her perspective. Ye, of course, is extremely flawed, and oftentimes he is not aligned with this legacy. However, when he is, we witness what we may call genius.
What, in particular, interested you in studying Ye in this depth?
As a critical psychologist and a research psychoanalyst, I was interested in studying Ye because he is an artist with a substantial public platform who was clearly going through serious distress. I wanted to listen to him carefully to be able to hear his unconscious and interpret his words and actions within that context to see if there is any logic to what he was saying or doing, even if things appeared completely incoherent to us. Psychoanalysis is able to work with incoherence because it regards it as part of our divided subjectivity. This research project was an opportunity for me and for us to learn from what psychoanalysis says about manic depression and how we can interpret Ye’s psychotic subjectivity through that lens.
What were some of the main struggles in writing this title?
I began working on this project in 2016 and now we are in 2023, so that is a total of seven years. This is the first book, which I have authored, that has taken this long to research and write. So that is one aspect of the struggle. Other than that, the book was very demanding on me in other ways; it clearly deals with an extremely controversial figure who experiences a lot of distress and who causes equal amounts of distress to others given his sizeable platform. In other words, writing the book took a significant psychological toll on me because I was also affected by all of that, particularly as a survivor of child abuse and a racialized subject. I do not want people to think that I am highlighting a harmful person; it is my ethical duty, as someone who is committed to psychoanalysis, to listen carefully and to interpret accordingly. As such, the most challenging aspect was Ye’s recent turn to fascism in 2022, which necessitated not only a psychoanalytic explanation but also a political one. Hence, I felt compelled to write a preface to address this turn, wherein I framed his fascism as a form of false being. Clearly, fascism is not aligned with the legacy of unconditional love, his unconscious legacy. Fascism is a form of false being because it embodies a lack of unconscious thinking. In other words, I conceive of the unconscious legacy of unconditional love in terms of a historical reason driven toward liberation.
Can you give potential readers and overview of what they should expect from this title?
Readers should expect a very serious reading of Ye’s complex subjectivity between 2016 and 2021, particularly his struggle with manic depression, through the lens of Freudo-Lacanian psychoanalysis. Readers should also expect a creative interpretation of the project/object known as Kanye West during this same period. In addition to being a critical psychological and a research psychoanalyst, I am also a fine artist with years of experience in theatre, music, and film, so there is a fair bit of art criticism throughout the manuscript in my effort to think through the links between Ye’s aesthetics, ethics, and politics. Ultimately, Ye is a divisive figure because he switches between his transgressive aesthetics that many enjoy, his ethics of radical love that cause the desire of his fans, and his fascist politics that are purely death-driven and lead to nothing but self-destruction.
What do you think are the main take-homes from this title?
I want us to hold Ye accountable by reminding him of the legacy of unconditional love, that transgenerational and unconscious legacy that Donda embodied. I want us to refuse Ye’s fascist politics, while reflecting on the sociogenic reality of a successful Black man in the United States who was rewarded with fame and fortune for his artistic genius but who is simultaneously being punished for suffering from manic depression. In other words, my book is a humble contribution to the ongoing public conversation on mental health vis-à-vis celebrity culture. This conversation is not about celebrity culture in the end; rather, it is about the more than 14 million U.S. citizens who are also suffering from manic depression. A celebrity is a reflection of the society in which live, so instead of hating the celebrity, we should hate the social conditions that led to the deterioration of this celebrity’s health. These conditions include anti-Black racism, over-exploitation, sexist oppression, etc. We must ask ourselves, what are the psychosocial conditions that led to Ye’s turn to fascism in 2022? Instead of moralizing and assuming a position of purity, we must also be critically reflexive about our internalization of oppression (e.g., microfascism). By forgiving Ye and seeing his humanity, we can avoid the trap of pathologizing him as a ‘monster’ or whatever other stigmatizing word we may use (e.g., ‘crazy,’ ‘insane,’ ‘mad,’ etc.). No one is born a ‘monster.’ ‘Monsters’ are created sociogenically. This does not mean that Ye is not ethically responsible for his problematic words or actions, such as his recent anti-Semitic remarks; rather, a complex overdetermination of causes produced that which we deem ‘monstrous.’ As Ye was aware in 2010, “Everybody knows I’m motherf***in’ monster.” Back then, it was cool; now, it is not. My book explores this shift both in Ye’s subjectivity and our perception of him.
The title has already attracted strong endorsements from global academics, including Dr Julius Bailey (Wittenberg University), who hailed the work “a “cathartic” introspection into the complex mind of a genius”, and Dr Michael E. Sawyer (University of Pittsburgh), who declared that the text “should be required reading for anyone interested in listening at any level to the cultural production of Ye né Kanye West. This book is an essential installment in the canon of texts taking up the Black Aesthetic for all of its philosophical impact, and is a must-read.”.
Robert K. Beshara, MFA, PhD, is Associate Professor of Psychology and Humanities and Chair of the Arts and Human Sciences Department at Northern New Mexico College. He is the author of Decolonial Psychoanalysis: Towards Critical Islamophobia Studies (2019) as well as Freud and Said: Contrapuntal Psychoanalysis as Liberation Praxis (2021). He is also the editor of A Critical Introduction to Psychology (2019) and Critical Psychology Praxis: Psychosocial Non-Alignment to Modernity/Coloniality (2021). Further, he is the translator of Mourad Wahba’s (1995) Fundamentalism and Secularization (2021). Finally, he is the founder of the Critical Psychology website: www.criticalpsychology.org.