The masks of Frantz Fanon

Écrits sur l'aliénation et la liberté by Frantz Fanon, edited by Robert Young and Jean Khalfa La Découverte, 688pp, £22.00, October 2015, ...
Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté by Frantz Fanon, edited by Robert Young and Jean Khalfa La Découverte, 688pp, £22.00, October 2015, …

As a psychiatrist and revolutionary, Frantz Fanon took part in the fight against French colonialism in the fifties. Today numerous publications are devoted to him. Is Fanon more relevant today?

At the end of 1956, Frantz Fanon joined the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) in the Algerian liberation struggle. The distance between the present world order and the vision of the future, which Fanon combined with the process of decolonization, is enormous. Fanon is considered one of the founders of the Third World ideology (tiers-mondisme).

Revolutionaries in Africa, Ché Guevara, the Black Panthers, and the tricolor movement of solidarity among the capitalist metropolises, which were still in their infancy, appealed to him in the sixties, in particular to his book Les Damnés de la Terre of 1961 (The Damned Earth, 1966). On the other side, Fanon was a nationalist and irrationalist, a black racist and a violinist. Hannah Arendt attributed to him a thought in “organic-biological categories” in On Violence (1969). Orthodox party Communists saw in Fanon a spontaneity and populist who had glorified the colonized country population and the urban rag-proletariat. The current discussions about his writings, especially in Britain and the USA, have little to do with such attributions and falsifications.

Fanon in postmoderne

Stuart Hall and Homi K. Bhabha, most prominent representatives of Postcolonial Studies, a subdivision of Cultural Studies, which have existed for decades, have provided a new justification for their rediscovery of Fanon. They emphasize the postmodern ambivalence of his argument, in particular as regards the tension between the “free subject” and “foreign determinism” in his subject theory. Yes, they emphasize the ambivalent identity of the author himself and thus slip into a strange biography that gives Fanon a life history of hybrid identity formation. The book, Fanon, Peau noire, Masques blancs (black skin, white masks, 1980), published in the Paris publishing house Editions du Seuil in 1952, make it a predecessor. Fanon’s life, Fanon’s texts – a terra incognita of Postmodernism and Postcolonialism?

The shift in the interest of The Damned Earth back to black skin, white masks is, however, remarkable, especially since the talking titles of a twist seem to be countered by modern social critics with their rhetoric from oppression and liberation to a postmodern ironic pastiche of socially assigned identity patterns. Anyone who reads Black Skin, White Masks today, will be astonished to find out how subtly Fanon was able to analyze and criticize racist mystifications as early as 1952. From everyday occurrences and linguistic forms of communication to literary texts to psychological diagnoses, he shows how the blacks under the “white gaze” become the stigma of one’s own existence. With his first book, Fanon is at the beginning of a critical theory of racism, in which the “race” is not assumed to be an “actual entity” (Arendt), but as a construct of a particular social situation.

A phenomenology of racism

The basic experience for Fanon is that his own “body scheme” collapses and places an “epidermal racial schema”. What is meant is a situation in which the perception of the immediate environment is solved by the experience of stigma due to one’s own physical condition. Fanon explains it with the simple example of a railroad journey, on which a child says to his mother the triggering sentence: “Mama, look, the negro there, I’m afraid.” The second perceptual scheme undergoes its expansions by convicting them to the symbolic order , Which dominates the “collective unconscious”. “In Europe,” writes Fanon, “evil is portrayed by the black.” When Bhabha pointed out in 1986, in his preface to the English new edition of “Black Skin, White Masks,” the urgency of a resumption of Fanon’s theses, and something like that Founder of the “Postcolonial Studies,” he simply turned his argument. A further reading of Fanon was urgent, because the groups “gathering themselves under the banner” blackness “lacked a” public image of the identity of the other. ” Fanon is intended to help mark the “decisive engagement between mask and identity, between image and identification,” from which Bhabha derives its own freedom and self as the socially different one. Bhabha designs a new identity of “people of color,” whereas Fanon is a phenomenology of racism.

This is followed by the phenomenology of anti-Semitism by Jean-Paul Sartre. In his remarks on the Jewish question of 1945, Fanon continually approaches comparisons, notes parallels and differences in discrimination. It is about visible and invisible, physical and cultural stigmata, also about power or impotence, about differences and hierarchies, which organize perceptions and phantasmagoria under the “white gaze”. To be sure, Fanon also shares Sartre’s inadequacy. Since Sartre has obviously shied away from the analysis of the logic of discrimination to the “logic of terror” in order to take up a formulation by Leo Löwenthal, the dimensions of the NS exterminating practice remain largely unaffected. From the point of view of terror, Fanon is mistaken when he thinks that anti-Semitism is aimed at the Jews in their spiritual and civilizing, not primarily as racism and “negrophobia” on immediate physical existence.

However, Fanon’s approach does not appear in the analogy to Sartre’s phenomenology. David Macey, author of an extensive biography (Frantz Fanon, A Life, 2000), characterized black skin, white masks following Claude Lévi-Strauss as “bricolage”. Fanon took individual aspects of Hegelianism, Marxism, the philosophy of existence from Soren Kierkegaard to Karl Jaspers, the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the existentialist humanism of Sartre, as well as the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud himself and Alfred Adler and Jacques Lacan And put them together as an instrument for explaining and analyzing the “own situation and experience”. If, however, this is a true description, the number of different interpretations that may be confused by readers of the recent literature on Fanon is easily found. His text invites to form a Fanon mask, a Lacanian, as Bhabha does, or like a Hegelian, an Existentialist, a Humanist, a Marxist.

The problem of recognition

After the Second World War, French intellectual circles were central to Hegel’s Herr-Knecht dialectic, the problem of the recognition of the other, which precedes a struggle for life and death. “In Hegel, everything has begun to happen in philosophy for a century,” wrote Merleau-Ponty in 1946 in Les Temps modern. The influence of the body phenomenologist on Fanon is still largely underestimated. In black skin, white masks, Fanon then responds mainly to this Hegel reception, pointing to the asymmetry of the social power between colonizers and colonized. Even if the “slave” is released into freedom, this does not mean its recognition as a different self-consciousness. “At Hegel it is about reciprocity,” says Fanon, “here the Lord whistles to the slave’s consciousness. He does not want his recognition, but his work. “The work can therefore not be the abolition of the struggle for recognition.” At Hegel, the slave turns away from the Lord and toward the object. Here, the slave turns to the Lord and reveals the object. “Fanon wants to show how the elaboration of a phenomenology of racism, the Eurocentrism in modern,
Also leftist theory and philosophy. Hence his attacks on the surrealist André Breton and the existentialist Sartre, when they claim the literature of “négritude”, for example, the texts of Aimé Cesaire or Léopold Sédar Senghor for their “Weltanschauung”. On the other hand, he cites the ethnographers Michel Leiris in a consistent manner. For Leiris as for Fanon, the “négritude” is a temporary attitude which allows the black poets to assert the “integrity of their own person” against the “arrogance of the white colonizers” (Leiris). But Fanon was not far off to become his advocate. In his eyes, “négritude” is a mystifying replica of racist mystification. In the context of postcolonial studies, on the other hand, it reverts, as Hall expresses it, an “extremely powerful and creative force for the evolving forms of representation of marginalized peoples today.” Fanon pushed beyond such forms of representation because he suspected a fixation to the stigmatized body. He wanted recognition as a thinking man, as an intelligent body: “O my body, make sure I am always a man who asks!” This is the end of the book of 1952.Fanon today It was Fanon’s hope that the opponents would be in the anticolonial liberation struggle Finally recognize that it is in their interest “to end this struggle and recognize the sovereignty of the colonized people.” He thought that this could only be achieved by the state natio in the liberation struggle. His paradoxical formulations of “national consciousness, which is not nationalism” and “international consciousness” developed and aroused, show early on the tension between the real dangers of nationalization and its vision of international emancipation. And so he comes back to the problem of recognition when he ascertains in The Damned of this Earth in view of national culture: “Self-consciousness is not a self-confrontation against communication.” Whoever wants to read Fanon’s theory of classes and violence in this perspective, Will hardly look for finished answers.

In his book Frantz Fanon, published this year in the Hamburg edition of Nautilus in German, Cherice Cherki has carefully given a hint under the heading of Fanon. Fanon, he says, had carried out a “semiotic infiltration of language” to counter French colonialism. After decolonization, the question arises again about a language that is capable of grasping power and rule in the present world order and allows a new communication between the south and the north. Perhaps even today an infiltration of the language of neoliberal globalization could begin. For the time being, the “real inventions and discoveries”, which Fanon regarded as essential in the overcoming of Eurocentric politics, would be brought up again.


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