Monday, December 05, 2016

Reading Frantz Fanon

The weekend was spent read Frantz Fanon. Yes, I'm late for the party.

Black Skin, White Masks (1952)
A penetrating study of colonized Martinique society and the colonized young man who thought of himself as French, only to go to the metropole of France and realized that he was black. A daring attempt to synthesize psycho- and social analyses.

A Dying Colonialism (1959) or The Fifth Year of the Algerian Revolution
Fanon's account of the Algerian War of independence. In the war the women learned to instrumentalize their veils as revolutionary soldiers and agents. Fanon shows why the rural Algerians first rejected the radio because it was perceived as the voice of the enemy, the colonial authorities and culture, and later embraced it when it broadcast the Voice of the revolution. In like manner Fanon argued for why Algerians first rejected and then embraced Western medicine. (After reading this chapter, I understand better now my own position on female circumcision.) In the chapter on the European minority, Fanon welcomed all Europeans who aided the revolutionaries to be part of the new Algeria, which was to be an inclusive society. The chapter included two testimonies from Europeans who found themselves ultimately to be Algerians. Charles Geromini: "It is a year now since I have joined the Algerian Revolution. Remembering the difficult and ambiguous contacts I had had at the outset of the Revolution, I had some fear that I might not be welcomed. My fear was unfounded. I was welcomed like any other Algerian. For the Algerian I am no longer an ally. I am a brother, simply a brother, like the others.

The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

"Decolonization, therefore, implies the urgent need to thoroughly challenge the colonial situation. Its definition can, if we want to describe it accurately, be summed up in the well-known words: "The last shall be first." (2)

"The colonized world is a world divided into two. The dividing line, the border, is represented by the barracks and the police stations." (3)

"If you think you can perfectly govern a country without involving the people, if you think that by their very presence the people confuse the issue, that they are a hindrance or, through their inherent unconsciousness, an undermining factor, then there should be no hesitation: The people must be excluded. Yet when the people are asked to participate in the government, instead of being a hindrance they are a driving force. We Algerians during the course of this war have had the opportunity, the good fortune, of fully grasping the reality of a number of things. (Reality is action, not mere thought.)

"As President Sékou Touréso aptly reminded us in his address to the Second Congress of African Writers: "In the realm of thought, man can claim to be the brain of the world, but in reality, where every action affects spiritual and physical being, the world is still the brain of mankind for it is here that are concentrated the totalization of power and elements of thought, the dynamic forces of development and improvement, and it is here too that energies are merged and the sum total of man's intellectual values is finally inscribed." (140)

"Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity." (145)

"The colonized intellectual, at the very moment when he undertakes a work of art, fails to realize he is using techniques and a language borrowed from the occupier. He is content to cloak these instruments in a style that is meant to be national but which is strangely reminiscent of exoticism. The colonized intellectual who returns to his people through works of art behaves in fact like a foreigner. Sometimes he will not hesitate to use the local dialects to demonstrate his desire to be as close to the people as possible, but the ideas he expresses, the preoccupations that haunt him are in no way related to the daily lot of the men and women of his country. The culture with which the intellectual is preoccupied is very often nothing but an inventory of particularisms. Seeking to cling close to the people, he clings merely to a visible veneer. This veneer, however, is merely a reflection of a dense, subterranean life in perpetual renewal. This reification, which seems all too obvious and characteristic of the people is in fact but the inert, already invalidated outcome of the many, and not always coherent, adaptations of a more fundamental substance beset with radical changes. Instead of seeking out this substance, the intellectual lets himself be mesmerized by these mummified fragments which, now, consolidated, signify, on the contrary, negation, obsolescence, and fabrication. Culture never has the transparency of custom, which is always a deterioration of culture. Seeking to stick to tradition or reviving neglected tradition is not only going against history, but against one's people. When a people support armed or even political struggle against a merciless colonialism, tradition changes meaning. What was a technique of passive resistance may, in this phase, be radically doomed. Traditions in an underdeveloped country undergoing armed struggle are fundamentally unstable and crisscrossed by centrifugal forces. This is why the intellectual often risks being out of step. The peoples who have waged the struggle are increasingly impermeable to demagoguery, and by seeking to follow them too closely, the intellectual turns out to be nothing better than a vulgar opportunist, even behind the times." (160-161)

"After the assimilation period of rhyming verse, the beat of the poetic drum bursts upon the scene. Poetry of revolt, but which is also analytical and descriptive. The poet must, however, understand that nothing can replace the rational and irreversible commitment on the side of the people in arms. Let us quote Depestre again:

The lady was not alone
She had a husband
A husband who knew everything
But to tell the truth knew nothing
Because culture does not come without making concessions
Without conceding your flesh and blood
Without conceding yourself to others
A concession worth as much as
Classicism or Romanticism
And all that nurtures out soul.

[English translation of "Face a la nuit" by René Depestre, in footnote of book]

The colonized poet who is concerned with creating a work of national significance, who insists on describing his people, misses his mark, because before setting pen to paper he is in no fit state to make that fundamental concession which Depestre mentions." (162)

"When the colonized intellectual writing for his people uses the past he must do so with the intention of opening up the future, of spurring them into action and fostering hope. But in order to secure hope, in order to give it substance, he must take part in the action and commit himself body and soul to the national struggle. You can talk about anything you like, but when it comes to talking about that one thing in a man's life that involves opening up new horizons, enlightening your country, and standing tall alongside your own people, then muscle power is required." (167)

"Far from distancing it from other nations, it is the national liberation that puts the nation on the stage of history. It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness establishes itself and thrives. And this dual emergence, in fact, is the unique focus of all culture."

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