Transcending the absurd drama
Frantz Fanon died at the age of just 36 on 6 December 1961 in Bethesda, Maryland, just a couple of months surpassing the Algerian struggle for independence – a struggle to which he devoted so much of his life – culminated in the nation’s declaration of independence on 5 July 1962. Fanon’s impact on postcolonial theory and practice has been huge and his writings have moreover been important in the wider context of anti-racism. In this interview with Glänta editor Göran Dahlberg, the Swedish historian of ideas, Michael Azar, who has been reading Frantz Fanon for the past 25 years, explores the legacy of his work by focusing on a few personnel concepts.Göran Dahlberg: So, why Fanon? Michael Azar: I was a teenager when I first discovered Frantz Fanon. Owing to my Lebanese background, I had unchangingly been eager to know increasingly well-nigh the history of French colonialism, and Fanon helped me to largest understand what was really at stake in the anticolonial struggles of Lebanon, Algeria, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Fanon moreover aided me in comprehending the postcolonial condition and the growing racial tensions in Europe, including Sweden, where I grew up. Later on, during my studies at the department of History of Ideas in Gothenburg, Sweden, I decided to read Fanon increasingly carefully, focusing primarily on his wringer of the anomalies and double binds inherent to the struggle versus racism. In his commentaries on thinkers such as Hegel, Sartre, Césaire and Lacan, Fanon is utterly ruminative to the spiritual self-estrangement involved in many kinds of anticolonial critiques. When you critique something, Fanon says, you unchangingly run the risk of rhadamanthine the mirror image of the very thing you are critiquing. Göran Dahlberg: Does this dialectic moreover wield to Fanon’s understanding of Anti-colonial and revolutionary violence? And is the violence of ”the wretched” (The wretched of the Earth stuff the title of his last typesetting from 1961) always justifiable? Michael Azar: Fanon’s soul of work can be read as an struggle to understand the physical, structural and psychological dimensions of colonial violence. He describes colonialism as a system that brings violence into the homes and the minds of the colonized subjects, dehumanizing them at the personnel of their being. It is a Manichean order that splits the world in two opposing parts – colonizer and colonized, master and slave, settler and native, good and evil, civilized and barbarian. The dividing line between the two is guarded not only by police stations and machine guns. It is moreover upheld by ideological assumptions, perpetuated in the colonial subject by ways of ideological state apparatuses. For colonialism to perpetuate itself, the colonizer must not just preserve his own image of the colonized as an junior race, he must moreover succeed in internalizing the same denigrating image in the mind of the colonized. This insight is at the part-way of Fanon’s writings on violence, and it stems from his own wits as a colonized subject, first in his native Martinique and then, later, in French Algeria where he began working as a psychiatrist in the early 1950s. In Algeria, particularly without the 1954 outbreak of the revolution, he witnessed how the brute violence of the settlers permeated every nook and cranny of Algerian society, turning the unshortened country into a ‘breeding ground for mental disorder’. The French colonial machine was ruthless in its crackdown on the uprising, responding with torture, rape, napalm bombs, summary executions, etc. The daily horrors of the Algerian war provide the firsthand setting for Fanon’s interjection in The Wretched of the Earth (1961) that colonialism is a system that will only yield when confronted with plane greater violence. This does not necessarily make him into “an upholder of revolutionary violence”, as some commentators have put it. Fanon simply notes that the colonizer himself has shown the colonized which way to go if he wants to get rid of the colonial system. Deeply immersed in the revolutionary tradition of 1789, Fanon is fully enlightened of the vendible in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which states that resistance versus oppression is an inalienable human right. And we must never forget that Fanon himself took up stovepipe during the Second World War, with the explicit aim of liberating France and Europe from the yoke of Nazism. In his view, the Algerian revolution was nothing less than a continuation of both the French revolutionary tradition and the French resistance movement. Still, Fanon’s wringer of revolutionary violence extends vastitude the mere physical removal of the Manichean order. There is, he notes, flipside crucial element to the counterviolence of the colonized subject: true decolonization requires a cleansing of the mind. Much like Steve Biko – who was a diligent reader of his Martinican predecessor – Fanon argued that one of the most powerful weapons misogynist to the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Profoundly inspired by Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, Fanon stresses the importance of overcoming fear of death in the struggle for self-rule and recognition. Violence is ‘cathartic’ in so far as it liberates the slave from his self-inflicted passivity and woefulness surpassing the master. In a decisive passage, Fanon affirms that the well-known principle that ‘all men are equal’ comes to a throne in the colonies from the moment the native proclaims that the settler’s life is of no greater value than his own. Fearlessly reclaiming his place among self-ruling men, the gaze and voice of the colonizer can no longer turn the colonized into stone. On the other hand, Fanon cautions that revolutionary movements must be shielding not to replace one unsuitability with another. You have to know exactly when, where and how to make use of violence – and for what specific reason. Toward the end of his life, Fanon served as a roving Algerian producer in the wayfarers for national liberation wideness Africa. In doing so, he highlighted many of the shortcomings and dangers of the anticolonial struggle and firmly criticized unrepealable nationalists for reproducing the very Manicheism they personal to be fighting. For a ‘new humanism’ to come about, ethnically and religiously inspired nationalism must be transformed into a consciousness of social and political needs. Göran Dahlberg: In Woebegone skin, White Masks (1952), Fanon identifies two diverging forms of racism within Western thought: anti-Semitism and Negrophobia. Can you spell out the difference between the two? Michael Azar: In the first case, anti-Semitism, the Jew is represented as a danger primarily on an intellectual level, and is therefore attacked considering of his historical, cultural and religious identity. In the other, the woebegone male is perceived as a threat on a corporeal level, and he is therefrom assailed by virtue of his so-called visionless and primitive instincts. Dissecting the myth of woebegone male sexuality, Fanon concludes that it is as a way for the colonizer to justify his endeavor as a civilizing mission. In consonance with this narrative, the European colonizer has been bestowed with the wearying undersong of spreading Reason, Culture and Enlightenment to wrong-side-up peoples who have no history and are whimsically unshared from Nature itself, governed solely by untamed passions and genital desires. Fanon goes on to oppose that this myth serves to rationalize the colonizer’s actions. It is, he says, a xerox specimen of scapegoating. Recognizing on some level that the colonizer’s history of slavery, exploitation, and repression puts him in a position of guilt, he fashions the colonized as the quintessence of cruelty and barbarity. In wing to this enforced “enlightenment”, the colonized peoples need to be protected from themselves. By exerting heavy-handed tenancy and guidance over this purported enemy of all good values, the colonizer averts the punishment he (unconsciously) deems himself worthy of. For all that, the fixation on the sexual potency and savagery of the woebegone man – the fantasy of the Other’s unrestrained enjoyment, to put it in Lacanian terms – is not without negative effects on the colonizer himself. It tends to stir up undecided emotions within him so that he is relentlessly torn between hatred and love, unpopularity and worshipping – not to mention repressed homosexuality. In Fanon’s view, these zipped impulses are typified in the specific kinds of violence that are meted out versus the woebegone body. No anti-Semite, writes Fanon, would come up with the idea of castrating the Jew. He is either killed or sterilized. “The Negro, however, is castrated. The penis, the symbol of manhood, is annihilated, which is to say that it is denied.” Göran Dahlberg: Fanon’s analyses of the colonial situation are informed by variegated schools of thought, notably Existential Phenomenology, Psychoanalysis and Marxism. When he focuses on ‘the lived experience’ of woebegone people, he puts these tools to work to discern the ways in which woebegone people are pressured to conform to the colonial imperative ‘turn white or disappear’. How are we to understand this conceptual icon in Fanon’s work? Michael Azar: Let us turn when to the Manichean dividing line that splits colonized society into two estranged parts. As I once mentioned, this semester is not upheld by touchable violence alone. It is moreover bolstered by an ensemble of institutions designed to create docile subjects, whence with the educational system that teaches native schoolchildren that they will one day proceeds wangle to the other side of the dividing line: the prosperous, favored, and purportedly superior side. All this naturally depends on the condition that they prefer French culture and language, including the idea of France as the very noon of civilization – that is to say, on the condition that they turn themselves into teachers of the civilizing mission, embarking upon an unabated struggle versus the horrid vulgarian within themselves. The colonized, writes Fanon, is ‘elevated whilom his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the French way of life‘. Constantly subjected to this incentive structure – ‘turn white or disappear’ – the native populations of the Antilles are at risk of internalizing it and turning it into an inferiority complex. In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon examines how the native’s endorsement of the colonial mindset is played out on a daily understructure between teachers and pupils, parents and children, men and women.