top stories

Opinion | The World Has Caught Up to Frantz Fanon

Even as he witnessed intolerance and violent score settling in the F.L.N., he remained a good soldier, echoing the official line. But in “The Wretched of the Earth,” he expressed his concerns that the impending liberation of Algeria and the African continent would not lead to true freedom for the oppressed, since an avaricious and corrupt “national bourgeoisie” stood in the way of a more sweeping social revolution. In his writing and in his work as a psychiatrist, Fanon advanced a rebellious vision of what he called “disalienation” — a commitment to collective and individual freedom that was in some ways a challenge to his own adopted cause. It is no wonder that he has found an admiring audience among young intellectuals in contemporary Algeria, who find themselves suffocated by their authoritarian regime, the “pouvoir,” the opaque power that still controls the country.

Although a revolutionary and a radical, Fanon was averse to the kind of identity-based politics for which he is often enlisted today. For all that he anatomized the destructive effects of racism on the psyches of the colonized, he considered projects of cultural reclamation to be inherently conservative and dismissed the idea of race itself. “The Negro is not,” he wrote. “No more than the White man.” While he acknowledged the role that Islam had played in mobilizing Algerian Muslims against French rule, he warned that it threatened to “reanimate the sectarian and religious spirit,” separating the anticolonial struggle from “its ideal future, in order to reconnect it with its past.” For Fanon, what ultimately counted was the “leap of invention,” which, for him, was inextricably linked with the leap into freedom.

Today, the idea of leaping beyond race, ethnicity or religion seems fantastical, and for some not even desirable. But Fanon believed that the prison houses of race and colonialism, in which millions of men and women had been confined, were made by human beings, and could therefore be unmade by them. No one evoked the dream world of race and colonialism — the ways in which oppression burrowed its way into people’s psyches — with such bleak force as Fanon. It’s an important reason he’s so popular today. But Fanon was also, paradoxically, and in decided contrast to many of today’s radical thinkers and activists, an optimist.

For the victims of slavery and colonialism, history had been cruel, but it was not, in his view, an inescapable destiny: “I am not a slave to the slavery that dehumanized my ancestors,” he declared in “Black Skin, White Masks,” adding for good measure that the “density of history determines none of my acts.” He placed his faith in humanity’s capacity for rebirth and innovation and in the possibility of new departures in history: what Arendt called “natality.”

As he bade farewell to Europe in the closing pages of “The Wretched of the Earth,” he dreamed of a new humanity, emancipated from colonialism and empire: “No, we do not want to catch up with anyone. What we want is to move forward all the time, night and day, in the company of man, all men.” It is Fanon’s insistence on the struggle for freedom and dignity in the face of oppression, his belief that one day “the last shall be first,” that imbues his writing with its stirring force.

Source link