Sunday, June 27, 2010

Notes from Fanon

“Intellectual alienation is a creation of middle-class society. What I call middle-class society is any society that becomes rigidified in predetermined forms, forbidding all evolution, all gains, all progress, all discovery.” – Frantz Fanon

Is it not possible to celebrate the self without false aggrandizement? To celebrate the self without auto-castigation for perceived overreach or exaggeration?

For the young to be so full of cynicism is a sin committed by those who have come before. For received claims of knowledge to be recycled, and with which to pummel ourselves in perpetuity is my generation’s greatest tragedy. Would some have us in a rotoscope loop to live and re-live the same piece of narrative over and over and over?

To make these claims would have our people frozen in time. If we cannot tell new stories, new stories of and for ourselves, then we should lay down our arms and cease to write.

I’d rather thought this anguish over self-identity was dated. But for it to be exhibited in a 21 year old shows me it is not.


The following are excerpts from two of Frantz Fanon’s body of work. If anything, Fanon shows us we are not a special case, that modern history - a history of the last five hundred years and written by a few, has created many Others.

In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon writes:

…The Negro is comparison. There is the first truth. He is comparison: that is, he is constantly preoccupied with self-evaluation and with the ego-ideal. Whenever he comes into contact with someone else, the question of value, of merit, arises…

…The Antilleans have no inherent values of their own, they are always contingent on the presence of The Other. The question is always whether he is less intelligent than I, blacker than I, less respectable than I. Every position of one’s own, every effort at security, is based on relations of dependence, with the diminution of the other. It is the wreckage of what surrounds me that provides the foundation for my virility…

…We must see whether it is possible for the black man to overcome his feeling of insignificance, to rid his life of the compulsive quality that makes it so like the behavior of the phobic. Affect is exacerbated in the Negro, he is full of rage because he feels small, he suffers from an inadequacy in all human communication, and all these factors chain him with an unbearable insularity…

…The Negro’s behavior makes him akin to an obsessive neurotic type, or, if one prefers, he puts himself into a complete situational neurosis. In the man of color there is a constant effort to run away from his own individuality, to annihilate his own presence. Whenever a man of color protests, there is alienation. Whenever a man of color rebukes, there is alienation. We shall see later, in Chapter Six, that the Negro, having been made inferior, proceeds from humiliating insecurity through strongly voiced self-accusation to despair. The attitude of the black man toward the white, or toward his own race, often duplicates almost completely a constellation of delirium, frequently bordering on the region of the pathological…

…I should be very happy to know that a correspondence had flourished between some Negro philosopher and Plato. But I can absolutely not see how this fact would change anything in the lives of the eight-year-old children who labor in the cane fields of Martinique or Guadeloupe. No attempt must be made to encase man, for it is his destiny to be set free. The body of history does not determine a single one of my actions. I am my own foundation…

…The Negro is not. Any more than the white man…

In Wretched of the Earth, Fanon writes:

…Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it. In underdeveloped countries the preceding generations have both resisted the work or erosion carried by colonialism and also helped on the maturing of the struggles of today. We must rid ourselves of the habit, now that we are in the thick of the fight, of minimizing the action of our fathers or of feigning incomprehension when considering their silence and passivity…

…The native intellectual nevertheless sooner or later will realize that you do not show proof of your nation from its culture but that you substantiate its existence in the fight which the people wage against the forces of occupation. No colonial system draws its justification from the fact that the territories it dominates are culturally nonexistent. You will never make colonialism blush for shame by spreading out little-known cultural treasures under its eyes. At the very moment when the native intellectual is anxiously trying to create a cultural work he fails to realize that he is utilizing techniques and language which are borrowed from the stranger in his country. He contents himself with stamping these instruments with a hallmark which he wishes to be national, but which is strangely reminiscent of exoticism. The native intellectual who comes back to his people by way of cultural achievements behaves in fact like a foreigner…

…The colonized man who writes for his people ought to use the past with the intention of opening the future, as an invitation to action and a basis for hope. But to ensure that hope and to give it form, he must take part in action and throw himself body and soul into the national struggle. You may speak about everything under the sun; but when you decide to speak of that unique thing in man's life that is represented by the fact of opening up new horizons, by bringing light to your own country, and by raising yourself and your people to their feet, then you must collaborate on the physical plane…

…A national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify, and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence…

3 comments:

R.O. said...

Hope to buy a copy of Fanon in the local bookstores, if there's any. He seems to be a pioneer in looking at the history of slavery with an acute psychological eye.

sparks said...

Resty,

If you can't find a hard copy, there are softcopies floating in the internetz :)

Giggle T said...

I guess I'll look for his book as well.

In response to your comments though - I don't think young people are cynical (well some of them are). It's more disillusionment than cynicism.