Fanon, Frantz

Assigned: Fanon, Frantz. From Black Skin, White Masks (1353-60);from The Wretched of the Earth, “On National Culture” (1361-67). Also read editors’ introduction (1351-53).

From Black Skin, White Masks (1952)

From The Fact of Blackness

1. On 1353-55 (“And then the occasion arose…”), Fanon begins with the need to “meet the white man’s eyes” (1353), and then looks to African history, as relayed through the French Martinique poet Aimé Césaire’s “Introduction to Victor Schoelcher,” as a source of self-knowledge and insight. What does he discover there, and what is his immediate reaction upon making the discovery?

2. On 1355 (“‘Lay aside your history, your…’”), Fanon offers an imagined white European rejoinder to his enthusiastic utterance upon discovering the heights of African civilization. What is the substance of the rejoinder, and why does this “white” response leave Fanon feeling compelled to say, “Every hand was a losing hand for me” in his quest, as he says, to “reclaim my negritude” (1355)?

3. On 1355-57 (“… Proof was presented that my effort was only…”), Fanon refers to Sartre’s 1948 treatise, Orphée noir (“Black Orpheus”), which, as the editors point out, served as the preface to the Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache. Why does the existentialist philosopher’s dialectical analysis disappoint Fanon? How does he characterize “Sartre’s mistake” (1356) and the bad effects it has on someone—himself foremost—who is concerned to arrive at a true understanding of “black consciousness” (1356-57)?

4. On 1357-59 (“The dialectic that brings necessity…”), the writer turns to the poetry of the Haitian author Jacques Roumain and the French-born West African David Diop. What knowledge does he obtain from his engagement with these black poets? Why does he come back to Sartre’s troubling analysis again, and what impact does it have upon him, both intellectually and emotionally?

5. On 1359-60 (“But the constancy of my love had…”), Fanon’s persona says, “So I took up my negritude, and with tears in my eyes I put its machinery together again” (1359). It seems from this and other statements in these final pages that the piece will end on a determined, even defiant note. But how do Fanon’s allusions to a Sartre play (The Respectful Prostitute), a Richard Wright novel (Native Son), and a novel by Chester Himes (If He Hollers Let Him Go) complicate matters? How do you process the fact that Fanon’s text (the fifth chapter from Black Skin, White Masks)begins and ends with weeping?

6. General question: In our selection from Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon explores the difficulties and passions surrounding the concept of what he calls négritude, or black African identity in opposition to French colonial domination and racial norm-setting. What makes the author’s pursuit of négritude so difficult—what obstacles within and outside of him stand in the way of stable achievement of the identity sought for? Another line of reflection to pursue for this question might be to compare Fanon’s exploration with the analysis of black identity and status in the work of another author you have read for this course, or in your own private reading. Some anthologized authors to consider are W. E. B. Du Bois (Leitch 841-53), Zora Neale Hurston (Leitch 936-54), Chinua Achebe (1534-46), Toni Morrison (Leitch 1670-84), Henry Louis Gates Jr. (2242-52), bell hooks (2316-25), and Paul Gilroy (Leitch 2389-2409).

From The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

From “On National Culture: Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the Fight for Freedom”

1. On 1361-62 (“Colonial domination, because it is total…”) how, according to Frantz Fanon, does initial colonial domination disrupt national culture, and on what two unproductive paths does such disruption lead colonized artists and intellectuals, respectively? How does Fanon characterize the untenable situation of a national culture in the grip of colonial rule (1362)?

2. On 1362-63 (“By the time a century or two of exploitation…”), as colonial domination continues over an extended period of time, what developments, according to Fanon, drive the colonized people more and more to “organized revolt” (1362)? What effects do the tensions that surface have upon the colonized people’s culture? What promising effects do such tensions have upon the consciousness and output of those involved in the various kinds of art and artisanship, including literary genres?

3. On 1363-65 (“The contact of the people with…”), Fanon continues to describe the changes in consciousness that occur in a colonized people as the colonization itself wears on. On 1364-65, what happens, according to Fanon, to the quality and intensity of expression in the various arts, among them storytelling, drama, handicrafts, ceramics and pottery-making, dancing, singing, and the carrying out of rites and ceremonies?

4. On 1365-66 (“We have noted the appearance of…”), what does Fanon say becomes necessary as the national consciousness of a colonized people matures? According to him, why is it a serious (if frequent) mistake to “try to find cultural expressions for and to give new values to native culture within the framework of colonial domination” (1365)? How does Fanon here define “culture”? What strategy of cultural expression should a colonized people pursue on the way to “national liberation” (1365), and why so? In what sense is the fight for liberation the condition of possibility, the sine qua non (literally, “thing without which there is nothing”), of a flourishing national culture?

5. On 1366-67 (“Thus we have followed the breakup…”), Fanon poses one final question that he considers essential: “is the struggle for liberation a cultural phenomenon or not”? (1366). How does he answer this question? Moreover, what happens after the conflict for freedom ends successfully? Why is it so necessary, according to Fanon, for formerly colonized but now victorious people not to succumb to naïve assertion of a “universalizing dimension” of their culture, as if they can simply leave behind the vestiges of a nationalism they think is no longer necessary? In what sense is intense nationalist struggle and the cultural production associated with it foundational for an internationalist and universalizing dimension once the fight has ended?

6. General question: Since Frantz Fanon wrote The Wretched of the Earth and other classic texts, the imposing age of direct imperial domination, we might say, has ended: most dramatically, perhaps, Great Britain (rejecting the conservative Winston Churchill’s earnest desire to keep the imperial possessions) gave up its massive empire in the aftermath of World War II and established a “Commonwealth,” while other European powers no longer hold large sections of the so-called developing world in thralldom. Africa and the East are now full of sovereign nations, where once there were “colonies.” Even so, what problems does the developing world still face? In what ways has parity with the powerful nations of the West continued to elude their grasp and frustrate their aspirations? What factors still combine to keep many of these relatively new independent countries from achieving prosperity and realizing their full potential?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake