Frantz Omar Fanon
|Born||July 20, 1925
Fort-de-France, Martinique, France
|Died||December 6, 1961
|Children||Olivier Fanon, Mireille Fanon-Mendès France|
Frantz Omar Fanon (20 July 1925 – 6 December 1961) was a Martinique-born French psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer whose works are influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism. As an intellectual, Fanon was a political radical, and an existentialist humanist concerning the psychopathology of colonization, and the human, social, and cultural consequences of decolonization.
In the course of his work as a physician and psychiatrist, Fanon supported the Algerian war of independence from France, and was a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front. For more than four decades, the life and works of Frantz Fanon have inspired movements in Palestine, Sri Lanka, the U.S. and South Africa.
Martinique and the Second World War
Frantz Omar Fanon was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which was then a French colony and is now a French département. His father was a descendant of enslaved Africans; his mother was said to be an "illegitimate" child of African, Indian and European descent, whose white ancestors came from Strasbourg in Alsace. Fanon's family was socio-economically middle-class and they could afford the fees for the Lycée Schoelcher, then the most prestigious high school in Martinique, where the writer Aimé Césaire was one of his teachers.
After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, Vichy French naval troops were blockaded on Martinique. Forced to remain on the island, French sailors took over the government from the Martiniquan people and established a collaborationist regime. In the face of economic distress and in the isolation under the blockade, they instituted an oppressive regime; Fanon described them as taking off their masks and behaving like "authentic racists." Many accusations of harassment and sexual misconduct arose. The abuse of the Martiniquan people by the French Navy influenced Fanon, reinforcing his feelings of alienation and his disgust with colonial racism. At the age of eighteen, Fanon fled the island as a "dissident" (the coined word for French West Indians joining Gaullist forces) and travelled to British-controlled Dominica to join the Free French Forces.
He enlisted in the Free French army and joined an Allied convoy that arrived in Casablanca. He was later transferred to an army base at Béjaïa on the Kabylie coast of Algeria. Fanon left Algeria from Oran and saw service in France, notably in the battles of Alsace. In 1944 he was wounded at Colmar and received the Croix de guerre.
When the Nazis were defeated and Allied forces crossed the Rhine into Germany along with photo journalists, Fanon's regiment was "bleached" of all non-white soldiers and Fanon and his fellow Caribbean soldiers were sent to Toulon (Provence). Later, they were transferred to Normandy to await repatriation.
In 1945 Fanon returned to Martinique. His return lasted only a short time. While there, he worked for the parliamentary campaign of his friend and mentor Aimé Césaire, who would be a major influence in his life. Césaire ran on the communist ticket as a parliamentary delegate from Martinique to the first National Assembly of the Fourth Republic. Fanon stayed long enough to complete his baccalaureate and then went to France, where he studied medicine and psychiatry.
He was educated in Lyon, where he also studied literature, drama and philosophy, sometimes attending Merleau-Ponty's lectures. During this period he wrote three plays, which are lost. After qualifying as a psychiatrist in 1951, Fanon did a residency in psychiatry at Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole under the radical Catalan psychiatrist François Tosquelles, who invigorated Fanon's thinking by emphasizing the role of culture in psychopathology. After his residency, Fanon practised psychiatry at Pontorson, near Mont Saint-Michel, for another year and then (from 1953) in Algeria. He was chef de service at the Blida–Joinville Psychiatric Hospital in Algeria, where he stayed until his deportation in January 1957.
In France, in 1952, Fanon wrote his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, an analysis of the negative psychological effects of colonial subjugation upon Black people. Originally, the manuscript was the doctoral dissertation, submitted at Lyon, entitled "Essay on the Disalienation of the Black"; the rejection of the dissertation prompted Fanon to publish it as a book; for the doctor of philosophy degree, he then submitted another dissertation of narrower scope and different subject. It was the left-wing philosopher Francis Jeanson, leader of the pro-Algerian independence Jeanson network, who insisted upon the new title, for which book he wrote the epilogue. Jeanson also was a senior book editor at Éditions du Seuil, in Paris.
When Fanon submitted the manuscript of Black Skin, White Masks (1952) to Seuil, Jeanson invited him for an editor–author meeting that did not go well: Jeanson described Frantz Fanon as nervous and over-sensitive. Despite Jeanson praising the manuscript, Fanon abruptly interrupted him, and asked: "Not bad for a nigger, is it?" The editor Jeanson was insulted, became angry, and dismissed the disrespectful author Fanon from his editorial office; later, Jeanson said, that his response to Fanon’s discourtesy earned him Fanon’s lifelong respect. Afterwards, their working and personal relationship became much easier, and Fanon agreed to Jeanson’s suggested title, Black Skin, White Masks, because of the heavy load of medical course-work Fanon had to do to earn his doctor of medicine degree.
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Fanon left France for Algeria, where he had been stationed for some time during the war. He secured an appointment as a psychiatrist at Blida-Joinville Psychiatric Hospital. It was there that he radicalized methods of treatment. In particular, he began socio-therapy which connected with his patients' cultural backgrounds. He also trained nurses and interns. Following the outbreak of the Algerian revolution in November 1954 he joined the Front de Libération Nationale as a result of contacts with Dr Pierre Chaulet at Blida in 1955.
In The Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de la terre), published shortly before Fanon's death in 1961, Fanon defends the right for a colonized people to use violence to struggle for independence, arguing that human beings who are not considered as such shall not be bound by principles that apply to humanity, in their attitude towards the colonizer. His book was then censored by the French government.
Fanon made extensive trips across Algeria, mainly in the Kabyle region, to study the cultural and psychological life of Algerians. His lost study of "The marabout of Si Slimane" is an example. These trips were also a means for clandestine activities, notably in his visits to the ski resort of Chrea which hid an FLN base. By summer 1956 he wrote his "Letter of resignation to the Resident Minister" and made a clean break with his French assimilationist upbringing and education. He was expelled from Algeria in January 1957 and the "nest of fellaghas [rebels]" at Blida hospital was dismantled.
Fanon left for France and subsequently travelled secretly to Tunis. He was part of the editorial collective of El Moudjahid, for which he wrote until the end of his life. He also served as Ambassador to Ghana for the Provisional Algerian Government (GPRA) and attended conferences in Accra, Conakry, Addis Ababa, Leopoldville, Cairo and Tripoli. Many of his shorter writings from this period were collected posthumously in the book Toward the African Revolution. In this book Fanon reveals himself as a war strategist; in one chapter he discusses how to open a southern front to the war and how to run the supply lines.
On his return to Tunis, after his exhausting trip across the Sahara to open a Third Front, Fanon was diagnosed with leukemia. He went to the Soviet Union for treatment and experienced some remission of his illness. On his return to Tunis he dictated his testament The Wretched of the Earth. When he was not confined to his bed, he delivered lectures to ALN (Armée de Libération Nationale) officers at Ghardimao on the Algero-Tunisian border. He made a final visit to Sartre in Rome. In 1961 the CIA arranged a trip to the U.S. for further leukemia treatment.
He died in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 6, 1961, under the name of Ibrahim Fanon. He was buried in Algeria, after lying in state in Tunisia. Later his body was moved to a martyrs' (chouhada) graveyard at Ain Kerma in eastern Algeria. Fanon was survived by his wife Josie (née Dublé), a French woman, their son Olivier, and his daughter (from a previous relationship) Mireille. Mireille married Bernard Mendès-France, son of the French politician Pierre Mendès France. Josie took her own life in Algiers in 1989, Olivier still works for the Algerian Embassy in Paris.
Although Fanon wrote Black Skin, White Masks while still in France, most of his work was written in North Africa. It was during this time that he produced works such as L'An Cinq, de la Révolution Algérienne in 1959 (Year Five of the Algerian Revolution, later republished as Sociology of a Revolution and later still as A Dying Colonialism). Fanon's original title was "Reality of a Nation"; however, the publisher, François Maspero, refused to accept this title.
Fanon is best known for the classic on decolonization The Wretched of the Earth. The Wretched of the Earth was first published in 1961 by Éditions Maspero, with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. In it Fanon analyzes the role of class, race, national culture and violence in the struggle for national liberation. Both books established Fanon in the eyes of much of the Third World as the leading anti-colonial thinker of the 20th century.
The reception of his work has been affected by English translations which are recognized to contain numerous omissions and errors, while his unpublished work, including his doctoral thesis, has received little attention. As a result, Fanon has often been portrayed as an advocate of violence (it would be more accurate to characterize him as a dialectical opponent of nonviolence) and his ideas have been extremely oversimplified. This reductionist vision of Fanon's work ignores the subtlety of his understanding of the colonial system. For example, the fifth chapter of Black Skin, White Masks translates, literally, as "The Lived Experience of the Black" ("L'expérience vécue du Noir"), but Markmann's translation is "The Fact of Blackness", which leaves out the massive influence of phenomenology on Fanon's early work.
For Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, the colonizer's presence in Algeria is based on sheer military strength. Any resistance to this strength must also be of a violent nature because it is the only "language" the colonizer speaks. Thus, violent resistance is a necessity imposed by the colonists upon the colonized. The relevance of language and the reformation of discourse pervades much of his work, which is why it is so interdisciplinary, spanning psychiatric concerns to encompass politics, sociology, anthropology, linguistics and literature.
His participation in the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale from 1955 determined his audience as the Algerian colonized. It was to them that his final work, Les damnés de la terre (translated into English by Constance Farrington as The Wretched of the Earth) was directed. It constitutes a warning to the oppressed of the dangers they face in the whirlwind of decolonization and the transition to a neo-colonialist, globalized world.
Aimé Césaire was a particularly significant influence in Fanon's life. Césaire, a leader of the Négritude movement, was teacher and mentor to Fanon on the island of Martinique. Fanon referred to Césaire's writings in his own work. He quoted, for example, his teacher at length in "The Lived Experience of the Black Man", a heavily anthologized essay from Black Skins, White Masks.
Influence and legacy
Fanon has had an influence on anti-colonial and national liberation movements. In particular, Les damnés de la terre was a major influence on the work of revolutionary leaders such as Ali Shariati in Iran, Steve Biko in South Africa, Malcolm X in the United States and Ernesto Che Guevara in Cuba. Of these only Guevara was primarily concerned with Fanon's theories on violence; for Shariati and Biko the main interest in Fanon was "the new man" and "black consciousness" respectively.
Bolivian indianist Fausto Reinaga also had some Fanon influence and he mentions The Wretched of the Earth in his magnum opus La Revolución India, advocating for decolonisation of native South Americans from European influence.
Fanon's influence extended to the liberation movements of the Palestinians, the Tamils, African Americans and others. His work was a key influence on the Black Panther Party, particularly his ideas concerning nationalism, violence and the lumpenproletariat. More recently, radical South African poor people's movements, such as Abahlali baseMjondolo (meaning 'people who live in shacks' in Zulu), have been influenced by Fanon's work. His work was a key influence on Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire, as well.
Fanon has also profoundly affected contemporary African literature. His work serves as an important theoretical gloss for writers including Ghana's Ayi Kwei Armah, Senegal's Ken Bugul and Ousmane Sembène, Zimbabwe's Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Kenya's Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. Ngũgĩ goes so far to argue in Decolonizing the Mind (1992) that it is "impossible to understand what informs African writing" without reading Fanon's Wretched of the Earth.
- Black Skin, White Masks (1952), (1967 translation by Charles Lam Markmann: New York: Grove Press)
- A Dying Colonialism (1959), (1965 translation by Haakon Chavalier: New York, Grove Press)
- The Wretched of the Earth (1961), (1963 translation by Constance Farrington: New York: Grove Weidenfeld)
- Toward the African Revolution (1964), (1969 translation by Haakon Chavalier: New York: Grove Press)
Scholarly sources on Fanon
- David Caute, Frantz Fanon (1970, London: Wm. Collins and Co.)
- Peter Geismar, Fanon (1971, Grove Press)
- Irene Gendzier, Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study (1974, London: Wildwood House), ISBN 0-7045-0002-7
- Renate Zahar, Frantz Fanon: Colonialism and Alienation (1969, trans. 1974, Monthly Review Press)
- Richard C. Onwubanibe, A Critique of Revolutionary Humanism: Frantz Fanon (1983, St. Louis: Warren Green)
- Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon And The Psychology Of Oppression (1985, New York: Plenum Press), ISBN 0-306-41950-5
- Lewis R. Gordon, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man: An Essay on Philosophy and the Human Sciences (1995, New York: Routledge)
- Lewis R. Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, & Renee T. White (eds), Fanon: A Critical Reader (1996, Oxford: Blackwell)
- Ato Sekyi-Otu, Fanon's Dialectic of Experience (1996, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press)
- T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Frantz Fanon: Conflicts and Feminisms (1998, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.)
- Anthony Alessandrini (ed.), Frantz Fanon: Critical Perspectives (1999, New York: Routledge)
- Nigel C. Gibson (ed.), Rethinking Fanon: The Continuing Dialogue (1999, Amherst, New York: Humanity Books)
- Alice Cherki, Frantz Fanon. Portrait (2000, Paris: Éditions du Seuil)
- David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000, New York: Picador Press), ISBN 0-312-27550-1
- Patrick Ehlen, Frantz Fanon: A Spiritual Biography (2001, New York: Crossroad 8th Avenue), ISBN 0-8245-2354-7
- Nigel C. Gibson, Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination (2003, Oxford: Polity Press)
- Nigel C. Gibson, Fanonian Practices in South Africa (2011, London: Palgrave Macmillan)
- Nigel C. Gibson (ed.), Living Fanon: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2011, London: Palgrave Mamcillan)
- Matthew Quest. "Frantz Fanon's Critique of the National Bourgeoisie Revisited." The CLR James Journal, 11.1 (Summer 2005) 113-126.
- Harb, Sirène. “Frantz Fanon”, in William A. Darity, Jr (ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 3. 2nd edition, Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 99–100.
Films on Fanon
- Isaac Julien, Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask (a documentary) (1996, San Francisco: California Newsreel)
- "Biography of Frantz Fanon". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
- Lewis Gordon, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man (1995), New York: Routledge.
- Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression (1985), New York: Plenum Press.
- Alice Cherki, Frantz Fanon. Portrait (2000), Paris: Seuil.
- David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000), New York: Picador Press.
- Fanonian Practices in South Africa, by Nigel Gibson, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, 2011
- Petri Liukkonen (2002). "Frantz Fanon (1925–1961)". Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
- David Macey, "Frantz Fanon, or the Difficulty of Being Martinican", History Workshop Journal, Project Muse. Retrieved 2010-08-27
- Alice Cherki, Frantz Fanon. Portrait (2000), Paris: Seuil); David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000), New York: Picador Press).
- Cherki, Alice (2006). Frantz Fanon: A Portrait. Cornell University Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-8014-7308-1.
- Angelo Codevilla, Informing Statecraft (1992, New York).
- Sartre, Jean-Paul. "Preface". Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (1967, New York: Grove Press)
- "Extraits de la préface de Jean-Paul Sartre au "Les Damnés de la Terre" (Extracts from the preface by Jean-Paul Sartre to The Wretched of the Eeath)" (in French) (Winter 1996 ed.). Tambour Journal. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
- Moten, Fred (Spring 2008). "The Case of Blackness". Criticism 50 (2): 177–218. doi:10.1353/crt.0.0062.
- "Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions. Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe? [...] It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe's crimes, of which the most horrible was committed in the heart of man, and consisted of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity. And in the framework of the collectivity there were the differentiations, the stratification and the bloodthirsty tensions fed by classes; and finally, on the immense scale of humanity, there were racial hatreds, slavery, exploitation and above all the bloodless genocide which consisted in the setting aside of fifteen thousand millions of men. So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her." The Wretched of the Earth – "Conclusions".
- The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, second edition, 2010, p. 1438.
- Imre Szeman and Timothy Kaposy (eds), Cultural Theory: An Anthology, 2011, Wiley-Blackwell, p. 431.
- Lewis R. Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, & Renee T. White (eds), Fanon: A Critical Reader (1996: Oxford, Blackwell), p. 163, and Bianchi, Eugene C., The Religious Experience of Revolutionaries (1972: Doubleday), p. 206.
- Nigel C. Gibson, "Upright and free: Fanon in South Africa, from Biko to the shackdwellers' movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo)", Social Identities, 14:6, 2008, pp. 683–715.
- Vincent B. Leitch et al. (eds), The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, second edition 2010: New York, W. W. Norton & Company, pp. 1437-8.
- "Founding manifesto of the Economic Freedom Fighters", Politicsweb, 25 July 2013.
- Enrique Dussel website
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