Martinique and World War IIFrantz Fanon was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which was then a French colony and is now a French département. He was born into a mixed family background: his father was the descendent of African slaves, and his mother was said to be an illegitimate child of mixed race, whose white ancestors came from Strasbourg in Alsace. Fanon's family was socioeconomically 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 soldiers became "authentic racists." Many accusations of harassment and sexual misconduct arose. The abuse of the Martiniquan people by the French Army was a major influence on Fanon, as it reinforced his feelings of alienation and his disgust at the realities of colonial racism. At the age of eighteen, Fanon fled the island as a "dissident" (the coined word for French West Indians joining the gaullist forces) and traveled to then-British colony Dominica to join the Free French Forces.
He later enlisted in the French army and joined an Allied convoy that arrived in Casablanca. He was later transferred to an army base at Bejaia on the Kabyle 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 medal. 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) instead. Later, they were transferred to Normandy to await repatriation home.
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 the greatest influence in his life. Although Fanon never professed to be a communist, 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, whose manuscripts are now lost. After qualifying as a psychiatrist in 1951, Fanon did a residency in psychiatry at Saint-Alban under the radical Catalan psychiatrist Francois Tosquelles, who invigorated Fanon's thinking by emphasizing the important yet often overlooked role of culture in psychopathology. After his residency, Fanon practiced psychiatry at Pontorson, near Mont St 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.
His service in France's army (and his experiences in Martinique) influenced Black Skin, White Masks. For Fanon, being colonized by a language had larger implications for one's political consciousness: "To speak . . . means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization" (BSWM 17-18). Speaking French means that one accepts, or is coerced into accepting, the collective consciousness of the French.
FranceWhile in France, Fanon then wrote his first book in 1952, Black Skin, White Masks, an analysis of the effect of colonial subjugation on humanity. This book was originally his doctoral thesis submitted at Lyon and entitled, "The Disalienation of the Black Man". The rejection of the thesis led Fanon to seek to have the book published. It was the left wing philosopher Francis Jeanson, leader of the pro-Algerian independence Jeanson network, who insisted on the new title and also wrote an epilogue for this publication.
AlgeriaFanon 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 FLN liberation front (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 discusses in depth the effects on Algerians of torture by the French forces. 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 traveled secretly to Tunis. He was part of the editorial collective of El Moudjahid for which he wrote to 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.
DeathOn 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 and went for further leukemia treatment in the USA.
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), 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 committed suicide in Algiers in 1989.
WorkAlthough Fanon wrote Black Skin, White Masks while still in France, most of his work was written while in North Africa. It was during this time that he produced works such as L'An Cinq, de la Révolution Algérienne, or Year Five of the Algerian Revolution, later republished as 'Sociology of a Revolution" and later still as 'A Dying Colonialism'. The irony of this was that Fanon's original title was "Reality of a Nation", however the publisher, Francois Maspero, refused to accept this title. He also wrote an important work on decolonization, The Wretched of the Earth. The Wretched of the Earth was first published in 1961 by François Maspero and has 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.
Fanon's three books were supplemented by numerous psychiatry articles as well as radical critiques of French colonialism in journals such as Esprit and El Moudjahid.
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. This reductionist vision of Fanon's work ignores the subtlety of his understanding of the colonial system.
For Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, the colonizer's presence in Algeria is based sheerly on military strength. Any resistance to this strength must also be of a violent nature because it is the only 'language' the colonizer speaks. 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 FLN (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.
InfluencesMuch of Fanon's writings is traced to the influence of Aimé Césaire. But, while it could be said that Fanon's works are directly influenced by the Négritude movement, Fanon reformulated the theory of Césaire and Léopold Senghor by positing a new theory of consciousness. Négritude implicitly based consciousness in racial difference and tension. A means to achieve equality and remain under French rule without losing one’s identity through assimilation. Fanon's psychological training and experience influenced him to base much of the problems he saw as psychological and as the product of the domination which arises in oppressive colonial situations. That is, consciousness was not of "racial essence" but a fact arising from political and social situations. Fanon's consciousness was not purely black, but extended to colonized peoples of any racial category. Fanon's own explanation of the difference between his theory and that of Blaise Diagne, Senghor and Césaire was based in an evolutionary model where the colonized ideologies transition from assimiliationist, négritude, and finally Fanon's own theory.
InfluenceFanon 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. 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 people's movements have been influenced by Fanon's work. His work was a key influence on Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire, as well. Barack Obama references Fanon in his book, Dreams from My Father.
The Caribbean Philosophical Association offers the Frantz Fanon Prize for work that furthers the decolonization and liberation of mankind.
References in the artsFanon has become a hero to many people, both as a theorist influenced by négritude and as an advocate of resistance and revolution, especially with relation to violence in revolution. Often, he is mentioned mostly as a symbol that the artist is familiar with the works of classic writers in the struggle against colonialism.
MusicRage Against the Machine makes reference to Fanon ("grip tha canon like Fanon and pass tha shells to my classmate") in a track entitled "Year of tha Boomerang" on their 1996 release Evil Empire. The Wretched of the Earth appears on the inside of the album cover. This use of Fanon in the context of an advocate of violent insurrection can be compared to the use by Rage Against the Machine lead singer, Zack de la Rocha, a track recorded with artists Last Emperor and KRS-One called "C.I.A. (Criminals In Action)." The lyric is: "I bring the sun at red dawn upon the thoughts of Frantz Fanon, So stand at attention devil dirge, You'll never survive choosing sides against the Wretched of the Earth."
Gil Scott-Heron makes reference to Fanon in his poem "Brother". "...Never can a man build a working structure for black capitalism, always does a man read Mao or Fanon..."
- The Coup track "Dig it" equally makes reference to Fanon: "Knew that I was doomed since birth to be the Wretched of the Earth"
- Another lyrical reference to Fanon was made by Digable Planets. Digable Planets refer to Fanon in their rap-jazz cut "Little Renee" from the Coneheads motion picture soundtrack.
- Michael Franti wrote in the song, "Keep Me Lifted" (from album Chocolate Supa Highway), the lyrics: "Franz Fanon, the Wretched of the Earth, home, phenomenon be going on and on."
- Earthling (band) wrote in the song, "Nefisa" (from album Radar), the lyrics: "PVC costumes, letters to Castro, Show me what you're reading, freaky girl with the afro, Franz (sic) Fannon, yeah yeah I get it, All that curiosity with something to offset it" About being a youth and alienated at the point of an emerging consciousness but lacking the intellectual tools to order eveything.
Contemporary ArtJimmie Durham, an American Indian conceptual artist, references Fanon's postcolonial thought in a piece entitled "Often Durham Employs..." (1998), with this quote from Fanon- "The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers."
CinemaBritish film maker Isaac Julien made a 1995 film mixing interviews of Fanon's relatives and friends with fictionalized incidents of his life.
In Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions, the main character Remy, who suffers from a terminal cancer, reunites with his old friends in a cottage where they all remember their intellectual and sexual exploits in life. At one point Remy's friend Claude says "we read Fanon and became anti-colonialists."
American filmmakers Eric Stanley and Chris Vargas reference Fanon's work, in their 2007 anti-colonial film, Homotopia.
Argentine film-makers and founders of 'Grupo Cine Liberacion', Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, were influenced by Fanon's theories and used quotations from his work in their film La Hora de los hornos (1968).
In Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum, one character quotes Fanon and says: "When we revolt, it's not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe."
LiteratureAmerican author Philip Roth references Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth in his novel American Pastoral, including the work in a long list of revolutionary literature that the protagonist's daughter reads. Included in the novel is the famous passage from Fanon's work about Algerian women.
TheaterFanon appears as a character in British playwright Caryl Churchill's The Hospital At The Time of The Revolution.
- Black Skin, White Masks (1952), (1967 translation by Charles Lam Markmann: New York, Grove Press)
- A Dying Colonialism (1959), (1965 translation of the book)
- 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)
Books on Fanon
- Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, "Frantz Fanon And The Psychology Of Oppression" (1985: New York NY, Plenum Press) ISBN 0-306-41950-5
- Alice Cherki, "Frantz Fanon. Portrait" (2000: Paris, Seuil)
- Patrick Ehlen, Frantz Fanon: A Spiritual Biography (2001: New York, NY, Crossroad 8th Avenue) ISBN 0-8245-2354-7
- Nigel C. Gibson [ed.], Rethinking Fanon: The Continuing Dialogue (1999: Amherst, New York, Humanity Books)
- Nigel C. Gibson, Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination (2003: Oxford, Polity Press)
- 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)
- Azzedine Haddour [Ed. and introduced], "The Fanon Reader" (2006: London, Pluto Press)
- David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000: New York, NY, Picador Press) ISBN 0-312-27550-1
- Ato Sekyi-Otu, Fanon's Dialectic of Experience (1996: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press)
- T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Frantz Fanon: Conflicts and Feminisms (1998: Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.)
- John Edgar Wideman, "Fanon" (2008: New York, NY, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) ISBN 0-618-94263-7
Films on Fanon
- Isaac Julien, "Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask" (a documentary) (1996: San Francisco, California Newsreel)
- ^ Richard Pithouse. "That the Tool Never Posses the Man: Taking Fanon's Humanism Seriously". Politikon, 2005. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.120.919&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Retrieved 2010-10-21.
- ^ a b Jennifer Poulos. "Frantz Fanon". Emory University. Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. http://www.webcitation.org/5YeIdZauE. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
- ^ Benjamin Graves. "Frantz Fanon: an Introduction". Political Discourse - Theories of Colonialism and Postcolonialism. National University of Singapore. Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. http://www.webcitation.org/5YeJPpD1u. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
- ^ Petri Liukkonen (2002). "Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)". Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. http://www.webcitation.org/5YeKOT6P7. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
- ^ "Project MUSE - History Workshop Journal - Frantz Fanon, or the Difficulty of Being Martinican". Muse.jhu.edu. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/history_workshop_journal/v058/58.1macey.html. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
- ^ Sartre, Jean-Paul. "Preface". Fanon, Franz. Black Skin, White Masks, transl. 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). Tambour Journal. http://www.tanbou.com/1996/SatreExtraits.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
- ^ 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"
- ^ Lambert (1993), page 258
- ^ Lewis R. Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, & Renee T. White [edd] Fanon: A Critical Reader (1996: Oxford, Blackwell) p 163 & Bianchi, Eugene C. The Religious Experience of Revolutionaries (1972 Doubleday) p 206
- ^ See the paper in the C.L.R. James journal by Richard Pithouse at: http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/C.L.R.%20James%20Journal.pdf and also Nigel C. Gibson (2008)'Upright and free: Fanon in South Africa, from Biko to the shackdwellers' movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo)',Social Identities,14:6,683 — 715 at http://abahlali.org/files/uprightandfree.pdf
- ^ D'Souza, Dinesh, "How Obama Thinks", Forbes magazine, 9.27.10. Cited in Michael D. Shear, "Gingrich: President Exhibits ‘Kenyan, Anticolonial Behavior’", The New York Times "Caucus" blog, September 13, 2010, 10:02 am. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
- ^ Enrique Dussel website