Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) was perhaps the preeminent thinker of the 20th century on the issue of decolonization and the psychopathology of colonization. His works have inspired anti-colonial liberation movements throughout the world for the past forty-two years.
Martinique and WWII
Fanon was born on 20 June 1925 on the Caribbean island of Martinique, then a French colony and now a French département. He was born into a middle class black family and received a typical assimilationist education.
After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, French troops which usually rotated onto and off of the island were forced to remain in Martinique. Forced to remain on the island, soldiers were no longer polite and distant in their relationship with the locals. Many accusations of harassment and sexual misconduct arose. The treatment of the Martinique people by the French Army was a major formative influence on Fanon, as it cemented the feelings of alienation and his understanding of the realities of racism. At the age of eighteen, Fanon enlisted in the French army and saw active duty in France. In 1944 he was wounded in battle and received the Croix de Guerre medal.
In 1945, after recovering from his wounds Fanon returned home to Martinique, a decorated war veteran. His return to Martinique 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 it is often argued that Fanon was never fully 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 returned to France where he took up the study of medicine and psychiatry. He was educated in Paris and Lyon, qualifying as a psychiatrist in 1951; he practised psychiatry in France and (from 1953) in Algeria. He was chef de service in Blida-Joinville , Algeria, where he stayed until his resignation in 1956.
While in France he wrote his first book, Black Skin, White Mask , an analysis of the impact of colonial subjugation on the black psyche. This book was a very personal account of Fanon’s experience being black: as a man, an intellectual, and a party to a French education.
Fanon left France for Algeria, where he had been stationed for some time during the war. He secured an appointment as a doctor of psychiatry, and was a doctor when the war for independence broke out in 1954. As a side note, he discusses in depth the effect of the torture of Algerian "terrorists" in his writings; torture that still has political ramifications in France as Jacques Chirac was stationed in Algeria at this time. In 1956 he severed his ties with the French government, made a clean break with his French assimilationist upbringing and education, and began working openly with the Front Liberation National (FLN), who were fighting to liberate Algeria from French colonial rule. His writings began to appear often in the FLN newspaper "El Moudjahid". He also served as Ambassador to Ghana for the Provisional Algerian Government (Independence was not gained until 1962, one year after his death). Much of his shorter writings from this period were collected posthumously in the book Toward the African Revolution . In this book Fanon even outs himself as a war strategist; in one chapter he discusses how to open a southern front to the war and how to adequately run the supply lines.
While in Ghana, Fanon was diagnosed with leukemia. Well-acquainted with the prognosis, he refused to rest, and worked feverishly on his final and seminal work, The Wretched of the Earth. He died in Washington DC on December 6 1961, but was buried alongside fellow rebels in Algeria, after lying in state in Tunisia.
Although Fanon wrote Black Skin, White Mask while still in France, most of his work was written while in North Africa. It was during this time that he produced his greatest works, A Dying Colonialism and perhaps the most important work on decolonization yet written, The Wretched of the Earth. The Wretched of the Earth was first published in 1961 by Jean Paul Sartre, and contains a preface by the philosopher. In it, Fanon lucidly analyses the role of class, race, national culture and violence in the struggle for national liberation. In this seminal work Fanon expounded his views on the liberating role of violence for the colonized; as well as the general necessity of violence in the anti-colonial struggle. Both books firmly established Fanon in the eyes of much of the Third World as the leading anti-colonial thinker of the 20th century. In 1959 he compiled his essays on Algeria in a book called L'An Cinq: De la Révolution Algérienne (The Year Five: On the Algerian Revolution), also published as A Dying Colonialism . In this book, he drew an optimistic view of a revolutionary change made in the Algerian national psyche due to the revolution.
Fanon objected to the négritude fashioned by many prominent African authors of the period. Sticking to a Marxist approach, he insisted that social status is conditioned by social and economic facts.
Fanon has been both criticized and lionized for what is perceived as his use and defense of revolutionary violence and his absolute scorn for nonviolent activism. Despite these somewhat inaccurate interpretations of his works, Fanon has had an enduring and inspiring impact on anti-colonial and liberation movements throughout the world.
- Black Skin, White Masks , transl. Charles Lam Markmann (1967: New York, Grove Press)
- A Dying Colonialism
- Toward the African Revolution
- The Wretched of the Earth, transl. Constance Farrington (1968: New York, Grove Weidenfeld)
- Toward the African Revolution , transl. Haakon Chavalier (1969: New York, Grove Press)
- Laura Chraisman & Patrick Williams Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader (1994: New York, Columbia University Press)
- Lewis R. Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, & Renee T. White [edd] Fanon: A Critical Reader (1996: Oxford, Blackwell)
- Hussein M. Adam “Fanon as a Democratic Theorist” in Nigel Gibson [ed.] Rethinking Fanon: The Continuing Dialogue (199: Amherst, New York, Humanity Books)
- Samuel Oluoch Imbo An Introduction to African Philosophy (1998: Oxford, Rowman & Littlefield) ISBN 0-8476-8840-2
- Ato Sekyi-otu Fanon's Dialectic of Experience (1996: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press)
- Tsenay Serequeberhan The Hermeneutics of African Philosophy (1994: London, Routledge) ISBN 0-415-90802-7
- Olúfémi Táíwò “Fanon” in Robert L. Arrington [ed.] A Companion to the Philosophers (2001: Oxford, Blackwell) ISBN 0-631-22967-1
Last updated: 08-17-2005 16:28:16