|Frantz Fanon on the cover of an English translation of Les damns de la terre|
|Born||July 20, 1925
|Died||December 6, 1961|
Frantz Omar Fanon (July 20, 1925 – December 6, 1961) was a psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and author from Martinique. His work remains influential in the fields of post-colonial studies and critical theory. Fanon is perhaps the pre-eminent thinker of the 20th century on the issue of decolonization and the psychopathology of colonization. His works have incited and inspired anti-colonial liberation movements for more than four decades.
Frantz Fanon was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which was then a French colony and is now a French dpartement. 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 Lyce Schoelcher, then the most prestigious high school in Martinique, where the writer Aim Csaire 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 Aim Csaire, who would be the greatest influence in his life. Although Fanon never professed to be a communist, Csaire 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.
While 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.
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 FLN liberation front (Front de Libration Nationale) as a result of contacts with Dr. Pierre Chaulet at Blida in 1955.
In The Wretched of the Earth (Les damns 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.
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 (Arme de Libration 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 (ne Dubl), their son Olivier, and his daughter (from a previous relationship) Mireille. Mireille married Bernard Mends-France, son of the French politician Pierre Mends-France. Josie committed suicide in Algiers in 1989.
Although 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 Rvolution Algrienne, 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 Franois 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 Libration Nationale) from 1955 determined his audience as the Algerian colonized. It was to them that his final work, Les damns 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.
Much of Fanon's writings is traced to the influence of Aim Csaire. But, while it could be said that Fanon's works are directly influenced by the Ngritude movement, Fanon reformulated the theory of Csaire and Lopold Senghor by positing a new theory of consciousness. Ngritude implicitly based consciousness in racial difference and tension. A mean 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 Csaire was based in an evolutionary model where the colonized ideologies transition from assimiliationist, ngritude, and finally Fanon's own theory.
Fanon has had an influence on anti-colonial and national liberation movements. In particular, Les damns 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.
Fanon has become a hero to many people, both as a theorist influenced by ngritude 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.
Rage 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 Capitolism, always does a man read Mao or Fanon..."
Linton Kwesi Johnson, British Black Panther and a protagonist of "Dub Poetry" was largely influenced by the writings of Fanon, as evidenced by several of the lyrics on the album 'Dread Beat an' Blood'.
Jimmie 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."
British 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).
American 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.
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