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Ahluwalia, Pal (2002) Fanon’s Nausea: The Hegemony Of The White Nation. Presented at UND Seminar : -.

The name Frantz Fanon has become synonymous with anti-colonialism. In looking at Fanon’s oeuvre, we tend to see his discourse on race as an integral part of his Algerian work. However, one key fact of Fanon's career is generally overlooked - Black Skin White Masks was written before he went to Algeria.

By the time he reached Algeria, the focus on race, which had motivated his psychiatric studies in the first place, was subsumed into a much broader critique of colonialism and its dehumanising effects on the Algerian population. This paper links Fanon’s work on race with his writings on Algeria. Fanon was deeply influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre and it is the notion of nausea which has a particular resonance for him. Fanon’s nausea is manifested clearly in his recognition of the absurdity of the colonial world. However, it is this that becomes particularly enabling, forcing him to consider the possibilities of a new society in which both the coloniser and colonised are transformed through a new humanism, one which is by no means the humanism of the Enlightenment.

It is this possibility of transformation which is pertinent to South Africa. Fanon’s doubts about the ‘Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ and his suspicions concerning the monologic tyranny of nationalism offer insights into the way forward for South Africa - particularly that of transformation where simple racial binaries are no longer sustainable.

Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique on July 20, 1925 and grew up in the capital of Fort-de-France. Fanon was part of a very small percentage of black Martinicans who were able to be educated at the lycée. Growing up within the French system of education had a profound influence on Fanon and no doubt paralleled the experience of Aimé Césaire who described the education he received as one which associated in our minds the word France and the word liberty, and that bound us to France by every fiber of our hearts and every power of our minds (as cited in Hall 1995: 10).

It was this idea of France and the notion of liberty which made every French colonial subject believe that they were linked inextricably to France. Roland Barthes captures the essence of the myth that was promulgated in his discussion of the photographic image of a young black solider in a French uniform saluting the tricolour. Barthes illustrated how this image served to reinforce colonial ideology and the idea that French colonies were a mere extension of the metropole:

that all her sons, without any colour discrimination, faithfully serve under her flag, and that there is no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this Negro in serving his so-called oppressors (cited in Young 1991: 123).

It was against this background that Fanon joined the Free French Army in 1944 while Martinique was under Nazi control. He fled the Island and joined the Allied forces fighting against Germany in North Africa and Europe. The War had a profound effect on Fanon's identity. He had grown up in Martinique thinking that he was French. However, he experienced a great deal of racism not only in the French Army but also from the French population during the War. When he returned to Martinique as a decorated war veteran, having received the Croix de Guerre for bravery, Bulhan notes that he, brought with him not only memories regarding the horrors of war, but also serious doubts about his identity as a Frenchman (1985: 28).

This identity had to be reconstituted painfully into that of a black West Indian when he moved to Paris to study, taking advantage of the scholarships that were available to war veterans. Fanon studied medicine at the University of Lyons, and defended his medical thesis in 1951 before undertaking a residency programme in psychiatry at the Hôpital de Saint-Alban. This period of study was highly influential for Fanon because the community was “a hot bed of radical politics and in the midst of heated racial tension” (Gordon et. al. 1996: 2). Upon completing his studies, Fanon went to Algiers in November 1953 as medical director of the Blida-Joinville Hospital, the largest psychiatric hospital in Algeria. It was through practising in this hospital that he came into close contact with Algerians fighting for independence as well as French police officers, both victims of the colonial experience. It was here that he eventually decided to join the Algerian freedom fighters in their struggle for independence from French colonisation. In 1956, Fanon resigned from his position at the hospital. This was an important juncture where his French upbringing and training itself was under attack from his conscience. It was the beginning of the world turning upside down.

It is Fanon’s Algerian locatedness which is critical. It was through his personal experiences that he began to reject the universalism which had been ingrained in him through the French system. It was through his sense of personal alienation that he was able to question the humanism of the Enlightenment which had been promised to him through the idea that the colonies were a mere extension of France. The precursor to theorising the inauguration of a new humanism were his experiences in Martinique and the process of self-discovery and realisation which he undertook in his first book, Black Skin, White Masks. Here, Fanon subverts Freud’s “what does woman want?” by asking the question, “What does the black man want?” (1986: 10).

The Desire to be White

In response to this rhetorical question, Fanon observed, “There is a fact: White men consider themselves superior to black men. There is another fact: Black men want to prove to white men, at all costs, the richness of their thought, the equal value of their intellect” (12). Fanon was acutely aware of the negritude writers and their project which aimed to illustrate that they had a cultural heritage which was of equal or greater importance. The methodology employed by Fanon was that which he had been taught at medical school. He looked for symptoms which would allow him to diagnose a particular disease and it was from such a diagnosis that he sought a cure. He wrote, “I believe that the fact of the juxtaposition of the white and black races has created a massive psychoexistential complex. I hope by analyzing it to destroy it” (Fanon 1986: 14). Fanon sought to understand what the processes were which forced the black person to want to become white.

Fanon was particularly apt at showing how all identity was relational. Drawing upon Jean-Paul Sartre’s work that, “it is the anti-Semite who makes the Jew”, he concluded that, “the feeling of inferiority of the colonized is the correlative to the European’s feeling of superiority....It is the racist who creates his inferior” (93). Fanon explains how a whole system of racism operates on the basis of colour and establishes a hierarchy:

The Frenchman does not like the Jew, who does not like the Arab, who does not like the Negro...The Arab is told: ’If you are poor, it is because the Jew has bled you and taken everything from you’. The Jew is told: ‘you are not the same class as the Arab because you are really white because you have Einstein and Bergson’. The Negro is told you are the best soldiers in the French Empire; the Arabs think they are better than you, but they are wrong” (103).

Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew (1965) was highly influential on Fanon and this is evident clearly in Black Skin, White Masks, where he extends the notions of recognition and non-recognition through the trope of racial identity. However, what is significant about the two is that Sartre was not writing as a Jew whereas Fanon was writing from the lived experience of being black. Sonia Kruks sums up Fanon’s project in this book as being one which “is less to account for white negrophobia than to explore the lived-experience and moral possibilities open to a black living in a negrophobic world” (Kruks 1996: 128). The major lesson that Fanon learned from European existentialism was the “basic concept of nonbeing that he used to describe the conditions of aridity and paralysis that often follow ego collapse” (Henry 1996: 234). It is at that point that Fanon addresses the absurdity of the colonial world and it is here that the idea of nausea becomes paramount.

Fanon’s Nausea

The notion of Fanon’s nausea that I am addressing in this paper is one that can be discerned in the oft-quoted encounter between a white child and Fanon himself in Black Skin, White Masks. It is possible in this encounter to decipher Fanon’s project. He demonstrates how the effects of colonialism permeated the black body and created a desire to wear a white mask, to mimic the white person in order to survive the absurdity of the colonial world. Fanon wrote about the sense of alienation, of being an object in a world of objects created by colonisation. Ronald Judy points out that the principal task of Black Skin, White Masks is “to understand what the consciousness of and for the black is by understanding how it is, its process of becoming”. The entire book can be seen as an “attempt to understand the forms of consciousness that occur in history” (1996: 54). This book needs to be seen as more than a social psychology of racism, it is about the lived experience of being black. This encounter which is played out in three stages, epitomises for Fanon, the fact that, “not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man” (1986: 110).

The first stage is the sighting of Fanon by the white child possibly at a railway station.

‘Look a Negro!’ It was an external stimulus that flicked over me as I passed by. I made a tight smile.
‘Look a Negro!’ It was true. It amused me.
‘Look a Negro!’ The circle was drawing a bit tighter. I made no secret of my amusement.
‘Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened! Frightened! Frightened! Now they were beginning to be afraid of me. I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible.
Unable to laugh, Fanon notes the manner in which the black man’s “corporeal schema” is replaced with an “epidermal schema”. This gives way to the second stage.

In the train it was no longer a question of being aware of my body in the third person but in a triple person. In the train I was given not one but two, three places. I had already stopped being amused. It was not that I was finding febrile coordinates in the world. I existed triply: I occupied space. I moved toward the other ... and the evanescent other, hostile but not opaque, transparent not there, disappeared. Nausea....(112).

This transition, the recognition that he has no control over the white child’s gaze illustrates that the gaze is not neutral but a “racially saturated field” (Butler 1993: 17). It is this recognition that leads to a revulsion, to a feeling of sickness, to nausea. It is this nausea which forces him to conclude that he had indeed interpreted the gaze correctly for what it represents: “It was hate; I was hated, despised, detested, not by the neighbours across the street or my cousin on my mother’s side, but by an entire race” (Fanon 1986: 118). It is this nausea which makes way for the third stage.

On that day, completely dislocated, unable to be abroad with the other, the white man, who unmercifully imprisoned me, I took myself far off from my own presence, far indeed and made myself an object. What else could it be for me but an amputation, an excision, a hemorrhage that spattered my whole body with black blood? But I did not want this revision, this thematization. All I wanted was to be a man among other men (112).

It is in this third stage of the encounter that the mood changes from being disempowered by nausea to the recognition of being trapped, injured and most importantly of the possibility to break out of that condition, to be a “man among other men”. Fanon’s nausea, obviously indebted to Jean-Paul Sartre , however, is different because as he says he “rejected all immunization of the emotions. I wanted to be a man, nothing but a man” (113).

Humanism and Colonialism

Black Skin, White Masks is an important point of departure for Fanon, it is here that we gain an insight into the Manichean world of his formative years. It is the recognition of the nauseating banality of this world that he is desperate to understand and transcend. As he points out at the end of the book:

Was my freedom not given to me in order to build the world of You? At the conclusion of this study, I want the world to recognize, with me, the open door of every consciousness (232).

Fanon’s account of the Manichean world of colonialism, Homi Bhabha argues needs to be seen as the “image of the post-Enlightenment man tethered to, not confronted by his dark reflection, the shadow of colonized man” (1986: xiv). It is this realisation which leads to his desire to change the madness of the colonial world, a task that became critical for him when he moved to Algeria.

In Algeria, Fanon was forced to conceptualise a new humanism. The tenuous hold he had on cultural certainty leads to a weakening of the hold of humanism and the conception of a new humanism, a disruption of humanism that comes to preview the post-humanism of poststructuralism. It is colonialism which creates the conditions that necessitate the new humanism. The new humanism is not a radical break with Enlightenment humanism, because of the way in which he drew on Marxism and existentialism. The old categories were however becoming problematic primarily because the issue of race problematised Marxist universalism.

Although there are many types of humanism and the term is highly contentious, it nevertheless signifies that there is something universal and given about human nature and that it can be determined in the language of rationality. It is these ideas of human nature and rationality which underpin the Enlightenment humanism that postructuralist and postmodernist anti-humanists find objectionable on the grounds that these notions are historically contingent and culturally specific. Leela Gandhi points out, “the underside of Western humanism produces the dictum that since some human beings are more human than others, they are more substantially the measure of all things” (1998: 30). It was in this context that Aimé Césaire observed that the only history is White (1972: 54). As Dipesh Chakrabarty points out:

For generations now, philosophers and thinkers shaping the nature of social science have produced theories embracing the entirety of humanity; as we well know, these statements have been produced in relative, and sometimes absolute, ignorance of the majority of humankind i.e., those living in non-Western cultures (1992: 3; 2000).

There is little recognition, however, of the origins of anti-humanism. In general, it is thought that the movement was initiated in an exchange between the Marxist humanism of Lévi-Strauss and Althusser and the existential humanism of Sartre and others in the French Communist Party. But as Robert Young points out, this fails to take into account the attempts by Sartre, Lukács and others to found a “new historical humanism” which challenged the idea of man’s unchanging nature on the grounds that it was important to see “man as a product of himself and of his own activity in history” (1990: 121). It was of course, this idea of humanism which Fanon and Césaire challenged.

Their “version of anti-humanism starts with the realization of humanism’s involvement in the history of colonialism, which shows that the two are not so easily separable” (Young 1990: 121-122). Decolonisation, apart from the displacement of colonial rule has been about decolonising European thought and history which marks that “fundamental shift and cultural crisis currently characterised as postmodernism” (Young 1990: 119). It is important to recognise that it was this project in which Frantz Fanon was firmly ensconced.

Colonial Violence and New Humanism

In his preface to The Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre points out the manner in which a new generation of colonial subjects challenged their European masters: “‘You are making us into monstrosities; your humanism claims we are at one with the rest of humanity but your racist methods set us apart’” (Fanon 1967: 8). In Fanon, Sartre finds the voice of the Third World which does not speak to Europe but speaks to itself. He points out that Fanon’s book does not need a preface because it is not directed at the coloniser but that he has written it to bring the argument to a conclusion:

...for we in Europe too are being decolonized: that is to say that the settler which is in every one of us is being savagely rooted out...we must face that unexpected revelation the strip-tease of our humanism...It was nothing but an ideology of lies, a perfect justification for pillage; its honeyed words, its affectation of sensibility were only alibis for our aggressions (Fanon 1967: 21).

Fanon recognised that above all else decolonisation was a violent phenomenon because it entailed “quite simply the replacing of a certain ‘species’ of men by a another ‘species’ of men...there is a total, complete and absolute substitution” (27). It is through decolonisation that a new people are created and a new humanity emerges. As Fanon points out, decolonisation is the putting into practice the sentence: “The last shall be first and the first last” (28). What makes the putting into practice of this sentence violent is the compartmentalisation of the Manichaean colonial world which Fanon captured in his description of the spatiality of the colonial urban site:

The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers. The two zones are opposed, but not in the service of a higher unity...they both follow the principle of reciprocal exclusivity. No conciliation is possible, for the two terms, one is superfluous. The settlers town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel...a well-fed town, an easy-going town; its belly is always full of good things. The settlers town is a town of white people, of foreigners.

The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where, nor how. It is a world without spaciousness...a hungry town starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light...a town of niggers and dirty Arabs (1967: 39).
Abdul Janmohamed captures the paradoxes of colonialism where on the one hand the native is completely denigrated and on the other hand is absolutely necessary to maintaining the superiority of the settler. The colonial system, he points out, simultaneously wills the annihilation and the multiplication of the natives (1983: 4). A necessary part of colonialism is the process whereby the colonisers problematise the culture and the very being of the colonised, where the latter come to accept the supremacy of the white man's values (Fanon 1967: 43). During the period of decolonization, it is this very acceptance that is repudiated. Fanon details the oppressive nature of the colonial system and points out that the only way that it can be overcome is through violence. It is colonialism which forces violence to become a cleansing agent which has the cathartic effect of creating a new identity both at the individual and collective levels:

...for the colonized people this violence, because it constitutes their only work, invests their characters with positive and creative qualities. The practice of violence binds them together as a whole, since each individual forms a violent link in the great chain, a part of the great organism of violence which has surged upwards in reaction to the settlers’ violence in the beginning (1967: 87).

The question of violence in Fanon’s project, Lewis Gordon points out, is one which arises out of the very condition of colonialism. For the coloniser, his or her place in the colony is not unjust but the idea that they be replaced constitutes an injustice. From the perspective of the colonised, prior to the arrival of the coloniser his or her place was just and their replacement is what constitutes an injustice which entails living under a system of violence. As Gordon puts it, “the situation begins to take on tragic dimensions when the discourse on method - mediation - emerges with teleological import: ‘the last shall be first’” (Gordon 1996: 304). It is in this context that the call for non-violence by the coloniser is seen to constitute violence because it is a continued way of ensuring that colonialism is preserved. It is this notion of losing that can be seen as constituting violence. It is in this way that both the coloniser and colonised can be seen to “converge as sufferers during the period of liberation” (Gordon 1996: 305). The price of a new humanism lies in the “tragedy of the colonial and racist situation” (Gordon 1996: 305).

Ato Sekyi-Otu has pointed out that those who label Fanon as primarily a theorist of violence often forget that he was concerned to show that the colonial situation was much like a state of nature where there was no civil and political sphere. Fanon was suggesting “with the most classical of political philosophers that where there is no public sphere, there is no political relationship, only violence, ‘violence in a state of nature’” (Sekyi-Otu 1996: 86-7). Richard Onwuanibe has pointed out that above all else Fanon should be seen as humanist despite the role of violence in his work. This assertion is made on the basis that above all else Fanon sought to extend the full development of humanity to all those who had been exploited, especially through the processes of colonialism. Violence in this context was a just and legitimate means to end colonialism so that a new society could be inaugurated ( Onwuanibe, 1983). It served a rehabilitative and healing function and had much to do with his training as a medical doctor. The goal of violence was very much about a cleansing process, one akin to solving a medical condition. In an article in 1957, Fanon made the explicit connection between colonialism and disease when he noted, “the independence of Algeria is not only the end of colonialism, but the disappearance, in this part of the world, of a gangrene germ and the source of an epidemic” (as cited in Presby 1996: 284).

It is this equation of colonialism with disease that is the driving force behind Fanon’s desire to end the oppression of colonialism as soon as possible by violent means if necessary. As Presbey points out, Fanon was well aware of the trauma that the colonial situation produced on the colonizers, many of whom were his patients but he was prepared to risk saving the majority at the expense of the settler colonial minority (Presbey 1996: 288). The medical metaphor is an important one in order to understand the place of violence in Fanon’s thought. Violence is like surgery, quick and brief so that in its aftermath a process of healing can begin. For Fanon, violence is not simply about revenge, it has to be followed by education and political organisation so as to ensure that liberation for the entire society is achieved. As Presbey points out, for Fanon, “there may be cases in which brief surgery is the quickest and surest way to health” (Presbey 1996: 292). It is through decolonisation that a new humanism can emerge as Fanon points out, “the ‘thing’ which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself” (Fanon 1967: 28).

Fanon’s notion of humanism can also be found in his discussion of “Racism and Culture”, where he argues that in order to attain liberation, “the inferiorized man brings all his resources into play, all his acquisitions, the old and the new, his own and those of the occupant” (1970: 53). However, it is through decolonisation that racism itself is brought to an end. A new humanism, a new society is born where:

The occupant’s spasmed and rigid culture, now liberated opens at last to the culture of the people who have never really become brothers. The two cultures can affront each other, enrich each other.
In conclusion, universality resides in this decision to recognize and accept the reciprocal relativism of different cultures, once the colonial status is irreversibly excluded (54).
The humanism which Fanon wishes for can also be gleaned in his “Letter to the Youth of Africa” where he points out that it is necessary for oppressed peoples to link up with “the peoples who are already sovereign if a humanism that can be considered valid is to be built to the dimensions of the universe” (125). Fanon sought to articulate the launching of a new society which was only possible through the end of colonialism. He noted that, “the same time that the colonized man braces himself to reject oppression, a radical transformation takes place within him which makes any attempt to maintain the colonial system impossible and shocking” (1965: 159). The revolution, he argued, “changes man and renews society...this oxygen which creates and shapes a new humanity” (154).

Post-colonial Transformation

If Fanon has touched a chord with contemporary post-colonial studies, it is precisely because of this recognition that the end of colonialism necessitated the end of the coloniser and the colonised. This process would be “complete only with the disappearance of racism, if not as a shedding of skin, at least as a shedding of what skin color has come to mean in a world defined by colonialism” (Bernasconi 1996: 113). Fanon’s critique of old humanism was indebted to Jean-Paul Sartre’s who noted that “for us there is nothing more consistent than a racist humanism since the European has only been able to become a man through creating slaves and monsters” (Fanon 1967: 22). Fanon was more than aware of the ironies of such humanism when he noted that:

Bourgeois ideology, however, which is the proclamation of an essential equality between men, manages to appear logical in its own eyes by inviting the sub-men to become human, and to take as their prototype Western humanity as incarnated in the Western bourgeoisie (Fanon 1967: 131).
For Fanon, the disarticulation of always being a French subject rather than being accepted as French highlighted how the old humanism could only be universal in theory. The humanism which he sought to expound was meant to bring theory and praxis together. Robert Young, however, has suggested that Fanon’s new humanism can be seen as a theoretical antihumanism which is rooted in “the realization of humanism’s involvement in the history of colonialism, which shows that the two are not so easily separable (Young 1990: 122). Young questions whether it is possible to articulate a new humanism and if it is possible to “differentiate between a humanism which harks back critically, or uncritically, to the mainstream of Enlightenment culture and Fanon’s new ‘new humanism’ which attempts to reformulate it as a non-conflictual concept no longer defined against a sub-human other” (Young 1990: 125).

He does not explore Fanon’s new humanism. Rather, he is content to note that the challenge which Fanon mounts is enough to expose the limitations of Western ethnocentricity which have the “effect of decentring and displacing the norms of Western Knowledge” (Young 1990: 125). However, the implication that Fanon simply reverses the binary in his formulation of new humanism so that it is a non-conflictual concept is one that does not tally with Fanon’s line of argument. In the preface to A Dying Colonialism, Fanon points out the task for his new humanism:

The new relations are not the result of one barbarism replacing another barbarism, of one crushing of man replacing another crushing of man. What we Algerians want is to discover the man behind the colonizer; this man who is both the organizer and the victim of a system that has choked him and reduced him to silence (Fanon 1965: 20).
The new humanism which Fanon is evoking here has the task of liberating both the coloniser and the colonised and is one which he articulates at the end of the book when he proclaims that the true revolution “changes man and renews society” which “creates and shapes a new humanity” (Fanon 1965: 160). This new humanism is one which was to be achieved through violence, a violence which brought to an end the very process of colonialism. As Bernasconi points out, “a new humanity could arise only through the creative praxis of the colonized. Theirs was a violence that would not only destroy the old order, but produce a new one” (1996: 121).

It is in the following passage in the Wretched of the Earth that we begin to see that Fanon’s new humanism is not simply a humanism of the European Enlightenment. It is here that we see linkages between Fanon and the post-structuralists:

The west saw itself as a spiritual adventure. It is in the name of the spirit, in the name of the spirit of Europe, that Europe has made her encroachments, that she has justified her crimes and legitimized the slavery in which she holds four-fifths of humanity. Yes, the European spirit has strange roots (Fanon 1967: 252).
He recognises the failure of this European spirit in the colonial context where humanism was not universal. Despite this recognition Fanon is caught in a paradox - he rejects this European humanism but remains committed to the idea that “all the elements of a solution to the great problems of humanity have, at different times, existed in European thought” (Fanon 1967: 253). The paradox for Fanon is that he not only critiques this European humanism but he is also aware of its importance. As Azar points out, it, Algeria, “becomes the name of the historical subject, the spirit, that Fanon invokes to transcend the antinomies that have marked the history of mankind” (Azar 1999: 22).

It is important to recognise the disjuncture between the Antilles, France and Algeria which gives rise to what Allsesandrini has termed a “transnational humanism” in Fanon’s thought. This transnational humanism is very much a product of Fanon’s relationship to the Algerian Revolution as being affiliated to the world as suggested by Edward Said (1983; Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 1999). Azar points out that the quest to transcend the Manichean logic is based on a dislocation of Fanon’s own universe, where an Antillean and French identity is replaced by an Algerian one which becomes the foundation of his new humanism (Azar 1999: 23). It is in Algeria that Fanon recognises the paradox of French colonialism with its civilising mission and desire for exploitation which meant that the line between the ‘master’ and the ‘slave’ could never be crossed. In his articulation of a new humanism, Fanon sets for himself the task of replacing Algeria with France without succumbing to the antinomies of the Manichean structure of colonialism. The task is not only to end colonial rule but to also liberate both the coloniser and the colonised. As Azar points out, this entails “nothing less than a ‘right to citizenship’ in a world of ‘reciprocal recognitions’” (Azar 1999: 31).

From Decolonisation to Liberation

It is this possibility of transformation which has resonance in the South African context. Fanon’s doubts about the “Pitfalls of National Consciousness” and his suspicions concerning the monologic tyranny of nationalism offer insights into the way forward for South Africa - particularly that of transformation where simple racial binaries are no longer sustainable. It is through decolonisation that the colonised country begins to construct a history. This can be conceived only as a result of the war of liberation whereby the colonised nation is able to rediscover its own genius, to reassume its history and assert its sovereignty (1970: 94). In order to reclaim their history, it is not enough that the colonial power be defeated. A new consciousness which is part of the national culture is required. There is no returning to an old culture. Rather, a national culture arises out of the struggle in the fight against colonialism. This national culture is is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence (1967: 188). This process of forging a national culture is ongoing and in many cases predates the struggle itself. Fanon observes that: Everything works together to awaken the native's sensibility and to make unreal and unacceptable the contemplative attitude, or the acceptance of defeat.…His world comes to lose its accursed character (1967: 196).

The revolutionary struggle, for Fanon, is paramount. It is through such a struggle that both a new consciousness as well as a new society are restructured. This new consciousness can arise only by de-stabilising the colonial order and, through the struggle, there is not only the disappearance of colonialism but also the disappearance of the colonised man (1967: 197). Central to the forging of a new consciousness is the need for political education. Fanon points to the centrality of educating the masses for it is they who are integral to the process of transformation:

To educate the masses politically…is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge…but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people (1967: 157).
It is through this process of education that the cultural domination of the colonial power can be eradicated and a new national culture established in which the mass of the people can be integrated. It is the restructuring of consciousness which becomes central to the decolonization process. Fanon demonstrates that it is not enough to merely attain decolonization but that it is important to decolonize the mind. He argues that it is not possible to take one's distance with respect to colonialism without at the same time taking it with respect to the idea that the colonised holds of himself through the filter of colonialist culture (1970: 114).

For Fanon, decolonisation is not enough. It is liberation that he strives for, and a liberation that not only frees black people but also white people, thereby showing the white man that he was the perpetrator and the victim of a delusion (1976: 225). As Sekyi-Otu has noted, Fanon's message can be starkly stated as:

the moral credibility of the fight against the white man, the legitimacy of the postcolonial age, the justice of transactions among its citizenry and of the forms of governance under which they live - all this rests on the degree to which the independence of persons is honoured (1996: 237).
It is Fanon's vision of liberation which has a profound influence on Edward Said (see Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 1999). Said undertakes a contrapuntal re-reading of Fanon in order to carry forward Fanon's project of liberation, pointing out that his work was aimed at forcing the metropole to rethink its history in light of the decolonisation process.

Edward Said's emphasis on the impact of the colonial experience on both the colonised and the colonisers borrows directly from Fanon's discussion of the pitfalls of nationalist consciousness. And it is here that Said's reading of Fanon is crucial because “he expresses the immense cultural shift from the terrain of nationalist independence to the theoretical domain of liberation (1993: 323-324). For Fanon, it is important not only to recreate national identity and consciousness in the process of decolonisation but also to go beyond and create a social consciousness at the moment of liberation. Social consciousness becomes all the more important because, without it, decolonisation merely becomes the replacement of one form of domination by another.

In Culture and Imperialism, Said speculates that Fanon has been influenced by Lukacs in reading his, History and Class Consciousness. This conjecture allows Said to read violence in Fanon as the synthesis that overcomes the reification of White man as subject, Black man as object (1993: 326). Violence, for Fanon, Said argues, is the cleansing force that allows for epistemological revolution which is like a Lukacsian act of mental will that overcomes the fragmentation and reification of the self and the other. The need for such violence arises when the native decides that colonization must end. For Fanon:

The violence of the colonial regime and the counter-violence of the native balance each other and respond to each other in an extraordinary reciprocal homogeneity...The settler's work is to make dreams of liberty impossible for the native. The native's work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler. On the logical plane, the Manicheanism of the settler produces a Manicheanism of the natives, to the theory of the 'absolute evil of the native' the theory of the 'absolute evil of the settler' replies (as quoted in Said 1993; 327).
This quote has two important implications for Said's hypothesis of Lukacs' influence on Fanon. First, this influence meant that Fanon reified the subject and the object. Second, Fanon came to see violence as an act of mental will which overcomes this reification. Said argues that Fanon's is not a simplistic nationalism that arises out of the cleansing force of violence. Rather, Fanon recognises that, orthodox nationalism followed along the same track hewn out by imperialism, which while it appeared to be conceding authority to the nationalist bourgeoisie was really extending its hegemony. This allows Said to argue that, in Fanon, the emphasis on armed struggle is tactical and that he wanted somehow to bind the European as well as the native together in a new non-adversarial community of awareness and anti-imperialism (1993: 330-331). That, for Fanon, all colonial revolutions were to free blacks as well as whites and therefore the white man that he is at once the perpetrator and the victim of a delusion (1967: 225).


Robyn Dane argues that because Fanon defies easy classification and in light of the theoretical inconsistencies in his work, he should be viewed as a cultural visionary, “one of those vexing thinkers for whom we have no label, a philosopher of language, a poetic epistemologist, that person who points to the symbolic, drags us to the event, because we have lost sight of something precious - usually our humanity” (Dane 1994: 75). Dane has argued that Fanon's mightiest act was not advocating violent 'catharsis', it was legitimizing native rage against the absolute power of imperialism (1994: 79). Fanon sought a way out of the Manichean structure of colonialism, where the black person has two choices - either to turn white so that his or her blackness can no longer be detected or to reverse the colonial order. As Edward Said points out, One ought to be able to make more precise the interpretations of various political and intellectual communities where the issue is not independence but liberation, a completely different thing. What Fanon calls the conversion, the transformation, of national consciousness, hasn't yet taken place...” (Sprinker 1992: 236). It is to this task that South Africa may well pave the way.

Pal Ahluwalia
Politics Department
University of Adelaide


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