What Fanon Said

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Reading Fanon never fails to put revolutionary spirits on a high. He was one of the leading theorists of postcolonial studies in the last century and the psychiatrist, philosopher and radical revolutionary has had much influence on the discussion of decolonisation.

His ability to string his words together with passion and poetry makes his call for unity and national liberation that much more powerful.

Gordon’s study begins with a biography of Fanon’s life and crucial events that had a significant influence on the way Fanon formed his theories. He pays particular attention to one of his earlier works, Black Skin, White Masks (1952), where Fanon psychoanalytically examines the relationship between coloniser and colonised.

Fanon discusses the lived experience of the black man as a zone of nonbeing. That is, the projected meaning of their skin colour forces black people into a condition of anonymity.

The reality of racism means that the black man or woman is not recognised as a human phenomenon. Instead they are viewed as objects and even worse, as Gordon reminds us, as monsters.

The last chapter turns to The Wretched of the Earth (1961). Gordon comments on Fanon’s argument on the subversion of ethics to politics, contradicting the Marxist perspective as expressed in the Communist Manifesto. This sees the lumpenproletariat as a “passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society” which is not in a position to lead the struggle.

Fanon argues for the necessity of organising them into a cohesive force in the struggle for national liberation. Gordon calls for an abandonment of the very term, describing it as highly insulting, inaccurate and analytically befogging the very class of victims of “urbanisation without industrialisation”.

Gordon breaks down some of the criticism Fanon has received.

Fanon is often mistaken for promoting violence as he states that violence would be the natural process of decolonisation. Gordon points out he is not arguing that violence is in and of itself revolutionary; however, the violent revolt for justice and equality is ethical to the extent that decolonisation is simply “the replacement of one species of men by another species of men”.

Gordon has contextualised Fanon’s words in an impressive analysis of his texts in relation to other thinkers and critics.