Whither Fanon?
Studies in the Blackness of Being
David Marriott


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

This introduction considers recent responses to what has become known as "critical Fanonism." Is Fanonism reducible to a narrative of liberation in which national and human liberation remains both telos and eschatology? Or does his work offer a different way of thinking about the relationship between time and event, law and violence, sovereignty and subject? Taking its cue from Fanon's meditation on the revolutionary moment as a tabula rasa, this introduction considers two broad ways of dealing with critical Fanonism: as a dialectical phenomenology and as a politics of redemption and/or liberation. Along the way, it asks why "narrative" and "experience" continue to be more or less the principal terms for engaging with Fanon's thought and attempts to show how Fanon escapes the teleological and phenomenological hold of both terms in a way that suggests differing theoretical possibilities.

1 Psychodramas
chapter abstract

This chapter presents an overview of the development and genealogy of Fanon's socialthérapie, showing how this innovation in clinical method followed from a radically new approach to the colony as both group idea and praxis. Drawing on Fanon's clinical papers, it pursues the following questions: how does politics inform Fanon's therapeutics? And what of psychoanalysis in the colony? What is the relation between Fanonian socialthérapie and François Tosquelles's thérapeutiques institutionnelles? And why did Fanon describe group therapy as a "transvaluation"? In the course of the discussion, Fanon's notions of madness and alienation are presented—including his view of the clinic itself as a form of psychodrama and psychic life as a form of occupation.

2 The Clinic as Praxis
chapter abstract

This chapter compares Fanon's critiques of colonial neuropsychiatry and, in particular, its diagnostic use of racial heredity to the institutional innovations of his own therapeutic practices, including his use of psychoanalytic therapies. The chapter charts the complex evolution of that usage from 1952 to 1958, a period in which the notion of therapy changes from that of a mirror of disalienation to that of a more unnameable n'est pas in which resolution is no longer seen as a move towards egoic reintegration. It becomes clear that identification is conceived no longer in specular terms as an imaginary misrecognition but more in terms of something foreclosed, lost, or missing; in other words, the experience of colonial racism is compared to that of an unconscious content that is irreversible, nontransferable, and inexplicable and yet is coextensive with the feeling of an uncanny wretchedness.

3 Negrophobogenesis
chapter abstract

This brief chapter outlines the main diagnostic terms of Fanon's socialthérapie—epidermalization, petrification, and sociogeny. The question of how racism comes to be embodied, or how the body comes to acquire a racial signifiance, for example, is shown to be a key element of Fanon's conception of le vécu noir, or black lived experience. What that conception shows is the dilemma of becoming black when becoming is established via a certain historicity of hatred that fails to go beyond the level of affect, which remains tied to the various episodes of its racialization.

4 Historicity and Guilt
chapter abstract

The chapter begins with a reconsideration of the relation between institutional therapy and the entire problem of the semblable, then moving on to discuss Fanon's struggle, in his clinical writings, to understand the resistance to treatment by the colonisé. The starting point for this discussion is Mannoni's Psychologie de la colonisation and Fanon's critique of its oedipalization of cultural conflict. It is here, in this critique, that Fanon begins his alternative investigations of guilt, truth, historicity, and reason—defined and elaborated via Jaspers's notion of Grenzsituationen, language and cultural translation in the colony, and the cultural conflict over signs, signification, and media. In the course of the discussion, Fanon's alternative ideology of the sign—which indicates a new psycho-political message—is elaborated.

5 Racial Fetishism
chapter abstract

This chapter presents Fanon's work on anxiety in relation to fetishism. The aim here is to show how negrophobia—as stereotype, fantasy, idea, and affect—functions as a source of traumatic energy in the psychic life of the colonized. The chapter begins with a detailed survey of one of the longest case histories in Black Skin, White Masks in order to elicit Fanon's explanation of racial anxiety, before moving on to consider the stereotype as a type of fetishistic thinking and practice in the libidinal and political economies of the colony (and postcolony). The stereotype-as-fetish is integral to Fanon's discussion of disguised or repressed representations and what he calls the overdetermination of blackness as phobic object. What is also clear is that representation itself does not allow us to accurately recognize the differences between Vorstellung and Darstellung in Fanon's analyses, nor the question of racial capitalism more generally.

6 Desire and Law
chapter abstract

Though the initial hypothesis of this chapter—that Oedipus as colonus must be distinguished from its classical version—has met with little if any discussion, it is nonetheless fundamental for understanding the way in which the colonisé experiences both its desire and its inhibition as a form of guilty indebtedness. The chapter explores this guilt as arising from a flaw that is both de facto and de jure subject to a command that can neither be forsworn nor borne. The chapter also discusses Fanon's analyses of dispossession together with his clinical study of subjects who have succumbed to an absolute depersonalization during total war. Accordingly, the following questions are discussed: how is this flaw experienced as Erlebnis? How can blackness appear to itself other than as guilt and expiation? What is the role of this anti-Oedipus in colonial war, torture, and state violence?

7 The Condemned
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses Fanon's refusal, in contrast to the supporters of cultural nationalism, to advocate a black conception of the world, ethics, and politics, alongside his rejection of any teleological view of time, emancipation, or freedom. The chapter looks at Fanon's call for a blackness that is n'est pas and that cannot be put to work either dialectically, speculatively, progressively, or fugitively. Only the n'est pas is capable of expressing the temporal sensibility of Fanonism and its struggle to make known the pathologies of blackness and its reactionary culture of ressentiment. The chapter charts this struggle via afro-pessimism, which it uses to illustrate the central antinomies of what are, by definition, the blackest characteristics of Fanon's thought.

8 Invention
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses the various notions of invention in Fanon's work. Fanon invokes invention as a descent that is also a surpassing, a leap, that allows the colonisé to grasp the non-permanent nature of colonial historic truth. This is why, politically, Fanon's thinking of invention criticizes traditional notions of political organization, or sovereign will, and argues overtly for a revolutionary violence that is separated from the institutions of politics. In this chapter, Fanon's notion of invention is compared to that of Georges Sorel and C. L. R. James—two thinkers who make invention synonymous with class struggle and who thereby oppose spontaneity to certain forms of bureaucracy and the values of the bourgeois order as such. While James situates invention in a Marxist milieu, the chapter argues that the form in which Fanonian invention manifests itself cannot be plotted according to the preestablished forms of Marxist philosophy or dialectics.

9 Existence
chapter abstract

This chapter examines invention not as a figure of history, scientific method, anthropology, or politics but as a question of existence. It shows how invention cannot be limited to knowledge, narrative, or even the political command for a greater awareness of illusion or reality. These paths—which continue to dominate readings of Fanonism—are shown to be simplifications of what Fanon expresses as the sociogenic truths of colonialism. In a reading of sociogeny that engages with the psychoanalytic genealogy of the term, the chapter argues that modern readings of sociogeny need remedying in order to link sociogeny to trauma, repetition, and neurosis.

10 The Abyssal
chapter abstract

This chapter revisits Fanon's complex relationship to negritude and, in particular, to the poetry of Aimé Césaire. On the one hand, it establishes a clear link between Césaire's abyssal theory of negritude and Fanon's no less poetic attempt to rethink the relation between the universal and the particular at the point where either becomes the abyssal mediation of the other in the conjoined sphere of an enriching saturation. The abyssal, for its part, indicates a profoundly original approach to black writing and thought and designates a perpetual opening that is, by definition, oblique and singular. This opening is pursued via the interrelated figures of corpsing, social death, and orphic descent.