Whither Fanon?
Studies in the Blackness of Being
David Marriott

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Introduction

Whither Fanon?1

It is true that we could equally well stress the rise of a new nation, the setting up of a new state, its diplomatic relations, and its economic and political trends. But we have precisely chosen to speak of that kind of tabula rasa which characterizes at the outset all decolonization.

FRANTZ FANON, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Farrington, 27

By “whither,” my basic question is not what is to be done (with Fanonism), a question that fails to question the distinction between means and ends. I am thinking less of a telos or destination to which one has to hold or train oneself than of a question of incomprehension, deferral, and perpetual challenge. This is why I think that Fanon is still to be read. The attempt to subject or limit Fanonism to the horizon of a judgment, to make it make sense, to lead us to a thought, a destiny, to where we want leading, is for me a decision that is always in question. And I say at once that this is not where I would like to begin, for the experience of what it means to read Fanon, or to reduce his rigor to a question of method rather than an experience of contestation and challenge, reveals certain presuppositions that must be opposed, linked as they are to a certain evocation of Fanonism as a kind of knowledge that must be in some way already familiar, already experienced without difficulty. Opposition to this idea of reading—which takes up an essential part of this book—is necessary for me to understand what is most important about this “whither,” as an evocation whose spirit of decision comes without guarantees or ends.

I

The time has come, it seems, to talk of Fanonism as a thought whose time has come and gone, a thought whose significance must accordingly be grasped and seized if the opportunity offered by this thought is not to be missed. And the proof of that is given among many other signs (including a flurry of recent pronouncements on the demise of the nationalist-humanist project) by the fact of Fanon’s humanism, his messianic belief in revolution as a redemptive moment, which could not but invite the reflection that decolonization never was, nor could ever be, simply redemptive, that this is indeed to confuse the moment of revolution with a telos or eschatology.2 And it seems that any attempt to think about the postcolonial moment as messianic or redemptive has to accept this critical melancholia from the start. Whatever Fanon thought about it, it is suggested that he implicitly claimed that decolonization is invariably a thought of national liberation—any decolonial struggle, however resentfully or apologetically, lays claim, usually explicitly, to freedom-as-national-sovereignty—and that anti-colonialism can only affirm itself as this opening towards the new nation whose time is always liberatory and whose arrival in general leads to a paradoxical suspension of time or tabula rasa that is also a radically new beginning. Independence is, accordingly, the time for a new humanity, the colonized whose time has come—and explicit claims to redemption or recovery are, one might suspect, no more than a further twist to this “narrative of liberation.”3 For there is nothing for which Fanonism has come to be so well known as the demand for a new sovereignty; nothing could be more Fanonian than the affirmation of the coming revolution whose proud claim is to redeem colonized humanity. The proud or messianic claim to nationhood is just the claim that the colonized will be gathered up into a greater identity, and, as is clear from Fanon’s remarks on the Algerian War, anti-colonial resistance is always a demand for an end to the alienation to which colonialism gives rise. Alienation, which will return as a question in a moment, becomes the most appropriate way of thinking this link of recognition and liberation in Fanon: for on the one hand, recognition in revolution is all about reclaiming repressed humanity; and on the other, the decision to go against the colonial regime, and to stake one’s life on the struggle, is crucial to discovering the meaning of freedom in the eminently Hegelian sense of The Wretched of the Earth, and especially via the chapter on violence, where freedom as a concept seems to be bound up with the teleological movement of force. And the suspicion would be that if this is the case then it would have a radical impact on our continued understanding of Fanonism itself: The Wretched of the Earth seems to propose concepts of freedom and sovereignty within a national-humanist schema that can only be fulfilled by a teleological movement of violence and force.4

It may, then, seem curious, in the context of this reservation about Fanonism (which is something that could be traced in several recent works, where Fanonism is called into question precisely because of its national-humanist affirmations)—it may seem curious in this context that Fanon should himself remain so resolutely anti-foundationalist in his characterization of anti-colonialism, and especially in his affirmation of decolonization as the tabula rasa that reverses appearances and renders the first last and his disconcerting insistence on the “wretched,” whose meaning is at the furthest remove from national-humanist sovereignty. If the most apparently revolutionary subject always might be the least sovereign, then the passage from revolution to sovereignty is no longer so secure. The wretched can become recognized only to the extent that there is at least the suspicion of a non-coincidence between national-humanism and those who fall short of it, between the nation as telos and the postcolonial nation as the necessary self-interruption of teleology. If Fanon needed to say or to announce that the time has come for a complete and utter tabula rasa, then he implies that in some way that necessity, the having-come of the time that has come, is not so redemptive, not so predictable. If he needed to tell us that the revolutionary moment is a tabula rasa, then this implies that decolonization itself is a time when things are decomposing or dissolving, or when the inherited metaphysical distinctions between ethics and politics, say, or sovereignty and subjectivity, are being erased. And on the other hand, more straightforwardly, this motif of erasure describes a situation in which the new humanism has not yet been determined, something that is, then, radically unwritten, and whose structure is enigmatic, and outside of teleology or eschatology. The arrival of the wretched is in this sense always at least potentially not synchronized with the time in which new sovereignty arrives: it is time for the wretched only when in some sense they are untimely. Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth of course presents itself as arriving at just the wrong—and therefore right—time, and the same can be said for the wretched—just because their arrival suggests a challenge to the political, then maybe the concept of liberation is also dislocated? The revolutionary moment in its arrival arrives as a force or representation; but the chance of erasing what is being produced suggests that force and meaning are not pure idioms of affirmation but revelations whose traces can always be unscribed, so that anti-colonialism can, by extension according to the dictionary, signify also a blank slate. But the possibility of the revolution’s being the right moment depends on at least the possible (and in fact necessary) dissonance between the moment as event and the moment as the arrival of a new inscription (roughly: what makes it possible for an event to arrive necessarily includes the possibility that it can be erased; this necessary possibility means that it is never completely inscribed; or, what makes it possible for an event to appear in representation necessarily includes the possibility of its disappearance; this necessary possibility means that it never completely appears): and this dissonance then opens the possibility that any moment could be written and simultaneously erased, that the question of sovereignty is always the experience of the more or less muted expectation that it too can be suspended, and that the various fantasies we may have of revolution as the unerasable are secondary to this fundamental structure of the relation between time and tabula rasa. If I am right that this is just an analytical consequence of the concept of tabula rasa, then we could link it rapidly to the famous Benjaminian notion of die rechtsetzende Gewalt, the moment, itself as timely as it is untimely, at which, according to Benjamin, revolution erupts into a lawmaking violence that fundamentally alters both law and time.5 The chance of revolutionary violence being lawmaking, given that it interrupts and suspends state law, generates in Benjamin the thought of a messianic time whereby, in the Jewish-Marxist tradition on which Benjamin is drawing, the very foundation of law is suspended over an abyss, suspended before a law that is not yet determined.6

II

I want to suggest that it is time today, the right moment, to think about two broad ways of dealing with this situation in Fanonism. The first, which is massively dominant in the Marxist-phenomenological tradition (and especially perhaps the Sartrean tradition), attempts to map the philosophical importance of Fanonism in terms of a phenomenology of experience, giving rise (or birth) to a drama of freedom and alterity, recognition and authenticity.7 The second, traces of which can be found no doubt throughout that same tradition but which might be seen more obviously in, say, David Scott, or Achille Mbembe, accentuates the political or ethico-theoretical limits of that dramatization for thinking the postcolonial moment today. I want to suggest that the function of the first type of view is, to state it bluntly, to apprehend blackness as an existential concept: decolonization and humanism, for example, each has its telos or ideal outcome, and this end is the overall prospect of a free community of human beings in the wake of history: “For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.”8 The problem of this “new humanism” inevitably opens the question of a non-humanistic opening to humanism, where, almost by definition, the real interest lies: Fanon’s persistent location of blackness as a necessary contamination of traditional political thinking and ontology is proof enough of that. If we are right to suggest that racism interrupts the movement toward the human, and paradoxically makes ontology irrelevant for understanding black existence, then clearly ethics and politics (insofar as they are grounded on this humanism) cannot simply be invoked, even negatively, as a model for thinking black existence. But this puzzle is not insurmountable if philosophical thought can come up with an anthropological description of black experience that is both idiomatic and singular, even if the radical singularity of that description remains bound to colonialism as context. It is this task that, up till now, has oriented phenomenological readings of Fanon; Lewis R. Gordon (focusing explicitly on black lived experience as a series of embodied meanings) discusses Fanon in the context of a dialectics of recognition, referring to freedom, obviously enough, as an existential analytic. Of course not all of Fanon’s texts encourage the kind of existential analytic that this attention to experience might seem to promote: Fanon, who famously links the violence of colonialism to language, visuality, and sexuality, thinks of black life as a moment of suspension or lived impossibility in which the subject is made excessively, and therefore insufficiently, aware of being-as-lack or defect: this is the point of many of Fanon’s reflections on the unconscious, of course. But the experience of this lack or defect (which can also provoke despair, anguish, disillusion) remains somewhat of a mystery precisely to experience because it cannot be embodied. Such a stress on lack, deferral, and the question of psychic morbidity that cannot be separated from them is of course strictly Fanonian, as many readers know: yet I have wondered why this question of defect (first explicitly thematized in Black Skin, White Masks) has been insistently read as loss, or as something that can be existentially grasped and so restored in some significant sense (I have also wondered here about why Fanonism is seen too immediately, and comfortably, as a discourse of restitution). And this structure brings out another feature of the thought of Fanonism as a thought whose time has passed—Fanonism is, in this second tendency, typically referred to as a phenomenological discourse whose urgent questioning (the moment of separation of authenticity from bad faith, the past from the present, the moment at which all becomes clear, at which the temporal and the contingent resolves into the universal and the absolute) is no longer “ours.” On this view, the truth of Fanonism no longer awaits the messianic moment, which will resolve difference into a definitive moment of identity and resolution: Fanonism is judged instead to be a romance of emancipation, whose thought is no longer able to think the postcolonial as such and whose anticolonialism remains tied to the thought of the nation as telos.9 My unresolved question in this book will be that of whether it is possible to think Fanonism without being committed to this narrative of liberation, or the thought of a deferred universal-humanism, of time having an end in dialectical resolution; and, relatedly, whether it is possible to think of a Fanonism that is not surreptitiously mortgaged to a thought of racism in its understanding of the politics of life.

III

In order to keep things relatively simple, I shall concentrate for this first type of thinking about Fanonism on Ato Sekyi-Otu and Gordon and for the second on Scott and Mbembe. It will rapidly become clear that I do not think that the relationship between these two types of thought is simply oppositional or contradictory, nor indeed that there is, in Fanon’s body of work, a time for one and a time for the other. With luck, we may hope to understand a little more clearly how and why Fanonism, as a thinking of emancipation, is also and thereby affirmative of a narrative that liberates.

Let me begin by recalling some crucial features of Sekyi-Otu’s “African-situationist” reading of Fanon in Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience.10 The main gesture of the book is one of reclaiming Fanonism from the illicit “Fanon of the postmodernist imagination,” or of rescuing Fanonism from being misused or even abused outside the home of post-independence Africa.11 Any temptation we, or some of us, may have had to read Fanon as a non-dialectical, anti-foundational, psychoanalytic thinker is sternly put in its place as an irresponsible, because politically ill-formed, nihilism, and this judgment, handed down to us by a vigilant “postindependence reader,” seems to stretch to all diasporic metropolitan readers who have, presumably, not “witnessed the desolation of the world after independence.”12 Not only does Sekyi-Otu maintain that Fanon’s entire output is formalizable as a set of dramatic narratives (ignoring any explicit attempts that have been made to show that Fanonism is, both conceptually and textually, neither a philosophy nor an hermeneutics), but he tells us repeatedly that Fanonism is essentially, and unashamedly, a dialectical humanism whose true philosophical import is the universal. Accordingly, Sekyi-Otu has no qualms whatsoever in determining Fanon’s entire output as a dramatic narrative that is dialectical in form:

What, then, does it mean to read Fanon’s texts as if they constituted a dialectical dramatic narrative? Briefly and provisionally put: It means, first, that the relationships between utterance and proposition, representation and truth, enacted practice and authorial advocacy, are rendered quite problematic. It means, furthermore, that an utterance or a representation or a practice we encounter in a text is to be considered not as a discrete and conclusive event, but rather as a strategic and self-revising act set in motion by changing circumstances and perspectives, increasingly intricate configurations of experience. . . . We shall encounter instances in which seemingly privileged pictures and rhetorics are reviewed, renounced, and replaced in the course of a movement of experience and language of which Fanon is the dramatist, albeit in the role of a passionate participant and interlocutor. The result is a critical and visionary narrative that provides a vantage point from which we may measure the promise and performance of postcolonial life.

And it is the language of political experience that I propose to feature as a principal subject of Fanon’s dramatic narrative.13

This insistence on a “dialectic of experience” is a leitmotif of Sekyi-Otu’s book, and is essentially argued against the rival postmodern Fanon, although Sekyi-Otu does also make his reading rely on a series of hermeneutic gestures, separating the “increasingly intricate configurations of experience” from any misguided attempt to “bestow upon utterances in his [Fanon’s] texts the coercive finality of irrevocable propositions and doctrinal statements,” or dialectics from axiomatics.14 Fanonism, Sekyi-Otu seems to imply, is only apparently systematic, and attempts to secure its systematicity have tended to violate its dialectical performativity: that is, Fanonism is endlessly self-revising, but not strategic enough to traverse dialectics in the hermeneutic ways that Sekyi-Otu, paradoxically enough, claims are more properly Fanonian. This problematic of performance, and all that it implies, also has institutional and professional implications for the “ownership” of Fanonism by Fanonians: Fanon’s work may annoy political theorists by being so disciplinarily promiscuous, so open, despite its very real difficulty, to readers of all sorts, including post-modernists and post-independence readers, but dealing with that annoyance by a making a claim for proper ownership—“our Fanon,”15 or “I claim an authentic Fanon”16—is always likely to confuse reading with a phantasmatic appropriation or criticism of Fanon. As an example: Sekyi-Otu spends several pages in his prologue and introduction refuting Homi Bhabha’s view of Fanon’s early work as giving up on the political and the social in favor of the private and the psychic, and does indeed refute the view that the latter has any priority for understanding the lived experience of the black, but Bhabha makes an easy target in this respect (if only because he has, along with many other psychoanalytic readers of Fanon, opposed “a dialectic of deliverance” to the languages of “demand and desire”), and there are much more complicated ways of trying to talk about the relationship of Fanon and psychoanalysis than Bhabha’s.17 It is easy to argue that “Fanon ultimately gives psychoanalytic language no more and no less than an analogical or metaphoric function, as distinct from a foundational or etiological one” if the only other possibility is “the primacy of the psychic and the psychological,” or some other kind of psychological essentialism.18 But the point here is to claim that the language of neurosis (and this is just what Fanon’s dialectic of experience helps us to understand) is, in its analogical or metaphoric dependence, never simply secondary to “the language of political experience” whose priority is (in the sense both of revolutionary possibility and of state retribution) never simply decipherable, or readable, without the detour of (racial) figure or the figurability of psychoanalysis, and in fact this is a key insight of Fanon’s work. The problem with Sekyi-Otu’s approach is, paradoxically enough, its prescriptive performance of Fanon’s dialectical narrative as politics: Sekyi-Otu’s commitment to performance, dialectics, and post-independence African politics leads him to provide an anything-but-dialectical account of Fanonism and appears to break the rules of reading he has set himself (which should prevent the privileging of certain pictures or rhetorics). Sekyi-Otu wants to argue that whereas in “the psychologizing reading of Fanon” what was at stake was a univocal concern with the psychic and the psychological, in his dialectical concern with narration and performance he moves beyond the “analogical and metaphoric” function of psychoanalytical language, to the more originary example of the political.19 Sekyi-Otu’s understanding is that Fanon takes colonialism as having to do with a “perversion” of the politics of life (he uses the term within scare quotes at first, but soon stops that and never thinks through the difficult implications there may be in relying on a psychoanalytically determined concept to describe the political: the non-metaphorical use of perversion is presumably what makes the priority of the political’s relationship to psychoanalytic metaphoricity possible), and that Fanon seeks to overcome that “perversity” (of state, time, space, class, race, and gender) by formulating what Sekyi-Otu repeatedly calls, in a strong singularizing gesture, “an incipient dialectical critique of truth.”20 It seems to follow that if we are to read this reading, we should ask the question, why should politics (as a dialectical-hermeneutic performance) suggest an originality of prescription whose claim to epistemological rightness, as Sekyi-Otu asserts, subsumes both analogy and metaphor? When he writes that “it is the language of political experience that I propose to feature as the principal subject of Fanon’s dramatic narrative,” he seems to be unaware that he is performing prescription in precisely this privilege given to the “political” (in italics); and in so far as this referential dimension of the political is taken to be definitive of the Fanonian text, and thereby any possible reading of those texts, then it seems important to resist this “presumption” that the meaning of the political could ever be so simple or secure. Simply assenting to this reading is thus, in view of the passage read, which opposes the performative dimension of the Fanonian text to the “coercive finality of irrevocable propositions and doctrinal statements,” a failure to read dialectically.21

This is not all. A necessary corollary of this particular reductive form of politics is that when we do finally arrive at Fanon’s “narrative,” Sekyi-Otu has largely to shift abruptly from anti-dialectics to dialectics, and de-psychoanalyze Fanon’s thought. In this complex setup, colonialism is deemed to be an anti-dialectical space, that is, a zone of “reciprocal exclusivity,” in Fanon’s phrase, that resists Marxian notions of time as labor, and anti-colonialism is judged to produce a new dialectical structure of class and national emergency that is the starting point for a new universalism—it is a bold presentation, but the psychic costs of colonial war are never discussed as such, and the opposition between space and time simplifies what Fanon himself says about the experience of space and time in the colony (as a kind of dead, petrified spacing of time), and in the postcolony (as the moment of tabula rasa where thinking is recalled to time and the becoming time of the nation transforms the space of ethical and political life). The point is that not only in his explicit reflection on violence, perversion, politics, and race, but also in his own clinical study of the psychoses that closes The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon necessarily escapes the type of simple opposition and naming that Sekyi-Otu presupposes in his account. To the extent (and Sekyi-Otu does have some fine passages on this) that Fanon refuses metalanguage in the name of “truths that are only partial, limited, and unstable,” to the extent that this refusal is of a piece with his reinvention of political concepts in the colony so as to measure up to the racialization and globalization of capital (i.e. the colonial bourgeoisie and proletariat cannot be contextualized according to traditional Marxist thought), then it is entirely misleading to suggest that Fanonism or Fanon’s text “proposes a classical dialectical resolution of these aporias” that Sekyi-Otu has to assume.22 This resolution situates Fanonism in terms of (a particular dramatization of) “immediacy as a ‘territory of mediation,’” and specifically in terms of the lived immediacy of racism (the “perverse genealogy” of which is then reflected by dialectical cognition), that is then made to enter into an “authentic project of particularity” as Fanon plots the emergence of a national consciousness beyond both nationalism and race.23 The curious effect of this, which means that the reader of Sekyi-Otu’s book is called upon to view Fanonism as a series of contingent positional statements, is that a compelling and at times brilliant account of Fanon’s anti-dialectics is presented in tandem with a set of claims about a dialectics of experience as though the “perversity” grounding the whole analysis were, from the start, separable from Fanonism’s “aborted dialectic” which, because of the Hegelian metanarrative itself, can only appear as finite, transient, aporetic.24 There is really no way that Sekyi-Otu can understand in this perspective the fact that Fanon’s descriptions of pathological racism should be worked out in and through a psychoanalysis of perversion, a reading that shows that no concept can attain to the value of (non-perverse) mastery, and that this situation is originary to the history of colonialism itself.

Whence the necessity for a “universalizable truth”: Sekyi-Otu is committed to a vision of Fanonism as a “political pragmatics of the sign,” whose first move is to critique colonialism’s language of exclusion, in so far as that language is founded on “separation and subjugation,” and subsequently to reveal the conditions of possibility for a national consciousness whose universal structure might then be built.25 Language emerges as an issue in these analyses, let us remember, because of the reciprocally exclusive structure of colonial domination: the anti-dialectic or drama that is necessarily violent and that, to the extent that it brings into being the “inaugural figuration” of colonizer and colonized, relies on a figural mode (of separation and subjugation) that has, in the words of Fanon, “ontological implications” for life in the colony.26 Sekyi-Otu sees these implications as fourfold: (1) identifying why things “are never perceived in themselves” but are devoured, haunted by race (the words are Fanon’s); (2) describing how native speech never participates in this world of signs and is transformed into a pre-ontological language without articulation, a language of shrieks and sighs, clicks and mimicry; (3) assuming that these “highly alienated meanings” must signal the hypertrophy of subjugated life as body, voice, word, and gesture are each absorbed into forms of domination; and (4) being surprised to find how modern technology (i.e. the radio) allows the transformation of native speech into a new way of making itself audible that simultaneously absorbs and expels the colonizer’s language and represents a new somatic-semantic event.27 These factors had purchase at a time of colonial war, writes Fanon, because they “unified experience and gave it a universal dimension”; and so, by virtue of this disjunction, the world of false appearances and the chaos of simulacra were negated by the “message of truth” that the nation awaited.28 And here we find an interesting twist: the “new language of the nation” is to be neither French nor Arabic, neither native nor foreign, tribal nor modern, but the space for their multiple mediation as signs of a new meaning-bearing event that is radically indeterminate (as Ronald Judy points out, this new expression transcends both the arabisant and the francisant29). To that extent, however unifying the discourse of the emerging nation may be to the colonized, and however pressing the transformation of signs may be to native signification, it can never in principle enter directly into this “dialectical transcendence” of word by nation, as Fanon paradoxically attempts to make it so enter through his claims that it was “created out of nothing” (créé de rien).30 Sekyi-Otu ascribes this ex nihilo to “poetic excess,” but the possibility of the nation appearing as such out of nothing, and quite independently of any dialectics of emergence, raises again the founding power of the tabula rasa as something inexpressible, and not inscribable into political structure but defining it; this creating out of a void, or hiatus, goes far beyond the forms of reciprocal exclusivity and their determination by dialectics.31 The curious effect of this, which means that the revolution is always separated from its various materializations in presence, means that the dialectic is presented as always haunted by a void or lack that it cannot absorb nor exorcise. The upshot is that, in contrast to Sekyi-Otu, who writes a phenomenological anthropology of Fanonism as the “gathering of the universal,” Fanon writes of the ontological implications of a revolutionary hiatus that is groundless, whose untimeliness is irreducible to dialectical forms of antagonism, and whose creativity can only be evoked in the absence of institutions or rules, ideologies or statements.32

Notes

A version of this chapter was previously published as “Whither Fanon”: Textual Practice 25, no. 1 (2011): 33–69, tandfonline.com.

1. References will be made to the following English editions of works by Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press, 1967; Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2008; The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington. London: Penguin Books, 1963; The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2004; Toward the African Revolution: Political Essays, trans. Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove Books, 1988; Studies in a Dying Colonialism, trans. Haakon Chevalier. London: Earthscan, 1989. In some instances the translations have been modified in the interest of accuracy.

2. David Scott, Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999; Achilles Mbembe, On the Postcolony. Berkeley: University of California Press: 2001. No attempt is made here to do justice to Nigel Gibson’s interesting but somewhat wayward Fanon. The Postcolonial Imagination. Cambridge, Polity: 2003. Important essays by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; Cedric Robinson; Stuart Hall; and Azzedine Haddour, all of which contain discussion of the future of Fanonism, are not discussed here.

3. Patrick M. Taylor, The Narrative of Liberation: Perspectives on Afro-Caribbean Literature, Popular Culture and Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989; see also Scott, Refashioning Futures for a different reading of this narrative.

4. For readings of Fanon along these lines see Hannah Arendt, On Violence. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970.

5. Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. E. Jephcott. New York: Schocken, 1985, 277–301. See also Jacques Derrida, “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority,’” trans. Mary Quaintance. In Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, eds. Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosenfeld, and David Gray Carlson. London: Routledge, 1992, 3–68.

6. The first commentator to elaborate Fanon’s theory of violence in Benjaminian terms was Ronald Judy in his valuable essay “On the Politics of Global Language, or Unfungible Local Value,” boundary 2 24, no. 2 (199): 101–43. Judy’s understanding of violence is considerably different from mine, however, since he holds that from the tabula rasa of revolutionary violence emerges the “revolutionary expression of a new law” (124). Judy rightly observes that revolutionary violence is lawmaking, but he wants to distinguish the absolute (“fateful”) violence of the tabula rasa from what he conceives of as violence as “the agency of historical change” (ibid.). Thus, Judy claims that “the fact that revolutionary violence requires both the features of eruption and continuity in order to be conceived of as the agency of historical change keeps the antinomy [between lawmaking and law-preserving violence] insoluble” (124–25). This argument is untenable, since it reintroduces the opposition between means and ends that the tabula rasa suspends: even on Judy’s own account, there can be no criteria for this abrupt, interruptive disjunction between discourse and the world. On the contrary, the coming into being of the wretched puts into crisis all the inherited diremptions of civil society and the nation-state, for the simple reason that they precipitate a foundational crisis in the colony. Furthermore, the logic of the tabula rasa enables a new understanding of this fatefulness that haunts both colonial law and sovereignty. Fanon did not strive to translate or present the wretched as a new measure for mastery or community, but sought to affirm their generalized impropriety—their incommensurability to the field of onto-political thought.

7. Lewis R. Gordon, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man: An Essay on Philosophy and the Human Sciences. New York: Routledge, 1995; Ato Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996.

8. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth trans. Farrington, 255.

9. See Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

10. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 3.

11. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 45.

12. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 45.

13. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 5.

14. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 4.

15. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 45.

16. Nigel Gibson, “Thoughts about Doing Fanonism in the 1990s,” College Literature 26, no. 2 (Spring 1999): 113.

17. Homi Bhabha, “Remembering Fanon,” New Formations 1 (Spring 1987): 119.

18. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 8.

19. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 6, my emphasis.

20. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 107.

21. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 4.

22. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth trans. Farrington, 117. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 121.

23. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 122, 132, 153.

24. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 61.

25. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 187, 196, 158.

26. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 158. Fanon, Studies in a Dying Colonialism, 91.

27. Fanon, Studies in a Dying Colonialism, 73, 89.

28. Fanon, Studies in a Dying Colonialism, 89.

29. Judy, “Politics of Global Language,” 118–19.

30. Fanon, Studies in a Dying Colonialism, 90, 96.

31. Fanon, Studies in a Dying Colonialism, 201.

32. Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, 202.