Frantz Fanon (1925-61)
Key Figures in Literary Theory
Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique, in the French Caribbean, and studied at a lycee in Fort-de-France, where one of his teachers was Amie Cesaire. During the Second World War, he served with the French Army in North Africa. He was wounded in 1944 and received the Croix de Guerre. After the war, he returned briefly to Martinique, where he worked on the parliamentary campaign of his former teacher, Cesaire. They remained close friends. Fanon left for France, where he studied psychiatry in Paris and Lyons. At this time, he composed his first book, Black Skin, White Masks (1952), an investigation of colonialism from the perspective of race consciousness and race relations. In 1952, Fanon began practicing psychiatry in Algeria, at Blida-Joinville hospital, where he was director of the psychiatric ward. The war between French colonial forces and the National Liberation Front (NLF) began in 1954. By 1956, Fanon had resigned and begun his work with the liberation movement. He traveled all over North and Saharan African, visiting guerilla camps and training medical personnel. He also hid insurgents in his home. In the last few years of his life, in addition to writing several books, he worked as an ambassador of the provisional Algerian government to Ghana, edited a journal in Tunisia, and set up the first African psychiatric clinic. He died of leukemia in Washington, DC, but was buried in Algeria.
Fanon’s work is largely concerned with African colonialism and the Algerian independence movement. Toward an African Revolution, published posthumously, brought together his shorter works published in NLF newspapers. Other essays on Algeria and the Algerian “national psyche” were compiled in A Dying Colonialism (1959). His most important work, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), was also his last. Unlike the essay collections, this volume presented a neo-Hegelian critique of colonialism, an integrated study of spontaneity and colonial violence, national consciousness, nationalist parties and leaders, the native intellectual, and the psychological trauma exacted by colonial wars. He was as critical of the nationalist bourgeoisie that inherited the privileges of the European colonizers as he was of the colonizers themselves. He understood that
anti-colonial resistance could only succeed if the people were given the tools to “re-create” themselves as human beings. If necessary, they must do this through violence. The recognition and theorization of this hard necessity earned Fanon some criticism, but by and large his work and life have proven a positive inspiration for liberation groups worldwide and a valuable theoretical resource for Postcolonial Studies.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. London: Pluto, 1986.
---- . Toward the African Revolution: Political Essays. Trans. Haakon Chevalier. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.
---- . The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1963.
Gordon, Lewis R., T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Renee T. White, eds. Fanon: A Critical Reader. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.