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Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial Humanism

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Abstract

This essay is an explication of Frantz Fanon as a humanist. Through a detailed reading of his four major works, it proposes that, despite his insistence on violence, Fanon was reaching forward to a new form of humanism, one that would be more inclusive and which would reject the European Enlightenment model. It argues that Fanon proposes an ethics of recognition of difference within the postcolonial paradigm as the first step on the route to the new humanism. Through mutual recognition, subjectitivities are forged, and from this point a humanist vision is possible. Once mutual recognition has been accorded, it can lead to a collective ethics, argues Fanon. Finally, Fanon calls for a shift in national consciousness — which ought not to stay confined to the ‘national’. Fanon proposes that ‘oppressed peoples join up with peoples who are already sovereign if a humanism that can be considered valid is to be built to the dimensions of the universe’ in what is surely a universalism.
21Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial Humanism
Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial
Humanism
Pramod K Nayar*
* Reader, Department of English, The University of Hyderabad, India. E-mail: pramodknayar@gmail.com
Why write this book? …
Toward a new humanism …
To understand and to love …
– (Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 1)
For too long now Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist, activist, anti-colonial fighter,
decorated war hero and arguably the first major postcolonial ‘theorist’ of the
twentieth century, has been seen exclusively as an apostle of violence. This is
partly because of the initial reception of Fanon’s now-cult texts, Black Skin White
Masks (BSWM), Towards an African Revolution (TAR), The Wretched of the Earth
(WE) and A Dying Colonialism (DC), by thinkers like Hannah Arendt—who
accused Fanon of ‘glorifying violence for violence’s sake’ (1970, 65). Several
© 2011 IUP. All Rights Reserved.
This essay is an explication of Frantz Fanon as a humanist. Through a
detailed reading of his four major works, it proposes that, despite his
insistence on violence, Fanon was reaching forward to a new form of
humanism, one that would be more inclusive and which would reject
the European Enlightenment model. It argues that Fanon proposes an
ethics of recognition of difference within the postcolonial paradigm as
the first step on the route to the new humanism. Through mutual
recognition, subjectitivities are forged, and from this point a humanist
vision is possible. Once mutual recognition has been accorded, it can
lead to a collective ethics, argues Fanon. Finally, Fanon calls for a shift
in national consciousness—which ought not to stay confined to the
‘national’. Fanon proposes that ‘oppressed peoples join up with peoples
who are already sovereign if a humanism that can be considered valid is
to be built to the dimensions of the universe’ in what is surely a
universalism.
The IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. III, No. 1, 201122
thinkers since then (Bulhan, 1985; Taylor, 1992; Nandy, 1992; and
Serequeberhan, 1994) have grappled with what looks like an advocacy of violence
on the one hand and a deeply humanist thought on the other in Fanon’s writings.
In this essay I propose that despite his insistence on violence, Fanon engages
with, and offers, a humanist vision.
First, a quick note on how one can read the violence in Fanon. Violence in
Fanon is directed at two specific goals. The first goal is the overthrow of the
colonizer. Fanon sees the violence of the native as a consequence of the violence
inherent in the colonial system itself. The violence is embedded in the dialectic
of master-slave, where the only means to attaining selfhood the dehumanized
slave has is violence because it is the only language of colonial relations. This is
the violence of the anti-colonial struggle during the course of which the context
for the second goal of this violence is also generated. This second goal is of the
colonized’s self-realization and the retrieval of subjectivity—a goal that Fanon
sees as possible only through violence. This retrieved subjectivity, dignity and
identity, for Fanon, quite possibly leads to death and annihilation. But this
annihilation would be one of choice and selfhood rather than abjection, with
Fanon arguing that he would be willing to accept ‘dissolution’ (BSWM, 170). It
is in this second mode of violence as directed at self-realization that Fanon finds
the possibilities of a new identity and humanism. The ‘savage struggle’ through
which the former slave claims recognition from the white is therefore the ‘source
material’, so to speak, of a new black man. Violence—of the anti-colonial struggle
and decolonization—therefore, becomes the anterior moment of (i) a new subjectivity and
cultural identity; (ii) a new humanism.
Fanon and the Ethics of Recognition
Colonialism negates the black man, he is excluded from the symbolic order.
He is excluded from the self-Other dialectic central to identity-formation.
Otherness is the mode of entry into subjectivity and identity, and when the
black man has no Other who validates him, he is left bereft, with no means
of a selfhood. This condition where the Self is denied selfhood due to the
absence of othering (alterity) reduces the black man to an object, what Fanon
calls ‘crushing objecthood’ (BSWM, 82). Hence Fanon’s question on the
very first page of BSWM, “What does the black man want?” (1) is a question
not about identity but identification. Fanon writes later: “I am asking to be
considered” (170).
Fanon argues that “it is on that other being, on recognition by that other
being, that his own human worth and reality depend” (BSWM, 169). Desire is
therefore the quest for a reciprocity of recognition (169), where the black man
23Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial Humanism
and the white recognize and acknowledge each other—a reciprocity absent in
colonial relations. As Diana Fuss (1994) has pointed out the psychoanalytic
conceptualization of identification itself emerges within a context of colonialism
and imperial relations of white and black. Fanon’s situating of identity and
identification within their socio-cultural context—colonialism—shifts them out
of the purely psychoanalytical.
‘Personhood’ is the privilege of the white man alone, and the black man is
‘sealed into thingness’, writes Fanon (BSWM, 170), which suggests an absence
of recognition and therefore a condition of dehumanization. “He who is reluctant
to recognize me opposes me”, writes Fanon (170). Without this recognition
there is no self-consciousness. When the white master sets the slave free there
is still no recognition. Even labour, which the slave performs endlessly, does
not fetch recognition, and he must turn elsewhere. Fanon suggests that the
route to self-consciousness is via violence. When the white man, angered by
the black man’s violence and conflict, turns towards him and screams ‘damn
nigger’ (BSWM, 172), the black man has finally managed to snatch a
momentary recognition, albeit through a process of violence. Recognition, in
other words, is a consequence of struggle.
This struggle is essentially a struggle by the colonized for his humanity: ‘the
former slave needs a challenge to his humanity’ (BSWM). This is the trajectory
one discerns in Fanon:
Colonial Conditions, Anti-colonial Struggle, Self-consciousness,
Slavery, no recognition, Violence against white, identity for black,
No selfhood white abuses black as a new humanity
‘damn nigger’, recognition
The black has fought for and gained recognition as a black man. His humanity
has been finally recognized. It is this ethical recognition of the particularity of
the black man that leads to decolonization, of both the black and the white. In
‘Racism and Culture’ Fanon spoke of the “universality [that] resides in this
decision to recognise and accept the reciprocal relativism of different cultures,
once the colonial status is irreversibly excluded” (TAR, 44). Fanon here is moving
towards a universality founded on mutual recognition—an ethical recognition—
which would generate a new humanism.1
Fanon however is careful to insist that recognition cannot be restricted to the
intellectual and cultural domains. His critique of negritude foregrounds this view
that cultural recognition—of the aesthetics and cultural practices of the blacks—
does not change material realities in colonialism. Fanon writes:
The IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. III, No. 1, 201124
it would be of the greatest interest to be able to have contact with a
Negro literature or architecture of the third century before Christ.
I should be very happy to know that a correspondence had flourished
between some Negro philosopher and Plato. But I can absolutely not
see how this fact would change anything in the lives of the eight-year-
old children who labor in the cane fields of Martinique or Guadeloupe.
(BSWM, 180)
Recognition is the acknowledgement of cultural and historical realities of
other humans. Decolonization is conditional upon both, whites and blacks,
colonizers and colonized, seeing and respecting difference. In his ‘Racism and
Culture’ Fanon spells out his vision for this ethics of recognition and difference:
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 recognise and accept the reciprocal
relativism of different cultures, once the colonial status is irreversibly
excluded. (TAR, 44)
It is significant that Fanon speaks of a mutual enrichment. For those who see
Fanon as exclusionary and committed to violence this argument ought to function
as a corrective. Anti-colonial violence has resulted in (i) the whites
acknowledgement of the black; (ii) the black discovering a Self; ( i i i ) an
acknowledgement of mutual difference (between blacks in Africa as well as blacks
from whites). From this point onwards, decolonization proceeds through this
process of mutual recognition of cultures, cultural difference and mutual
transformation. Fanon underscores the possibility of mutual enrichment as a
consequence of the ethics of recognition. What he is arguing for is that once the
unequal power relations of colonialism have been excluded, decolonization can
lead to mutual transformation of the colonizer and the colonized.
Fanon seeks nothing less than the complete overthrow of the traditional
European humanism based on exclusion and traditional categorizations. In its
place he seeks a humanism where difference is respected. Humanism in Fanon is
the result of this ‘reciprocal relativism of different cultures’ where the black is no
mere ‘object’ but a black human for the white. In similar fashion the white is not
just the white oppressor/master but a white human. This humanism is not about
emulating the model of human embodied in the European, who is, as Fanon
points, part of a race of ‘murderers’ (WE, 236), but to accept the black man as a
human in his own right. The human cannot, Fanon suggests, be defined (as classical
humanism has done since the Enlightenment) only in opposition to the European
model of the ‘human’. The African (and, by extension, women, Asians and
25Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial Humanism
members of any racial group) must be a human in and of himself, and not
evaluated from the European perspective.
The violence of the colonized enables a self-realization in Fanon’s scheme of
things. Once this self-realization occurs in the formerly colonized we can see a
progress towards a collective self-realization that promotes a more inclusive
humanism. Gerald Tucker suggests that in Fanon, the violence of the colonized
promotes a ‘true spirit of community’ whereas in colonial violence ‘prohibits the
sharing of community feelings’ (1978, 408). The emergence of this sense of the
collective, and collective ethics, in Fanon is our next concern.
Collective Ethics
With the recognition of difference comes the recognition of the collective Other
as well. Fanon is emphatic that the recognition of the collective entails a collective
responsibility as well. After decolonization, the task of nation-building must be
based on socialism and equality, argues Fanon. Social and political responsibility
must accompany power and wealth.
Fanon sees political independence as a limited goal, a stage in the greater
journey towards humanism. Fanon argues that the individual and the citizen
both need to evolve:
Independence has certainly brought the colonized peoples moral
reparation and recognized their dignity. But they have not yet had time
to elaborate a society or build and ascertain values. The glowing focal
point where the citizen and individual develop and mature in a growing
number of areas does not yet exist. (WE, 40)
Fanon is proposing a socially committed individual citizen who emerges in
the wake of decolonization. It was the process of anti-colonial struggle through
which the colonized attained a sense of the self. But once the anti-colonial struggle
is over and the process of decolonization underway then the newly discovered
self-consciousness must become concerned about more than the self.
Fanon urges leaders of new states to focus on economic and social building.
He calls for a shift from the earlier struggle: where once the natives fought the
colonizer, they must now fight “poverty, illiteracy, and underdevelopment”
(WE, 51). The difficulty, as Fanon sees it, is to balance the political and cultural
independence of the new nation-state while at the same time, seeking economic
aid from foreign nations (who of course seek to impose economic and trade
policies that suit their capitalist interests). Fanon points out that depending on
foreign country (preferably socialist) is not out of the question, because Europe
itself had been built on the “the sweat and corpses of blacks, Arabs, Indians, and
The IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. III, No. 1, 201126
Asians” (WE, 53). A collective ethics, for Fanon, is primarily economic: the
equitable distribution of resources, wealth and labour. Pointing to colonialism
as marked by a fundamental asymmetry of resource distribution, Fanon writes:
“what matters today is the need for a redistribution of wealth” (WE, 55).
This is Fanon’s Marxist-inspired collective ethics—towards culture, wealth, rights
and development.
Jean-Marie Vivaldi has argued that Fanon’s emphasis on socialism means he
prefers the collective ethics of the new nation rather than the individualist ethics
of the west (14). This new socialism-determined humanism is oriented towards
action and lived experience rather than abstract or metaphysical transcendence. One
of Fanon’s early commentators, Gerald Tucker (1978) noted this emphasis on
action as ethics in Fanon.
In a valuable commentary that aligns Fanon with Hardt and Negri Richard
Pithouse has suggested that Fanon rejected abstract theorizing that was not
connected with the lived realities of people and their ‘plane of immanence’.
Fanon famously wrote that the aim of philosophy and theory must be to ‘educate
man to be actional’ (119).2 The working, unemployed and starving natives “do
not say they represent the truth because they are the truth in their very being”
(WE, 13). He rejects, also, cultural atavism and reactionary returns to the mythic
‘glorious’ past. Fanon writes with considerable contempt about this quest for a
cultural heritage that ignores contemporary reality:
I concede the fact that the actual existence of an Aztec civilization has
done little to change the diet of today’s Mexican peasant. I concede
that whatever proof there is of a once mighty Songhai civilization does
not change the fact that the Songhais today are undernourished, illiterate,
abandoned to the ashes and water, with a blank mind and glazed eyes.
(WE, 148)
For Pithouse, this is tantamount to a rejection of mechanistic, idealist and
metaphysical explanations (he does not ‘turn history into History’, in Pithouse’s
phrase, 120). What Fanon seeks is a praxis for the collective development, not
intellectual work that produces mythic absolutes that are no correctives to the
newly independent nation’s problems.
Humanism born out of such a praxis is empowering and enabling because it
seeks nothing less than the amelioration of the sufferings of people in the here
and the now rather than offer transcendent truths about History. This humanism
is a collective ethics that is pragmatic rather than idealist. It is rooted in the
present history, local and specific, and does not hanker after a ‘universal’ human.
Fanon’s insistence on the ‘actional’ and his rejection of the reality-denying
27Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial Humanism
intellectualism is a way out of both, the tendency to turn to European models
(of transcendent human History) as well as the glorification of one’s own past.
Beyond National Consciousness, Towards Universalism
Fanon opens his BSWM with some interesting declarations: “Mankind, I believe
in you” (1) and “I believe that the individual should tend to take on the
universality inherent in the human condition” (3). It is significant that Fanon,
for all his rootedness in Algeria and Africa, is emphatic about the need to
address universals. This universalism stems from a particular humanist
component of his thought.
Fanon’s humanism is the solidarity with the world’s suffering, irrespective of
race, colour or geography. He writes:
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. (DC)
Fanon has aligned the colonizer white man with the colonized black as victims
together of a cruel process. Fanon’s work, I believe, is about the world’s oppressed,
and when he includes the white man as a victim of colonialism he has sought to
move beyond the racial binary. Suffering and oppression are unifying factors for
his thoughts about humanism—and these factors enable him to call for a
consciousness beyond nationalisms. In another essay, ‘Letter to the Youth of
Africa’, Fanon writes:
It is essential that the oppressed peoples join 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. (TAR. 114)
Once again Fanon is speaking of an alignment between races.
“If the color black is virtuous, I shall be all the more virtuous the blacker I
am”. With this savagely ironic comment Fanon proceeds to reject the myth of
authenticity in TAR (23). He speaks of people ‘living in the great black mirage’
(27) and of blacks who “aspire only to one thing: to plunge into the great ‘black
hole’” (27). Ross Posnock argues that Fanon’s rejection of such racial binaries
enables him to move beyond identity to action (Posnock, 1997, 339). This
‘action’, as Posnock sees it, is intellectual work. This intellectual work in the
decolonizing phase is essentially, in Fanon, a turn away from the traditional
national liberation politics towards an internationalism and universalism, what
Nigel Gibson identifies as the third mode of nationalism in Fanon or nationalism
The IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. III, No. 1, 201128
(see Gibson, 2003, Chapter 8). Like Posnock who detects in Fanon a call to
recognize humans by their actions rather than racial or ethnic identities, Gibson
argues that this nationalism is marked by “a celebration of human action and a
critical attention to hazards of national consciousness” (180). In other words,
what Gibson identifies as nationalism is a move of the consciousness beyond
the national one.
Writing about national cultures, Fanon says:
The colonized who are concerned for their country’s culture and wish
to give it a universal dimension should not place their trust in a single
principle—that independence is inevitable and automatically inscribed
in the people’s consciousness. (WE, 179)
This self-awareness of the limitations of nationalism and national cultures,
argues Fanon, leads to ‘guarantee’ greater communication. In an important
comment Fanon says: “National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is alone
capable of giving us an international dimension” (179). Fanon therefore speaks
of ‘universalizing values’ (180) as a counter to nationalism. What Fanon is
proposing is that revolutionary movements might be national and nationalist to
begin with but the consciousness they engender must enable a movement beyond
the national towards the universal. For this the individual must become
self-aware, and this self-awareness is the route to his own liberation. Once the
individual has been fully liberated through (i) revolutionary struggle, (ii) national
culture and consciousness he is ready to free himself of both colonialism and
nationalism and become a new man. This new man is social, seeks the universal
and recognizes the Other. In what is arguably a manifesto for the new humanist
postcolonial Fanon writes:
Since the individual experience is national, since it is a link in the national
chain, it ceases to be individual, narrow and limited in scope, and can
lead to the truth of the nation and the world. (WE, 140-1)
As the individual strives to free his nation, he also “will[s] here and now the
triumph of man in his totality” (141). Any great revolutionary struggle, for Fanon,
will lead to a consciousness that ushers in a new human: “this new humanism is
written into the objectives and methods of the struggle” (WE, 178). With social
and political liberation comes the liberation of the self for both colonizer and
colonized, and this is the starting point for the new human. The formerly colonized
therefore, in order to free himself in totality, “brings all his resources into play,
all his acquisitions, the old and the new, his own and those of the occupant”
(TAR, 43). He recognizes, appropriates and internalizes the Other in order to
transcend both, his and the white man’s identities. Thus the anti-colonial struggle
29Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial Humanism
and its political experience is the source of a new humanism because it facilitates
the rise of a new consciousness.
The self-determined, self-aware liberated individual therefore is at the core
of Fanon’s new humanism. This individual is able to engage in the reciprocal
recognition which leads to the new humanism. Such a reciprocal recognition is
achieved through a recognition of shared suffering. This is yet another strand to
Fanon’s universalist humanism.
Building solidarities on the basis of a shared history of suffering—no matter
what your racial-ethnic identity might be—is a form of humanism that Fanon
seeks. I propose that Fanon’s humanism anticipates the work of several
postcolonial theorists, notably that of Leela Gandhi (2006) and Ashis Nandy
(1987 and 1998). Gandhi notes the affective communities built during
colonialism where a commonality of interests—from vegetarianism to
spirituality—brought the whites and the Indians together. Nandy’s is a far more
Fanonian move. In two major essays, ‘Towards a Third World Utopia’ (1987)
and ‘A New Cosmopolitanism: Toward a Dialogue of Asian Civilizations’
(1998), Nandy calls for a new solidarity of peoples, one based on a shared
culture of suffering. Nandy writes:
The only way the Third World can transcend the sloganeering of its
well-wishers is, first, by becoming a collective representation of the
victims of man-made suffering everywhere in the world and in all past
times, second, by internalizing or owning up the outside forces of
oppression and, then, coping with them as inner vectors and third by
recognizing the oppressed or marginalized selves of the First and Second
Worlds as civilizational allies in the battle against institutionalized
suffering ([1987] 2004, 441).
This is Nandy’s reasoning: “If the Third World’s vision of the future is
handicapped by its experience of man-made suffering, the First World’s future,
too, is shaped by the same record” (467). R Radhakrishnan points out that
Nandy is arguing a case for seeing suffering as a ‘universal and omni-locational
phenomenon’, where the Third World is an ‘imaginative topos’ that seeks to
“bring about reciprocal recognition between vectors of oppression that are
external and those that are internal” (2003, 98-99). Sidi Omar argues that
Fanon seeks to “initiat[e] a new history for humankind in which the Third
World is to be entrusted with a leading role” (2009, 272), an argument that
echoes Nandy. I have argued elsewhere that a shared history of trauma and
suffering can offer an ‘affective cosmopolitanism’ (Nayar, 2008). In Nandy’s
case, I argued, this sense of shared suffering might be a different way of thinking
about the future humanity. Nandy writes:
The IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. III, No. 1, 201130
Ultimately it is not a matter of synthesizing or aggregating different
civilizational visions of the future. Rather, it is a matter of admitting
that while each civilization must find its own authentic vision of the
future and its own authenticity in future, neither is conceivable without
admitting the experience of co-suffering which has not brought some
of the major civilizations of the world close to each other. (468)
My recourse to Nandy was by way of illuminating the centrality of suffering
in the ideology of humanism—a move that Fanon makes as well. This move has
two components: (i) With his call to move beyond the Manicheanism of racial
identity and colonialism Fanon opts out of racial identities itself. (ii) By arguing
that the colonizer is both ‘organizer and the victim of a system that has choked
him and reduced him to silence’, he aligns the perpetrator with the victim
(colonized) in a continuum of suffering. Decolonization would lead to the freedom
of both colonizer and colonized from this victimhood. It is in the recognition of
mutual suffering—what Fanon refers to as a ‘world of reciprocal recognitions’
(BSWM, 170)—that a new humanism can emerge. To this end, Fanon suggests,
even nationalism must turn to universalism: “If nationalism is not explained,
enriched, and deepened, if it does not very quickly turn into a social and political
consciousness, into humanism, then it leads to a dead end” (WE, 144). Hence
the task of the postcolonial nation state is: “First restore dignity to all citizens,
furnish their minds, fill their eyes with human things and develop a human
landscape for the sake of its enlightened and sovereign inhabitants” (144). To
suffer with the world’s wretched—this is the humanism that Fanon proclaims
when he quotes Césaire: There is not in the world one single poor lynched
bastard, one poor tortured man, in whom I am not also murdered and humiliated”
(WE, 45). Albert Memmi pointed out that Fanon “gradually identified his own
destiny with Algeria, then with the Third World, and ultimately with all of
humanity” (1973, 33). As Sidi Omar puts it, Fanon’s work articulates the “need
for a conscious and critical engagement with the history and legacies of colonialism
as a global phenomenon” (272). Thus Fanon writes of the shared history of
colonialism which might, if recognized, lead to a new humanism on the part of
the formerly colonized nations:
There is no common destiny between the national cultures of Guinea
and Senegal, but there is a common destiny between the nations
of Guinea and Senegal dominated by the same French colonialism
(WE, 168-169).
The new human claims a “‘right to citizenship’ in a world of ‘reciprocal
recognitions’” (Azar, 1999, 31), and is the foundation for a ‘transnational
humanism’ (Alessandrini, 2005). What contemporary commentators such as
31Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial Humanism
Alessandrini, Azar and Ahluwalia (2003) see in Fanon is the necessity (and
possibility) to move outward from Algeria as a specific instance of colonial-
racial exploitation that denies humanity to the world at large in a transnational
history of oppression. This expansion of Algeria as a test case whereby the new
consciousness can become instrumental in changing the world itself is indicated
in the last sentence of DC: “this oxygen which creates and shapes a new
humanity—this, too, is the Algerian Revolution” (160).3 And again in TAR: The
liberation of the Algerian national territory is a defeat for racism and for the
exploitation of man; it inaugurates the unconditional reign of justice” (64,
emphasis added). Towards the end of WE he therefore includes Argentina and
Burma: “What we want to hear are case histories in Argentina or Burma about
the fight against illiteracy or the dictatorial behavior of other leaders” (143). He
sees the Africans as acting in solidarity—Fanon’s preferred term is ‘program’ in
WE—with the ‘underdeveloped peoples’ (143). In each case Fanon moves beyond
Martinique, Algeria and Africa to include the colonized world itself. While David
Macey is correct in reading Fanon as a Martinician theorist of Algerian colonization
(2000, 26-30), there is a strong case to be made, based even on the selective
quotations above, for arguing for a Fanon embedded in Algeria but looking at
the world beyond, a humanist rooted in the immediate anti-colonial struggle of
Algerians, but expressing solidarity with the rest of the colonized people.
The final sentence of WE indicates, yet again, a movement beyond
nationalisms: “For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must
make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavor to create a new
man” (239). This possibility of a new humanism might require not only
acknowledging a shared history, but also looking for/at new ways of thinking—
what postcolonial scholars have begun to address as alternate knowledge
traditions, perhaps—that retains the European Enlightenment’s humanism but
incorporates it into African, Asian and other traditions.
Conclusion
Fanon’s humanism is therefore a result of both, colonialism and the anti-colonial
struggle. Where the first seeks to destroy the dignity and selfhood of the
colonized, the latter retrieves it. With decolonization comes the awareness that
human dignity is beyond racial and national identity. While Fanon seems to
acknowledge the tensions involved in being grounded in a particularism (of local
history, struggles and everyday life) while seeking a universalism (of human
dignity) it is this testing of the impossible that constitutes his humanism. Fanon’s
humanism, I suggest, must be treated as potential rather than actual. His books
end with prayers, promises and hopes—all of which are about the future. His
references to the humanity ‘to come’ are indices of the potential nature of a new
The IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. III, No. 1, 201132
humanity. Fanon constantly underscores work, action and vision, all of which
must be future directed. He advocates a careful jettisoning of the past, a rejection
of mythical ‘golden’ ages, in favour of concrete agendas of poverty alleviation,
development and equality. These are humanistic visions that are not race or
space specific.
Fanon is located at the “tension between cultural nationalism and
transnationality, without ‘resolving’ the contradiction and without yielding an
attachment to the one or the aspiration to the other”, as Benita Parry succinctly
puts it (1994, 186-187). But, it is precisely this tension that helps think through
the postcolonial predicament between a xenophobic cultural nativism and an
assimilationist globalism, between conservative humanisms inherited from the
colonial era and the quest for a ‘new humanism’ that Fanon wants. Clearly,
Fanon sees the emancipated postcolonial as carrying the burden of this new
humanism.
In a recent work, Paul Gilroy has suggested the need for an essence of
‘human-ness minus the (racial) categories within humanity (2000). This
‘strategic universalism’, as Gilroy terms it, is directed at eliminating categories
of race, class, and sex, preferring, instead, a universalism of human dignity.
Like Fanon, Gilroy recommends moving beyond the traumas of the past to
‘self-consciously become more future-oriented’ (335) in a ‘planetary humanism’
(as he titles one of his chapters). While Gilroy does not spell out these forms
of universalism, he comes close, I believe, to what Fanon was trying to theorize
and which Ashis Nandy, as I have argued above, articulates as well. Indeed,
Gilroy cites BSWM’s closing moments to make his point, proposing that Fanon
recognized the horrific nature of both, colonial white supremacy and its ‘black
nationalist shadows’ (336). Gilroy accepts that his vision, like Fanon’s, is cast
in a ‘utopian spirit’ (336).
The common histories of suffering—the denial of human dignity—which lead
to new solidarities constitute the foundational moment of this new humanism.
Just as Fanon saw himself in the world’s suffering peoples, and envisaged Algeria
as a metonym of the troubled areas of the world where people are denied basic
dignity, Gilroy, Nandy and others see the global history of suffering as demanding
a struggle for rights. If Fanon is right in arguing that the struggle against
colonialism leads to a new humanity, then Nandy’s notion of ‘civilizational allies’
in ‘the battle against institutionalized suffering’ would be the anterior moment
of a new humanism as well, where those who battle recognize the suffering of
others. Fanon’s emphasis was on suffering inflicted through and by colonialism.
But, as Nandy suggests, there are other forms and variants of suffering—driven
by class, ethnicity and caste distinctions and inequalities—that might be brought
33Frantz Fanon: Toward a Postcolonial Humanism
together as well. This argument about Fanon’s universalism and a new,
postcolonial humanism is best summarized in his own words:
Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the
spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his
fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act (BSWM, 176).
Notes
1This Fanon claim for an enlightened black population in the decolonized state is something that has
come in for criticism. Neil Lazarus, for instance, notes that “it is impossible … to account for the
wholesale demobilisation and disenfranchisement of ‘the people’ in the years immediately following
the acquisition of independence in Algeria … Such a development cannot be reconciled with
Fanon’s evocation of a disciplined and progressively unified population coming closer and closer to
self-knowledge…” (1994, 200).
2Tony Martin in his early essay on Fanon, ‘Rescuing Fanon from his Critics’, aligns Fanon with Marx,
Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara and Castro, a type of ‘master theoretician who is also a man of action’
(1970, 382).
3Henr y Louis Gates (Jr.) (1991), like Macey (2000), has been critical of the attempt to render
Fanon a ‘global theorist’, which, Gates argues, erases his historical specificity. Bulhan (1985),
Gordon (1995) and Ra baka (2009), among others have argued that Fanon’s observations do
have a global relevance even today. Rabaka points out wr yly that the critics who have found
Fanon ‘irresistible’ (a term Gates uses) are diverse: “Edward Said … was Palestinian, Homi
Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak are both Indian, Albert Memmi is Tunisian, Abdul
JanMohamed is Kenyan, and Benita Parr y, as we are told in the text, is a ‘ra dical South African
expatriate’” (221).
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Reference # 69J-2011-01-02-01
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... This of course is an impossible task given the messy entanglements and damage resulting from hundreds of years of European colonialism. Rather, decolonization should mean creating a post-colonial and post-European form of humanism, which would push back on the categories and binary thinking that have plagued European enlightenment thought (Maldonado-Torres, 2004;Nayar, 2011). Instead, it would move us to a place where difference is both recognized and respected (Nayar, 2011). ...
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