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Masking Fanon

From: College Literature
Volume 40, Number 3, Summer 2013
pp. 38-59 | 10.1353/lit.2013.0035



Since his death in 1962, Frantz Fanon has been an elusive and spectral figure, subjected to an endless process of academic, cultural, and political prosopopoeia. This essay reads John Edgar Wideman’s 2008 novel Fanon as a novel that narrates its own failure to give voice to Fanon’s life and legacy, a failure that paradoxically enables Wideman to experiment with alternative narrative modes for representing the human personality as a literary and legal category. Wideman’s novel invokes narrative genres of personal development that delineate the well-developed person as the normative subject of international human rights and civil law, only to disrupt these genres by subjecting them to processes of fracture and incorporation adapted from Romare Bearden’s collage aesthetics. In the novel Fanon, Wideman’s collage technique adapts the historical Fanon’s trope of the mask in his theories of the human personality in order to refashion the figure of the person as a mask of legal personhood. In doing so, Fanon challenges the figure of the person that lies at the core of contemporary human rights discourse.

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