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  • Inventions of Existence:Sylvia Wynter, Frantz Fanon, Sociogeny, and "the Damned"
  • David Marriott (bio)


In the Conclusion to Peau noire, masques blancs / Black Skin, White Masks (1952/1967) Fanon makes a certain reference to history, which he contrasts to that of invention and that of self-creation:

I am not a prisoner of History [l'Histoire]. I should not seek there for the meaning of my destiny.

I should constantly remind myself that the real leap [le véritable saut] consists in introducing invention into existence.

In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.


This wish not to be confined by History is no doubt crucial: there is the link of invention to the destiny to which it gives rise (Fanon has to constantly remind himself of that "real leap" whose meaning, in as much as it refers to the destiny [if not the history] of events, is not contained in advance, and whose [End Page 45] destination is not prescribed by "History"), which then becomes a sign of liberated existence, that is felt to be an act of self-creation. The leap beyond history, and first of all, that very separation between history and invention, is not simply to counter the ways in which history has been used to justify supremacist claims and effects, but to escape the normal teleological form of its writing, and so refigure life as event. Everything that imprisons the capacity for infinite realization, everything that presents the past as criterion, as is the case with "historical" judgment, is felt to be incommensurable with that leap, not akin to the ceaseless work of invention. The argument seems to be that colonialism has not only immured native life but has immured the writing of history as well, and if the narratives, codes, genres, and genealogies of colonialism have tended to block the potentiality of the colonized, they seem equally to have blocked the affirmation of l'Histoire. Or perhaps, paradoxically, it is because the meaning of "my" destiny is not itself historical that it can never escape the concept of history that imprisons it, which is also to do with the way colonialism seized upon what were seen to be "inherited" differences to begin with.

In his need to challenge the canonical narratives of European Man (the problem of secular or anthropological humanism and the institution of colonialism) or in his need to sustain life beyond that of the colony's ethno-bourgeois economy (the problem of poverty and debt and the legal-political definitions of sovereignty and self-propriety), Fanon thus ends where he begins: with a call for the reinvention of European humanism. After all, what brings race into being as an historical concept is the European invention of Man, which also gave birth to its multiple others, whose relationship to history is necessarily one of a relegated past. So perhaps, for Fanon, in the colony, history as a discipline became, quite precisely, racist: a narrative whose redoubtable but all the more easily identified representations are the clearest example of a discursive machinery of power. Although I shall not here attempt to follow Fanon's discussion of history through his writing, it is clear that the reference to history in Black Skin, White Masks—better, its carceral logic—thus turns on the difference between, on the one hand, a confined, institutional meaning in which power is violently exercised on colonial subjects, and on the other, a space of endless self-creation, in which [End Page 46] self and world can be reinvented, and in which, implicitly at least, "history," for the subject, can be given another meaning, a future in which time, reference, and reality can acquire new values. What I shall be attempting to do here is no more than an elaboration of that structure.

Yet clear though the lines of demarcation are, it is alarmingly easy to confuse them. After all, "invention" is itself a historical problem, and history is itself, ideologically and politically, invented. Still, if to witness the effects of European history was always to incur the charge that one was not yet sufficiently historical, then to sense the need to escape from history...


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