- Geopower:The Politics of Life and Land in Frantz Fanon’s Writing
In Becoming Undone, Elizabeth Grosz makes a powerful argument for the potential of "the philosophy of life, the philosophy of biology, [and] the philosophy of nature" to renew contemporary feminist thought. Grosz explains that this philosophical tradition, elaborated in Darwin, Nietzsche, and Bergson, "flourished well into the earliest decades of the twentieth century and then entered a long dormancy, only to be restored as a research program at the end of the twentieth century."1 However, a version of this tradition finds expression in the middle of the century as well, in the political, philosophical, and psychological writings of Frantz Fanon. Far from dormant in the 1950s, the philosophy of life was developed and transformed in Fanon’s trenchant analyses of colonialism.2
Especially because of his connections to Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as his explicit references to G. W. F. Hegel and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Fanon has largely been read as partaking in and developing the phenomenological tradition. Among readers who focus on his Black Skin, White Masks, the tendency has been to interpret Fanon in order to understand the experience of racialization, objectification, and otherness.3 Such a reading owes its popularity in part to Homi Bhabha’s powerful poststructuralist reframing of Fanon, which even imagined him as a proto-poststructuralist, postcolonial thinker. Questions of identity and recognition, subjectivity, and objectification therefore became central to research on the writer. However, beginning in the late 1990s, scholars such as Ato Sekyi-Otu and Nigel Gibson returned to Fanon through his other texts, such as The Wretched of the Earth and Toward the African Revolution, to show how Fanon’s concerns exceed the framework of recognition. Sekyi-Otu revisits Fanon to better understand experiences of postindependence Africa.4 Gibson demonstrates how The Wretched of the Earth provides not simply a valorization of violence, as Hannah Arendt famously critiqued, but also details the particular challenges of decolonization, such as the danger that the once-colonized bourgeoisie may usurp national liberation.5
Yet while these scholars analyze Fanon as a theorist of national liberation, they have yet to show his contribution to the philosophy of life, nature, and biology. Fanon’s characterization of decolonization draws heavily on his training in medicine and psychiatry. He uses organic metaphors and the vocabulary of biology: he writes of muscles and breath, life and death. Citing Nietzsche, he insists on the importance of action and, placing Fanon alongside the philosophers explored by Grosz, we might draw on his work to develop an understanding of freedom that consists in an engagement with matter instead of freedom from material constraint.6 Fanon’s new humanism highlights life’s dependency on the land, and resistance emerges not simply in life itself, but in life as it engages with land. Fanon thus figures a distributed form of vitality that recognizes how life exists between the living and the earth.
My interest in the relationship Fanon draws between life and land emerges in the context of new materialisms and new feminist materialisms. These fields have developed rich accounts of materiality, arguing that matter is open to becoming and is forceful in itself.7 But matter is also appropriated. It is transformed into territories, such as the [End Page 61] territory of the nation-state. Notwithstanding new materialists’ departure from Marxism, questions of property, appropriation, and territoriality have not disappeared.
Fanon’s writing provides a starting point for a new materialist understanding—and interruption—of appropriation, one that highlights life’s earthliness. This can be understood as an ecocritical move, insistent on transforming concepts to interrupt the mentality that has led to climate change all while being attuned to histories of colonization and decolonization, histories that make clear human life’s dependency on land and the violence of expropriation.8
Most specifically, this essay shows how Fanon can be drawn on to intervene in the rendering of life that we find between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. In his powerful reading of Foucault, Deleuze contends that The History of Sexuality culminates in a form of vitalism wherein life consists of the "capacity to resist force."9...