- Frantz Fanon: De l’anticolonialisme à la critique postcoloniale by Matthieu Renault
Matthieu Renault has Written an Extraordinary, concise, and well-researched book. The virtue of the research is its rigor, whereby Renault does not commit the error of “citational apartheid.” This malediction, recurrent in European and Western scholarship, is the act of avoiding the research of those produced by scholars of color, especially black scholars, even where the subject in question is of race, a black intellectual, and colonial politics. Acknowledging the critique of such a practice, he engages those who have contributed to the debates at hand, the consequence of which is a work that offers a powerful and highly representative discussion of Fanon studies and postcolonial studies.
Renault’s stated aim is to address the lacunae in French scholarship on Fanon and, through doing that, also make a contribution to postcolonial political theory. He thus has four tasks: (1) to articulate Fanon’s thought, (2) to explain postcolonial thought, (3) to demonstrate the significance of the impact of the first on the second and their continued relevance, and (4) to evaluate the unique and continued problems raised by Fanonian postcolonial theory.
Regarding the first, Renault correctly rejects the tendency to read Fanon’s biography instead of his ideas. He acknowledges the importance of biographical work in France, where there is a need for more scholarship on Fanon. But [End Page 211] he adds the importance of examining why Fanon is important—especially for political theory—namely, Fanon’s thought. Renault’s project is thus also to offer a rigorous critique of political theory and the question of the contemporary postcolonial situation. The fourth task addresses what I have called in my coedited volume, Fanon: A Critical Reader (Blackwell, 1996), “the fifth stage of Fanon Studies”—where one does not only write about Fanon but also uses his thought to produce new ideas. To study Fanon’s thought, one must engage the debates in which he was involved. These include: black liberation thought, black poetics (especially the surrealism offered by Negritude), Marxist thought, existential and Hegelian phenomenology, and psychiatry and psychoanalysis. One must also engage those who have paid close attention to his thought and debated it. These include scholars and theorists in Africana philosophy, postcolonial theory, and literary theory. Renault examines all of these, and his insights along the way are noteworthy. For instance, he writes: “La théorie fanonienne de la violence est ainsi indissociable de sa théorie de la folie, et c’est dans le cadre de leur alliance que s’inscrit le renouvellement d’une conception tragique de l’histoire.” (“Fanon’s theory of violence is thus inextricably linked to his theory of madness, and its reinvocation is part of his tragic conception of history.”) Renault here avoids the trap of reading Fanon’s thought in a disciplinarily decadent way. He considers the different influences as part of a continuum. Thus, Fanon as theorist of violence, theorist of madness, and theorist of history come together in the symbiotic relationality of these ideas in his thought.
The significance of relationality in black thought is evident in Renault’s discussion of doubling, especially with regard to W. E. B. Du Bois’s theory of double consciousness, from the first chapter. Renault does so through an exploration also of the impact of William James’s theory of consciousness on Du Bois. I would like to stress, however, that the discussion of double consciousness was in a variety of thought from the nineteenth century. This includes thinkers such as G. W. F. Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and even Max Weber. Although he read their writings, what was different about Du Bois was that he raised a dual movement from imposed structure to a dialectical, epistemic break. Paget Henry, the famed Antiguan sociologist and philosopher, has called this dialectical movement “potentiated double consciousness.” Renault correctly explores the dialectical movement of going beyond what could be called “first-stage double consciousness” to what he calls le double...