- Introduction: Fanon in the Present
This project began as a collaborative roundtable organized by the Postcolonial Studies Forum and the Marxist Literary Group for the 2017 Modern Language Association Convention. Under the title “Fanon in the Present,” this roundtable foregrounded Frantz Fanon’s relationship to global protest movements and the resistance they engendered. Stressing oftentimes violent civil unrest and protests against domineering or dictatorial state forces admittedly offers only one angle on Fanon’s wide ranging and nuanced thought. Fanon’s theories about violent resistance, particularly by the ranks of society’s besieged, are central, more often than not, to how his work is remembered. As Hannah Arendt suggests, though, “Fanon himself . . . is much more doubtful about violence than his admirers. It seems that only [The Wretched of the Earth’s] first chapter, ‘Concerning Violence,’ has been widely read” (2014, 14). This criticism of Fanon’s reception remained central to us as we assembled the roundtable. We sought to mitigate this critique on the one hand through the collaboration between two groups inclined to approach Fanon from different angles, but also and more directly via our selection process. One of our goals was to solicit participation from scholars from various positions and locations in the profession, people who might not only say different things about Fanon but might also say them from different platforms. To the extent that Fanon persists [End Page 1] as an indispensable interlocutor in fields as varied as postcolonial theory, anti-colonialism, postmodernism, and psychoanalysis, it was imperative to us to bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines. In this way, we thought, we would enable ourselves to consider the continued relevance and urgency of Fanon’s writing to a range of themes, histories, and geopolitical concerns.
Since its inception, though, this project has sought to think about how Fanon’s work can help to navigate the problems of civil inequity, precarity, and instability that continue to plague our present. We turn toward Fanon’s ideas, in both practice and in theory, at what we imagine to be a moment of extreme timeliness. The Martinique born psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer seems uniquely suited to reflections on current moments of global civil unrest and protest. Fanon’s engagement with anti-colonialism and anti-racism, and his direct involvement with the Algerian and other African independence movements, makes his work a particularly fruitful site for thinking about the global clashes between citizenries and their governments that, in their most recent form, began with the Arab Spring in 2010. Our present is one interspersed with civil unrest the world over—unrest that is more often than not punctuated by violence, as we have seen in places ranging from Tahrir Square to Kiev in the Ukraine to Ferguson, Baltimore, and Standing Rock in the United States.
While the present may not literally reflect the realities of colonization and imperialism as Fanon experienced and wrote about them, the continuities between his time and our own rest in the less obvious ways particular groups, peoples, and locales subordinate to the demands of neoliberal capitalist economies are kept in check by increasingly militarized domestic security forces. How, for instance, might Fanon’s perspectives on the violence that attends independence and decolonization struggles of former colonies help us to understand the clash between security forces and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wakes of Michael Brown’s murder and the failure to indict Darren Wilson for the young man’s death? In Ferguson, as elsewhere, the very fact that the community took to the streets cannot be thought of outside local and state governments’ decision to deploy heavily armed police and National Guard forces against citizens.
The impulse to revisit Fanon, to query what his ideas might tell us about our present, is not one that is unique to this project. John Edgar Wideman’s 2008 novel Fanon, which Mathias Nilges discusses [End Page 2] in more detail in his essay, was recently joined by Robert Young and Jean Khalfa’s extensive 2015 edited volume of Fanon’s previously uncollected miscellaneous writings, Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté (2015). Young and Khalfa’s collection not only...