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  • On "The Body" and the Human-Ecology DistinctionReading Frantz Fanon after Bruno Latour
  • Emily Anne Parker

In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon writes, "A hostile, ungovernable, and fundamentally rebellious Nature is in fact synonymous in the colonies with the bush, the mosquitoes, the natives, and disease" (1961, 182). The "natives" are Nature. In this way Fanon reveals a colonial morphology alienated from any humanity that is on the wrong side of a colonizing divide. As part of what Bruno Latour names the modern desire to distinguish nature from culture, philosophies have split along these lines as well. Perhaps for this reason, as an ecological indictment, Fanon's provocative claim has gone largely uncommented upon (Clare 2013): Colonial power seeks to purge the European morphology of human-ity of all things "Nature." Sara Ahmed has argued that for Fanon whiteness is a corporeal schema by means of which humans are sensed, and this sets the stage for a "noticeability of the arrival of some bodies more than others" (2007, 150–53). For Fanon, this human morphology is ecologically alienated in that it opposes itself to "ecology" ("the bush, mosquitoes, the native, and disease"). Whiteness is a corporeal schema or morphology of human-ity that considers nature to be alien, and so it must also defend itself against that nature, perhaps especially when this dares to show itself in politics. Interestingly Fanon does not select the human side of this divide. He seeks instead to undo the divide. His work seeks to replace this human morphology [End Page 59] with another one that takes seriously the "cortico-viscerality" of a therefore significantly altered "new man" (1961, 216 note 35; 233).

If Fanon's interest was in recovering a new man, my own interest seeks to broaden this into a morphology that is multimorphic instead of dimorphic (Preciado 2013, 105). What Fanon helpfully suggests is that the European morphology of human-ity is fundamentally opposed to all things "ecological." In this way the human is from the start an indistinguishably political and ecological project, one that consists in the divide itself. Fanon seeks to collapse the political and ecological not by eliminating any possible human morphology, but by seeking a new one in which attention to bodily difference is not in conflict with what human means. Bodily difference, Fanon suggests, has been denied in order to set a certain human morphology off from "the natural world." The very idea of a generic body makes it possible for modernity to isolate the political.

Reading Fanon yields a critique of a concept that he did not himself explicitly criticize, but which his project in effect renders deeply problematic, "the body." I therefore question this concept in the present as it suggests a supposedly generic body whose meanings and therefore intuitions and fears are also denied. I argue that reading Frantz Fanon after Bruno Latour, it is possible to understand where "the body" as a concept comes from: "The body" becomes the meaning of the modern political precisely in its exclusion of "ecology." If for Latour, modernity means the attempt to purge culture of nature and thereby to exacerbate natural disasters precisely in this effort, for Fanon, modernity is Manichaean: Moderns (wielders of colonial power) seek to purge humanness of all things ecological, including bodily difference, which threatens the political and ecological distinction. "The body" is far from a benign figure of speech. It pretends to a genericity that is in fact nowhere to be found on earth. "The body" is a distinctly modern legacy, evidence and fuel of modernity's planetary alienation.

The essay is composed of five sections. In the first I suggest that the political and the ecological, in spite of a lot of excellent work undermining the nature-culture distinction, remain mutually resistant concepts. In section two I argue that this split can be partially understood through the work of Bruno Latour. For Latour modernity is defined by an attempt to purge culture of nature. This is the "first Great Divide" that constitutes modernity as a concept and in fact a distinct nature-culture. For Latour, this distinction then gets externalized or projected to create...


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