- The Resistance to Receptivity:Or, Spontaneity from Fanon to Kant
There is spontaneity and there is spontaneity.—Lenin, "What Is to Be Done?" (1902)
Fanon narrates decolonization in terms of an uncompromising appropriation of violence. Violence, as he describes it, is a "cleansing force," whose exercise therapeutically relieves the colonized subject of a systematically enforced state of psychic inferiority and potentially restores a sense of integration to those whose abjection from the category of the human has been normalized by colonial rule (Fanon 2004, 51). For those dispossessed of humanity, taking up violence as an "absolute praxis" becomes an avenue for what might be termed a partially reparative subjectivation (Fanon 2004, 44). Or, in Fanon's words, decolonization names the necessarily violent process whereby the "'thing' colonized becomes a man" (Fanon 2004, 2). Full restitution is of course no guarantee. And, as evidenced by the case studies that close Les Damnés de La Terre (The Wretched of the Earth), there is no promise that the way out and through to humanization will not leave in its wake irreparable damage (Fanon 2004, 181).
In Fanon's account, such a deployment of force not only reverses the medusan hold of colonization so as to create new, disalienated subjects but transforms violence itself—from an affliction to a mode of self-making, from a life-destroying instrument of racial subjugation to a medium through which liberation is enacted. Through violence, a Manichean world—divided between the white kingdom of ethics and the zoological realm of the "native"—is destroyed and reorganized [End Page 1] along a historical trajectory of national sovereignty. As colonial rule enforces a context of total domination, it does not give rise to disparate viewpoints so much as it produces irreconcilable "species" (Fanon 2004, 5). Thus, the "totalizing" violence of the colonized is not, he emphasizes, wholly of its own making but rather breaks out in response to the primary, petrifying violence of the colonist through which it seeks to break (Fanon 2004, 50). Dereliction is driven and so drives itself to de-creative expenditure.
In Les Damnés de La Terre's foundational chapter "On Violence," Fanon is resolute in rearticulating the colonial situation in terms of a deliberately simplified agonism: a "murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists" (Fanon 2004, 3). On the basis of this image of a bifurcated world, a horizon of aspiration is articulated through a logic of reversal and substitution. The work of violence is not complete until the colonized, risking his life, takes the place of his oppressor. Resistance is thus imagined restrictively in terms of the equation between the new humanization of negated colonized life and the negation of the European colonist as human. Les Damnés thus inaugurates its readers into the emphatically pronounced frame of a rigged Hegelianism—that is, an embodied conflict between two hostile parties, Master and Colonized, who, unlike the actors in the Phenomenology, were never presumed to be capable of reciprocal recognition and, consequently, confront each other through the risk of death that is asymmetrically valued.
But Fanon's conception of violence, as this reading will show, does not remain as monolithic as the rhetoric of the opening scenario suggests. Though at times it may seem to spell a prolonged deadlock, this schema of lethal antagonism—the "single combat" between two different species—subsequently gives way to another conceptual frame whose provenance is less readily situated within the phenomenological tradition (Fanon 2004, 42). If, in the opening section, agency is narratively distributed between two archetypal figures held in homicidal tension, in the following chapter, Fanon's focus shifts to an interpretive rubric that, as the title indicates, pivots on the "Grandeur and Weakness of Spontaneity" (Grandeur et faiblesse de la spontanéité; Fanon 1991, 105; Fanon 2004, 105).
This essay attends to how Fanon's theorization of violence shifts as Les Damnés de La Terre unfolds toward the formation of national [End Page 2] consciousness.1 In readings that foreground the psychodynamics of sociogenic racial inferiority, its lived impossibility, and its potential dissolution through the advent of revolutionary humanism, Fanon's reflections on spontaneous resistance are often overshadowed by...