- The Disalienating Praxis of Frantz Fanon
BY NIGEL C. GIBSON AND ROBERTO BENEDUCE
BY DAVID MARRIOTT
BY JEAN KHALFA AND ROBERT C. YOUNG
Madness is one of the means man has of losing his freedom.—Frantz Fanon, Letter to the Resident Minister1
Decolonization is one of the most profound political changes of the past century, a transformation with effects touching nearly every part of the world. Alongside the anticolonial movement, it has drastically reshaped how those living in the twenty-first century experience global power and politics. Only recently have scholars begun tackling the conceptual challenge that decolonization and anticolonial struggle raise, perhaps fueled by an increasing awareness of the structural racial inequalities that remain. In his preface to Frantz Fanon's collected works (published in French), Achille Mbembe divides Fanon's reception into three, roughly chronological stages: those who read him for his anticolonial praxis in the 1960s; those who saw him as contributing to the development of postcolonial studies in the 1980s, with its [End Page 165] emphasis on race, language, and representation; and those who read him in the 2000s for lessons in counterinsurrection, in a world a generation removed from the Cold War and two generations removed from decolonization (Mbembe 2011). The recent translation and publication of Fanon's psychiatric writings, along with his journalistic political writings and two early plays, offer the occasion for yet another reading, one framed around Fanon's anticolonial praxis and his understanding of psychopolitics. These new materials also raise the question of whether such a reconsideration will simply add another stage to Fanon's reception or whether these psychiatric writings will elucidate something new about the psychopolitics of anticolonial struggle altogether.
Three new volumes take up this reconsideration in different ways. The first, Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics, by Nigel Gibson and Roberto Beneduce, uses these new writings to reconsider, amplify, and extend ideas found in the already extant Fanon corpus. The resulting intellectual history differs markedly from David Marriott's Whither Fanon?, which uses Fanon's radical psychiatry to expand an ontological, Afro-pessimist approach to Black politics. Finally, Alienation and Freedom, edited by Jean Khalfa and Robert C. Young, publishes an astonishing array of all but lost texts by Fanon, including two plays, the aforementioned psychiatric writings, collective contributions to the newspaper El Moudjahid, and charged correspondence between Fanon and his publisher François Maspero. Examining Fanon's political texts in light of his psychological practices and writings, however, makes good on his claim at the beginning of Black Skin, White Masks that he will offer a "clinical study" (2008, xvi) of race under colonialism.
Mbembe's periodization is unusual for its emphasis not on Fanon's own intellectual trajectory but rather on the varied readings and political uses others find in Fanon. Who is Fanon for us? they query. Mbembe's reading subtly but importantly shifts Fanon's reception away from epistemological concerns about the "complete" or "correct" interpretation of Fanon and toward the political possibilities to be opened up. That these new materials come from different genres—psychiatric journal articles, hospital newsletters, correspondence, and tragic dramas—also requires thinking through how Fanon's thoughts move across different registers and organized spaces.
With this review, I take up this query to evaluate the effect of these newly available texts on contemporary readings and political [End Page 166] deployments of Fanon. All three of these texts laudably resist the temptation to offer readings that promise simply to be "more comprehensive" and to stabilize epistemologically an intentionally disruptive thinker. Nonetheless, in drawing on Fanon's psychiatric papers, they open up very different accounts of subject formation that, in turn, offer different entrées into politics. For all that the surge of interest in psychoanalysis and psychiatry seems relatively recent, colonial writers from Memmi to Fanon to Spivak and Mbembe have long interrogated the relationship between psychology and politics. That relationship lies at the heart of the tension between colonial subjectivity and the self-making of subjects constitutive of Black radical politics, and offers a fulcrum for thinking about Black...