Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Frantz Fanon: Existentialist, Dialectician, and Revolutionary

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Frantz Fanon: Existentialist, Dialectician, and Revolutionary

Article excerpt

If one is nearly everywhere told that one is not fully a human being, but one finds oneself struggling constantly with human responsibilities--over life and death, freedom and lack thereof ... the moment of theoretical reflection demands engagement with such idiosyncrasy ... including engagements with ontological questions of being--for example, essence, necessity, contingency, and possibility--and teleological questions of where humanity should be going--for example, liberation, humanization, and freedom.

--Lewis Gordon

Blacks alone are reduced to being a color...And though they are not the only victims of racism, blacks alone have been set apart, degraded and ostracized exclusively on the basis of race and color. Thus the striving to create and affirm our identity and humanity in defiance of racial essentialization and domination forms the common ground of the black liberation struggle. The struggle for identity entails a struggle for a liberated 'black consciousness.

--Robert Birt

As a psychiatrist and political philosopher, Fanon's concerns are the psychology, materiality, and ontology of the colonized subject; thus he reinterprets psychoanalysis, materialism and existentialism in Black Skin, White Masks to thoroughly scrutinize the colonial subject's lived experience of racism. While it is generally held that existentialism and materialism represent opposing philosophical modes, this perception should not occlude existentialism's more practical and implicitly materialist preoccupation with the human condition. Indeed, existentialism's ideological influence:

... derives from the fact that it has concerned itself with human existence in its cultural and historical context ... existential philosophers have deliberately and self-consciously addressed themselves to the human situation as they themselves have been involved in it. (Schrader 3)

Since existential thought is firmly grounded in historical and cultural contexts, and its theorists' experiences of said social fields, this proves that two of its principal themes--Being and freedom--may be more radically interrogated and applied to the social and material field of history itself. Historians and theorists from the African Diaspora have explored the existential themes of Being and Freedom since the late nineteenth century:

The ... ontological question was examined by many philosophers and social critics of African descent in the nineteenth century, including such well-known and diverse figures as Martin Delany, Maria Stewart, Anna Julia Cooper, and (early) Du Bois. It was not until the late 1940's, however, that a self-avowed existential examination of these issues emerged, ironically through the work of a European philosopher--namely, Jean-Paul Sartre. (Gordon 8-9)

It is ironic that Jean-Paul Sartre would categorize these philosophical issues under the rubric of existentialism more than a century after these same questions were raised by Africana thinkers who were directly affected by the material conditions of chattel slavery, racial oppression, and their attendant phenomenological effects.

In the 1950's Frantz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre applied the ontological and phenomenological aspects of existential philosophy to dialectical materialism, forging a multi-disciplinary discourse against the capitalist and hegemonic exigencies of Western empire. Fanon and Sartre reinvigorated existentialism's philosophical base to consider the complicating elements of anti-Arab and anti-African racism on colonial identity formation during the French-Algerian War. The subsequent decolonization of Algeria, which served as the revolutionary template for the remainder of the colonized Third World, provided Fanon and Sartre with a contemporary example of dialectical materialism within the context of empire, one that readily accommodated the socio-political aspects of existentialist thought vis-a-vis global decolonization. …

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