Academic journal article African Studies Review

Revisiting Fanon's Life, Times, and Thought

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Revisiting Fanon's Life, Times, and Thought

Article excerpt

REVISITING FANON'S LIFE, TIMES, AND THOUGHT

Alice Cherki. Frantz Fanon, Portrait. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2000. 315 pp. euro19.82. Paper.

Nigel C. Gibson. Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2003. xii + 205 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $59.95 Cloth. $22.95. Paper.

David Macey. Frantz Fanon: A Biography. New York: Picador, 2000. xvi + 505 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $20.00 Paper.

Frantz Fanon was a man of many identities, many talents, and many trades. Born in Martinique, a French overseas territory in the Caribbean, on July 20, 1925, he grew up as a Martiniquais. He went to France, first as a soldier in World War II, then as a student in medicine at the University of Lyon. Finally, he moved to Algeria and Tunisia, working as a psychiatrist at the Blidajoinville Hospital and later as a propagandist for Algeria's National Liberation Front (FLN) in Tunis during the vicious war of independence against the French. In 1959 Fanon was also briefly a diplomat representing the FLN in Ghana. He died of leukemia in Washington, B.C., on December 6, 1961 at the age of 36.

Martiniquais and French, a psychiatrist by training, political philosopher and political analyst by choice, and journalist by trade, Fanon ended his life as an Algerian revolutionary. He left us a significant corpus of writings, all of which have been (poorly) translated into English. It should come as no surprise, then, that over the last four decades, Fanon's work has been interpreted from a wide variety of disciplines, standpoints, and perspectives, and that he has been viewed in turn as psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, political analyst, journalist-propagandist, and cultural critic. Such exceptional eclecticism and multidisciplinarity emerge clearly from the recent works under review, each of which takes a fresh look at Fanon's life, times, and thought from a different perspective.

Of the three authors, Alice Cherki, an Algerian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst by profession who was actively engaged in the Algerian struggle for independence, is the only one who knew Fanon personally. She worked in Fanon's psychiatrie wards in both Blida-Joinville and Tunis (at the Manouba clinic), and we learn from Macey (555 n.72) that she was then the wife of Charles Geronimi, a close associate and friend of Fanon in Blida and Tunis (they subsequently divorced). This explains why Cherki's Frantz, Fanon, Portrait is an exceptionally sensitive and perceptive-yet extremely sympathetic-personal and intellectual portrait of Fanon, focusing naturally on Fanon's years at Blida (1953-56) and Tunis (1957-61). Her intimate knowledge of her subject enables the author to provide unique insights into Fanon's complex and engaging personality. She writes, for example: "The intense presence of his body and of his voice, his extreme and demanding attentiveness, his intimate relation to his own discourse, shaped by him but which also shaped him, allowed him to evoke the most extraordinary fictions while distancing himself from them to end up in new situations linked to actionable projects" (36). Indeed, Cherki notes that, much like the late Ivorian novelist Amadou Kourouma, Fanon reappropriated and subverted the French language by writing in a flowery and picturesque style close to spoken language and full of bodily and sensual metaphors.

Cherki also has much of value to say about Fanon's contemporary relevance. Speculating on what Fanon would have done had he lived to see Algeria's postindependence era, she maintains that he would certainly have continued to question and write commentaries on current events in Algeria and Africa, and probably would have become an Algerian diplomat posted in Africa. As for the marginalized youth from Africa, the Middle East, or the American ghettos reading Fanon today, they see an evolving and dialectical thought linked to revolutionary transformation which enables them to analyze and understand their lived experience (experience vécue) of racial, cultural, and political oppression. …

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