Re-Reading Frantz Fanon: Language, Violence, and Eurocentrism in the Characterization of Our Time

By da Mota-Lopes, Jose | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Re-Reading Frantz Fanon: Language, Violence, and Eurocentrism in the Characterization of Our Time


da Mota-Lopes, Jose, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


Since they were written--most of them within the maquis of the anti-colonial armed struggle for the national liberation of Algeria--the two books, articles, and published communications that constitute the complete work of Frantz Fanon (1952, 1959, 1961, 1964) have been the object of various interpretations which, usually, seek to understand and respond to social, political, cultural and, sometimes, academic conjunctures related to the on-going deepening of the systemic crisis of the modern world-system. In necessarily brief terms, the present reflection will begin by identifying some of those readings in their relative importance to the overall knowledge of our social reality and for political activism. To do this, I will divide such readings into two groups.

The first one, which I defend, accepts and tends to prolong in time--into our present and towards the future--Fanon's suggestions about liberation and for what he called, in a strikingly Enlightenment language and following Aime Cesaire, a "new humanism." In very critical, often condemning terms, this way of reading Fanon sees him as an important if not indispensable reference to our present understanding of world-historical social reality--in particular the unequal, structural interrelationship between core and periphery. To be sure, this is the type of politically engaged reading (1) made within national liberation movements or other social movements in the periphery and semi-periphery of the world-system, and by an illustrious group of political activists and scholars among whom we find names like those of Eldridge Cleaver and Edward W. Said.

A second group of readings has its origins within some of the most prestigious universities of the systemic core. As it happens with the first, this second approach to Fanon's work has produced texts intellectually very stimulating and with high levels of innovative scholarship. However, and among the aspects which are common to them, there is the fact that methodologically they tend to ignore everything directly or indirectly related to the life experience, hypotheses, and objectives towards a better and more equitable future of social justice and liberty as they were lived and expounded by Fanon himself. In other words, they tend to kill the author by ignoring in his texts what Mbembe (2001: 6) calls their "meaningful human expression." To be sure, these readings are made to selectively isolate some of his ideas as springboards to other texts and other ideas. But the result implies, as well, unforeseen, maybe unwanted, consequences.

In the first place, by ignoring the author and his conjuncture, they ignore as well not only the fact that Fanon's texts were mostly produced within a context of antisystemic struggle and are about both the periphery and the core of the modern world-system, but also the fact that his approach to social reality was done in a highly innovative, revolutionary way, from the perspective of the periphery.

Secondly, by eliding all reference to the time and space of Fanon's writings, in particular their peripheral origins, these readings neutralize or substitute by other tensions the tension that is a central feature of Fanon's work as much as that of the modern word-economy and of our sociohistorical reality, i.e., the effective and potential conflict determined by the unequal, polarizing relationship between the core and the periphery.

Finally, by ignoring contexts, perspectives, tensions, time, and space, they overlook what I contend is a foundational characteristic of Fanon's research methodology: his personal struggle against and, often, rupture with some of the main features that characterize our systemic structures of knowledge in general, and those of social sciences in particular, as instances of a dominant Eurocentrism that consciously or, often, unconsciously, systematizes knowledge, its self-organization, and social reproduction, not only within the core but also within the periphery and semi-periphery of the modern world-system. …

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