Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Fanon: A Novel

Fanon by: John Edgar Wideman
ISBN-13/EAN: ISBN-10: pages Publication Date: 02/07/2008

Description of the book by Houghton Mifflin:

Wideman’s first novel in a decade conjures the author of The Wretched of the Earth and his urgent relevance today

Wideman’s fascinating new novel weaves together fiction, biography, and memoir to evoke the life and message of Frantz Fanon, the influential author of The Wretched of the Earth. A philosopher, psychiatrist, and political activist, Fanon was a fierce, acute critic of racism and oppression. Born of African descent in Martinique in 1927, Fanon fought to defend France during World War II and then later against France in Algeria’s war for independence. The Wretched of the Earth, written in 1961, inspired leaders of liberation movements from Steve Biko in South Africa to Che Guevera to the Black Panthers in the United States.

Wideman’s novel is disguised as the project of a contemporary African-American novelist, Thomas, who undertakes writing a life of Fanon. The result is an electrifying mix of perspectives, traveling from Manhattan to Paris to Algeria to Pittsburgh. Part whodunit, part screenplay, and part love story, Fanon introduces the French film director Jean-Luc Godard to ailing Mrs. Wideman in Homewood, and chases the meaning of Fanon’s legacy through our violent, post–9/11 world, which seems determined to perpetuate the evils Fanon sought to rectify.

Editorial Reviews


From Publishers Weekly


Psychiatrist and revolutionary Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) fought to free Algeria from French rule, and wrote several key texts on colonialism, including The Wretched of the Earth. Wideman (Brothers and Keepers) offers a fragmented look at Fanon's life, presenting three narratives in fits and starts. The first documents episodes from Fanon's life, including his Martinique childhood and death in a Bethesda, Md., hospital. In the second, a 60-year-old novelist named Thomas writes a screenplay about Fanon that he hopes to sell to Jean-Luc Godard, and, in a jarring narrative turn, receives a package that contains his own head. In the third, a character named John Edgar Wideman writes about his twin (Thomas), wrestles with his obsession with Fanon, visits his imprisoned brother Rob and thinks about his wheelchair-bound mother in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh (where Wideman grew up and has set many past stories). Some of the Fanon anecdotes are excellent, but the book as a whole is a series of glittering dead ends, interspersed with thoughts on writing and current affairs, and the irritating story of Thomas's head. Beautifully written but inconclusive, Wideman's 18th book is best approached as a meditation on fiction and character. (Feb.)



"By the end of this thrilling, important novel, which is by turns eloquent, despairing and heartbrokenly hopeful, Fanon has come to be more than a revolutionary" (New York Times Book Review )

A philosopher, psychiatrist, and political activist, Frantz Fanon was a fierce, acute critic of racism and oppression. Born of African descent in Martinique in 1925, Fanon fought in defense of France during World War II but later against France in Algeria’s war for independence. His last book, The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961, inspired leaders of diverse liberation movements: Steve Biko in South Africa, Che Guevara in Latin America, the Black Panthers in the States.

Wideman’s novel is disguised as the project of a contemporary African American novelist, Thomas, who undertakes writing a life of Fanon. The result is an electrifying mix of perspectives, traveling from Manhattan to Paris to Algeria to Pittsburgh. Part whodunit, part screenplay, part love story, Fanon introduces the French film director Jean-Luc Godard to the ailing Mrs. Wideman in Homewood and chases the meaning of Fanon’s legacy through our violent, post-9/11 world, which seems determined to perpetuate the evils Fanon sought to rectify.

About the Author


JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including the award-winning Brothers and Keepers, Philadelphia Fire, and most recently the story collection God's Gym. He is the recipient of two PEN/ Faulkner Awards and has been nominated for the National Book Award. He teaches at Brown University.




I’m sitting with the last of a glass of red wine in the small garden of a small house in Brittany. I spent the morning of this day as I’ve spent most mornings this summer, trying to save a life, adding a few words, a few sentences to the long letter I’m addressing to you, Frantz Fanon, dead almost half a century before I begin writing to you, writing just about every day, outdoors when weather permits, sitting each morning in the garden of a house in France, the country you claimed, Fanon, as your nation, fought and bled for, wounded near Lyon in 1944, and then fought against during the war for Algerian independence until you died of leukemia, they say, in 1961, in a hospital in America, the country I claim as mine. France your country, French your language, though you were born in Martinique, a Caribbean island thousands of miles away from where I sit this evening thinking about you, Fanon, about your short, more than full life, about the fact that sixty-five years of my very full life have passed no less swiftly than the thought of them that just now passed through my mind. Though your story’s extraordinary, it’s also like mine, like anybody’s, just another story, but since I’ve chosen to tell it or it’s chosen me, for reasons I’m still attempting to figure out as I proceed, reasons that may be why I proceed, I know a life’s at stake. Whose life and why are other things I’m trying to figure out. I intend to say more about this particular evening, Fanon, but first I need to speak to you about the project that’s been on my mind for many years, forty years at least, ever since I read your final book, The Wretched of the Earth, for the first time. Although the worrisomeness I’m calling a Fanon project has assumed various forms, it began clearly enough as a determination to be like you, that is, to become a writer committed to telling the truth about color and oppression, a writer who exposes the lies of race and reveals how the concept of race is used as a weapon to destroy people. I wanted to be somebody, an unflinchingly honest, scary somebody like Frantz Fanon whose words and deeds just might ignite a revolution, just might help cleanse the world of the plague of racism. Over the years I gradually resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t measure up to your example, and my Fanon project shifted to writing about disappointment with myself and my country, about shame and guilt and lost opportunities, about the price of not measuring up to announced ideals. Of course my perceptions of you changed as I changed and the world changed around me. The Fanon project continued to simmer, however, never forgotten, never achieved, often lamented, less a model for guiding my actions than a source of anxiety and unfulfilled ambition, deep dread that someday my nation and I must endure a shattering reckoning. I published numerous books during this period, always hoping they didn’t dishonor Frantz Fanon nor compromise unforgivably my original project. Then about six years ago, the Fanon project took another turn — if I couldn’t live Fanon’s life, maybe I could write it. On Martinique I encountered your stenciled, spray-painted image, an image like my project, almost effaced, so I didn’t recognize you until two days after you popped up in the middle of nowhere, a field where cows grazed near the beach, your face on a concrete minibunker belonging to an energy company supplying electricity to the section of the island, Sainte-Anne’s Parish, where I was staying in a resort hotel, on holiday with a Frenchwoman I’d recently met, rapidly fallen in love with, and would eventually marry. The rest of the story of catching up with my Fanon project may or may not be in the following pages. I’m hoping it will be. Hoping there’s still time to connect with you. My sense of urgency about connecting would require many books to express, and I realize time’s running out. I won’t be writing many more books, if any. The plague of race continues to blight people’s lives, becoming more virulent as it mutates and spreads over the globe. When I ask myself if your example made any difference, Fanon, ask if your words and deeds alleviate one iota the present catastrophe of hate, murder, theft, and greed, where else should I start looking besides the mirror. Where should I search if not in faces of people I love. Will I find an answer in your eyes, behind me in the mirror, gazing into the face I see seeing yours. Once upon a time I believed fiction writing was a privileged, not a suspect, activity. I thought writing fiction could establish a stable identity for me in the everyday world where people need to eat, wear clothes, work, etc., and at the same time free me to entertain myself and others, maybe, by creating alternative lives in my fiction. Real worlds and imaginary worlds weren’t necessarily antagonistic, I ttttthought. They could complement each other, engage in open-minded, open-ended conversation and exchange. Fact and fiction need each other, don’t they. You can’t have one without the other. I wasn’t wrong. Just naive. Writing fiction marginalized me as much as I was marginalized by the so-called fact of my race. Your witness, Fanon, of the separate domains of settler and native, black and white, your understanding of how that separation exploits the native, appropriates the native’s land, and stultifies the being of both settler and native, taught me how divided from myself and others I’ve become. Stipulating differences that matter between fact and fiction — between black and white, male and female, good and evil — imposes order in a society. Keeps people on the same page. Reading from the same script. In the society I know best, mine, fact and fiction are absolutely divided, one set above the other to rule and pillage, or, worse, fact and fiction blend into a tangled, hyper-mediated mess, grounding being in a no-exit maze of consuming: people as a consuming medium, people consumed by the medium. Fiction writing and art in general are scorned, stripped of relevance to people’s daily lives, dependent on charity, mere playthings of power, privilege, buying and selling. My society polices its boundaries with more and more self- destructive manichean violence now that its boundaries are exposed not as naturally or supernaturally ordained but organized through various sorts of coercion by some members of the society to benefit themselves and disadvantage others. Under what rock, whose skirts have I been hiding, you might be wondering, not to have learned those truths before I began zipping up my own trousers. A good question, Fanon. A more difficult question: if I truly understand all the above, why am I still writing. You feared, Fanon, that winning a war of independence in Algeria, no matter how protracted and bloody the struggle, would be less difficult than maintaining a clear vision of the goals that had made declaring war against France a necessity for colonized Algerians and eventually for you. You realized that oppressed people could be convinced to sacrifice their lives for the promise of freedom, dignity, and self-determination and also that it’s easier to die for such ideals than to live them, live with them embedded, uncompromised, in place day by day, choice by choice in the institutions of society, in the consciousness of individuals and the spirit of a culture. Ratcheting down many degrees from a colonial war for national independence but also always ratcheting up in the sense of keeping in mind the aspirations that justify risking all, my small struggle is to write your life, word by word, sentence by sentence, and not lose sight of why I’ve set myself an impossible task. I want to be free. I want to write a life for myself, fact and fiction, to open possibilities of connecting with your life, other lives. When I was a kid I owned a magic slate. The magic of it, I understood back then, being you could lift the blue-gray plastic sheet you drew upon with your plastic stylus and every mark you’d etched on the slate would disappear. A magically clean page each time, any time you wished. A man named Thomas, who lives only in his stalled novel which doesn’t have a name, also possessed a magic slate when he was a boy. Yesterday Thomas was reminded of his slate and his old habit of drawing nasty pictures and writing obscene words on it, a memory I inserted in his thoughts when a UPS guy delivered a severed human head (maybe) to Thomas’s New York apartment door, a memory triggered specifically by an electronic pad Thomas had to sign to indicate he received a package. Attached by a curly cord to an electronic pen, just as my slate was attached to a plastic stylus, the UPS man’s pad was a bit smaller but exactly the same color and shape as Thomas’s slate and mine. And like the slate, the deliveryman’s toy performs a rather impressive trick. Before Thomas completes the second letter of his signature, the first letter registers in a databank in Bombay. On the other hand — not the hand signing an electronic receipt for a package that might contain a head, nor the hand busy writing Thomas’s story, nor the hand composing this letter, and not exactly the hand that would hurt me a lot if somebody whacked it with a hammer — on the other hand, the one both astounded and dismayed by the marvels of modern communication, I wonder what could be more magical than a clean slate. More intimidating. More devastating. I don’t introduce Thomas simply to erase him. He’s crucial to my project. Thomas leads as often as he follows. Writes as much as he’s written. Since you’re a writer, Fanon, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that inventing Thomas helps invent the person who’s able to write what you’re readin...