Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Reconnoitre of Frantz Fanon’s Theory of Mutation

by Jocelyn Coldrey, 2012

The goal of this paper is to explore Frantz Fanon’s theory of mutation to track the manner in which the psyche of a human has to change to such an extent that a new meaning can be given. Though many Fanonian theorists have asserted that it is necessary for us to explore Fanon’s writings through the geographically space of right now, this paper will rather explain a principle of his thought in order to take it one step further and use it in the present. The necessity of radical mutation is crucial in order to entirely de-colonialize and for a human society to exist alongside symbols and equal opportunities for all, despite ontological and epistemological difference.

Fanon sees the colonial world as Manichean, a system of violence premised on false categories of good and evil, light and dark. Though this Manichean world is fictional one and reality cannot have categories so definitely separate it is a very powerful force which legitimises the heart of colonialism. Fanon uses his theory of mutation as that which transcends Manichean categories, through a dialectic progression achieved through daily reality. Initially in Black Skins, White Masks Fanon uses mutation negatively to describe the change which the Black person undergoes when he leaves France, or another ‘civilised’ nation, and returns to their homeland having mutated into a superior way of being. This negative mutation is evident through the bourgeoisie elite which take over after colonisation and is intrinsically linked to the desire of being associated with that which is measured superior. He then uses the idea mutation in A Dying colonialism as the process of radical change in attitude towards the creation of something new- not out of nothing but rather out of the dialectical relation between colonized and colonizer and all associated symbols. Subsequently through the process of decolonization, the colonial ‘truths’ are brought under scrutiny and the change which occurs is represented through mutation. Fanon explains the process of mutation through a dialectic relationship between the two categories. Through this process the consciousness of the people is so radically changed and Fanon describes this change as a mutation.

The following fundamentally draws on Fanon’s three books[1] but the thorough investigations of Ato Sekyi-Otu (1996) and Nigel Gibson (2003 and 2011) offer assiduous insight of these texts and will therefore be referred throughout the following.

Manichean Binaries:

Central to Fanonian thought, and resonate throughout his work, is his vigorous postulation that “[t]he colonial world is a Manichean world” (Fanon, 1963: 41). He explores the Manichean binaries in Black Skins White Masks, in his phenomenological reconnoitre of the lived experience of being black in a white world. The very nature of this experience draws on the vehement belief that racial “white and black [categories] represent the two poles of a world, two poles in perpetual conflict” (1986: 31). Asserting that the fundamental building block of a racist society and a person’s position within society is a result of person either being Black or White and these categories exist in opposition and conflict to each other (1986: 31).

Manichean logic draws on the religious association of light being good and dark being bad. Racist driven colonialism is legitimised by the abstract supposition that White is good, pure, virtuous, and beautiful and stands in direct contrast to Black which is bad, evil, contaminated, irrational and bad. There is a polarization of spaces which confines Blackness geographically and psychologically to a sphere set in complete opposition from all that is white. Fanon (1963: 51) describes the power of Manichean logic entirely interconnected into the colonial system by stating that “[t]he immobility to which the native is condemned can only be called in question if the native decides to put an end to the history of colonization—the history of pillage— and to bring into existence the history of the nation—the history of decolonization”. It becomes evident that in order to ever transcend beyond Manichean absolutes it is necessary to eradicate the entire system which it not only legitimises but also dominates.

Manichean lucidity in its compartments and essentialist nature defines groups of people as wholes restricting the possibilities for difference or transcendence beyond the binary of good and bad or Black or White. It is an entirely abstract notion which is presented as an absolute, a truth imbedded in religion making very little room for it to be negotiated[2]. Yet this abstract belief presented as a theological concept has very physical and tangible consequences on world which it dictates. The very notion of this binary premised by a good and evil but brought into the daily lives humans through skin colour. Race embodies Manichean logic into daily reality through the inability of a person to escape their skin colour. The visibility of race and its deciding factor being skin makes the inferiority of being darker an intrinsic part of everyday banal activity, emphasised when brought into relation with the alternate dichotomy-the white world. 

Though geographically the native or black person is restricted to spaces “with the help of the army and the police force” through direct threatening violence, the Black person is portrayed as consummately as the “quintessence of evil” and “insensible to ethics” representing “not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values”(1963: 41). Fanon elegiacally describes the extent to which the Black person is associated with evil by stating that they are

The enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil. He is the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him; he is the deforming element, disfiguring all that has to do with beauty or morality; he is the depository of maleficent powers, the unconscious and irretrievable instrument of blind forces (1963: 41).

The above quotation draws on the totalising nature of Manichean driven colonialism. There is the subtly suggestion that the power of this evil is so strong it may be contagious and consequently the separation of the races is further reinforced. Subsequently all who are Black become the scapegoat for white society. A society driven by “myths of progress, civilization,  liberalism, education, enlightenment, [and] refinement” (1986: 15).

The abstract religious association of light white and good is an entire social construct which is learned but also embodied by the real and visible nature of Race. Whereas it is not automatic to associate colour with human nature the social learning nature of humans will immediately yet militant postulation that what all that is black is evil becomes intrinsically embedded into children until it is the reality of all of them. Exploring the lived experience of a Black person in White world in Black Skins White Masks Fanon recalls the bodily consequence of colonial racist subjugation. The development of an inferiority complex which derives from the confining hypothesis associated with darker skin.

In Fanon’s chapter “The Fact of Blackness” he explores the inescapable reality of being black and that skin colour would entirely dominate social interaction wholly apart capabilities and actual humanity.  Which reaffirms the fundamental separation of the dividing line and the essential law dominated by “[t]he first thing the native learns is to stay in his place, and not go beyond certain limits” (1986:40). Yet in spaces of mixed race Fanon recalls a child pointing at him and crying “Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened!” (1986: 184). A different truth dictates that there is no reason to be frightened of another human who his merely of a darker skin tone but the repetitive and absolutist notion that black is evil leads to this automatic, yet entirely constructed, fear trigged by the sight of brown flesh. In describing the inescapability of Whiteness through the lived experience of being black Fanon lyrically “all around me the white man, above the sky tears at its navel, the earth rasps under my feet and there is a white song, a white song. All this whiteness that burns me…” (1986: 86). The all-encompassing awareness race superiority and inferiority results in this Manichean relation being continuously reaffirmed and reinstated through the very visible nature of race association with skin colour.

In challenge to the very real consequences of basing a society in Manichean way, is that those who challenge it do not do so in a rational manner. The person who is colonized is always “acts as a reaction” to colonial system forced on them (Fanon, 1986: 23). Thus in an attempt to overcome the way of being a Black or colonized person either attempts to become more White or alternatively rejects all that which is White or associated with the oppressor. In both instances the core problem the structure of society is not overcome but maintained.

The automatic fear associated with Fanon for the mere colour of skin ignites a rage which is experienced by all those subjugated by colonial and racist prejudices. Inevitably there is a very real possibility for the anti-colonial and anti-racist movements to be Manichean in nature. Through the  realisation experienced in the consciousness of the Black person that white is not better there is nothing a white person can do that a black person cannot therefore Manichean logic is unsubstantiated. Thus initially there is a desire to be more White to speak the language to live the civilized life and this is evident through the many people who adopt a more white way of being. To bleach their minds, speak the civilised language to associate them with all that which belongs to the dominant culture (1986: 31). The superiority associated with being white leads to those who feel inferior at every turn in every social interaction to desire that superior and seek human recognition by associating selves with all that which is white. Build on the belief that if the Black person is capable of being White then they will gain human recognition. The false fabrication of Manichaeism is instigated by the white colonial world, but that very way of being is desired by those who are not recognised and considered less than human.

The alternate form of resistance is to entirely reject all that which is associated with the colonized the oppressor, to group every person belonging with White binary of Manichean logic, who are portrayed as the pinnacle of goodness and disallow any integration and all influence. To reject technology, medicine, language and way of being and to revive and reinforce culture and concepts entirely disassociated from the oppressor[3].

In both forms of rejection the dualist nature of Manichean logic is affirmed. To discover that the good people are not on one side and the bad people are on the other, results in stomach-turning realisation that things are more convoluted (Sekyi-Otu, 1996: 114). This realization is bewildering as people become aware of the complexities involved in making a new society based on freedom for all. The realisation includes “not[ing] that certain settlers do not join in the general guilty hysteria; there are differences in the same species (Fanon, 1963: 144). Skeyi-Otu (1996: 115) describes this process exquisitely by stating that “the rigid simplicities and obscuring transparency of race relations and the “dividing line” have now been cruelly displaced”. Manichean orientations of the world and people inhibiting are exposed in their primitive nature, and the “[t]he racial and racist standard of judgment is transcended in both sense” (Fanon, 1963: 146 retranslated by Sekyi-Otu,1996: 115).

In form of a conclusion to Black Skins White Masks Fanon expresses his innate desire for all of humanity to transcend Manichaeism and create a society whereby every human is recognised with him through, “the open door of every consciousness” (Fanon, 1986: 181). Which is to say that every human exists beyond the compartment which they have been restricted and confined in and is instead recognised in their humanness. In Dying Colonialism and The Wretched of the Earth Fanon explores the emancipatory possibilities which can be achieved through a dialectic relation with reality in an attempt to create new truths, away from those driven by Manichean totality and instead based on the humanity of every single person.

Though the powerful nature of Manichean logic has driven the powerful parasitic nature of colonialism, Fanon (1963, 1965, 1987) asserts that in order to create a new society he claims that it is necessary for us to start anew developing new truths and perceptions of reality that are continuously negotiated and reflected upon. In order to this it is necessary to transgress Manichean categories and through what I will call dialectic enlightenment, to produce new truths a meanings for what exists. This dialectic focuses on the individuality of humans as does not confine them to belonging to any category but rather recognises the open door of every consciousness and readdresses symbols belonging to any given item or utility. The following will explore the manner Fanon’s original concept of the dialectal creation of the new.

Dialectical Enlightenment:

Beyond Manichaenism:

Fanon uses the dialectic principles from Hegelian and Marxist thought in order to explain the necessary process which will enable the rigidity of Manichean racist thought to be overcome (Bhabha, in Fanon, 1986: xxiii). This is the process whereby race losses its power and fundamental base of society transforms and alternate indicators underlying “the metaphysics of good and evil” are formulated away from racial indicators (Sekyi-Otu, 1996: 116). Sekyi-Otu quotes Hegel who states that “the battle of reason is the struggle to break up rigidity to which the understanding has reduced everything” (1996: 115). Which leads us to a dialectic process which comes about through the rigorous destruction of all that is absolute and confining especially the manner in which racist incentives infiltrate into every aspect of reality.  

Fanon’s dialectic draws on experience it is not neat and theoretically mapped out but rather an actional process whereby new meaning is created through collective acknowledgement of what is worthy is formulated into existence through praxis. For Fanon truth and reality is not formulated in absolutes or definite situations but are rather circumstantial and need to be continuously questioned. Gibson (2003: 30) declares the Fanonian dialectic ‘untidy’ because his postulation that the process of defining new concepts should exist within reality, a space which cannot be neat.

Fanon further asserts that “[t]his new reality which the colonized will now come to know exists only in action. It is the struggle which by exploding the old colonial reality reveals unknown facets, brings out new meanings and pinpoints contradiction camouflaged by that [colonial] reality” (1963: 147). They are not entirely new formulations and meanings but echo the very real nature of what once was- the old reality. The very nature of racist colonialism has infiltrated into the reality of daily existence to omit or forget about it would be not only be an impossibility but it would also be impertinent to the violence experienced by the oppressed and marginalised. Consequently Fanon asserts that a change must occur, the starting point being entirely unrecognisable by the end.

Loyal to Hegel, Fanon promotes the use of contradictory forces in order to develop a new truth. Through the acknowledgement of the colonial society and all that may be useful about it stands in contrast to the desire to entirely eradicate colonialism and the oppression of people. The best example of this is the intellectual who has been educated solely because of the colonial regime but uses what was taught to him or her in order to improve discussion and alternate was of irradiating colonialism (1963: 46-47). The discourse of race governing life is the initial point for societies to expose the truths which colonialism represses or mask developing new truths through collective action and discussion, these truths will continue to be renegotiated in different spaces and social times. Sekyi-Otu (1996: 119) reiterates this by proclaiming that any symbolic meaning attached to social practices when revived pertains to that singular circumstance. The process aims to entirely reconstruct reality, and to ensure that resistance does not in any way uphold Manichean tendencies.  

Fanon’s dialectic process is a crucial part of decolonisation and early development. It essentially draws on the critical judgment of all that which is presented as absolute (Seky-Otu, 1996: 112). The untidy nature of Fanon’s dialectic exits in the conversation and the development of new concepts through the struggle. I find it simple to look at Fanonian thought and theory to be an encouragement to question as opposed to a step by step guide to decolonisation or creation of a world based on recognition of every persons humanity. What works in one revolution may not work in another however similar the goals may be. The crucial factor which he does encourage is the involvement of the people from below to work out new ideas and create a fundamental change.  A change which will result “with a call for the interweaving of “political; and social consciousness” into the fabric of a new “humanism” (WE 204 in Sekyi-Otu, 118). The continuous involvement of the people from the grassroots from the bottom serves as a critical assessment of any elite form, in that they need to continuously need to check that they are representing the people and do not evolve into self-serving power hungry individuals completely detached from the original liberatory goals.


The importance of self-acknowledgment or retreat into the individual consciousness becomes important in order to avoid any motionless dialectic. Gibson (2003: 75) quotes Hegel who states that the submissive consciousness is a “consciousness forced back into itself and be transformed into a truly independent consciousness”. Fanon sees Black Consciousness, particular self-acknowledgement, as a necessary part of the dialectic process, as it enables the person who is continuously deemed inferior to regain personal value in their very being (1986: 134). The lived reality of being Black is that one is only Black in relation to White, one can only be recognised as a human in relation to their race through the recognition of others- particularly the superior race (1986: 82-83). Fanon is critical of Hegel in his slave/master dialect as the recognition in which Hegel refers to relies on the admittance of the Black person’s humanity through language (Fanon, 1986: 101-102 and Gibson, 2003: 29-35). However, Fanon asserts that the language whereby a conversation of recognition will occur will always be the language of the superior never the creole or multiple native languages. Subsequently the Black person is stripped of their being as they as there is a necessity to be more White in order to be more human (1986: 44). Thus Fanon (1966: 169) condones the Black conscious as a “quest of absoluteness”, the recognition of self without adhering to rules stipulated by Manichean logic on what it means to be white.

Fanon’s assertion that self-acknowledgement is a crucial part of the decolonisation overrides the risk of the new concepts being defined being dominated by colonial and western effects. He makes this explicit in is chapter on the “fact of blackness”, by stating:

The dialectic that brings necessity into the foundation of my freedom drives me out of myself. It shatters my unreflected position. Still in terms of consciousness, black consciousness is immanent in its own eyes. I am not a potentiality of something, I am wholly what I am. I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My Negro consciousness does not hold itself out as a lack. It is its own follower. (1986: 103).

Through the above quotation Fanon also touches on the importance of specificity and the fact that Manichean racist logic restricts all people to belonging to absolutes, whereas within both categories there needs to be space for there to be diversity of selves. Furthermore the retreat to the self creates space for process to freedom to begin with self-value, not recognition in relation to any other group of people[4]. Thus he promotes Hegel’s use of the negative, but vehemently asserts that the retreat into the negative exists in absoluteness and restoration self-value. Perhaps it is important to note that the retreat back into the self is a sense a Manichean reaction to colonial thought as it focuses on the Blacking being separate from all that which is White (Gibson, 2003: 30). This regression to self-certainty is a process of obtaining freedom apart from anyway formulated by the dominating civilising cultures (Gibson, 2003: 31).

The essential goal of this process is to formulate a synthesis of both worlds and contradictory truths. A synthesis between opposing worlds is not an easy possibility and needs to occur in reality in order for the development to have actual effect on the lives of the oppressed. Fanon claims that this synthesis is a possibility through a radical mutation. His theory of radical mutation takes the dialect a step further and goes “beyond life towards a supreme good that is the transformation of subjective certainty of my own worth into a universally valid objective truth” (1986: 218).

Negative Mutation:

“Out of the blackest part of my soul, across the zebra striping of my mind, surges this desire to be suddenly white” (Fanon, 1986:45).

Black Skins, White Masks, directly explores the lived experience of being black in white world and how this seeming leads to a seemingly innate desire to be more White. Fanon draws on his personal experience of being Black in France, the Motherland and the manner in which he personally had to confront the fact that his skin colour meant he was entirely exempt from reason and was automatically deemed less than human. In is phenomenological exploration of the Black person’s experience he also bears witness to many other Black people in similar situation.
The idea of mutation makes its first appearance when Fanon proclaims that “[t]he Black man who has live in France for a length of time returns radically changed. To express it in genetic terms, his phenotype undergoes a definite and absolute mutation” (1986: 10). I initially understood this to be related to the inevitable change a person experiences when living away from home and in contact with an alternate way of life they will inevitably return changed. Though there is an element of truth in my initial response the change in which Fanon is drawing on is blatantly, if not ferociously, is explained in his footnote where he simply states that “Negroes who return to their original environments convey the impression that they have completed full of themselves something that was lacking. They return literally full of themselves” (1987: 10, my emphasis).

Fanon points to the manner that the returning native associates themselves with all that which is considered superior. In Martinique, for example, France is seen as the Mother land or the Tabernacle, thus when the Black person returns to their home land they associate themselves with the opera, even if they have never seen it, and talk only in French forgetting about the creole or original language which occupied their way of being before contact with the superior land (1987: 13). According to Fanon the process of mutation begins to happen before the journey to France even begins, claiming, that whilst waiting on the dock “the amputation of his being diminishes as the silhouette of the ship grows clearer” (1987: 13). All association with that which is superior is part of the performance of being superior. Yet for a White person superiority is immediately given at birth it is never earned but is merely automatic. For a Black person the inferiority of black is so intrinsic that it becomes necessary to prove themselves before they are able to be acknowledged never mind treated in a superior manner. To a large extent then to prove that one is able to be superior in accordance to White existence similarly to a white person, through language, clothes or culture, is the process of the poles coming into direct contact with each other. The mutation in this instance is the Black person changing their old way of being and existing to being more White. It is not a complete transformation but rather an amalgamation of a Black person adopting a White way of being but still being that Black person.

The use of the word mutation draws on genetic terminology in order to emphasise the extensive alteration and change which occurs. The fact that the contact with France results in a fundamental change in the phenotype of all those who return to their homeland is not the important element of the negative conception of mutation. For Fanon the element of importance lies in the reasons why such solid and radical changes seem to inevitably occur. In his contemplation of the change Fanon notes that the change is independent of any “thematic pattern” and the persons “structure changes independently of any reflexive process” (1986: 12). This seemingly implies that the change is automatic there is an intrinsic desire to associate one’s self with a more superior way of being. This superiority is not one which can be compared to royalty and commoners or a manager and worker, rather, white superiority is the recognition of being human. Subsequently a Black person is not only inferior but they are less than human (1986: 90).

The mutation is able to occur because the black person transcends out of the homeland where they are the native and into the space where the colonizers come from. The transgression of the physical confinement of Manichean racism enables the psyche to change in the most fundamental way. As previously stipulated Manichaeism is the polarisation of Black and White on a physical and psychological level. Consequently when a Black person leaves the confinement of their assigned geographical location the possibility for transcending the psychological confinement loses its rigidity. The identity of the travelled person is mutated, through the interaction with a space which has yet to be encountered, stepping out of social norms into a world which may not be better but represents all that is good.

A similar mutation occurs in the native elite who develops as a consequence of colonial rule as part of the process of totalitarian imperialism. Fanon explains the initial mutation of the bourgeoisie elite is create directly and intentionally. By stating that:

The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed (1963: 7).

Does not depict the extent to which the created elite is mutated. Yet the very fact that they were chosen to be changed and the fact that they still echo the fundamental essence of who they once were, suggests a mutation similar to the one experienced by the returning native. The bourgeoisie class is created from this building block but remains part of the decolonization process all the way through.  The promising individuals who are picked to be transformed keep a dialogue throughout the decolonization process and therefore the dominating presence of the oppressor remains (1963: 43).

Sekyi-Otu (1996: 124) draws on Gramsci to explain the manner in which the bourgeoisie regain power through the decolonisation process and into independence. He proclaims that the on independences all that which is “universal becomes the index of … adequacy and authenticity”. Which is to say that the once colonised country is proved adequate if it measures up to universal standards. Fanon stipulates that on independence “the middle class has neither sufficient material nor intellectual resources to live up to this universal standard” (1963: 152). Consequently “[t]he national bourgeoisie steps into the shoes of the former European settlement: doctors, barristers, traders, commercial travelers, general agents, and transport agents” (1963: 152). The similarity between the formation of this bourgeoisie and the mutation experienced by returning native is blatant. Both desire the superior status associated with being White or the colonizer and the manner in which perform this is by adopting a way of being disassociated with the lifestyle which represents their inferiority or reduced humanity.

Negative mutation occurs as the desire to be associated with a superior existence results in the dismissal of an alternate way of being. This association becomes a manner of mimicking a lifestyle which is disassociated with ones origins. However the visible nature of race results in the fact that this mimicry of such lifestyle will never be an complete transformation. The very element which deems a person to inferior human status is embodied in their skin. Thus no matter the car one drives or the dialect one speaks the alteration in the mind will only serve as a mutation. The following will explore Fanon’s radical mutation theory as it apprears in A Dying Colonialism. His use of mutation and in the context of the Algerian revolution represents the fundamental change which occurs in the psyche of the oppressed as a necessary process to true liberation.

Radical Mutation:

Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth (Fanon, 1963: 315)

The crux of Fanon’s concept of mutation changes drastically in direction, A Dying Colonialism. The world comes to represent the fundamental change which occurs through the actional process of decolonisation, or rather the praxis of the revolution. This process involves the direct engagement with Fanon’s dialectic and the desire to work out new truths completely disassociated from initial thought. Nigel Gibson to a large extent has explored what he terms Fanon’s Radical Mutation theory especially with regard to the radio and the veil. Expanding from Gibson’s engagement with the mutation theory I will explore the manner the intricacies and necessity of mutation in the manner in which it underscores the quintessence of Fanon’s new humanism which transcends Manichean binaries.
Sekyi-Otu pronounces “A Dying Colonialism [to be] a visionary narrative of the "radical mutations" that bring into being a free postcolonial subject” (1996: 185). Which summaries Fanon’s postulation that the pages of his revolution narrative explore the “transformations the consciousness of the Algerian has undergone” subsequently representing the supposition that “the power of the Algerian revolution resides in the radical mutation that the Algerian has undergone” (1965: 37). The evidence of this mutation is made explicit through the utility of the Radio and the transformation of a women’s role in the society.

A driving voice of mutation:

In initial resistance to colonialism the radio represented a utility used by the coloniser, embodying the French language but also the French culture. However, the fluidity induced by revolutionary action resulted in the radio becoming a crucial means of irradiating colonial oppression. The role of the radio in the revolution of Algeria represents a step beyond the mutation previously discussed. The step beyond exits in the dialectical process where the use of a colonial utility extends beyond mimicry of alternate way of being and is mutated into represented something entirely different.

In accordance to on form of Manichean resistance families who had the socio-economic ability to purchase a radio did not, because it represented the very essence of French elitist superiority, domination and culture (1965: 70). Fanon affirms that “there was no rational decision to refuse this instrument”, yet the irrationality governed the decision in reality (1965: 69).The radio in the Algerian revolution works similarly to literacy in Cuba and transmitter radio’s in Bolivia, (1965: 07) and instead of being a symbol which represents colonial domination instead becomes a means to over throwing that very system.

The radio became an instrument to over throw colonial domination completely distinctive from military equipment and strategies. In contrast to firearms the radio seems relatively harmless. Yet the power of the device existed not in brute strength but rather in the manner which it unified those against colonialism entirely separate from the binaries stipulated by Manichean thought.  Fanon makes this transformation explicit by stating that “[s]ince 1956 the purchase of a radio in Algeria” has become to represent “the only means of entering communication with Revolution, of living with it” (1965: 83).

The radio became the means for the military aspect of the revolution to communicate with the masses – to directly involve them in the conflict. The involvement of the masses through the use of the Radio relied on heavily on imagination and the collective translation of static sounds when Radio signal was not possible or interrupted.  Gibson (2003: 128) asserts that the imaginative process was provoked the discussion the static from the radio induced. The discussion not only included the masses in the revolution forcing military action to become politicised and accountable to the people, but also begin the formation of the new nation. Gibson (2003: 128) notes, that during a revolution usually a small amount of people have access to military action. By listening to the Radio the action of the military does not become common knowledge but the discussion encouraged by the static actively listened to invoked imagination that would not only formulate “only words, but concrete battles” (1965: 88).

The mutation is created through the fact that the radio would never be a possible instrument of decolonisation without colonisation. The use of it explicitly represents the way colonisation lays the foundations which “determine the centres around which a people’s will to survive becomes organized” (1965: 47 and Gibson, 2003: 128). Thus the Manichean world premised on absolutes is shattered through the dialectical process of using the radio, which belongs to one side of the binary as a means to over throw that very binary. In this case the two poles of Manichaeism are not brought into conflict rather the urgency of the revolution involves the transformation of the utility into something new.

When the voice of the radio was heard it was in French the language entirely associated with colonial domination. Yet the collective unity induced by collectively listening resulted in the “language of the occupier assum[ing] a friendly character of support, of protection” (1965: 90). The adoption of the colonised language in the Algerian revolution is different from the returning native who ‘forgets’ creole and only speaks French. This difference lies in the fact that the French voice heard on the radio is adopted as the power to be involved in the revolution takes over at a very fundamental level. It is entirely separate from the desire to be associated with superiority but rather rests in the desire to create a new reality. Not only did the French language transform from the voice of the occupier to the voice which indirectly involved the masses in the revolution but the collective nature of listening to the radio and the discussions which followed significantly contributed to the development of a new national consciousness (Gibson, 2003: 168).

Placing the negotiating of the new national consciousness in the hands of the people decentralizes the process. Consequently the construction of reality depends on and directly involves the masses (Fanon, 1965: 197). In the Wretched of the Earth Fanon appeals to the people to realise that “there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people” (1965: 197). The renegotiation of reality from bellow is a reality which has never been a possibility due to parasitic nature of colonialism, infiltrating into all space and modes of being. The radio enables the people to take the revolution into their own hands, and come to the realisation that the reality is dependent on them. This realisation brings Manichean reality into dialectic progression through action enabling new truths to emerge. The crucial element of this mutation is the fact that the radio existing one as a symbol of an oppressive culture is transformed into a means of eradicating the very institution which it once symbolised. The irrational symbolism of Manichean reality is eradicated as a new story is told (Sekyi-Otu, 1996). Furthermore, this transformation was not negotiated or enforced from above but conceived of through the reality of the revolution. This reality is made possible is directly a consequence of the people’s action and participation.

The power of the revolution therefore does not lie in the violence inflicted on the oppressor. Rather, the power lies in the manner in which the space creates room for a new culture to emerge. Gibson (2003: 128) claims that the power of the revolution sets the stage for “the radical mutation of consciousness” and subsequent development of genuine national consciousness”. The mutation invoked by the Radio negotiates a new political space where the ordinary masses are actively involved, through the collective interpretation of the voice heard. The Radio becomes the instrument containing the voice which provokes the mutation and subsequent emergence of national consciousness. Fanon discusses the Algerian response to western medicine and the change in family structure as a means to measure mutation. The following will explore the manner in which family structures are mutated as women become active agents in the revolution and surpass their usual gender role stipulated by Arab culture and the incorporation of western medicine as a viable way of healing.

Indicators of Mutation:

Arab culture customarily dictates that a women’s role is confined to the private realm, where she is subservient to either her husband or her parents. Fanon goes so far as to say that women feel heightened oppression by men in the colonial contexts as the men grasp onto ways which they can retain a level of authority. However the atmosphere of a revolutionary creates a space for the reality of women to be altered, as daily absolutes brought into question.

The mutation of women’s role is directly indicated through the use of her veil to hide weapons in revolutionary combat. Manichean resistance to colonialism perceives the veil as means to assert cultural value. The wearing of the veil is promoted as a means to resist colonial tendencies to dictate the appropriate way of life for colonized societies. More specifically, the colonial tendency to vehemently dictate that the veil is a primitive means to imprison women and should be done away with (Fanon, 1965: 63). The dismissal of any aspect of Algerian culture exists as a measure of colonial domination and disregard for any form diversity. Thus the wearing of the veil represented resistance to further colonial subversion and as a means to assert value independent of colonial culture and a means to prevent the imperial cultural tendencies of the occupier to entirely take over.

Though many Algerian women had stopped wearing the veil by the time of the revolution,  as women are called to the forefront of revolutionary battle and in the process are re-veiled. The use of the veil transforms to meet the needs of the revolution. It becomes a means for women to hide their involvement by concealing weapons which will aid the revolution. A traditional symbol negotiating gender relations is transformed into actively contributing to the liberation struggle. The veil indicates the mutated consciousness of the Algerian people through women process whereby women became active and independent agents. This mutation is made possible through the revolution as Fanon stipulates that the liberation process “sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation” (1963: 243).
The veil which once concealed women making Algerian society seem somewhat womanless becomes the mechanism to assert a very real presence of women. Transcending Manichean resistance the courageous women send the colonisers into confusion as the radical mutation exists entirely in contrast to what was always perceived (1965: 67). To revert back to Fanon’s untidy dialect this process directly transforms the initial aspect and the women is entirely unrecognisable through dialectical progression. Though the revolutionary sphere may conceal this transformation as unconscious the confusion of the occupier indicates the extent of the change. 

The new role of the veil indicates the extent of the radical mutation in the social relations and family structures which negotiated the daily way of being. The veil enables the Algerian women to emerge “into the agitated area of history”, negotiated that her “father to undergo a kind of mutation” (1965: 109). This mutation became necessary as the reality of the militant women “in adopting new patterns of conduct, could not be judged by traditional standards” (1965: 110). Though the cultural aspects related to gender roles mutated in the very real sense, this mutation occurred in terms stipulated by the Algerian themselves. There was no external force, who self-appointed their way of being as better and dictated these assumptions onto the native group. Rather a very real engagement with the present situation stipulated the mutation of traditional values and relations dictated on their own terms, to represent what was really valued. Through this process the Algerian women gain agency whilst the men are no longer perceived as absolute authorities governed by fundamental value of authentic freedom.

Another indicator of the mutation experienced during the Algerian revolution was the change in attitude towards western medicine. Western medicine and experts are rejected because admitting to their worth would be admitting to their being an element of worth in the colonial regime (1965: 122). Furthermore doctors can easily be categorised alongside trained professionals such as policemen who directly inflict the violent and penetrative force of colonial rule. This is especially due to the fact that colonial doctors misdiagnoses and maltreat Native patients. In the process they reaffirm the belief that they are of lesser human value (1965: 137). However the revolution resulted in many injuries which could not be readily treated by traditional doctors. Subsequently the revolutionary force incorporated doctors to assist with the injuries gained in the struggle. As doctors are incorporated into the struggle they are removed from the occupiers’ space. Though educated by the colonised world they use their knowledge to assist the struggle attempting to over through it, subsequently the confinement of Manicheans are bought into question as the doctor aiding the revolution becomes to represent the mutation of opposing forces.

Whilst writing A Dying Colonialism Fanon believed, at least to an extent, that the transformation of Algerian society was irreversible. However, the radical mutations of the consciousness which came about as a dialectic progression during the dynamic sphere of the revolution did not last into post-colonial society. The following will briefly explore the necessity of lasting mutation in order for a true human society to ever exist.

Mutation of politics into being the will of the people:

Though Fanon talks of the power of the Algerian revolution resting in the radical mutation of the consciousness, the real power of this theory rests in truths constructed to transcend beyond the revolution and into the postcolonial society. The truths never being absolute but rather continuously evolving through discussion produced and reiterated through the politics of the people. In light of Algeria’s disappoint independence Fanon explores the necessity of lasting mutation in The Wretched of the Earth. He states that in the postcolonial society “finds itself in the hands of new managers; but the fact is that everything needs to be reformed and everything thought out anew” (1963: 100). The fight for independence created an atmosphere where radically new possibilities and modes of being were easily cultivated. Away from the heat of the battle it becomes easy to settle into an unquestioning way of life- where reality is once again negotiated from above.

To encourage a politics of the people it becomes very necessary to negotiated realities in “language other than that of race and racial divide” (Sekyi-Otu, 1996: 111). However, as the previously stipulated through the discussion on the mutated bourgeoisie this language does not change the fundamental nature of society rather a divide continues to exists but orientates itself around class difference and unequal economic possibilities.

Thus the necessity of mutation to have any real and lasting power rests in the continuous practice of a progressive dialect orientated around all aspects of society being involved in the political. According to Fanon this process will occur “through the effort to recapture the self and to scrutinize the self; it is through the lasting tension of their freedom that men [and women] will be able to create the ideal conditions of existence for a human world” (Fanon, 1986: 181).


By outlining Fanon’s Manichean perception of racist colonial reality and his dialectic process which enable the transcendence such polarization I have attempted to lay the foundations which make his understanding of mutation possible. The stagnant dialect which is evident through the negative mutation of the returning native and new bourgeoisie do not create a create the possibility of creating a society based on human prospect but rather reiterates a dividing line of superiority and inferiority.

It becomes clear that the radio transforms into a utility to create mutation, not in the way certain colonial technologies are perceived but through the collective manner the ordinary masses become involved in shaping society, encompassing themselves in the politics of the revolution. Subsequently the role of the veil and the incorporation of the Western medicine into the struggle come to represent the ability of the “native” to “accept a compromise with colonialism, but never a surrender of principle” (1963: 143). The principle which must never surrender is the direct involvement of the people all decision making and the basis of this decision making resting on a prospect which draws on the humanity of every individual regardless of race, class or gender.


Fanon, F., 1963, The Wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press.
Fanon, F., 1987,  Black Skins, White Mask, London: Pluto Press.
Fanon, F. 1965,  A Dying Colonialism, New York: Grove Press.
Gibson, N., 2003,  The Postcolonial Imagination, Oxford: Polity Press.
Gibson, N. 2011, Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to  Abahali baseMjondolo, Scottsville South Africa: The University of KwaZulu Natal Press.
Gordon, L. R. 2007, “Problematic People and Epistemic Decolinization: Toward the Postcolonial in Africana Political Thought”, In: Postcolonialism and Political Thought, Edited by Nalini Persram, United Kingdom: Lexington Books.
Sekyi-Otu, A., 1996, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, Cambridge Massachusetts London England: Harvard University Press.

[1] These being Black Skins, White Masks (1986), originally published Peau noire, masques blanes.(1952); A Dying Colonialism  (1965) originally published as Sociologie d~une revolution (1959). The Wretched of the Earth (1963) originally published as and Les Damnes de la terre (1961).
[2] Lewis Gordon explores the absolute nature of colonialism through theodician logic. He asserts that the absolute nature of colonialism is similar to explanations which tackle the existence of evil in a world alongside to an all-powerful all good God. Both are maintained is through the standardized response to opposing thought. For example, if one where to ask how God can be all powerful and all good if evil exists in the world? For if God is all good he would not want evil to exist and if he is all powerful he would be able to destroy it. The question exposes a prominent irregularity within in theodician logic. The authority of theodicy and the all-powerful and good god is maintained by asserting that a) evil is a result of the freewill in which God gave humanity, problematizing humanity not theodicy. Or b) God is all powerful and subsequently knows better, and humans, who are far from omnipotent, cannot question the existence of evil because God knows better. The same occurs with any query into the fundamental nature of Manichean colonial racism.
[3] This form of resistance is evident throughout Fanon’s work but it is very explicit in Dying Colonialism (1965) as he explores the Algerian Revolution.
[4] Steve Biko extensively expands on the process of self-realisation and value through his Black Consciousness movements. See Gibson’s Fanonian Practices in South Africa, for a more extensive exploration.